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?”
SERVICE TO THE OPPRESSED
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. www.littlechurch.org. Historian guides often give tours of the church, contact the church for the schedule.