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Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and SPOHP Premiere Church History Documentary

The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida announces the release of a new documentary, “The Fire Within: The Rebuilding of a Downtown Community,” which tells the story of the destruction and rebirth of Trinity Episcopal Church in Gainesville, Florida. The documentary can be viewed on SPOHP’s YouTube channel:

On Thursday, April 25, the Spring 2013 academic intern class of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) gathered at Trinity Episcopal Church in Gainesville with members of Trinity’s congregation to premiere the new documentary, “The Fire Within: The Rebuilding of a Downtown Community.” The film was a culmination of four months of work between SPOHP interns and digital coordinators with the Trinity Episcopal community.

In January 1991, an arsonist burned down the historic Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Gainesville, Florida. A four-year rebuilding process brought back Holy Trinity’s worship site and ended in an expansion of church facilities.

Last year, Holy Trinity approached SPOHP about the idea of chronicling their church history. Students spent the past four months chronicling the aftermath of 1991 arson on Trinity’s congregation and the process of church building.

“Today we often talk about the need to build relationships between academia and the community at large, and the Holy Trinity event was a great opportunity to put that philosophy into practice,”said Erin Conlin, one of SPOHP’s internship coordinators. “Our interns were able to work with a warm, welcoming, and enthusiastic group of people, which makes for a great first interview experience. Holy Trinity in return received archival quality video and audio recordings of their oral histories, as well as a great documentary that they can share with the rest of the parish.”

Students conducted individual interviews with church members and then collaborated to pinpoint general themes in their interviews, including religion and civic engagement, women’s leadership,Trinity’s social ministry in Gainesville, and the resilience of the congregation to rebuild their church.  Students received technical training from SPOHP staff in video and audio editing techniques and worked together in peer focus groups to unify their interviews in one narrative, and then combined them into a documentary.

Emily Nyren, one of the interns, interviewed Georgia Vickers and was inspired by her work this semester to continue work in oral history. “When first assigned to conduct an interview with a member of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, I wished that the project was more related to my interests. I wondered if religion would be a large focus of the project and feared being asked difficult questions. Thankfully, when I met my interviewee, I soon realized that I had nothing to worry about.  Georgia Pete Vickers kindly welcomed me into her home and we spent a few hours together after the interview where we drank tea and ate Girl Scout cookies. Georgia was the quintessential interviewee and I’m so grateful for her part in the process. The Holy Trinity Episcopal Church project became a highlight of my spring semester and seeing the work that the other interns and I created come to fruition was incredible. I’m staying on to volunteer with SPOHP this summer because I can’t get enough!”

Carolyn Horter, the Historiographer of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, was similarly pleased with the outcome of the project. “I enjoyed interacting with the students, the faculty, and our parishioners as we worked on this project together.  It is a bit intimidating to be video-interviewed, and I think we were all a bit nervous about the process.  As well, seeing ourselves on the final tape created some self-conscious reactions.  The final video, The Fire Within, adds valuable pieces of personal history to our Archives.  It reviewed the fire and its impact on the church, and it gave evidence to our outreach programs in the downtown community.  As well, the individual interviews add greatly to our Archives and provide us with the opportunity to create even more videos with excerpts from each.  Our final evening pot luck supper was an enjoyable evening of fellowship—a wonderful chance to meet the hardworking students and their leaders.  The project was a worthwhile experience for Holy Trinity.”

“SPOHP shared its technical and intellectual expertise technical by helping Holy Trinity capture and archive its history, and we were able to package it in a beautiful video documentary,”said Conlin. “Holy Trinity opened its doors to SPOHP and gave us the opportunity and freedom to train our interns in a variety of skills including interviewing and video editing. In the end, we both benefited immensely.”

“This was a great experience in community-based oral history, and it builds on SPOHP’s research initiatives with faith-based communities in Florida and beyond,” remarked SPOHP director Paul Ortiz. The Fire Within is particularly relevant in discussions and courses of study on civic engagement, religion and social activism, women’s leadership, and church history.

For information about this and similar projects, please contact Tamarra Jenkins at and visit the web site of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program:

News Release
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP), University of Florida
May 14, 2013