The Episcopal Church of the Atonement

Our History

The Atonement congregation has been blessed by God with a strong Christian presence in the Diocese of Washington D.C. since 1914: first as a mission of Calvary Episcopal Mission, later as an independent mission in 1920, and finally as an independent parish from 1961 to the present.

The 1914 edifice was built at the intersection of 54th and Grant Streets, Northeast, Washington, D.C., as the Chapel of the Atonement. The congregation was sponsored by the Reverend F.I.A. Bennett with the dedicated lay support of Mr. Charles E. Lane. By 1920, the congregation had grown in strength such that Bishop Harding made it an independent mission. Lay Leader, Mr. John Collins, was instrumental in acquiring that status. Unfortunately, the life of the congregation became imperiled by a rapid turnover in Vicars from 1920 to 1939. During this period, the Diocese seriously questioned whether the Mission should be closed. An appeal was made to Bishop John E. Freeman to continue the work of Atonement, and he granted that permission.

The Reverend Eugene L. Henderson, with a national reputation for developing congregations, became Vicar in 1939. During the ensuing ten years of his tenure at Atonement, the congregation became a solid church. Father Henderson greatly increased the congregation’s knowledge of the teachings of the Church, and led the congregation to a vision of a new church. Further, Father Henderson’s influence led to organized ministries in the church which laid the groundwork for the coming expansion of Atonement’s work in God’s Kingdom. In 1947, with aid from the Diocese of Washington and the Phillips Foundation, land was purchased at the corner of 52nd and East Capitol Streets, Southeast, Atonement’s present location.

Deacon Quinland R. Gordon came to Atonement as Vicar in 1949. Six months later he was ordained to the Sacred Order of Priests. The progress of Atonement Chapel under the leadership of Father Gordon was nothing short of exceptional. Construction was begun on the new church, and in 1951 the congregation moved to its new location. By dedication day for the beautiful Gothic stone edifice, the Chapel Committee, as individuals, had financed the construction of a New Comer Pipe Organ at a cost of $10,000, and a Century Club of parishioners raised $100.00 each to pay for the pews. Growth in membership and services was phenomenal. In 1958, a new addition was constructed to fill the need for more classroom and office space to facilitate the various ministries the church had undertaken. The additional space also provided for a significant community outreach program through a highly regarded nursery school which operated on the lower level. That nursery school led several parents to join Atonement, becoming a source of congregational enrichment.

By 1961, the Atonement congregation was completely independent of the Diocese for financial support. The Atonement Chapel Committee petitioned the Diocese for full parish status, and received it on February 4, 1962. The Reverend Mr. Gordon was installed as the first rector of the Episcopal Church of the Atonement in the Parish of Atonement. At the time Atonement’s profile included: 343 communicants; Altar, Lay Reader and Acolyte Guilds; its first Vestry; Senior and Girls Choirs; a large Sunday School; and the following established church organizations: St Ann’s Chapter of the Daughters of the King, Women’s Auxiliary, Men’s Club, Brotherhood of the Atonement, the LI-DRAN-SO Club, Mothers’ Club-St. Clare’s Guild, Girls Friendly Society, Boy Scout Troop 580, Brownie Troop 598 and Girl Scout Troops 122 and 361. The Nursery School continued to be a successful and highly regarded community outreach program. It had gained an area-wide reputation for excellence in pre-school education.

Three rectors served between Father Gordon and our current rector, Reverend H. Jocelyn Irving. They were Reverend Henri Alexander Stines(1966), Reverend Solomon N. Jacobs (1970), and Reverend Robert Boyd Hunter (1975).

The Reverend Robert Boyd Hunter was installed as Atonement’s fourth rector on October 1, 1975. He came to Atonement from Atlanta, Georgia, where he had served as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. During Father Hunter’s twenty-seven-year tenure, the ministry of the church expanded in many ways: fiscal stability, community outreach, and a major expansion of the physical structure.The Atonement congregation has been blessed by God with a strong Christian presence in the Diocese of Washington D.C. since 1914: first as a mission of Calvary Episcopal Mission, later as an independent mission in 1920, and finally as an independent parish from 1961 to the present.

Fiscally, the church strengthened its financial base by constructing and selling three townhouses on its property. The sale of those houses, and the generosity of Atonement’s congregation, created the first Atonement Trust Fund in excess of $250,000. The Atonement Scholarship Fund was created and is used to provide scholarships for Atonement’s college students. The Men’s Club established a catering service ministry to raise funds to benefit Church programs and projects.

Community outreach grew during this period. In cooperation with the Government of the District of Columbia, the congregation housed two outreach programs in its rectory. The first was a group home for persons with mental illness. The second use was housing for teenage mothers. The Men and Boys Outreach Program, under the auspices of the Men’s Club, provided support and encouragement to boys in the church and community who could benefit from a strong male presence in their lives. St. Ann’s Chapter of the Daughters of the King and Episcopal Church Women of Atonement conducted outreach to community schools with school supplies, warm jackets, shoes, Prize Day awards, and support of special activities. St. Ann’s Chapter also provided layettes for needy newborns, and coordinated a significant toy collection drive for distribution to needy children at Christmas. The Welcoming Committee mailed care packages to the church’s college students. A Meals on Wheels program was also established.

Expanding church programs and the need to accommodate disabled persons, led to the need for additional space, a modified entry to the church, and an elevator. In September 1999, the congregation approved a project to build an addition to the church, with an elevator and a ramp, to meet the disability access needs. The project was fully completed by July 2004, and by September 30, 2012, the congregation paid off the mortgage and a mortgage burning ceremony was held.

Father’s Hunter’s retirement from active clergy in June 2003 initiated an interim period for Atonement. This period was used to make a serious assessment of where the parish was in response to God’s call. The entire congregation’s participation in that process through a search committee resulted in an updated parish profile and a new mission statement.

From 2003 to 2005, two interim priests served as Rectors – Rev. John A. Andrews and Rev. Mitzi McAlexander Noble.