'Wonderful memories': Shelton church closing doors after 123 years

SHELTON — Carol Del Sole was 8 when her family joined what was then a thriving Trinity Lutheran Church in the heart of the city’s downtown. 

That was 1962, and in the ensuing years, she was baptized, confirmed and married in the church she’s always called home. What she has also lived through is a dwindling congregation in recent years — so small in fact, the church, which has been in the city for more than 120 years — is closing its doors. 

“It’s sad it came to this point,” said Del Sole, one of the dozen or so members who attend the church at the corner of Howe Avenue and Myrtle Street. 

“The pews were packed,” said Del Sole as she sat in the pews last week, glancing fondly at the pulpit where she has listened to so many pastors speak each Sunday. “There were so many families, Sunday school, youth group, a children's choir, Christmas fairs, mother-daughter days. We were a very active church. 

“Now we’re at a dozen members from what was a thriving congregation when I first came here as a child,” she added. 

Trinity Lutheran Church leaders have agreed to merge with Immanuel Lutheran Church in Oxford, a partnership that will officially begin in the coming weeks. The Shelton church held its celebration service Sunday, which included the return of former pastor, the Rev. David Rinas. 

The final service will be Sept. 25. Trinity Lutheran Church Council President Diane Rivers said this “Leave Taking” service will include decommissioning the altar, pulpit and the font. Among those on hand, River said, will be Stephen Wilko, Associate to the Bishop for the New England Synod. 

“Every church has its life cycle," Wilko said. "They have done good ministry here, but it comes to a point where it did not make sense to continue here."

Wilko confirmed the church began looking into selling the building two years ago, and most recently found a buyer in the Shelton-based Christian Counseling and Family Life Center, now located in temporary space on Ripton Road. 

The sale is not final, as the center must go before the Planning and Zoning Commission to receive a special exception to allow a nonprofit service to operate in the old church offices. 

“The church is very excited to work with the Christian Counseling Center,” Wilko said. “This was a chance to continue an existing relationship with an organization that they care about and that carries on an important mission.” 

Rivers, who has been a member for three decades, said she was sad about the church closing but understood the time had come with active membership at such low levels. 

“I just felt that, for myself, I had to stick this out to the very end for my family, for my kids,” Rivers said. “I did not want to desert the church they grew up in. Merging with Immanuel is the right thing to do. They are nice people. They’re welcoming us, and I think we can do a lot together. 

“It’s going to be different, but it was time to move on,” Rivers added. 

“I know merging is the right thing to do,” Del Sole added. “But I leave here with wonderful memories.” 

Trinity Lutheran Church of Shelton held its first meeting Jan. 8, 1899, in the Methodist Episcopal Church in Derby with 18 worshippers present. 

Records of the Derby church show that in October 1898, a small group of Germans who wanted to worship in their mother tongue, asked to use the basement of the church once a week. 

This group of people came to Shelton to work in the weaving mills of the Sidney Blumenthal Co. on Canal Street — a site that would later become the Sponge Rubber Products Co., and finally, the BF Goodrich Co. 

In September 1901, the congregation began holding worship services in the First Baptist Church of Shelton, which was located at the corner of Howe Avenue and White Street, now home to 502 on Howe, formerly home to Webster Bank. 

The congregation finally built its own building on Howe Avenue but had to move yet again in 1948, forced out by construction of the new Route 8. The church was located on land that is today occupied by the footings of the Route 8 bridge. 

The state paid for the moving of the church building up Howe Avenue to its present location on the corner of Howe Avenue and Myrtle Street. 

Overall, the church has had 14 permanent pastors — most recently the Rev. Jack Whritenour from 2002 to 2014. From that point, the church has had a string of interim pastors. 

The church has more than 100 members on its books, Rivers said, but the congregation’s regular Sunday attendance dropped steadily over the years to the point where it now sits in the teens. 

"This is what’s happening to mainstream churches now. It’s a reflection of society,” said council member Kristine Bourret, tearing up. 

Bourret grew up a Lutheran at a time when churches were the major focus of Sundays, at a time when stores would be closed, and athletic fields empty.

“No one would ever think of having baseball practice on Sunday," she said.

Bourret said she was "very sad about Trinity's closing.

“I know merging with Immanuel is the right thing to do," she said. "We can’t spend every last penny here. We need to take what we can and continue to do good works."

She, too, will take with her many memories of the church at Howe Avenue and Myrtle Street.

“It’s just so sad because this is where your family grew up," she said. "But it’s time to move on.” 

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com