Tucked into a grassy corner of busy Howe Avenue, Trinity Lutheran Church is anything but inconspicuous.
“It’s a small but mighty congregation,” said the Rev. Jack R. Whritenour, who has served as church pastor since 2003.
The church has 125 members, with “a good mix” of older, middle-aged and younger people. “It’s a smaller congregation, but members are connected with one another, and people love their church,” Whritenour said. “They support each other, and they’re welcoming to newcomers.”
Trinity Lutheran was founded in 1899 by German immigrants who came to the Valley to find work in the mills and factories, he said, and the sister parish was Immanuel Lutheran Church of Seymour, which has since moved to Oxford.
The Trinity church building was completed in 1911 and originally was located in downtown Shelton where the Route 8 overpass is today. The church building was physically moved in 1948 to its current site at 183 Howe Avenue, slightly south of Route 8.
The first English service was conducted in the church in 1939, and the church held German services until 1964.
A few German-speaking parishioners still attend services, Whritenour said, as do Swedish Lutherans. Some transferred to the church when a Swedish Lutheran church in Ansonia closed in the 1970s.
Role in the community
“Trinity Lutheran Church is involved with the community,” Whritenour said.
The church runs a community food pantry and participates in a charity bowl-a-thon, the Giving Tree and a school supplies drive to benefit the Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence Services.
Members also serve meals at Spooner House, walk in the annual Relay for Life to benefit the American Cancer Society, and support the Lutheran Home in Southbury, the Lutheran World Hunger appeal and Lutheran World Relief.
“We have a very active youth group,” said Whritenour, which is run jointly with the First Baptist Church of Shelton.
A “very traditional Lutheran service” takes place at the church at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, and Sunday school is at 9 a.m. There is a service on Thursdays at 7 p.m., with Holy Communion and Bible study.
Antique organ, music, pastor’s background
There’s an 1870s vintage Hook and Hastings organ in the sanctuary, and “an excellent music program,” said Whritenour, with a choir and a hand-bell choir.
He has been directing the choir and playing the organ ever since the previous director left the post. “I’m a professional organist,” said Whritenour, who has a bachelor of music education and performance degree from the College of New Jersey.
Originally from West Milford, N.J., he graduated from Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and was ordained in 1998. He previously served at Trinity Lutheran Church in Sidman, Pa.
He and his wife, Carol, a preschool teacher at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Trumbull, and daughter Amelia, 7, live in Derby.
“It’s a joy to have gotten to know parishioners over the years,” Whritenour said. “They’ve always been supporting and loving.”
“It’s a privilege to serve in such a beautiful building,” he said, describing the church as “old world style.”
Unique denomination for area
“It’s difficult to be Lutheran in New England,” since Lutherans are in a minority among Protestant churches, according to Whritenour.
“A lot of people in New England don’t know what ‘Lutheran’ is,” he said.
The Lutheran church is a bridge church between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, he said, and is “the first of the Protestant churches,” founded by the reformer Martin Luther in the 16th Century.
“All Lutheran churches adhere to the Augsburg Confessions of 1530,” Whritenour said, and have a worship service similar to the Episcopal denomination and the Roman Catholic church.
“We have a wonderful history of music,” he said. “Bach and Handel came out of the Lutheran church.”
Trinity Lutheran Church was originally a member of the Augustana Synod, a Swedish synod, then became a member of the Lutheran Church in America and later joined the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Churches “across the board” are experiencing financial hardship, he said. “When the economy struggles, people cut back on giving,” Whritenour said.
“Things have changed,” he continued. “It’s hard being a pastor in this climate. We don’t have the culture on our side.”
Whritenour said joining a church has its benefits. “Anyone looking for a friendly, supportive, loving Christian community, with traditional Lutheran worship centered on the word of God’s sacraments and an interest in helping others, would feel right at home at Trinity Lutheran Church,” he said.
“I think Shelton is a good community with good people. I think Shelton recognizes the importance of the churches in the community. Churches are called upon to offer consolation, both spiritual and material,” Whritenour said.
“The churches have a good reputation for being there when people need them. We want people to know that they’re places they can come and be welcomed and find spiritual healing and peace in a busy world,” he said.
Those interested in Trinity Lutheran may attend services, call the church at 203-924-4128, or email email@example.com.