Calvary Episcopal Church has a long and rich history. In 1901, the Right Reverend Henry Yates Satterlee (Bishop of Washington 1896-1908) authorized the Reverend Franklin I.A. Bennett, born in New Orleans and educated at Howard University, to open a new Episcopal Mission for African Americans. Father Bennett named the Mission, Calvary, in honor of his former church in South Carolina and because of the inspiration of the Bishop’s work with the poor at Calvary Church in New York. Father Bennett selected a storefront building at 1303 H Street, NE, in what was seen as a progressive neighborhood. The first services were held in various homes while the H Street site was in development.
The 110 years of our Parish cover three periods. The first forty years (1901-1941) were crucial years of careful planning, tireless efforts, and many sacrifices. The first neighborhood kindergarten, a branch library, community center, YWCA, and a playground were established at Calvary as well as classes in cooking, sewing, and carpentry. By 1909, Calvary had outgrown its storefront location and laid the cornerstone for a new building at 1303 Eleventh Street, NE. Between 1914 and 1940, the black population in Washington increased rapidly with the opportunity to obtain jobs and a measure of class mobility. Calvary attracted some of the most successful and resourceful black residents of the time, many from the nearby “U Street Corridor” which was home to the nation’s largest African American middle class community until the 1920’s when Harlem gradually claimed this population.
The second period (1941-1990) followed the retirement of the founder, Father Bennett. In 1941 the Reverend Dr. James O. West, Jr. became Rector of Calvary, and the next eight years were marked by vigorous activity and growth. Many new organizations and programs were started. Calvary Mission became a self-supporting congregation known as Calvary Episcopal Church, and as membership steadily increased an even larger space was needed. The Right Reverend Angus Dunn, Fourth Bishop of Washington, offered Calvary a property at its present location at 820 6 th Street, NE, and the first Sunday service in the new edifice was held on December 18, 1949. Calvary was now a larger, more beautiful parish with greater facilities. Included was a gymnasium used by the community and for Children’s Choir concerts, Calvary drama groups, and a Vacation Bible School composed primarily of community children.
In 1954, the Reverend Millard F. Newman served as a supply minister later becoming an Assistant Rector. During the next 40 years of Father West’s tenure, Calvary was an outstanding positive influence in a community characterized by few facilities for children and youth. Father West engaged with the neighborhood elementary school to provide food for families and to assist in job searches.
The riots of 1968 destroyed much of the business district of the U Street and H Street corridors that served the Black population. Over the next 20 years many families moved to the suburbs. Once 2,500 members strong, the congregation decreased to 700 members by 1990.
An important milestone in Calvary’s history was initiated in 1980 when the church under Father West’s leadership, began to serve breakfast to the homeless from nearby shelters. The Homeless Breakfast program, held in the Parish Hall at Calvary, blossomed into a thrice-monthly feeding for up to 300 homeless men, women and children. The program has received citywide recognition as it continues to serve 75-80 homeless men and women on Saturday mornings.
Calvary’s third period (1990-present) followed Father West’s retirement in 1990.
The third Rector was the Reverend Theodore A. Daniels (1992-1997). During his tenure, Calvary’s membership remained stable with 62
students registered in the Sunday School. Calvary continued to have an elaborate Children’s Day celebration with skits on the life of Jesus, awards, gifts, and a children’s orchestra. There was also a very active youth committee and an after-school tutorial program. Calvary had four choirs: the Parish Choir, the Voices of Praise, the Community Chorus and a Volunteer Choir. The choirs were
involved in outreach activities such as singing at nursing homes and senior housing. Father Daniels left to become Bishop of the United States Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and Tortola.
The Late Reverend Thomas W. S. Logan, Jr. (2000-2006), the fourth Rector of Calvary brought with him a Gospel Eucharist which was new to the Diocese and very popular with the younger members of Calvary. The scripture readings performed by the Lay Readers during services expanded with a preamble recited before the actual readings of both scriptures. Unfortunately, during Reverend Logan’s tenure, there were a number of complex issues that resulted in dissolution of pastoral relationship which caused hurt and regret within the congregation.
In 2006, the Reverend Carlton Hayden was appointed as Priest-in-Charge and a search was initiated for a long-term Interim Rector.
The Reverend Prince A. Decker was called as Interim Rector and began his tenure in March 2007 and served in this capacity until 2012. The Reverend Decker’s five years at Calvary provided a time of healing and stabilization in attendance. The long-planned elevator and handicapped accessibility project were been completed, the church held two “Blessing of the Animals” events, and established a Christian Formation class on Sunday mornings.
In 2012, the Reverend Peter Jarrett-Schell was called as the fifth rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, a position he still holds. Under Reverend Jarrett-Schell, the Church has worked to revitalize its young adults ministry and seek greater involvement in the neighborhood surrounding Calvary. We have begun using a new, simplified form of worship that emphasizes scripture and congregational involvement. In 2015, Calvary initiated a Strategic Planning Process, to effectively engage the rapid changes in our neighborhood. That plan is now completed, and is being implemented.
In 2014 Calvary called the Reverend Gayle Fisher-Stewart to serve as Assistant Rector. Reverend Fisher-Stewart has championed Calvary’s mission and social engagement through the founding of the center for the Study of Faith in Justice at Calvary Church.