The city of Philadelphia was founded by William Penn as part of his new land of religious freedom. The early day settlers of the area were also the ancestors of Trinity's founders and congregation. The early Philadelphians brought their bibles, prayers, and catechisms from their European homes in hope of a free land to practice their faith as they saw fit. They were a people of character, industry and forthrightness. They were fixed and stable in their convictions. Trinity is built on their foundation.
Before Trinity was established, the original settlers of present-day South Philadelphia attended Zion German Lutheran Church on Fourth and Cherry Streets. As the local vernacular turned to English many members of Zion began to worship at English Lutheran Church at Fifth and Race Streets, the first American Lutheran church to practice in English.
A Missionary Society was formed by the English Church, and began to sponsor various ministries in the Philadelphia area. In 1841, the Society met with Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson, the founder of a small Sunday School in South Philadelphia. The School became a part of the English Church (now St. John's) not long after this initial meeting. The children were moved into the Girard School House which formally stood at Eighteenth Street and Passyunk Avenue. The space quickly became inadequate to commadate the growing number of students. The religious interst thus aroused by this flourishing Sunday School movement furnished the inspiration for the founding of Trinity Church in 1842.
"A meeting of some inhabitants of Passyunk Township and vicinity was held in the Girard School House on Thursday afternoon, September 22, 1842, for the purpose of forming a church of the Lutheran denomination," read the minutes of that initial meeting. A constitution was adopted and land to build the church upon was donated by Joseph Dugan, a local Roman Catholic. A modest brick church was erected and the church was consecrated amid great festival on December 21, 1842.
"The early history of Trinity Church is a record of trials and vicissitudes. The resources were few and there were many hindrances placed in the way of those interested in the work of building up a Lutheran parish. The Rev. George Neff … voiced his great concern and pious interest in his little flock in these words. 'May the Lord of His great mercy let the news of the heavenly grace descend upon this little Zion.' Though the future looked none too rosy, the prayer of the retiring pastor was a prophecy of better days to come."