Wednesday, April 2, 2008

All Souls Church, Unitarian

All Souls Unitarian Church:
A progressive religious community for more than 185 years


All Souls Church, Unitarian (2835 16th Street NW) was founded in 1821 as First Unitarian Church. It's mandate then was to stand against slavery. Over the decades, the church has engaged in many social justice causes, including education reform, women's rights, desegregation, civil rights, poverty, and neighborhood revitalization, as well as opposition to the Vietnam war, support of anti-apartheid, and creation of youth and housing programs for the surrounding neighborhoods. The church's website isn't clear on this, but sometime in the 1950s or 1960s, the church changed its name to All Souls Church, Unitarian. The church primarily serves the neighborhoods of Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, and Mount Pleasant.

In 1969, Rev. David Eaton became the church's first black minister. Then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover considered Eaton a radical and a threat and placed an agent in the church to spy on Eaton with the purpose of removing him from the congregation. The church found out about the plan through the Freedom of Information Act, sued the government, and won.

Some additional interesting facts: When slaves aboard the ship Amistad revolted, church members John Quincy Adams and John C. Calhoun were involved in their court case; Adams for the slaves, Calhoun for the prosecution. Adams won and the slaves returned to Africa. The church's bell is a Revere Bell, cast by the son of Paul Revere and funded in part by President James Monroe. The church served as a hospital site during the Civil War. The Freedman's Relief Union for assisting former slaves was organized at First Unitarian. At around the same time as the formation of the FRU, its pastor, Rev. Wm. Henry Channing, helped form the Miner Normal School, which later become Howard University.


Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 2/08

6 comments:

The Artful Eye said...

Ah, we are back at church..Very interesting history here. The name is fitting "All Souls" also very beautiful architecture,somewhat different from what we've seen.

D.C. Confidential said...

Andrea: Oh, yeah. I still have 25+ churches or so on 16th Street to get through. I've been trying to post two a week, so we can get through them and not be on this theme for eternity! LOL! Of course, with so many other beautiful and interesting sites to photograph and post, I've been slacking off a bit.

I love this church's architecture because it's so New England and stately. It's definitely refreshing to see something that isn't Gothic or Romanesque for a change.

Anonymous said...

All Souls also has an incredible pipe organ built by an Austrian company. It sits on the edge of the balcony, so it is above you when you first walk in. At the top of the great expanse of pipes is a star which spins and rings bells. Quite a sight!

Anonymous said...

In addition to a history of work for racial justice, All Souls has been an advocate for gay, lesbian, and transgender justice. One of the first committment ceremonies for a gay couple was performed at All Souls in 1970. There are many gay families who attend the church.

D.C. Confidential said...

Anon: Thank you for the information on the pipe organ and on All Souls' progressive and proactive stance regarding GLBT justice. One of these days, I'm going to make a point of actually visiting each of the churches I've featured here.

Anonymous said...

The design of this church is based largely on St. Martin In The Fields (Anglican/"Episcopal") in London.