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Parish History

Building Expansions


On March 5, 1911, 15 men and women gathered in a house at 2628 Garfield Street in the District of Columbia, convened by the Rev. James MacBride Sterrett. Rev. Sterrett had decided to found a parish to help define the new neighborhood developing around the intersection of Connecticut and Cathedral Avenues, well beyond the then-northwest edge of downtown Washington. And it was Rev. Sterrett, our first rector, who first declared, “[t]his is to be neither a broad church nor a narrow church, neither a high church nor a low church, but a church of All Souls.”

On October 25, 1914 the growing congregation of All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church gathered for the consecration of a permanent home—a Gothic Revival building with a nave that could seat 230 and an undercroft that could accommodate Sunday school, as well as parish suppers and congregational meetings. The years following World War I were a period of rapid growth for Washington and the parish, and in 1924 the church building underwent a major expansion and reorientation 90 degrees onto its present east-west axis.

In 1951, All Souls added its administration wing along Woodley Place, laying the cornerstone in a ceremony with Thomas Clark, a Justice of the Supreme Court.

Rectors of All Souls

In 1992, the vestry took the risk of calling a young, relatively inexperienced priest who had served as a volunteer associate in the parish under a prior interim rector. The Rev. John David Van Dooren became All Souls’ sixth rector, but only after he, at the urging of the senior warden and the bishop, made public his sexual orientation and committed relationship with a long-term partner, becoming one of the diocese’s first openly gay rectors. Father Van Dooren was a deeply spiritual priest committed to the liturgical and pastoral dimensions of the Christian ministry. 

Under Father Van Dooren, average Sunday attendance gradually grew to nearly 250, and the church became more diverse with respect to both age and sexual orientation. Pioneering openness to the LGBT community combined with traditional worship, made All Souls an unusual, if not unique, parish in our diocese, and both of these remain important to the church.

When Father Van Dooren left in 2005, All Souls was in much better shape in terms of membership and finances compared with previous rector departures. At that time, however, All Souls had historically been a rector-centric parish with a downside propensity for cycles of serious declines in attendance and contributions following the departure of beloved rectors.

When the parish called its most recent rector, Rev. John Beddingfield, in 2007, it broke the pattern of disarray during transitions, building on positive changes made during Father Van Dooren’s time and by increasing leadership from the laity. Father Beddingfield’s tenure at All Souls was characterized by relative continuity with the prior period. Like Father Van Dooren, Father Beddingfield was openly gay, with his partner attending regularly. Father Beddingfield continued and expanded the parish’s traditional worship, but his leadership style was more hands -off, which encouraged lay leadership to take a more active role.

With a spirituality deeply informed by that of St. Francis of Assisi, Father Beddingfield preached contemplative, intellectual and pastoral sermons. Father Beddingfield was active on social media and many parishioners followed his posts on weeks when they were not able to attend mass. He brought a sense of humor to all aspects of parish life, performing a blessing of the animals for St. Francis’ Day and a blessing of the seersucker at the beginning of summer (similar to the kirking of the tartan in high Presbyterian traditions). Father Beddingfield actively encouraged parish fellowship, but did not place himself at the center of it.  

We mention our two most recent rectors as a framework for discussing our parish history but are not looking for a clone of either of these men. Our lay leadership has taken significant responsibility in recent years and we no longer view ourselves as a "rector-centric" parish. Likewise, we are proud of our pioneering outreach to the LGBT community and would never want to cover it up, but we are much more than a "gay church." We do not expect or desire a gay rector over a straight one.


All Souls Forward

Our effort to completely address wheelchair accessibility—All Souls Forward: Living Up To Our Name—has been the major feature of the past six years, culminating in the dedication of our handicap accessibility extension in September 2015. Prior to this effort, members in wheelchairs or scooters could only get to the sanctuary and the upper level of the Administration Building (by way of the sanctuary); none of our restrooms were accessible.

With the completion of the accessibility extension, there is now an elevator which gives easy access to the entire facility and two beautiful wheelchair-accessible restrooms. Before the most recent effort began, All Souls had been discussing accessibility for at least a quarter of a century. In late 2012, All Souls engaged a capital campaign consultant. He determined that by focusing on accessibility, the church could raise $1.2M. The subsequent capital campaign raised over $1.3M.

We formally broke ground in September 2013. The cornerstone was finally laid on Sunday, May 31, 2015 (when the building was substantially complete) and the construction company completed work on the final punch list items in October 2015.

Throughout the process, everyone associated with All Souls Forward exercised considerable discipline to keep the effort focused on accessibility. However, we did take advantage of construction to address critical needs. Our entire facility is now protected by a state of the art fire alarm system. A beautiful portico was added above the church’s main doors. Excavation for the accessibility extension offered us the opportunity to lower our rear garden and to open and brighten our undercroft by installing French doors to the garden. Also, the church’s out-of-date sign was replaced.

ASF PatioASF Sign











Last Published: April 21, 2016 2:27 PM
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