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RALEIGH, NC: Downtown Raleigh sees first church built in 50 years

RALEIGH, NC: Downtown Raleigh sees first church built in 50 years
Design of Holy Trinity Anglican Church building in downtown Raleigh has century-old feel

By Andrew Kenney
March 1, 2015

The church near the corner of Peace and Blount streets looks as though it could have been there for centuries, with its peaked roof and mottled brick walls -- except for the insulating wrap that still sheaths half its exterior.

It's the first new church building to be built in downtown Raleigh for half a century.

"We wanted to build a transcendent space," said the Rev. John Yates III, his breath hanging beneath the arching steel bones of the sanctuary. To his left, a construction worker rode an accordion lift to finish the details of a window that reached toward the 60-foot ceiling.

Holy Trinity Anglican Church formed about a decade ago, splitting off from the national Episcopal church alongside scores of other groups.

Holy Trinity launched its services in 2004 with about 200 members and no place to call its own. The congregation has spent many Sundays in St. David's Chapel near the North Hills shopping center, but it has planned for years to move toward the city's core.

It won't be the only new worship service in town -- Vintage Church, for example, has taken up residence near Moore Square -- but it's the first Christian church built in the traditional style since Edenton Street Methodist Church burned to the ground in 1956, to be rebuilt by 1958. The oldest building of the bunch is Christ Church of Raleigh, dating to 1852.

Holy Trinity left the Episcopal church in 2004 largely because of the national church's acceptance of a gay bishop in New Hampshire. The dispute concerned the question of whether gay people should be leaders in the church and the way the national church handled the issue.

The leaders of Holy Trinity wanted a building that looked as though it had always stood at the edge of downtown Raleigh, near William Peace University. They chose a colonial style. Eventually, those bricks will be painted white, and a digital Hauptwerk organ will fill the air with holy music.

"We wanted a lot of natural light, and we wanted a sense that the church was open and kind of porous within the community," Yates said.. His philosophy is that a downtown home will connect the church to the city. "We didn't want any sense that we were building a fortress or an island."

Holy Trinity also has refurbished a historic home, now called Trinity House. The church bought the land and the house from the developers of Blount Street Commons in 2011, then moved and renovated the Victorian home. Today, the house is the church's office, with dark wood floors and creamy walls. It's decorated by furniture from Yates' ancestry, the Tucker family, who once lived in the Tucker House just a few blocks away. It's often open to visitors during First Friday events, when the Trinity Gallery hosts art events.

The church itself should be finished this summer, with an official opening in November. The land purchase, house renovation and church construction should total about $11 million, which the church raised from its members and by taking on debt. At 25,000 square feet, the church also will include an education wing and a courtyard.

Of course, even a transcendent construction project can hit some stumbling blocks. Two men on the project's sprinkler installation crew have asked to be reassigned, saying the high ceiling work spooked them.

And it's unclear whether the church will be allowed to modify its design to include a steeple. Holy Trinity is waiting for a permit.


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