November 17: Fourteenth Church Congress (1891)

The Fourteenth Meeting of the Church Congress in the United States was held in Washington, D.C., November 17-20, 1891. The Congress had been held almost annually since 1874 within the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. It was patterned on similar congresses held in the Church of England. Lay and clerical members gathered to discuss religious, moral or social matters, in which the church had an interest. It had no legislative authority, and there was no voting on the questions discussed. The meeting in November 1891 was the first time the Congress met in the nation’s capital. On November 17, proceedings began at the Church of the Epiphany with a service of Holy Communion followed by the Inaugural and Memorial Addresses. The subsequent discussions were held in the National Rifles’ Hall, on G Street, between Ninth and Tenth Streets. Topics for the discussions included “Theism and Evolution,” “Socialism,” “Relations of the Clergy to Politics,” and “New and Old Parochial Methods.”

The presiding officer of the Congress was typically the bishop of the diocese in which the meeting was held. Bishop Paret was not available, so he asked recently retired U.S. Senator and Epiphany parishioner George F. Edmunds to act in his place. The opening session at Epiphany included a forty-voice mixed choir and an address to an overflow crowd by the Bishop of Massachusetts, Phillips Brooks (depicted here). Known best as the lyricist of the Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Brooks was one of the great preachers of his day.

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