Presbyterians were present in significant numbers in the American colonies in the 17th century, served by pastors from Scotland and Ireland. Exhibiting a tendency (compulsion?) to organize, they established the Presbytery of Philadelphia as their first governing body in 1706. As growth continued, they saw the need for a multi-level governing structure. In 1717, the first “Synod” was created, also in Philadelphia, with administrative/governance responsibilities for three presbyteries.
Expansion continued, along with division and reunion, and in 1789, a larger governing entity was created, and the first Presbyterian Church General Assembly met. Since that time synods had been referred to as “middle governing bodies,” although their specific responsibilities have changed continuously and varied from region to region.
The Synod of the Trinity also has had its boundaries changed frequently – even its name has changed. Initially the Synod of Philadelphia, it became the Synod of Pennsylvania when synod boundaries coincided with state lines. In 1973 the General Assembly created “regional” synods, and the Synods of Pennsylvania and West Virginia were formed to become the Synod of Pennsylvania-West Virginia (which also included a small portion of eastern Ohio). The name Synod of the Trinity was later chosen to replace the unwieldy geographic title.
The current boundaries were established after the reunion of northern and southern Presbyterians in 1983, when the Presbytery of Greenbrier – formerly part of the southern church – was united with the Presbytery of West Virginia and became part of the Synod of the Trinity.
The Synod today covers all of Pennsylvania, all of West Virginia except for the eastern panhandle, and the counties of eastern Ohio (with West Virginia’s northern panhandle) generally known as the Upper Ohio Valley.
Local proximity issues had also resulted in one New York congregation and two in Maryland being included in the synod’s numbers. Our current 16 presbyteries make up the Synod of the Trinity, and these “mid-council offices” serve 1,136 churches and 178,025 Presbyterians, making the Synod of the Trinity not only the oldest but also one of the largest in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
For more about the history of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), visit its website.