Posts by epiphany

March 8: Aaron Venable Brown (1859)

Aaron V. Brown was born in Brunswick County, Virginia, one of eleven children of the Rev. Aaron Brown, a Methodist minister and his second wife, Elizabeth Melton. Brown attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated in 1814, the valedictorian of his class. After moving to Tennessee with his family, he studied law with a distinguished jurist in Nashville. He was admitted to the bar in 1816 and became a law partner with future president James K. Polk. Over the next two decades Brown would serve in both houses of the Tennessee legislature. In 1839, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served three terms. He supported the annexation of Texas in 1843.

Although Brown initially planned to return to private life after his third term in Congress, he begrudgingly accepted the Democratic nomination for Governor of Tennessee. He won by a razor thin margin. During his time as governor, Brown’s call for 2800 volunteer soldiers for the Mexican-American War yielded 30,000 responses, solidifying Tennessee’s reputation as the “Volunteer State.” Brown attended the 1856 Democratic National Convention where he was considered a possible vice presidential nominee. The following year, newly elected president James Buchanan appointed Brown to be Postmaster General. Three of the seven members of Buchanan’s cabinet were connected to Epiphany. Brown died while in office on March 8, 1859. His funeral was at Epiphany with his interment several days later in Nashville.

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March 7: Grace Gillette Okie Lowry (1950)

Grace Gillette Okie was the youngest child of William and Susan Okie. Grace’s father was an Army surgeon during the Civil War and her mother was a respected New York City newspaper columnist who wrote about horticulture and gardening. Grace was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, outside of New York City. A childhood illness caused her to lose her hearing. The family relocated to Washington where two-year old Grace was baptized at the Church of the Epiphany. Grace became a student of Alexander Graham Bell, who had been involved in research into hearing and speech as both his mother and wife were deaf. Grace also studied at the Columbia Institution of the Deaf, Dumb and Blind, today’s Gallaudet University.

In 1913, Grace married Englishman Henry Newton Lowry, a talented photographer, world traveler and writer, who was also deaf from a childhood bout with scarlet fever.  Lowry became a naturalized U.S. citizen and the couple shared a sense of adventure and a love of both of their countries. They had one child, Robert Newton Lowry. In 1921, the family went on a 5000-mile cross-country trip on America’s new trans-continental highway system. After her husband’s death, Grace and her son drove from Washington, D.C. to Chicago for the 1933 World’s Fair. Son Robert became a successful lawyer and was involved in many outreach ministries of his Episcopal parish and diocese, carrying on the compassionate, intellectually curious and generous values of his family.

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March 6: First Episcopal Visit to the New Congregation (1842)

The Rt. Rev. William Rollinson Whittingham was just 36 years old when he visited the new Epiphany congregation in March of 1842. Whittingham had been consecrated a year and a half earlier and was the youngest bishop in the Episcopal Church. As Bishop of Maryland, Whittingham’s diocese included the entire state of Maryland and the District of Columbia. Headquartered in Baltimore, it only made sense that when he traveled to Washington, he visit as many of his parishes as possible. On March 6, 1842, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, the bishop preached at Christ Church, Washington Parish in the morning, Epiphany in the afternoon, and Trinity in the evening. The service at Trinity included the confirmation of 54 individuals – 47 from Trinity, two from St. John’s, and five from Epiphany.

In the May 1842 Journal of the Annual Convention of the Diocese of Maryland, Bishop Whittingham records his first visit to Epiphany like this: “In the afternoon of the same day, I preached to a very large congregation, in an upper room, known as the Apollo Hall, in Washington. The Rev. Mr. French, as a city missionary, is gathering a congregation, which is likely soon to grow into a fourth church, in that city. He is laboring in that good work zealously, painfully, and thus far most successfully.”

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March 5: Henry Bliss Noble (1902)

Robert Tanner Freeman First Professionally Trained African- American Dentist in the United States

Today, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is headquartered in the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, named for HUD’s first secretary and also the first African-American named to a cabinet position. Weaver was the grandson of Robert Tanner Freeman (depicted here), the first professionally trained African-American dentist in the U.S. Freeman was born in Washington, D.C. in 1846, a child of slaves. Early in his life, Freeman became friends with Henry Bliss Noble, a local dentist, and worked as an apprentice under him. Dr. Noble encouraged Freeman to pursue a dental career. After Freeman was rejected at two dental schools because of his race, Dr. Noble used his influence to get him admitted to the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Freeman graduated in 1869, becoming the first African-American to earn a dental degree.

Henry Bliss Noble married Henrietta Clitch at Epiphany in September 1864. Two months later, the Nobles were both confirmed there in a class of 85 confirmands, including four African-Americans. Over the next several decades, the Nobles saw their children baptized, confirmed, and married at Epiphany. Finally, after Dr. Noble’s death on March 5, 1902, his funeral took place in the church where he had been married 38 years earlier. A dental journal of the day memorialized him with these words: “He was very loyal to his friends, faithful in his devotion to his church, and benevolent and kindly, his attitude was one of malice toward none and charity for all.”

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March 4: Adelaide Elizabeth Thompson Spurgeon (1907)

Just before the Civil War commenced, New York native Adelaide E. Thompson (later Spurgeon) heeded the call of New York Times co-founder Henry Raymond, who was organizing a band of ladies to travel to Washington in the capacity of nurses. As Adelaide took up her duties at a smallpox hospital in Washington on May 16, 1861, she became the first nurse in the District of Columbia. Over the next several months, Adelaide worked in deplorable conditions, serving as a nurse and a cook. When she couldn’t obtain sufficient supplies, she traveled back to New York City and with donations from friends, returned with trunks filled with food and clothes. Adelaide contracted blood poisoning from which she never fully recovered and had to resign. Her wartime service would later earn her a U.S. government pension of $12 a month.

During the war, Adelaide married Thaddeus Spurgeon, a member of a New York Cavalry unit. A daughter, Ella, was born in 1863. Fourteen years later, Ella was baptized at Epiphany by rector William Paret, who had come to the church a year earlier with the promise of increased ministry with the poor. Evidently this missionary outreach appealed to Adelaide Spurgeon. In 1878, she and her daughter were confirmed at Epiphany. From 1881-85, Adelaide served as the sponsor at close to 150 baptisms, mostly African-American infants at Freedman’s Hospital. After her death on March 4, 1907, Adelaide Spurgeon’s funeral took place at Epiphany, followed by her burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

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March 3: Dedication of Current Pipe Organ (1968)

Frequently in Epiphany’s history a renovation of the church brought a new pipe organ. Such was the case in 1968, when a new chancel area was created in the front of the rood screen and a new organ, with a movable console, was installed. This organ, the fifth in the church’s history, was Opus 1485 of the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company of Boston. With the death of long-time organist-choirmaster Adolph Torovsky in 1967, the organ became a memorial to him. Before Mr. Torovsky’s passing, a brilliant young organist had been brought on staff as an assistant. His name was Garnell Stuart Copeland and he performed the dedicatory recital of the instrument on March 3, 1968.

Despite it being a cold, windy day, a capacity crowd filled the church on March 3rd to hear the new organ. One of those in the audience was composer and church musician Leo Sowerby, often called the “Dean of American church music” in the 20th Century. Garnell Copeland had studied under Sowerby at the now defunct College of Church Musicians at Washington Cathedral. Copeland played Sowerby’s “Passacaglia in F,” which had been dedicated to Epiphany rector Edgar Romig and Copeland’s “Prelude in C Minor,” his tribute to Dr. Sowerby. In a Washington Star review of the recital, critic Lawrence Sears wrote:  “Musical pilgrims to Washington will now want to include a visit to Epiphany Church on downtown G Street to see and hear its stunning new Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ.”

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March 2: Frederick West Lander (1862)

Tall and handsome, vigorous and hot-tempered, fearless to a fault, Frederick West Lander became one of the most name-recognized Americans in the years prior to the Civil War. Lander made five transcontinental surveys on behalf of the U.S. government to select a railroad route to the Pacific. He was a popular speaker, a published fiction writer and poet, an adept negotiator with Native Americans, and a Union general during the Civil War. After his untimely death in 1862, General Lander’s funeral was held at Epiphany, attended by President Lincoln, the cabinet, members of Congress and a vast array of military leaders. In writing about the newly dedicated statue of Lincoln in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda several years later, journalist Mary Clemmer Ames recalled when she witnessed General Lander’s Epiphany funeral.

I recall a moment in his life when his look and attitude were precisely what they are here. It was just after the funeral of General Lander, at the Church of the Epiphany. The sun shone dimly that afternoon against the saddest of rainy skies, and looked down upon one of the most sorrowful of scenes. Almost every day brought a funeral like that – aye, many funerals. Our streets were full of dirges, our houses full of tears. Lander had the faults of an erratic and brilliant genius, but he was a generous man and a heroic soldier – one of the ten thousands dead in their prime. They bore his body through the gray air. The soldier’s horse with empty stirrups and saddle, rider less, moved slowly after it. The great procession took up its line; the band struck up the solemn march.

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March 1: Joseph Borrows Tate (1858)

Long-time Washingtonians will remember when the city had a daily afternoon newspaper, The Washington Star. When founded by Joseph Borrows Tate in 1852, the paper was known as the Daily Evening Star. It was one of dozens of newspapers that sprang up in the mid-19th century in Washington. Like many of its kind, it began modestly as a four-page broadsheet printed by a hand press. Only 250 copies were made for its initial run. Tate and his editorial staff had a vision, which they proudly declared in the paper’s manifest: “The Star is to be free from party trammels and sectarian influences.” Unlike other newspapers that were highly political in nature, the Star was to be neutral.

Joseph B. Tate married Mary Anna Mills at Epiphany on Valentine’s Day 1850. Within the next ten years, Epiphany’s register records the baptisms and burials of three daughters and the burials of Tate and his wife. Tate’s obituary in the Evening Star records that, “No man was better known to the present generation of the citizens of Washington. In all of his dealings with every one, he was strictly an upright man, and took no thought of aught but the conscientious discharge of his duties to his family, his friends, and the community. As a husband, father, son, and friend, his death will leave a void in many hearts that no changes of life throughout time can fill.”

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Sam Wells & the St. Martin’s Voices

Monday, March 13
As part of the Stations of the Cross exhibition, we are delighted to be welcoming the Revd. Dr. Sam Wells and the choir of St. Martin in the Fields, London.
Sam Wells is the author of a number of books about Christian ethics, and his most recent work, A Nazareth Manifesto reflects on the Christian vocation to serve the poor.
Wells and the St. Martin’s Voices will explore in word and song what the shape of Jesus’ life means for theology and ethics, ministry and mission.
St. Martin in the Fields is a large church in central London, whose ministry is in many ways similar to that of Church of the Epiphany. They too are a downtown congregation in a powerful capital city who seek to serve the poor and marginalized. And like us, they enjoy a rich musical tradition with regular public concerts. This promises to be a fascinating evening where we as a congregation will be able to hear how a church similar to ours understands its ministry and mission. Please make every effort to come along – see it as part of your Lenten commitment.

February 28: John Whitney Barlow (1914)

Brigadier General John Whitney Barlow is remembered not for a battle but for a park. In 1871, General Philip Sheridan sent Barlow, his chief engineer, to map the Yellowstone Basin. Barlow’s report helped to promote Yellowstone. Congress soon passed legislation, which President Grant signed in 1872, making Yellowstone America’s first national park. John Barlow was a graduate of West Point, Class of 1861. On the day after Christmas of that same year, Barlow married Hessie McNaughten Birnie at the Church of the Epiphany. Fellow West Point classmate Henry Kingsbury had been married at Epiphany three weeks earlier. Kingsbury would be killed in the war the following September.

Barlow fought with the regular Army at Bull Run through the Peninsula Campaign before transferring to the Corps of Engineers. He served as the chief engineer of Sherman’s Army Corps in Georgia. After the war, Barlow stayed in the engineers and supervised construction of forts in Florida, New York, and Connecticut. He worked on harbors in the Great Lakes and along the Hudson River. He commanded a joint commission of engineers that surveyed and marked the U.S.-Mexican border from El Paso to the Pacific Ocean. Barlow’s West Point classmates remembered him “as a devout Christian and loyal Churchman. Modesty, courtesy, bravery, and wisdom were his attributes.”

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