Beginning of the Church to 1873
“A clergyman (The Rev. Dr. McVickar), having occasion one Sunday in the autumn of 1832 to pass through Stanton Street, encountered throngs of idle and destitute boys playing in the street or lounging in the sun. Addressing one of the group with the question why they were not at Sunday School, he was answered that there was none; why they were not at church, that there was no church. His heart was moved at the situation of these children and their parents, and he reported the case to two Christian ladies, who at once placed in his hands seventy five dollars, saying: ‘We will have on that spot a mission church.’ A room was sought for in that vicinity, and with some difficulty obtained. It was a small, dark room over an engine house. Here were assembled on the sixth of January 1833 – the Festival of the Epiphany – six adult worshipers with two prayer books, and a few ragged children who were persuaded to enter. Hence, the church then commenced was most appropriately called ˜the Church of the Epiphany.”
From an address given by the Rev. Lot Jones, first Rector of the Church of the Epiphany, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the church
The following Sunday, services were held in a hall on the corner of Allen and Houston Streets. The congregation grew rapidly and quickly outgrew its space. A new, bigger lot was purchased on the North side of Stanton Street between Essex and Norfolk streets. On Saturday, June 28, 1834, the new church building was completed. It was established as a Missionary Church.
The Church was formally admitted into union with the convention of New York on September 25, 1845, having incorporated earlier in the year: It then ceased to be a Missionary Church and became an independent parish.
The congregation quickly added to its numbers from the six adults and children who started the church, and by the second week of its existence, Sunday School was established, with two students from Columbia University acting as superintendent and assistant. From the end of January until the middle of May 1833 the congregation numbered more than 200; the Sunday school had 29 teachers and between 200 and 300 students. By 1834, the congregation had increased to 400 people, and by April 1845 there were 511 communicants.
The original congregants of the Church felt very strongly that it be a place that welcomed all and that no one had to buy a pew in order to worship. There was no official vestry, since the church had not yet been incorporated. Instead, there was a group of men known as the “Superintending Committee,” who had been appointed by the City Mission Society. With their leadership, guidance and support, Epiphany became the first free church in New York City. The first vestry came into being in 1845.
Mrs. Cornelia Beach Lawrence, upon hearing the Mission Church of the Epiphany needed a Rector, suggested the Rev. Lot Jones. She had known Mr. Jones through some of her family members whom he had tended to during illness, and she was very impressed by his manner and piety. Mrs. Lawrence personally guaranteed his salary for the first six months. He was invited in a letter written by the first minister to hold services at Epiphany: “There is a prospect of getting up a Mission in the upper part of this City, in the most populous, but not the most wealthy part of it.” Lot Jones immediately accepted the call, and he officiated his first service on January 27, 1833. On February 1, he took over as Missionary in Charge. Lot Jones, born in Brunswick, Maine in 1797, was raised as a Quaker. While a student at Bowdoin College he became interested in the Episcopal Church, and went on to receive a Doctor of Divinity degree from Bowdoin and Columbia College. He was ordained by Bishop Griswold. He served in the “Eastern District”, Christ Church in Macon, Georgia, and Leicester, Massachusetts.
By all accounts the Rev. Jones was a remarkable man. It is said the work done by the Church of the Epiphany under his leadership is one of the most remarkable instances of devoted parish work, and the community greatly profited from his guidance and leadership. While he was rector, despite the changing neighborhood around the church and the dwindling number of parishioners with money, he refused to allow the church to move to a more affluent area. He said the work of the church would always be needed in that neighborhood. His life was cut short when he fell and died while attending the diocesan convention in Philadelphia in 1865. Following his death, the Rev. Benjamin Leacock became Rector from 1868 until 1871. The Rev. Joseph Rambo was Rector from 1872 until 1873.
A small wooden church, in poor condition, was on two of the lots and the other two were vacant. Epiphany and Reformation exchanged properties-Reformation obtained the Stanton Street property which it used for mission work and Epiphany finally had a stronghold uptown. Epiphany and Reformation merged their parishes. The congregation moved to 50th Street. The Reverend Uriah T. Tracy had been the rector of Reformation. He was asked to be the Rector of the merged church and he remained, becoming the Rector of Epiphany.
An apartment building, the Eastminster, was built on the two empty lots. An apartment was reserved therein for the Rector and his wife. The rest of the building was rented and the parish used the income – it was the church’s primary revenue for twenty years. The parish continued to struggle financially.
In 1881, the wooden 50th Street church in a state of decay, Epiphany purchased a stone church, St. Alban’s, on the south side of East 47th, West of Lexington. The congregation moved there in 1881. The church of St Alban’s had been offered to Epiphany at very favorable terms, and on that very day someone showed up with cash, offering to buy the church’s two lots on East 50th Street. Thus the deal was made with little additional financial stress for Epiphany. Edward Black, the Treasurer of the Church in 1881, asked for funds from members of the community to help with the upkeep of the church. He summed up the feelings of the parishioners: “That their church is greatly needed where it stands; that it is free to all; that its ministry is chiefly to the poor; that it has no wealthy members and that the people themselves have contributed to the extent of their power.”
Dr. Uriah T. Tracy was the Rector from 1874-1884. Originally the Rector of Church of the Reformation, he became the Rector of Epiphany when the two churches merged. He resigned in 1884 due to ill health. He moved to Long Island and eventually to New Mexico where he worked as a missionary. He died in Carlsbad, New Mexico in 1917.
Dr. Alford Butler 1884-1892 Dr Butler, a graduate of the Theological Seminary at Cambridge, was from Trinity Parish in Bay City, Michigan. He was held in high esteem by all who knew him. He was called to be the Rector of Epiphany on February 10, 1884. He remained at Epiphany until 1892 when he stepped down because of ill health and moved to Minnesota.
The number of parishioners increased under Dr Butler. But still the parish struggled to stay financially stable. In 1884, the congregation numbered about 150 people. In 1887, probably helped along by a concert and a fair held that year, the floating debt the church was carrying markedly decreased. In April of 1887, the debt was down to $293.53. Mr H.O. Beebe generously donated $100, and was followed by the Senior Warden with the same donation. The other members of the Vestry donated, as did the Rector, and that debt was paid off. In 1884 Rev. Butler suggested every other pew be reserved for regular contributors to the church, but such reservation was not meant to exclude others from sitting there. This was an attempt to help raise additional funds for the church.
By 1893 the church was struggling financially after years of ministering to the poor in a poverty-stricken neighborhood. Bishop Potter thought a merger with another parish would be the answer. Talks were successful with the Church of St John the Baptist, located on Lexington Avenue and 35th Street. Epiphany moved to the 35th Street location and joined with St John the Baptist. The Rector of St John the Baptist, Dr. Duffie, became the Rector of the combined church, and the new vestry was made up of equal numbers from both churches. The name of the combined churches was the Church of the Epiphany, as Epiphany was the older parish. Although Epiphany had heretofore been a free church, in order to stay financially solvent, every other pew was rented.
The church also bought 263 Lexington Avenue, the residence of Dr. Duffie. In 1902, 143 East 35th Street was purchased and became the Rectory.
By 1920 the Church, Parish House and Rectory needed extensive repairs. As the work was being finished on the church, a fire was started by a spark from a worker’s acetylene torch. The Fire Department was summoned, and the building was saved. The church had ample insurance. In 1921, 143 East 35th Street was sold, with the proceeds paying off the mortgage on 263 Lexington, which would be used as a Rectory.
Talks started in 1917 about consolidating with yet another parish.
The Rev. Cornelius Duffie was the Rector of Epiphany from 1893 until 1894 when he became Rector Emeritus. He had been Rector of St John the Baptist from its very beginning in 1848. Born in 1821, he graduated from Columbia in 1841, and from General Theological Seminary in 1844. He was the first Chaplain of Columbia College, and held that position from 1857 until 1891. Dr. Duffie received the Doctor of Divinity from the University of New York. He was part of a distinguished New York City family. His father was the Rector of St Thomas’ Church. The family owned much of the Kips Bay area, and his aunts gave the church the land on which they built St. John the Baptist. Dr. Duffie was known for his generosity – he served the parish with little or no salary, often paying the church’s expenses out of his own pocket. Dr. Duffie died in 1900.
1896 brought the Rev. Joseph Hutcheson as Rector. Hutcheson, a graduate of Amherst and the Episcopal Seminary School in Cambridge, had been the assistant minister at St. John’s Church in Providence, Rhode Island. He resigned in 1900. Under his leadership the church grew, and attracted prominent citizens from the Murray Hill area.
In 1901, Edward Lincoln Atkinson, a graduate of Harvard and of the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, and previously assistant minister of Emmanuel Church in Boston, became Rector of Epiphany at age 37. He was Rector until his accidental death by drowning the following summer. Though Rector for only nine months, his death was a deep blow for the congregation.
In 1903 The Rev. William Crocker, a graduate of Harvard and the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, became Rector and he served as such until 1933. He had been Rector of St. Mary’s in Boston. In addition to his Epiphany duties, he was Chaplain of the NY National Guard from 1912 until 1918, working overseas in the Argonne with the 54th Infantry during World War I. Under his leadership the church paid off its debts in 14 years. He died in 1939 at age 76.
The mission work of the church was done through an association with St Bartholomew’s, and included the participation of Mrs. Lot Jones, aged 80.
The work of the church continued, even though for several years there was no Rector. In 1895 a group of young people was ready for confirmation-but there was no Rector or minister in charge to instruct them. A Miss Bishop took charge of the girls, and a layman took charge of the boys. The group was instructed and presented to Bishop Potter. The Bishop said it was the only time he had ever confirmed a group from a church without a rector.
The congregation grew in the early 1900s, but World War I took a toll. Fewer and fewer people were in regular attendance. Murray Hill was a changing neighborhood, with wealthy people moving away and immigrants moving to the area. In the 1920s the Church housed many groups including the Employment Society, Young Men’s Club, Surgical Dressing Committee (which made surgical dressings and mufflers, wristlets and socks during the War), Girls’ Friendly Society, and the Sewing School for Children (during WWI they made articles to be sent to orphanages abroad).
Charles Howland Russell, Senior Warden of the Church, was a valued member of the congregation. He guided the church through the years without a Rector. Russell wrote the history of Epiphany’s first 75 years.
Epiphany celebrated its 100th Anniversary the first week of 1933. The parish children had their own party on Wednesday the 4th, complete with entertainment. Friday, January 6th, a parish social was held and more than one hundred people were present at â€œone of the most enjoyable times the parish had ever had. Epiphany held its Anniversary service on Sunday, January 8th. The church was full of parishioners and friends. Bishop Jones, grandson of Rev. Lot Jones was present, as were Mr. Crocker, Dr. Suter, the man who had been called to succeed Rev. Crocker, and many former curates. Bishop Manning gave the sermon. The Bishop praised Rev. Crocker for his devoted ministry to Epiphany: “The memory of his faithful loving and self-effacing ministry will not be forgotten.”
But 1933 was the height of the Depression. Epiphany struggled through the worst years of that era at its 35th Street location. Attendance dwindled, as did its income. Its financial situation was described as “most serious.” A third merger with another church was explored as a way to become financially sound, but Bishop Manning was opposed. Dr. Suter was intent on moving Epiphany away from the Murray Hill area that had changed so dramatically over the years. He received Bishop Manning’s and the Vestry’s support to move Epiphany to its present location on Manhattan’s “Far East Side” where there were no Episcopal Churches. The reality of the Depression caused the idea to be tabled for several years. Finally, a Parish meeting was held on December 19th, 1935 to discuss the idea of a move. On January 23rd, 1936 the Parish learned the plan would be put in motion on February 9th. The congregation moved out of 35th Street, put that church up for sale, and began its Uptown search. During this time the congregation worshiped at St Thomas Chapel, 230 East 60th Street, presently All Saints’ Church, until the new church was built. The vestry chose a site on the Northwest corner of 74th and York Avenue where Epiphany remains today. The area was being developed because of the burgeoning New York Hospital complex.
The church was designed in a simplified Norman Gothic style by the firm Wyeth and King, a leading architectural firm. The pews were moved from the 35th Street Church, and continue to serve Epiphany today. On October 15,1939, the congregation attended their first service in their new church home, and the church was dedicated by Bishop Manning on October 29th. Five years later, Epiphany was consecrated October 29,1944. (The church could not be consecrated until the mortgage had been paid. ) Dr. Suter, his mission accomplished, stepped down as Rector. Epiphany’s location near the hospitals was important. In its first years on 74th Street, the clergy had no regular hospital visitation privileges, and they were only able to visit when summoned to bedsides of seriously ill patients. Soon the hospitals were able to work out a regular visiting schedule. Today’s thriving Health Care Chaplaincy is an outgrowth of Epiphany’s early mission work.
Rev. William T. Crocker was Rector for 29 years, from 1903 until 1933, almost one third of the then entire history of Epiphany. He celebrated the One Hundredth Anniversary of Epiphany on January 8th, 1933, and stepped down as Rector one week later. He remained involved with Epiphany as Rector Emeritus.
The Rev. John W. Suter, Jr., who began as Rector on January 15, 1933, was a graduate of Groton, Harvard, Union Theological Seminary, and the Episcopal Theological School of Cambridge. Prior to being called to Epiphany, he was the Rector of St. Anne’s Church in Lowell, MA, and he served for seven years as Executive Secretary of the Department of Religious Education of the National Council under Bishop Perry. He was Rector of Epiphany until 1944. During those 11 years he was the guiding force for Epiphany’s move to, and establishment in, its current location. He left in 1944 to become Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, where he served until 1950. He later taught at St Paul’s School in Concord, NH. An author and editor of numerous works, he died in 1977.
Dr Hugh Douglas McCandless was Rector from 1945 until 1972, when he retired. An alumnus of Yale and the Virginia Theological Seminary, he had been Rector of Christ Church in Suffern, NY and St. Simons-in-the-Cove on Staten Island. Dr, McCandless was involved in the New York Community, having founded the East Manhattan Hospital Chaplaincy and served as Trustee of Seamen’s Church Institute, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and the Corporation for the Relief of Widows and Orphans among others.
The congregation grew once the church formally opened its doors in 1939. Many in the old congregation followed it uptown, and newcomers came as well. The Sunday School had 100 students. Liaisons were made with the hospitals nearby. The church was finally about to fulfill the broad mission outreach Bishop Manning had hoped for.Epiphany resumed its building plan following the end of World War II. The entranceway was completed with a gift from The Pyne family in memory of Percy Pyne and Percy R. Pyne, Jr. who had been active vestry members. In the years from 1945 until 1955 the congregation increased by 60%.
In 1955 there were twenty-five or more parish organizations, including a group making surgical dressings for home and abroad, several basketball leagues for young teenaged boys, a foreign student hospitality committee, and the Released Time School where parishioners worked with youth from the area. The number of children in the neighborhood was declining, and the parish reached out to young adults who were associated with the nearby hospitals and involved them in the life of the church.
The 9:30 service became a family affair, and the 12:15 Communion service was started – making Epiphany the non-Roman church with the most Sunday services in New York. By 1958, the 11 o’clock services on Sunday were so crowded people sat on folding chairs in the aisles and the ushers stood. A decision was made to exercise the option to buy the westerly lot on 74th street to expand the church, and to install a new organ. This expense was greater than the cost to build the entire church. The building campaign was headed by Sumner W. White, Jr., and more funds were raised than necessary!
The early 1960s were years of physical growth for Epiphany. The congregation worshiped in an expanded sanctuary with a new chapel and listened to a new organ.
On November 3, 1963, the church dedicated St. Faith’s Chapel, built on the south side of the church, as a memorial to the Rev. William Tufts Crocker, who served as Epiphany’s 11th rector. The chapel was built with funds donated by Crocker’s widow. Three years later, on November 6, 1966, a columbarium under the chapel was dedicated to the memory of Arthur Allen Marsters.
The Rev. Dr. Hugh Douglas McCandless, who became Epiphany’s 13th rector in 1945, led the church into its modern era, serving until his retirement in 1972. Dr. McCandless died in 1989 at age 81 in Hamden, Connecticut.
The Very Rev. Ernest E. Hunt III was installed as Epiphany’s 14th rector in January 1973 and served until 1988. Dr. Hunt subsequently became dean of the American Cathedral in Paris.
The Rev. Dorsey W. M. McConnell was installed as Epiphany’s 15th rector on January 7, 1990, and served until 1995. Since then, he has served as rector at St. Alban’s in Edmonds, Washington, and at Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
The Rev. George E. Packard served as interim rector from 1995 to 1998, before becoming Bishop Suffragan of the Chaplaincies in 2000.
The Rev. Canon Andrew J. W. Mullins became Epiphany’s 16th on July 1, 1998. Canon Mullins came to Epiphany from Seattle, where he was vice-dean of St. Mark’s Cathedral. He had previously served at St. Bartholemew’s on Park Avenue. He retired on July 31, 2012.
In 1963, the current 50-rank, three-manual multum in parvo-style organ, built by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company of Boston, was installed. The opus 1412 organ was designed by John Cartwright, organist at Epiphany from 1958 to 1987. It includes elements of its predecessor, a three-manual, 37-rank instrument moved from Epiphany’s 35th Street building. The newer organ’s pedal Bourdon, Unda Maris and chimes originally were part of that older instrument, built by J.W. Steere & Son of Springfield, Massachusetts, around 1914.
Senior chorister John Shoemaker, who sang in the choir for nearly four decades, recalls that in 1964 Epiphany had an all-professional choir of men and women. Later, a volunteer choir was added, and eventually the two were combined, into the current form: a volunteer choir with a quartet of professionals. Resourcefulness was a hallmark of the choir. For years, Namlyn Kong, who served as choir mother, had vestments and music ready. In the early 1980s, Barbara Chang, an alto in the choir, started a children’s choir called the Joyful Noises, a predecessor to today’s Children’s Choir, begun by Organist and Choirmaster Elizabeth Hung Wong in 2006. In addition, today’s music programs offer adults multiple opportunities to sing: in the regular choir, at Christmas and Easter, in informal parish choirs several times a year and in “Anyone Can Sing” groups during the summer.
On March 16, 1965, the vestry passed a resolution that the number of ushers passing collection plates be increased from four to six, suggesting a congregation of healthy size. Less than two years later, however, there were signs of financial strain. At the December 20, 1966, meeting of the vestry, the treasurer pointed out that the increase this year in investments income has a tendency to obscure the seriousness of subscription and plate income failing to keep up with expense increase. By 1968, the Rt. Rev. Horace W.B. Donegan, the bishop of New York, made note in a letter to Epiphany of “the financial problems which beset the parish and which the Vestry must wrestle with each month.”
Nevertheless, the church started or took part in several outreach programs over the next four decades. In 1975, it joined forces with Jan Hus Church, St. Stephen’s of Hungary Church and the Burden Center for the Aging to sponsor the Yorkville Luncheon Club, which provided midday meals for seniors at Jan Hus. By 1975, Epiphany’s rummage sales, started as an annual event in the mid-1950s, were a weekly Monday morning occurrence. Later, the sales were shifted to Saturdays and continued into the early 2000s.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, under the leadership of the Very Rev. Ernest E. Hunt III, Epiphany enlarged its 9:30 a.m. Family Service each Sunday and provided a home for the Epiphany Community Nursery School, which later moved across York Avenue. During this time, Epiphany also was a pioneer in supporting the ministry of women. Constance Coles, now Canon for Ministry in the diocese, became Epiphany’s first woman curate in 1978.
In the early 1980s, the church joined with four other neighborhood churches to provide dinner one night a week to 30 homeless older women who were being housed at the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House shelter. When the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter opened its doors in the mid-1980s, men were also referred to the program. In 1990, under the Rev. Dorsey McConnell, the supper expanded further, and by 1995 between 50 and 70 men and women a week were fed. Now, 90 to 120 people are served each Wednesday.
Unfortunately, during the mid-to late 1990s, attendance fell. By 1998, summer Sunday morning services sometimes drew fewer than 30 people. Attendance began to build, however, around the turn of the century. By 2007, Sunday morning services regularly drew 80 and sometimes over 100 people.
New programs were initiated under the guidance of Canon Andrew J.W. Mullins, including a Lay Eucharistic Visitor program to the local hospitals, a monthly Bible and Brewskis gathering in a local pub, and a re-established and popular Vacation Bible School. Clergy and members of the congregation volunteered at St. Paul’s Chapel after September 11, 2001. The Church of the Epiphany Day School was founded in 2004, and now has over 90 preschool students. In 2007, Epiphany began a relationship with a village in Tanzania to educate AIDS orphans through the Carpenter’s Kids Program with the Diocese of New York.