On July 22, Trinity Episcopal Church in Platteville will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a special Mass.
On July 29, Trinity will hold another special Mass, to celebrate the retirement of its rector (known as a pastor in other Protestant churches), Rev. Diane Markevitch.
Markevitch is ending her sixth year as Trinity’s rector. As with many Episcopal priests, ministry is her second career. She previously was an information systems manager for an insurance company.
“I was doing very high-tech work in the international division,” she said. “So it was a big, big change to leave that and go into the ministry.
“I was having fun doing what I was doing, and I didn’t think it would be possible do something and have more fun. But I really felt called by God to do this, and I wouldn’t have any peace until I did it.”
Markevitch came to Trinity from Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Wisconsin Dells, after she graduated from Seabury Western Seminary in Evanston, Ill.
“I was commuting from Madison, and I was looking for a place where I wouldn’t have to commute every day,” she said. “The people at Trinity were interested in me, and they called me.”
Markevitch took over after the death of Rev. Dr. Dorothy Lee, who died in 2005 shortly after she was diagnosed with cancer. Lee was Trinity’s first female priest and first minority priest, “and they loved her,” said Markevitch.
“We took a few years just healing and recovering and getting our confidence back, which is where we are now. We wrestled for a while with not being significant in the community. Trinity used to be very involved in the community, but due to several events that happened, that went away. Now we’re trying to decide our niche in the world.”
Trinity sells books at the Saturday Platteville Farmer’s Market, with all proceeds going to the Platteville Food Pantry. Trinity is also the home of the winter Farmer’s Market.
Trinity is Grant County’s only Episcopal church, after the closing of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Lancaster.
The 150th anniversary specifically commemorates Trinity’s establishment as an Episcopal mission in 1862. The first Episcopal service in Platteville was held in what Trinity’s 125th anniversary booklet called the “Congregationalist Church” in 1852.
Ten years later, Rev, Stephen Millett came to Platteville to start a congregation with, at first, two members. Services were held in what the Dec. 11, 1862 Grant County Witness called “the Stone School House,” and services were held in other churches, school buildings and private homes throughout 1863.
The church building, a brick Gothic revival design reportedly inspired by the Robert Burns Chapel in Scotland, opened in 1866 and was consecrated a year later after it was paid off. The church was designed by George Nettleton of Janesville, who also designed First Congregational United Church of Christ in Platteville.
In the late 1930s, Trinity became “Holy Trinity,” but the church’s Vestry (council) voted to change the name back in 1987.
The church now has 45 members, with average Sunday attendance of 22.
Immediately west of the church is the Cunningham Episcopal Center, named for Dr. Wilson and Ann Billings Cunningham.
The back of the church has an organ designed by a famous organ builder, Henry Erben, in 1853. The organ was originally installed at Trinity Episcopal Church in Mineral Point, but was moved to Platteville in 1907. The organ was restored, reassembled and rededicated in October 2010.
The Episcopal Church’s history dovetails with this country’s history. More Episcopalians have been president than members of any other religion.
“The nation was basically structured by Anglicans, and so te structure of the country is the structure of the Anglican Church,” said Markevitch. “What I like the most about the Episcopal Church is that we’re always willing to engage in the question, whatever it is. It’s OK to engage in open and honest debate, and that’s important to me — to value everyone’s opinion and let the Holy Spirit work through our conversation about issues.
“They’re just willing to be open to the spirit, and that’s why I love the Episcopal Church. I also love the liturgy. We’re reading the same prayers that were said 1,500, 1,700 years ago. We’ve changed the language to be more understandable in our vernacular, but it’s the same prayers. To me, the liturgy is re-membering — we’re coming together again for the Last Supper.”
The Episcopal Church made news last week by creating a blessing rite for same-sex relationships.
“It is divided,” said Markevitch of the national church. “I think it’s going through a metamorphosis, and where there are changes there’s conflict. I think we have to just hang in there and let the Holy Spirit work it out.”
Many mainline Protestant churches are seeing decreasing attendance and participation.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Markevitch. “I personally feel there are a lot of people who do not attend church who could benefit from doing so. But we live in a society where it is countercultural for, for instance, young people to go to church.”
Markevitch believes the decline in mainline churches may be a demonstration of questioning authority.
“Look at the president of the United States — people are free to question authority and the same thing is happening in the church — who is the authority and where is the autonomy?” she said. “That is being questioned all throughout society.
“I don’t think we have to buy into the same doctrine and ideology. Every person has to find God in their own way. That’s why there are denominations and I think that’s good thing. The thing is to find a denomination where you find your own way and be at peace with God. … “We need to be a church and we need to have worship that responds to the needs of anyone. Worship is the window to God, and no church has the window.”
Markevitch’s replacement will be Rev. Christian Maxfield, who is also the rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Prairie du Chien.
What will Markevitch, who is moving to Madison, do next? “I’m going to take a few months for my own personal sabbatical to figure that out.” She is certified in Spiritual Direction, and she is “hoping to hang out my shingle again.”