The Church of the Transfiguration on East 29th Street in Manhattan—famously known as “The Little Church Around the Corner”—celebrated its 175th anniversary on Sunday, October 1st.
“It’s been a wonderful 175 years for this church. It’s always been a most loving and accepting place. There’s such a beautiful history here, full of conviction and sincerity. We know who we are, and we’re strict on what’s important. We’re solid at the core where it counts but soft and malleable around the edges—so people feel so accepted when they come here,” said the church’s rector, The Reverend Father John David van Dooren.
“As for the future, I hope that for as long as this church is here, for however many years God gives us, we shall remain faithful, because we’re called to be faithful before we’re ever called to be successful,” continued Father John David.
The church, renowned for its beauty, has a rich history and a long tradition of inclusion. It was a station on the Underground Railroad and sheltered Black families during the 1863 Draft Riots.[i] It opened one of the first Sunday schools for African American children in New York City.
In 1870, it began forging close ties to the theater[ii]—and gained its nickname—after a nearby church refused to hold a funeral for a deceased actor and sent him to “the little church around the corner.”
The church is famous for the many thousands of weddings it has hosted over the years. The church has held more weddings than any other church in the United States. In July 2012, the church was proud to minister the first same-sex wedding in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
Music is at the heart of the church. The choral music program provides training to a diverse group of children and teens from all around New York City. The boys’ choir was among the oldest in the nation and now includes girls. The church holds concerts throughout the year, many of them free or low cost.[iii]
Founded in 1848 with a mission to serve people who are poor or marginalized through “Faith and Works” (its motto), the church remains a vital and thriving community, even as it works to recover from the pandemic and overcome the challenges facing so many churches today.
[i] During the riots, the church’s founder, Rev. Dr. George Hendric Houghton, dispersed a bloodthirsty mob gathered outside the church, shouting at them, “You white devils, you! Do you know nothing of the spirit of Christ!”
[ii] The church has served as the national headquarters of the Episcopal Actors’ Guild since its founding in 1923.
[iii] Every Tuesday through October 31st, from 12:30–1pm, the church will host a free classical music concert featuring professional musicians from around New York City. Suggested donation is $6.