Saturday, January 26, 2013

LITTLE CHURCH AROUND THE CORNER (c) A Vibrant Refuge Today By Polly Guerin

Nestled in the middle of the block, at 1 East 29th Street in the NoMad neighborhood of Manhattan, New Yorker’s might suddenly stand in awe and admire the site of a quaint Episcopal, Church of the Transfiguration, which became known as the Little Church Around the Corner. Time is freeze framed where the sanctuary is set back from the street behind a garden, which in contrast to the skyscraper giants creates a facsimile of the English countryside. A refuge from modern society, the church has long been an oasis for New Yorkers of all faiths, who relax in the garden, pray in the chapel or come for the free lunchtime concerts.

LEGENDARY EPISODES The church’s storied history always stressed service to the poor and oppressed from its earliest days. The congregation was founded in 1848 by the Rev. Dr. George Hendric Houghton and worshipped in a home at 48 East 29th Street until church was built and consecrated in 1849. Rev. Houghton was a man ahead of his time and was a brave supporter of the oppressed. In 1863, during the Civil War Draft Riots, Houghton gave sanctuary to African Americans who were under attack but when rioters showed up at the church, Houghton turned them away saying “You white devils, you! Do you know nothing of the spirit of Christ?”

Actors were among the social outcasts in the 1870s so it is no wonder that they found refuge at the church. When an actor named George Holland died a rector of Church of Atonement, which is no longer extant, refused to conduct funeral services for the actor, he suggested, “I believe there is a little church around the corner where they do that sort of thing.” Joseph Jefferson, a fellow actor who was trying to arrange Holland’s burial, exclaimed, “If that be so, God bless the Little Church around the Corner!” and that is how the church began a longstanding association with the theater and affectionately acquired the quaint name. In 1923, the Episcopal Actors’ Guild held its first meeting at Transfiguration and celebrated actors Basil Rathbone, Tallulah Bankhead and Rex Harrison have served as officers or council members.

THE LITTLE CHURCH AROUND THE CORNER is also a favorite wedding site. When P.G. Wodehouse, was living in Greenwich Village he married his wife Ethel at the Little Church in 1914. Not surprising, subsequently Wodehouse set most of his fictionalized weddings at the church; and in the hit musical “Sally” that he wrote with Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton, paid tribute to the Bohemian congregation where so many lives began and ended. Notably Sir Rex Harrison was memorialized at the church upon his death in 1990 and Maggie Smith and Brendan Gill were among the celebrated stars who spoke at the service. The Little Church’s association with the theatre continues today with programs and performances by talented actors.

In 1967, the Little Church Around the Corner, was designated a New York landmark and in 1973 it was listed on the national Register of Historic Places. Historian guides often give tours of the church, contact the church for the schedule.

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About Me

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Polly Guerin is an author/poet with four textbooks and 2 video productions as credentials as well as 4 books ready to be published. All my blogs are intended to become the basis for books to be published. PollyTalk From New York (c) is a current events blog about happenings in New York City. I have been PollyTalk columnist on the Internet, Big Apple News Network. AmazingArtDecoDivas blog features amazing women of notable character. I am on the board of the Art Deco Society of New York. The Fashion Historian blog gives pertinent insight into Polly's consummate knowledge about fashion history. Former professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Awaken Your Sleeping Beauty blog gives you pertinent information about holistic remedies for health, beauty, mind, body and spirit. I am on the board of the Edgar Cayce New York Center. I sing with the St. George's Choral Society and also serve on their Board. My little dog Colby is a rescue dog and I support animal charities. I hope you enjoy my blogs, please keep in touch.