Views from the Archives

Beyond West 99th Street: St. Mary’s Church in Manhattanville

St. Mary’s Church – on West 126th Street — was St. Michael’s first “daughter” church.

St. Mary's Manhattanville

Established in 1823 on land donated by Jacob Schiefflin, Manhattanville’s most prominent merchant and civic leader, and patriarch of a family long associated with St. Michael’s, St. Mary’s Church called William Richmond, already St. Michael’s third rector, as its first.  Initially dependent on St. Michael’s for pastoral support, St. Mary’s nonetheless rapidly developed its own identity as a spiritual anchor in its Manhattanville neighborhood; beginning in 1831, St. Mary’s official status as a “free pew” church assured the new young church’s enduring spiritual leadership within the diocese.

Schiefflin Vault at St. Mary's Church

During the whole nineteenth century, the two parishes remained closely associated through extensive family and friendship connections between the two communities and through shared commitments to institutions such as the Sheltering Arms; towards the end of the twentieth century, St. Michael’s and St. Mary’s also worked closely together in AIDS ministries. In recent years, as St. Mary’s has built on its extensive traditions of engagement with social justice issues, it has become informally known as the We Are Not Afraid Church.

St. Mary's Church Banner

St. Mary’s archival materials parallel and interconnect with St. Michael’s for the 1820s through the 1880s: baptismal, confirmation, marriage and burial records reflect the regular presence of William Richmond, James Cook Richmond (William Richmond’s brother; St. Michael’s fourth rector and St. Mary’s second) and Thomas McClure Peters (William Richmond’s son-in-law; St. Michael’s fifth rector and an early assistant at St. Mary’s) at both churches.

At St. Michael’s, a special memorial plaque on a column in the middle of the nave indicates that William Richmond is buried nearby.

William Richmond Memorial at St. Michael's Church

At St. Mary’s, an elegant memorial plaque reminds parishioners of their first rector’s spiritual legacies.

William Richmond Memorial at St. Mary's Church

Both plaques, making reference to William Richmond’s “labors,” identify the key component of William Richmond’s character. Service on behalf of others informed his every waking moment; he was most deeply at prayer when he was most actively engaged in pastoral and evangelical ministries.

Just six years from now, in 2023, St. Mary’s Church will be celebrating its Bicentennial. As St. Michael’s currently celebrates its own 210th Anniversary, the prospect of the historical celebrations at St. Michael’s first “daughter” church is filled with delights!

November 30, 2017

St. Cyprian’s at St. Michael’s: Hidden Clues, Enduring Presence

On Wednesdays, Feast Days and Sundays, in the early morning, in St. Michael’s Chapel of the Angels, when the Holy Eucharist is celebrated, an unornamented brass offertory plate is used in the service.

St. Cyprian's Offertory Plate

On a Wednesday morning this past October, a small group of Altar Guild members and St. Michael’s early-morning-regulars who’d never noticed the inscription on the plate’s underside rim looked at it in surprise.

Reverse side of plate with inscription

The inscription is hard to read … and to photograph. (The maker’s mark, in the center of the plate, is illegible.)

St. Cyprian's plate, first half of inscription St. Cyprian's inscription, second half

Presented to St. Cyprian’s Chapel by B’hood of St. Andrew #1852 A. D. 1910

Before St. Jude’s Chapel was St. Jude’s, it was The 99th Street Branch of St. Cyprian’s Chapel.

As thousands of Anglo-Caribbeans poured into Manhattan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries looking for the stability of employment, home and community, their worship experiences were often peripatetic; it must have been disconcerting for worshippers whose liturgy has always presupposed both formality and traditional altar furnishings. Before St. Michael’s actually funded the construction of  St. Jude’s Chapel at 19 West 99th Street in 1921, the St. Jude’s congregation endured its own neighborhood migrations. Worship, Bible study and various guild gatherings took place in rented rooms up and down West 99th Street. Two floors of a brownstone were usually taken for one or two year leases: church activities took place on the lower floor and the Howard family – Rev. and Mrs. Howard and their three little boys, Floarda, jr., Sumner and Bertram – lived in three or four rooms on the floor above. The building where St. Jude’s stayed longest –  four years – was at 27 West 99th Street; the two rented floors were over a grocery store.

As the St. Jude’s congregation grew, special services, on Feast Days for instances, took place with increasing frequency in the Saint Saviour Chapel at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The congregation was grateful for the elegant and airy Gothic space, but the wear and tear of carrying all the equipment for each service to the Cathedral and back to West 99th Street in all weathers was tiring for Rev. Howard, acolytes, crucifer, choir members and worshipers. When the permanent St. Jude’s Chapel was actually built, it must have been – in addition to thrilling – a relief.

The St. Cyprian’s Chapel offertory plate no doubt traveled all over the Upper West Side: carefully carried by some trustworthy parishioner from one sacred space to another, it was part of worship at 177 West 63th Street, in various rented rooms on West 99th Street, up at the Cathedral on Amsterdam Avenue and 113th Street, and back again at 19 West 99th Street.

Before it became part of St. Jude’s history, the offertory plate was already an important part of St. Cyprian’s, as the inscription makes clear.

The Brotherhood of St. Andrew was established in 1883; by the turn of the century, it was already well on its way to becoming the international fellowship of men and boys that it is now, in the early twenty-first century.

Brotherhood of St. Andrew 2017 logo

The Brotherhood of St. Andrew began as a mission to homeless men in downtown Chicago; it describes itself now, in 2017, as “a world-wide ministry to men and boys in the Episcopal-Anglican Communion” and sponsors 357 branches in Africa, Japan, the Philippines, Haiti, Great Britain, Canada and the United States. By the early twentieth century, the Brotherhood had a hefty monthly publication, St. Andrew’s Cross, “a church paper for laymen, advocating definite prayer and personal service.”

1905 St. Andrew's cross

In the December 1905 edition of St. Andrew’s Cross, an issue most of which was devoted to the Brotherhood’s work throughout Canada, the editorial staff announced new chapters as part of its regular international administrative updates: St. Cyprian’s Chapel had just become Chapter 1852.

notice of 1905 St. Cyprian's Chapel Brotherhood of St. Andrew Chapter

The inscription on the offertory plate gives the St. Cyprian’s Brotherhood of St. Andrew Chapter number: 1852.

In 1910, five years after the St. Cyprian’s Chapter successfully passed its probationary phase, its members – men and boys of St. Cyprian’s – gave the offertory plate as a gift to the West 63rd Street Chapel they loved.

The 99th Street Branch of St. Cyprian’s Chapel was officially begun in that same year.

We don’t know when the St. Cyprian’s offertory plate became a permanent part of St. Jude’s collection of service items … but it seems to have been a part of St. Michael’s collection ever since St. Jude’s was closed in 1957.

Made in 1910, the plate has been in constant use ever since. It has been cared for and cleaned by clergy and Altar Guild members of three closely connected congregations – St. Cyprian’s, St. Jude’s and St. Michael’s – and has received worshipers’ thankful offerings in support of their church for more than a century.

November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving

Beyond West 99th Street: Remembering Bishop Seabury (1729-1796)

On this day in the calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, we remember Samuel Seabury, first bishop of the Episcopal Church, and we consider the connections between Seabury and St. Michael’s first two rectors, John Vanderbilt Bartow (rector: 1807-1809) and Samuel Farmar Jarvis (1810-1819).

Samuel Seabury was a man of contradictions. A Loyalist during the North American colonies’ rebellion against the Crown, he nonetheless was subsequently chosen by fellow colonial clergy as the first bishop of the newly created Episcopal Church; consecrated not in England but in Scotland to lead the English church, now made American, in the new United States, Seabury codified the Episcopal Church’s organization, set its liturgical tone and developed its first independent theology, especially around issues related to the Eucharist.

Bishop Samuel Seabury

Seabury did not create the Episcopal Church nor was he alone in sustaining it, but his leadership, both practically and symbolically, could not have been more important. In one way or another, Seabury was connected to many of the early Episcopal churches and clergy families of the Northeast.

Equally wealthy and prominent, the large Seabury family and the large Bartow family were neighbors, both property owners in Westchester, New York: in the colonial era, they were similarly influential in both secular and church affairs. The two families crossed paths regularly in New York and elsewhere.

Bishop Samuel Seabury and Bishop Abraham Jarvis, grandfather of St. Michael’s second rector, Samuel Farmar Jarvis, were clergy colleagues.

St. Michael’s two first rectors – John Vanderbilt Bartow and Samuel Farmar Jarvis – would both have been raised on Samuel Seabury stories: their grandfathers both knew him. When Seabury died, in 1796, John Bartow, living in New York, was just nine years old and Samuel Jarvis, in Connecticut, was ten. Both little boys, as they grew up and then moved into decisions to become priests – like men in their families for generations back – must have been conscious of themselves as inheritors and transmitters of important church history, living participants in the church’s transition from the colonial era to the age of national independence.

St. Michael’s first fourteen years – Bartow’s rectorship and Jarvis’ – witnessed expansion in both the new Episcopal Church and the new United States. In 1807, there were seventeen states and astonishingly large swaths of unexplored continent. Over the next several decades, the development of American political identity and Episcopal Church growth were interconnected.

Political Map of US Expansion

St. Michael’s first two rectors – the men whose childhoods overlapped with Samuel Seabury’s last years – secured St. Michael’s place in New York City: by 1820, St. Michael’s was well established. Over the following thirty years, St. Michael’s would simultaneously follow the country’s Westward expansion – the next two rectors established many churches in states and territories across the North American continent – and initiate new forms of domestic mission in New York City.

Bartow and Jarvis both went on to long and distinguished careers after their first jobs in the little Bloomingdale church. Jarvis, in particular, was aware of himself as a link between his church’s past and its future: a professor on the first faculty of General Theological Seminary in New York City, the first seminary in the Episcopal Church, Jarvis was also the church’s first Historiographer, appointed by General Convention in 1838.

 

GTS

At St. Michael’s Church, Bishop Samuel Seabury’s legacy – “the gift of perseverance to renew the Anglican inheritance in North America” – was secure.

[For more information on Bishop Samuel Seabury, see Holy Women, Holy Men: November 14: http://prayer.forwardmovement.org/the_calendar_response.php?id=401114]

November 14, 2017

 

 

 

Early 20th Century Altar Guild Minutes: Donations to The 99th Street Branch of St. Cyprian’s Chapel

(In August 2017, as part of the long-range 210th Anniversary archives cataloging project, early twentieth century Altar Guild record books were transferred from storage in the Lower Sacristy to the Archives. These previously unexamined records – mostly minutes from weekly meetings – contain rich and significant evidence of daily life at St. Michael’s.)

At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, the San Juan Hill neighborhood of Manhattan – an area from the West 50s to the 70s, where Lincoln Center is now located – was the first, and sometimes the main, destination for Afro Caribbean immigrants. The Episcopal Church was quick to meet the needs of the new “colored” arrivals in the city: these Anglican immigrants needed a church of their own. The city’s oldest African American Episcopal church, St. Philip’s, was in the process of arranging its move from lower Manhattan to Harlem, had its own deeply rooted culture and traditions, and wasn’t able to meet the needs of the massive Caribbean influx. Accustomed to establishing chapels for recent immigrant groups such as Germans and Italians as well as African Americans from both the South and the Caribbean, the Episcopal Mission Society of the Diocese of New York built St. Cyprian’s Chapel – a “colored” chapel – at 177 West 63rd Street in 1906.

St. Cyprian's Chapel on West 63rd Street

St. Cyprian’s was not the first diocesan African American mission chapel, but, led by its vicar, the Reverend John Wesley Johnson, it was, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the best organized.

 

St. Cyprian's 1906 expansion

But the San Juan Hill neighborhood was bursting at the seams; Caribbean immigrants needed to look elsewhere to find homes. They discovered the West 90s and 100s, an area where African Americans could rent rooms and apartments in the brownstones lining these streets.

St. Michael’s Church, always alert to the needs of its neighbors, noted the growth of the “colony of colored people” on its own street; simultaneously, the Episcopal Mission Society and St. Cyprian’s considered the possibility of opening a “branch” of St. Cyprian’s on West 99th Street. In 1909, St. Michael’s rector, John Punnett Peters, and the vestry decided to explore the possibility of supporting and assuming full responsibility for this mission; it would be led by the newly ordained Rev. Floarda Howard, the talented young brother-in-law of St. Cyprian’s vicar, Rev. Johnson.

The first evidence of St. Michael’s commitment to this new endeavor occurs in the June 1911 Altar Guild minutes.

 

1911 Altar Guild Minutes

The meeting was opened by Dr. J. P. Peters after which he requested that any choir vestments which could no longer be used by the choir of St. Michael’s Church be sent to The 99th Street Branch of St. Cyprian’s Chapel.

A way to support the new mission … a natural, thoughtful gesture … an impulse which most well-off housekeepers might understand: beautiful and lovely things have become worn, a little drab and frayed perhaps, but they’re still usable in a pinch. What to do with them? It doesn’t seem right to just throw them out. Surely they can still be of use to someone … And the solution presents itself: give the still-good-quality pieces to someone who has none at all. Charity and utility meet.

The recipients of the time-worn cast-offs surely felt … We don’t know actually know the full range of emotions they felt; we only know that, according to St. Michael’s vestry minutes, gratitude was expressed.

Over the years, St. Michael’s regularly donated used vestments, altar furnishings, hymnals and prayer books to The 99th Street Branch of St. Cyprian’s, or, as it was known to all by 1912, St. Jude’s Chapel.

In 1916, the St. Michael’s Altar Guild Minutes report on the gift of “old ribbon markers” for service prayer books in addition to old choir cassocks already sent.

1916 Altar guild minutes

For half a century, the periodic gifts of cast-offs and hand-me-downs from St. Michael’s to St. Jude’s contributed to the complex institutional relationship between the church and the chapel: the charity of “second hand” fit effortlessly into the social and cultural assumptions of “separate but equal” in an era when this arrangement was the law of the land.

November 13, 2017

A Skull at St. Michael’s in 1889

In 1889, construction on St. Michael’s third church began. The eastern Amsterdam Avenue wall was being built while the second church, immediately behind it, still standing, continued in use for regular  worship. It was a surprising sight.

1889 Third Church construction photo

Children watched, fascinated.

detail

One of the children was apparently a little girl, Estelle Clark Burdick. Seven years later, in 1896, she was confirmed with an aunt, three  cousins and a group of more than twenty other confirmands by Bishop Horatio Potter at St. Michael’s. That spring, In 1896, the third church had been standing for just six years, and the seven lancet windows of St. Michael’s Victory in Heaven had been installed just sixteen months before.

Confirmation Record, 1896

Estelle Clark Burdick appears nowhere else in St. Michael’s registers.

In 1956, apparently out of the blue, Rev. William Corker, St. Michael’s rector at the time, received a note. It is written in a very shaky and barely legible hand.

280 Chestnut Street

Ambler, Pennsylvania

March 21, 1956

Dear Father

When I was a little girl – I am now 75 – I attended services in the old Saint Michael’s 99th and Amsterdam with old Dr. Peters the rector. Then the cemetery [was] torn up right at the corner to build the beautiful new big stone church … and dear Dr. John Peters was rector then – I was confirmed there in 1896 — … I still remember the glorious stained glass windows over the altar – I always loved the figure of St. Michael … I still remember holding a scull (sic) in my hands as the cemetery was being dug up, a very very old cemetery –

Sincerely

Mrs. Estelle M. B. Wright

Rev. Corker  — or perhaps Mrs. Corker who often helped her husband with some of his correspondence – wrote back that he was pleased that Mrs. Wright had such happy memories of St. Michael’s.

……………………

As we think about the construction of the third church and the fact that bones from St. Michael’s first, early nineteenth century cemetery were apparently dug up in the 1889 excavation and building process, we can only hope that the soul associated with the skull that little Estelle held in her hands belonged to a children-loving and good-humored member of the early St. Michael’s community.

 

October 31, 2017

All Hallows’ Eve

 

Beyond West 99th Street: The Sheltering Arms … At 129th Street in Manhattanville, and throughout New York City

Some of the most modest memorial plaques in the Chapel of the Angels at St. Michael’s evoke the richest histories. Former children of the Sheltering Arms – no names specified – came together and collected funds for a memorial to Sarah Seaton Richmond (1836-1906, daughter of James Cook Richmond, St. Michael’s fourth rector) longtime Superintendent of the Sheltering Arms.

Sarah Seaton Richmond Sheltering Arms plaque

The Sheltering Arms, founded in the middle of the nineteenth century by clergy and lay leadership of St. Michael’s, was truly revolutionary. It was the first organization to take children from families in crisis, and then feed, clothe, house and educate them while helping parents get back on their feet; the goal was to reunify the family. The Sheltering Arms was a paradigm of what we now know as foster care.

In the beginning, Thomas McClure Peters, rector of St. Michael’s from 1858 to 1893, gave his large home for the experimental first Sheltering Arms building and moved with his family to a new rectory. Though the administration and management of the Sheltering Arms initially proved difficult, the value and success of its core mission were immediately obvious. More children than could possibly be admitted petitioned to be cared for at the Sheltering Arms and Peters’ former private home was soon deemed impossibly small.

A fund-raising campaign at St. Michael’s and among colleague Episcopal churches in and beyond the Diocese quickly accumulated enough money for a new dormitory complex; the large, impressive building extended from 126th to 129th Streets on 9th Avenue, adjacent to St. Mary’s Church in Manhattanville, St. Michael’s first “daughter” church.

Sheltering Arms 129th St drawing

Over time, this Sheltering Arms facility was modified and redesigned, serving as the institution’s base.  However, as the numbers of children being served expanded and the governance structure of the organization was stabilized, the Sheltering Arms moved to Yonkers where several cottages of different sizes were built for girls and boys of varying ages and for invalids.

postcard of Sheltering Arms, no date

In the 1940s, as Robert Moses’ urban redevelopment plans altered the New York City landscape, the 126th Street building was torn down. Today, the only remaining Manhattanville vestige of the original Sheltering Arms facility is the playground which bears its name (www.nycgovparks.org/parks/sheltering-arms-park).

Sheltering Arms NYC Park 2017

As of 2017, however, the legacy of the Sheltering Arms throughout New York City remains strong.

For more than one hundred and fifty years beginning after the Civil War, various charitable organizations, including the Episcopal Mission Society and St. Barnabas House as well as the Sheltering Arms, all founded by St. Michael’s Church, served abandoned and orphaned children, women struggling in poverty, and broken families. At the end of the twentieth century and in recent years, these various organizations and others have frequently been reorganized, reconfigured and consolidated.

Sheltering Arms 2017 logo

Today, the Sheltering Arms (www.shelteringarmsny.org) , with offices and facilities throughout the city, provides counseling support in areas such as domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse and trauma response in early childhood education and after school programs as well as foster care and adoptive services.

October 13, 2017

Beyond West 99th Street: New York City Council Honors the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force

On Wednesday, September 28, 2017, the New York City Council unanimously approved the last formal steps of land use reviews for the Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial and Cultural Education Center. In addition, the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force was issued a proclamation by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito “to publicly recognize those who have worked for many years” to ensure the success of the project.

NYC Proclamation for Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force

Much of the history of the colonial and pre-Civil War Harlem African Burial Ground, sometimes called the Harlem Negro Burying Ground, can be found in St. Michael’s parish registers.

The victory of this major step forward in the memorialization of the Harlem African Burial Ground is St. Michael’s as well as the Task Force’s.

September 29, 2017

Beyond West 99th Street: Jarvis in New Haven

(The history of St. Michael’s Church has its origins in earlier histories and extends out in connection with  many other histories from the early nineteenth century through to the present … as I travel around New York City and far beyond it as well, I encounter St. Michael’s in many places.

As some of you may remember, the June 2017 Annual Conference of NEHA (National Episcopal Historians and Archivists) was held at St. Michael’s. Next summer, the 2018 Conference will be held at Trinity-Church-on-the-Green in New Haven, Conn., and the most recent NEHA Board meeting was held there last week.

National Episcopal Historians and Archivists logo

Periodically, I’ll be posting items from ‘Beyond West 99th Street.’  —  JBT)

St. Michael’s second rector was Samuel Farmar Jarvis (1786-1851); he served from 1811 to 1819. The rectorship of St. Michael’s was Jarvis’ first job, as it had been that of St. Michael’s first rector, John Vanderbilt Bartow.  Samuel Farmar Jarvis was the son of Abraham Jarvis (1739-1813), second Bishop of Connecticut.

Abraham, father of Samuel F Jarvis

Abraham Jarvis was ordained deacon and priest in the Church of England; he served as rector of Christ Church, Middletown from 1766 to 1799, seeing the church through the political upheavals of the Revolution and the creation of the new United States. Jarvis was one of ten clergymen to name Samuel Seabury the first bishop of the newly constituted Episcopal Church of the United States in 1783. He himself was consecrated Bishop of Connecticut in 1797 and was both Bishop and rector of Trinity Church, New Haven when he died.

It was Abraham Jarvis who ordained his son, Samuel, deacon and then priest, in 1811.

Samuel Farmar Jarvis

After his father’s death in 1813, plans for the second church building of Trinity-Church-on-the-Green, designed by architect Ithiel Town, were put in place; in 1814, it was Samuel Farmar Jarvis, by then the well-established Rector of St. Michael’s in New York City, who laid and consecrated the cornerstone of the new church. In his address after Morning Prayer on this occasion, Samuel Farmar Jarvis expounded on the first verse of Psalm 127, “Except the Lord build the house, their labour is in vain that build it.”

Trinity Church, NH, early photograph

Abraham Jarvis’ bones are interred under the altar of Trinity-on-the-Green; his burial plaque is topped by the image of his bishop’s mitre.

Bp Jarvis' monument in Trinity Church, NH

The bishop’s presence in New Haven continues.

Bp Jarvis now Yale Graduate Club 155 Elm St.

Yale University’s Graduate Club, located on Elm Street facing the Green, is Bishop Abraham Jarvis’ home, now modernized and added on to.

September 25, 2017

 

A Small Memorial: Used Every Day … Seldom Noticed

Memorials come in all sizes: whole buildings, altars and stained glass windows … plaques … hymnals and prayer-books … chalices, patens, collection plates, linens and vestments … Sometimes, memorials figure in our daily church lives, and we don’t even know it.

One such easy-to-overlook memorial at St. Michael’s Church is for a little boy named Frederick Ralph Gleason.

Gleason Memorial litany desk in Chapel of the Angels

Located in the Chapel of the Angels, this prie-dieu lectern, sometimes called a prayer and litany desk, is used every single day for morning prayer and other services. It is an integral piece of the furniture of our liturgy.

The memorial notice itself is located on a brass plate in the front of the litany desk above the metalwork of leaf motifs and a circle-encased cross. The memorial text, in a restrained Spencerian script, is a little hard to see, but once people have noticed it, they never forget it.

Suffer the little children

To the glory of God and in Loving Memory of

Frederick Ralph Gleason

Aged four years 1896

Suffer the little children to come unto Me

There is almost no information about Frederick in the Archives. He wasn’t baptized at St. Michael’s. He appears in the sacramental registers only once, in Burials, in April, 1896. St. Michael’s rector, the Rev. John Punnett Peters conducted the service; Frederick was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. That particular spring must have been a tough one. There were seven funerals at St. Michael’s within the first two and a half weeks of April; of these, five were services for children under the age of fourteen.

Frederick Gleason burial notice in sacramental register

Whoever gave the memorial litany desk – Frederick’s parents? his grandparents? we don’t know – must have loved both St. Michael’s Church and the little boy very much. Ecclesiastical furniture like this was not inexpensive. The litany desk seems to have been custom-made by the J. & R. Lamb Firm: the Lambs were a St. Michael’s family and many of the memorials at St. Michael’s were made by Lamb. The Gleason Memorial litany desk is an adaptation of one of the standard Lamb models as displayed in their 1887 Ecclesiastical Metalwork trade catalog.

Lamb catalog litany desks

The Frederick Ralph Gleason Memorial litany desk has been in continuous use here at St. Michael’s since Frederick’s death. Love for one little boy has enriched our daily life of worship and prayer for more than one hundred and twenty years.

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