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St. Thomas’ Parish  Has its New Church

Accompanying images can be viewed starting in the lower portion of cols. 1 & 2 on page 1 of the May 2019 issue pdf

By P.L. Wolff

Finally, after years of controversy, and negotiations with DC agencies and neighborhood residents, particularly those on Church Street, the congregants have their new church and community center. The community is being invited to the May 30th consecration at 7 pm and to attend the celebratory reception that will follow the service.

Contrary to what Dupont residents seemingly understood, the new building facing 18th Street was designed by Georgetown-based architectural collaborative Hickok Cole to accommodate the parish’s worship and community outreach and service spaces exclusively.

The main entrance from 18th street opens directly into the first floor Common Room in which are installed parts of the saved rear wall architectural elements that had been behind the original church’s alter.

Also on the first floor is the Bishop Gene Robinson Chapel, designed for weddings and other small gatherings.

On the second floor is the Main Sanctuary which seats approximately 230 worshippers, and on the third floor, with its flexible space, the plan is to rent to one or two nonprofit groups that share the same outreach goals as the parish. The fourth floor with its outdoor terrace and kitchen will be used for receptions and community events.

As the Rev. Alex Dyer told The InTowner on May 2nd, “We are referring to the building as a launch pad into the world around us; it is not a sanctuary from the world. We want our space to be used by our neighbors, organizations, and groups.”

Following the church’s destruction, its 550-member congregation fell by half and it was wasn’t, according to Rev. Dyer until “the 1990s [that] the congregation began to grow again.” And crediting the then-Rev. Nancy Lee Jose for starting “the process of discerning the need for a new building in 2009,” Dyer said that “[a]fter many different proposals for buildings, we completed our building and held our first service April 20, 2019.” That was followed the next day by their Easter Sunday service, attended by about 235 worshippers. Concluding, Dyer said, “The reason we were able to complete our new church building was because we sold a vast portion of our lot to a developer. St. Thomas’ Parish has no formal connection with the residential building next our new church building.”

Rev. Dyer also issued an invitation to all to “[j]oin us [on May 30th at 7 pm] for a festive Eucharist as Bishop Mariann Budde, Diocesan Bishop of Washington, and Bishop Gene Robinson, Bishop in Residence at St. Thomas’ Parish, will consecrate our new building.”

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Cavanaugh’s Cross of St Thomas’ Parish

Gordon J. Alt*

Almost 50 years ago, St Thomas’s Parish Church, one of “the most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in the District”, was consumed by a fiery conflagration. Set by arsonists in 1970, only a large hall on the Church Street side and a few offices were left. The broken remains of the main alter and the destroyed rear window wall was left standing, and the rest of the space became a beloved park for the DuPont Circle neighborhood.

During this difficult time, a small group of church members formed the Phoenix Rising Project, led by Douglas Whitlock and organized to raise funds to ready the remaining hall for church services. In 1973 Washington sculptor John Cavanaugh was asked to create a cross to be hung above the new alter in the Great Hall. His sculptures which can be seen in the Cavanaugh Sculpture Garden on the grounds of the Women’s National Democratic Club at Q Street and New Hampshire Avenue, NW and on several Dupont area buildings he restored, hammered the cross out of lead and plated it with silver.

The beautiful sculpture he created displays a variety of unique relief elements resembling nail heads, angel wings, stylized Coptic images and symbol of the three crosses on Calvary at the top. In a 1974 church bulletin featuring an image of the Cross above the new alter reads, “This Cross, in the Great Hall, was dedicated in memory of Douglas Whitlock on Sunday, April 21st, by Bishop Creighton.”

A few years ago, as Pastor Alex Dyer and church leaders started to move out of the parish hall building that had survived the fire in preparation for the new church building, they asked The John Cavanaugh Foundation to take the cross down from the alter for safekeeping. During this time the Foundation was able to restore the cross to it’s former glory and this month will return it  to the historic collection of St Thomas’ Parish.

*The writer is Executive Director of The John Cavanaugh Foundation. He also serves as Vice President of the National Sculpture Society, and is a Member of Editorial Board of Sculpture Review Magazine.

Copyright © 2019 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Gordon J. Alt.