05 February 2015

History of Christ Church, Chattanooga

(Updated 24 April 2018)

Christ Church was born in 1900 along with the twentieth century, as a mission from St. Paul’s.

Reasons for organizing

First and foremost was that Episcopalians in the Old East Side (Georgia Avenue to East End, or Central, Avenue) wanted a church closer to home than St. Paul’s Episcopal on Pine Street.  A contributing factor to this was reportedly the lack of sufficient hitching posts for horses and buggies there.

Second, several parishioners at St. Paul’s felt aggrieved over the ill-treatment of, Dr. William Montrose Pettis, a Southerner who had been rector since 1892, by many of the Northerners in the parish.  Dr. Pettis had left St. Paul’s for Grace Church in West Washington, D.C., and shortly after his replacement, Fr. Frederick Goodman, arrived, some one hundred parishioners applied to the diocese to form another parish.

Third, many of these dissatisfied parishioners wanted a more High Church worship.  According to St. Paul’s centennial history, the services at first were Low Church just like St. Paul’s, and the change did not take place until several years after the parish began.  However, the fact that the parish included in its design for its church building a chapel specifically dedicated to “Our Lady” weighs heavily against that testimony.

The three wings of Anglicanism

High Church, in the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican Communion, refers to worship services, spirituality, and theology which are more traditional ritualistically and more Catholic, for which members of this wing of the church is also called Anglo-Catholics.

Low Church refers to worship services, spirituality, and theology in the Anglican Communion which are less formally ritualistic and more classically Protestant.  At one time, their dominant theology was heavily Calvinist, and they are also called Evangelicals.

Broad Church refers to the trend in the Anglican Communion which first arose in the mid-17th century of de-emphasizing stress on forms of worship and theology which had driven the Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals of the Church of England (the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion) into often violent conflict.  A large motivation for this was that its adherents were freethinkers bordering on deism.  Members of this wing are also called Latitudinarians.

Christ Church begins

The first meeting of the vestry was at the home of Mr. C. A. Lyerly at 541 McCallie Avenue, chaired by Prof. John Roy Baylor of Grant University*, on 8 December 1900.  At this time the vestry chose to call William C. Robertson of Nashville as rector.  Not very long before, Fr. Robertson had been at Grace Memorial Episcopal for six months in 1898 when it was in South Chattanooga (moved to Highland Park in 1907, then Brainerd in 1941), then was founding priest of Thankful Memorial Episcopal, which started several years earlier as a Sunday school, serving for two years.

*Founded as Chattanooga University in 1886 and changing its name in 1889, Grant University became University of Chattanooga in 1907.

In February 1901, the vestry contracted with the Masonic Hall (at the corner of Cherry and 7th Streets) for a venue in which to hold services.  They had first considered the University Chapel, but decided against that due to a smallpox scare at the school.

Fr. Robertson led the celebration of the parish’s first Mass at the hall that Ash Wednesday, 20 February 1901.

By its first parish meeting on 31 March 1902, Christ Church had purchased the home of Judge Lewis Shepherd at 543 McCallie Avenue on the corner with Douglas Street in the neighborhood then known as Long’s Addition.  As a lawyer after retiring from the bench, Judge Shepherd worked on the right side of some of the most famous cases of his day, three of the most notable being the Ed Johnson case in 1906, the Leo Frank appeal, and the so-called Melungeon case regarding the Hampton Place site, now Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District.

The house lay across Douglas Street from what was then First District School and later the second Chattanooga Public Library.  The parish held its first service there that summer.  There were at this time 265 members with 149 communicants attending services at the small chapel in the house.

The street address of the church, as opposed to its mailing address, always was, is now, and ever shall be 543 McCallie Avenue.  Unless, of course, the City of Chattanooga renumbers the street.

The Robertson years

In 1904, Christ Church parishioners started a Sunday school in Rossville community of Hamilton County, just across the stateline from the same-named town in Georgia.  The next year the Sunday school members moved into the newly built St. Timothy’s Chapel.  Its mission was to serve the impoverished residents of what was then called Black Bottom, the low land along Chattanooga Creek north of the stateline and that adjacent to it.  St. Timothy’s served as a precursor to the In-As-Much Mission established in 1920, which was sponsored by all Episcopal churches in the Chattanooga area.

The cornerstone for the present church building was laid 28 October 1906, dedicating the church to the Holy Trinity.  The congregation had grown to 400 members with 265 communicants.

The parish celebrated its first mass in the new building, which was designed by architect David V. Stroop, on Palm Sunday, 12 April, 1908, which included a chapel off the narthex dedicated to Our Lady with an altar donated to the memory of Elizabeth Theone Hawk by her parents.  The original high altar donated by the Daughters of the King had been transferred from the chapel in the Shepherd home.  At the other end of the narthex was a baptistery.

In Lent of 1913, the parish received a beautiful high altar from an Anglo-Catholic parish in the Diocese of Ohio which was merging with another struggling parish in that city (after which the merged body became St. Alban’s).  It was installed in time for Holy Week services.

Christ Church helped organize St. Mary the Virgin mission in 1916, and at first the new mission met in rented spaces.  After purchasing land on E. 8th Street between Douglas and E (University) Streets, St. Mary’s congregation held Sunday morning services in the Lady Chapel at 8 am and joined Christ Church for Solemn Evensong Sunday evenings. 

Fr. Robertson helped Jesse Tyler establish St. Gabriel’s Convent at 636 McCallie Avenue (one lot over from the southeast corner of McCallie Avenue and University Street), on the feast of Corpus Christi in 1916.  On 30 May 1918, Mother Mary Gabriel (the former Jesse Tyler) and Sister Mary Joseph professed life vows at Christ Church, at which time the Sisters of the Tabernacle was founded.  At their core, the Sisters were devoted to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as well as works of charity and service, working with both Christ Church and Mary the Virgin (in Chattanooga).  They also provided a place of religious retreat for the ladies of the parish, served on the Altar Guild, and hosted parish breakfasts after the 8:00 am Sunday Mass.

The Christ Church Service Guild, composed of the entire congregation, adults and children, came into being in 1920.  The guild had a Missions Department, a Social Services Department, a Religious Education Department, and a Parish Guilds Department.  This service guild created a venereal disease clinic in the women’s section of the county jail, one of the first of its kind, and a sanitarium for drug addicts and alcoholics (the Anti-Narcotic League of Tennessee), also one of the first of its kind, at 209 E (University) Street.  Other activities included working with inmates in the city and county jails, residents of the county poor house, and patients at Erlanger Hospital and Pine Breeze.

Also in 1920, Christ Church established St. Joseph’s Mission at 901 Whiteside (now Broad) Street in South Chattanooga, led by Brother Mark, P.O.H.G., on the southwest corner of that street with W. 24th Street.  By midsummer, however, the mission had pulled up stakes and relocated to 227 Oak Street, not far from the mother church.  Fr. Robertson expressed doubt about its survival at the time and his doubts proved correct.

Christ Church’s acolytes officially became the Order of St. Vincent on 22 January 1922.

In the early spring of 1923, Fr. Robertson and his family took an extended leave of absence due to the serious illness of a family member in Boston.  While there, he served as a supply priest at the Church of the Advent.  When that parish called him as rector the following year, Robertson tendered his resignation to the Christ Church vestry.

Years of high expectation

In the fall of 1923, the parish began the process of buying the home of Capt. C.A. Lyerly next door to the church at 541 McCallie Avenue.  It became the St. Lawrence Parish Hall and the church rectory, as well as home to an order about which little is known, the Sisters of the Poor, meaning there were now two orders of nuns connected to Christ Church.

In 1925, the Sisters of the Tabernacle organized a daughter house, St. Saviour’s Convent, in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  The order was offered a former convent attached to the Church of the Nativity there, which it accepted.  With the permission of both dioceses, the Mother House of the order and its novitiate was transferred to the new location.  Sister Mary Julian became Novice Mistress at the same time.

On 5 May 1927, the parish purchased the lot and frame residence of Mrs. Laura Whipps and Mrs. Hattie Hart directly in the rear of Christ Church, presumably that upon which the later Fox Parish Hall was built, though the hall came much later.

Sister Julian, Novice Mistress of the Sisters of the Tabernacle, died 18 June 1928.

Mother Mary Gabriel, superior of the Sisters of the Tabernacle, died 11 August 1929.  The two brass crosses atop the tabernacles of the side altars were given in her memory.  Among the many priests commemorating Mother Gabriel was former parishioner Fr. Jerome Harris, then serving as associate rector of St. Ignatius in New York City.  She was succeeded by Mother Mary Michael.

In March 1930, the construction company of Louis Bull began renovations based on plans designed by the firm of Cram and Ferguson in the style of the English Gothic Revival.  Some of the plans had to be altered, most notably the choir loft which was substituted for the lengthening of the nave recommended by Ralph Adams Cram.  The work was complete before the end of 1930, and included a widening of the high altar, a new reredos (paneling behind the altar), columns, arches, paneling on the rear and front walls of the nave, the rose window behind the high altar, and two sides chapels dedicated to St. Mary and St. Joseph.

The parish held a three-day festival, 2-5 November 1930, to celebrate the finishing of the renovations of the church’s interior.

At their chapter meeting in early July 1931, the Sisters of the Tabernacle voted to petition the Sisters of the Transfiguration in Glendale, Ohio, for the former to be amalgamated into the latter.  Mother Michael of the Sisters of the Tabernacle died 23 July 1931, leaving Sister Mary Joseph as the only sister to enter as Sister Mary Anna entered the Roman Catholic Church after a stay with her family; the sole remaining novice became a deacon and moved west.  What became of the postulants, if any, was not recorded.  The Associates, of course, dissolved.  No more than five sisters total had ever professed life vows.

Also in 1931, the Greek Orthodox congregation that ultimately became the Church of the Annunciation began meeting in Christ Church once a month for Mass.

Lean years

The parish turned over St. Lawrence Hall (and rectory) to First National Bank in 1933.  The rector, Fr. Reginald Mallet (uncle of Fr. Bill Murchison), and the Sisters of the Poor had to find other homes. 

The same year, Christ Church, which had started its life as a full parish, reverted to mission status.  Up to that point, the parish had been the only full parish besides St. Paul’s in the Chattanooga area.

As reported by the senior warden at the annual parish meeting on 15 January 1934, the vestry had in the previous year chosen the Feast of Corpus Christi as the patronal feast day of Christ Church.  Its members had also chosen Trinity Sunday a day of special observance due to the dedication on our church’s cornerstone.

The year 1936 found Christ Church under the Chattanooga Plan formulated by the Diocese of Tennessee in 1934, in which all non-sufficient Episcopal churches in the area shared as rector the incumbent at St. Paul’s.  Grace Memorial and Thankful Memorial had had that same relationship since the early 1900’s, St. Luke’s in Cleveland since its founding, and the Chapel of the Good Shepherd on Lookout Mountain also.  Bishop Maxon suggested closing the now “aided parish” but the rectors at St. Paul’s, first Fr. Charles W. Sheerin then Fr. Thorne Sparkman, went to great lengths to avoid doing so.

For Easter 1942, the senior warden, Larry B. West, donated the wood paneling along the side walls from the altar of St. Joseph on the Epistle (right) side to opening to the narthex and altar of St. Mary the Virgin on the Gospel (left) side to the door to the tower.  That had apparently not been part of the renovations of 1930.

In 1944, after two years of the vicarage of Fr. George Fox, Christ Church paid off its mortgage on the building.  Bishop Maxon, now the Ordinary, led the service consecrating the church building, assisted by Fr. Sparkman, as Christ Church (William Clendenin Robertson Memorial) on 22 May that year.

In July that same year, Fr. Harvey Bullock, another native son sent to the priesthood, gifted Christ Church with a stone for its altar complete with a cavity to contain relics.  It had a cross engraved in the center and at each of the four corners.  Those in charge decided the stone was too heavy for the altar and placed it in the priest’s sacristy.

The Episcopal Church’s student group at University of Chattanooga, the Canterbury Club, was established in 1949, at first meeting in the Recreation Room (now the Choir Room).

Christ Church finally regained full parish status in 1955.

Later years

The new parish house opened in 1957, named Fox Hall in honor of the priest (Fr. George Fox) who helped the drive to pay off the mortgage and led Christ Church back to parish status.

In 1960, St. Mary the Virgin became a parish and moved to new quarters in Alton Park, upon which its relationship with Christ Church ended.

Christ Church acquired the property at 250 Oak Street, one lot over from the corner, in back of the church in 1966 from a Mr. Wilkerson.  At the end of the next year, 1967, it purchased the lot at 252 Oak Street on the corner of Douglas Street from UTC.

The parish celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary on Saturday, 30 October 1976, during the rectorship of Fr. Christopher Morley.

Renewal and renovation of the entire building was complete in 1981.

In 1982, Fr. Don Johnson and Christ Church assisted in founding the Community Kitchen, which it hosted serving lunches to the homeless in Fox Hall.  The kitchen moved to its current home on E. 11th Street in 1986.

Christ Church purchased what is now the Canterbury Building in 1984, originally two townhouses side-by-side built by the Van Cleaves, who were parish members.  The church office moved into the first floor of 663 Douglas Street, with the first floor of 661 Douglas Street designated as the future home of UTC’s Canterbury Club.

In 1985, Dr. Jim Greasby of UTC and Christ Church started the Chattanooga Bach Choir using the nave of Christ Church as its practice hall.

In 1990, the Episcopal Metropolitan Ministry moved into the first floor of 661 Douglas Street in the Canterbury Building, from which it operated until transferring to its current location at 1201 McCallie Avenue in 2007.  Now Chattanooga MetMin, it began life sponsored by the Episcopal churches of Southeast Tennessee in 1979 and became ecumenical in 2009.

Richards, Fowkes, and Company installed a brand new organ in the nave in 1996.

Canterbury House, four apartments in the newly renovated building of the same name, and the Episcopal University Center, a section of Fox Hall with couches and lamps especially designed for relaxation, opened their doors in spring 1997.

In 1995, St. Mary the Virgin abandoned its building and merged with Thankful Memorial, with several members from St. Mary’s moving to the former mother parish of Christ Church.  Both parishes—St. Mary’s and Thankful—were begun as missions by Fr. Robertson.  Upon the merger, the parish house became St. Mary the Virgin Hall, while the combined parish retained the name Thankful Memorial.

The Memorial Garden was initiated in 1999, created with an anonymous donation.

Christ Church (William Clendenin Robertson Memorial) celebrated its centennial in 2001, led by then rector Mother Jocelyn Bell, assisted by Fr. Harry Lawrence.

In 2002, parish member Leasty Chapman and her husband Dan installed twenty-two beautiful stained glass windows in Christ Church, each of them designed by Mrs. Chapman’s mother, Evangeline LeNoir.  The windows project started out as repair of the rose window above the high altar, plus the discovery of a set of two-by-two foot panels of Gospel scenes which are believed to have come from Germany and to be over a century old.  These were purchased by parishioners during the incumbency of Fr. Harry Lawrence (1986-1988).

In November 2002, the Chattanooga Pipe Band celebrated a Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans ceremony at Christ Church in gratitude for being allowed to use its space for rehearsals.

The university ministry, now reimagined as Project Canterbury in conjunction with the Episcopal Church’s sister communion, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, relaunched in 2007, initially based at St. Paul’s on Pine Street.  In 2012, PC, as it is usually referred to, moved into the renovated space of the Canterbury Building formerly occupied by Metropolitan Ministry before its move to McCallie Avenue.   After eating dinner in Fox Hall, the group holds services Wednesday nights in the nave of Christ Church.

Also in 2012, the church building proper inaugurated its latest addition: the Herbert J. Peck Memorial Loo.

In 2013, a centering prayer group began meeting at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, but that fell into hiatus with the departure of Anne-Drue Anderson when she and Fr. Jon left for New Mexico.

In March 2015, members of Christ Church led by Fr. Harry Lawrence and Mo. Abigail Buckley of Project Canterbury organized a cell (chapter) of the Society of Mary, taking as its patron Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament.

Christ Church present

Christ Church celebrates Low (said) Mass according to Rite One of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer at 8:00 am every Sunday morning and Solemn High (sung) Mass according to Rite Two at 10:30 am.  Sunday School falls in between.

The choir practices Wednesdays at 6:00 pm.

The Episcopalian and Lutheran students at UTC and other area schools (as well as anyone else interested) celebrate Mass every Thursday in the nave at 7:00 pm according to Rite Three. 

Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament cell of the Society of Mary tries to meet for the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary at 12:05 pm on one Sunday a month.

Parish members continue to be active in the community, volunteering at the Community Kitchen, Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Northside Neighborhood House, Met Min, and other places. 

Throughout the year, the parish hosts concerts in its nave by the Chattanooga Bach Choir, Voci Virilli, and the Tennessee Chamber Chorus.  Without exception, all the singers have commented that the acoustics in the nave are the best they’ve ever seen, or rather heard.

A number of fraternities and sororities from UTC have used the nave for their initiation ceremonie the past few years by permission of the vestry.

High altar of Christ Church

First, some terminology.  The actual altar is the base.  Its top, or table, is called the mensa.  The shelves at the back which look like steps are called the retable.  The wooden screen behind the altar, some much more elaborate than others, some lacking one completely, is a reredos.  This last is sometimes confused with a rood screen, which is a wooden panel screening off the nave from the chancel, but with ample opening for the congregation to see what is going on.  These get their name from the cross, or rood, at the center top.

The Daughters of the King donated Christ Church’s first high altar, the one it used in the chapel in the Lewis Shepherd house and later after the new building opened 12 April 1908. 

In 1913, St. John the Evangelist Episcopal in Toledo, Ohio, gifted Christ Church with what was for us a new high altar, and the Guild installed it at no cost to the parish in time for Easter that year, as reported by the wardens that Easter Monday.

Around the same time that Fr. Robertson was communicating with Ralph Adams Cram in the late 1920’s about plans for the renovation of the interior, parishioners started a fund for an even bigger altar than that received from St. John’s.  In the end, however, widening of that altar was incorporated into the plans drafted by Cram (and modified by local contractor Louis Bull) instead.  Careful examination will render obvious which part of the altar is original.

In addition to the widening, the first reredos donated to the church building by Mrs. Mary Walker and Mrs. E. C. Johnson fell victim to the renovation, along with the original retable.

St. John the Evangelist, Toledo, Ohio

Founded in 1863 as a mission of Trinity Church in Toledo, with Fr. Nathaniel R. High as its first rector.  Upon his death in 1884, the parish called Fr. Charles DeGarmo from the Diocese of Pennsylvania.  The liturgical and physical make-up of St. John’s almost immediately took a turn toward the Anglo-Catholic.  Fr. Degarmo instituted sung Mass, had a rood screen put in between the chancel and the sanctuary, hung a rather large and graphic crucifix above the high altar, used six candles rather than the simple two, and, horror of horrors, placed a side altar on one side of the chancel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

These High Church practices brought Fr. DeGarmo and St. John the Evangelist into direct conflict with the rest of the diocese, which was intensely Low Church, along with its very Calvinist-oriented Ordinary, Bishop George Bedell.  In 1887, Bishop Bedell and his council sent the parish a letter admonishing Fr. DeGarmo for the changes at the parish since his arrival and calling on him to recant.

The vestry of St. John’s responded with a letter condemning Bishop Bedell’s actions and having a copy published in the city’s main newspaper, which proves the direction taken was not just the will of the rector alone.  The conflict ended only when Fr. DeGarmo accepted the call to a parish in the Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1888, after which the parish found itself saddled with a more compliant priest.

In 1912, the parish’s attendance and membership had dwindled to the point where it could barely keep its doors open.  Its vestry voted to merge with another struggling parish in Toledo, Calvary Episcopal, upon which the twain became St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.  Since the new parish occupied the facilities of the former Calvary Episcopal, the vestments, furnishings, font, candlesticks, and other accoutrements were sold off or donated.  With Christ Church in Chattanooga having a reputation as the first Anglo-Catholic parish in the South, it probably seemed natural to gift it with St. John’s high altar.

Altar relic

In the center of the mensa (top surface) of the high altar, there is a small stone cross inscribed with the Latin phrase “EX COEM CALLISTI”.  The stone is a relic from the Catacomb of St. Callistus, Pope (218-223) and martyr, given by Fr. Jerome Harris, then rector at St. Ignatius in New York City.

Callistus himself is not buried there, but in the Catacomb of St. Calepodius.  He did, however, build the catacomb named for him while he was a deacon for Pope Zephyrinus.  A slave then a convict before his conversion, he was elected Bishop of Rome almost immediately after Zephyrinus’ death in 218.

Callistus was the first Bishop of Rome to face an antipope, the better known to history Saint Hippolytus.  Among the complaints of the latter were that Callistus had the temerity to readmit to Holy Communion those guilty of fornication, adultery, and murder after they had completed their penance, those who renounced their faith in fear of torture or death, and repentant heretics.

According to the most reliable account, St. Callistus was killed during a riot in Rome and is considered a martyr, the first leader of the church in Rome martyred since St. Peter.  His feast day is 14 October.

Fr. Harris was originally a communicant.  He was admitted by Bishop Gailor as a postulant on St. Bartholomew’s Day (24 August) in 1915.  His career took him to the Diocese of New York, where he was associate rector then rector of St. Ignatius in NYC, and later vicar of St. John’s on Staten Island.  He frequently visited home, and was one of the celebrants at the Requiem Mass for Mother Mary Gabriel of the Sisters of the Tabernacle in 1930.

Altar stone

In July 1944, Fr. Harley Bullock, another priest who began as a postulant from the parish (ordained in 1931), gave an altar stone with a depressed cavity in the center top for relics, probably intended to hold Fr. Harris’ gift.  Engraved in each of the four corners is a cross, as is the center of the circular metal disk covering the reliquary.  The reliquary, however, is too small to hold the relic of St. Callistus, so under the excuse that the stone was too heavy, Fr. Fox had it placed in the priest’s sacristy.

A couple of years ago (2013), Fr. Jon Anderson instructed that it be placed atop the oblation table in the rear of the nave for holding the elements to be brought up at the offertory.  It has also served as part of the temporary altar in Fox Hall on occasion.

When such an altar stone is placed on a table in an otherwise unconsecrated space being used to celebrate Mass, it is called a “superaltar”.  Our altar stone performed this function during Lent 2015 when the boiler broke down and services were held in Fox Hall.

Christ Church’s other altars

Lady Chapel

The altar in the Lady Chapel, off  the epistle side of the narthex, was gifted as a memorial of Elizabeth Theone Hawk by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. M. P. Hawk.  In the photograph from the Nativity Pageant of 1952 hanging on the wall of Fox Hall, the altar appears to be an entirely different model, but it is indeed the same.  Originally, it had a retable (the shelves on back that look like steps) like the high altar, but about the year 1960, the rector ordered the sexton to remove it and the attached tabernacle with a view toward moving the altar out from the wall and celebrating behind the altar.  After that rector left, the altar was returned to its position, and later sent out to be refinished in 1966.

Chapels of St. Mary the Virgin and St. Joseph

In the original Christ Church nave which opened on 12 April 1908, there were no side chapels on either side of the transept.  Creating them was part of Cram’s suggested renovations, of which the altars and their tabernacles and retables are part.  The altar on the Epistle (right) side is the Altar of St. Joseph and the altar on the Gospel (left) side is the Altar of St. Mary the Virgin.

Children’s Chapel

 Not currently in use but still consecrated, the portable altar in what was formerly the children’s chapel on the second floor of Fox Hall was donated by The Rev. and Mrs. Thomas D. Roberts in November of 1961.

Christ Church’s baptismal font

In 1882, St. Paul’s Church established a mission in the neighborhood south of the west end of Ninth Street on the river side of Cameron Hill, which was then called Roane Iron Company Addition.  At that time, Sixth Street came over the hill where W. Martin Luther King Boulevard (formerly W. 9th Street) does now, while Ninth Street crossed a block south of that.  The neighborhood, later known as Tannery Flats, was built for workers at Roane Iron Works. 

That company, which led Chattanooga’s postwar industrial surge, was founded and owned by former Union officers of the Army of the Cumberland John T. Wilder, Hiram Chamberlain, and W.A. Rockwood.  Foremen and lower-level managers of the company lived in the neighborhood north of the west end of Sixth Street, then called Lewis and Spitzer’s Addition and later known as Blue Goose Hollow and home to Bessie Smith.

St. John’s Chapel was built with funds raised by Miss E. C. Buckler, who had organized a Sunday school of about eighty pupils, from her friends in the east.  St. John’s was a brick structure west of the hill at the corner of Ninth Street and Short Street in the neighborhood later known as the Tannery Flats.  Bishop Charles T. Quintard, a former chaplain in the Confederate army, consecrated the chapel on 19 February 1882.  Among its furnishings was a marble baptismal font given by Mrs. John Minturn.

In 1890, Roane Iron Works shut its doors, driven out of business by rapid progress in technology of producing low-cost steel in the North.  With its closing, much of the surrounding population drifted away, including current and potential members of St. John’s Chapel.  It soon closed, and when Christ Church organized eleven years later, it was gifted the font, which was originally placed in what used to be the baptistery at the liturgical north end (gospel side) of the narthex.

Parish feast day and special commemorations

Corpus Christi has been the official patronal festival of Christ Church in Chattanooga since sometime in 1933, according to the senior warden’s report at the annual parish meeting on 15 January 1934.  Corpus Christi is the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, transferrable in the Episcopal Church to the following Sunday in case of it being a patronal feast, which it is here, and in the Roman Church in places where it is not a Holy Day of Obligation.

Trinity Sunday was also designated a day for special observance as a memorial of the church’s dedication in the same vote that made Corpus Christi our feast day.

Since the parish held its first Communion service on Ash Wednesday, that should probably be a day of special commemoration also, in addition to its other meanings.  Likewise for Maundy Thursday, since it also commemorates the institution of the sacrament of Holy Communion.

The acolytes of Christ Church are officially the Order of St. Vincent (of Lerins), whose feast day is 24 May.

Since the Society of Mary cell (local chapter) at our parish adopted Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament as its patron, 13 May would be another special observance at the parish.

The stone cross embedded in the mensa of the high altar is a relic of the early third century pope and martyr St. Callistus, so perhaps his feast day (14 October) should be another day of special observance.

Since Christ Church has three connections to parishes named in honor of St. John the Evangelist (high altar, baptismal font, cathedra), perhaps his feast, 27 December, should be added.

Incumbent priests of Christ Church

An incumbent priest refers to any priest in charge of any church to any degree regardless of the status of that church.  The meanings of the terms differ slightly in the Church of England.

In the Episcopal Church, a rector is the permanent priest or head priest at a self-sufficient church. 

A vicar is the permanent priest or head priest at a supported or aided church, usually, but in some cases the incumbent at a parish may also be called vicar. 

A priest-in-charge is priest or head priest at a church of either status for a defined period of time, usually a year, which may or may not be renewed. 

An interim priest or interim rector is at church without a permanent priest for an undefined time, with somewhat fewer responsibilities and less authority than a priest-in-charge. 

An associate rector is hired by the parish to assist the rector, while an assistant priest does so on a non-stipendiary basis. 

The term curate is sometimes used in either of these last two cases. 

A locum tenens is a priest in residence for religious services and visitation, usually not paid by the church in question, when the rector of another parish has authority over a church in the absence of a regular hired priest there.

Fr. William Clendenin Robertson, rector, 1901-1924
Fr. Henry S. Whitehead, acting rector, spring 1923
Fr. Alfred W. Treen, acting rector, 1923-1924
Fr. Thomas Jefferson Haldeman, rector, 1924-1926
Fr. J. Marvin Lake, priest-in-charge, 1926-1927
Fr. Arthur G. Wilson, rector, 1927-1929
Fr. William Clendenin Robertson, temporary rector, Oct-Dec 1929
Bish. Coad. James M. Maxon, rector, 1929-1931
Fr. Charles Edgar Wood, vicar (under Bishop Maxon), 1930-1931, rector, 1931-1932
Fr. J. Reginald Mallet, rector, 1932-1933
Fr. Walter Lawrence Fielding Haylor, priest-in-charge, 1933-1936
*Fr. Charles W. Sheerin (rector of St. Paul’s), priest-in-charge, 1936-1937
*Fr. William S. Lea (assistant rector at St. Paul’s), locum tenens, 1936-1937
*Fr. Harris J. Mowry, vicar, 1937-1941
*Fr. Thorne Sparkman (rector of St. Paul’s), priest-in-charge, 1938-1949
*Fr. Harley Bullock, locum tenens, 1941-1942
*Fr. George Fox, vicar, 1942-1955, rector, 1955-1957
Fr. Kent H. Pinneo, rector, 1958-1962
Fr. Christopher Morley, rector, 1962-1978
Fr. Don Johnson, rector, 1978-1986
Fr. Harry Lawrence, interim priest, 1986-1988
Fr. David Gable, rector, 1988-1989
Fr. Jim Bills, priest-in-charge, 1990, rector, 1991-1998
Mo. Betty Latham, acting rector, 1998
Fr. Bob Boatwright, interim priest, 1998-1999
Mo. Jocelyn Bell, rector, 1999-2011
Fr. Jon Anderson, priest-in-charge, 2011-2014
Supply priests, 2014-2016, include the following:
            Fr. David Cobb
            Fr. Bob Leopold
            Fr. Hunter Huckabee
            Fr. Buckley Robbins
            Mo. Pat Cahill
            Fr. Robert Hartmans
            Mo. Abigail Buckley
**Mo. April Berends, vicar, 2016-2017
Fr. David Cobb, interim rector, 2017-

*From 1936 to 1949, Christ Church’s priest-in-charge was the rector of St. Paul’s, at that time dean of the Chattanooga area for the Diocese of Tennessee in all but name.  The priests who were locum tenens and vicar during that time technically reported to the virtual dean.

**Though Mo. Berends’ title as incumbent was “vicar”, Christ Church retained parish status.

Buildings and inventory

No history of Christ Church could be complete without the history of some of its more interesting physical parts.

Here is a summary of the physical growth of Christ Church. 

The parish purchased  the lot and house of Judge Lewis Shepherd at 543 McCallie Avenue at the northwest corner of that street with Douglas Street in 1901. 

The cornerstone for the church building dedicating it to the Holy Trinity was laid October 1906.

The church building designed by architect David V. Stroup was completed in 1908.

In fall 1923, the church purchased the home of C.A. Lyerly at 541 McCallie Avenue to become St. Lawrence Parish Hall, parish rectory, and chapter house for the Sisters of the Poor. 

Renovation of the interior on a Gothic Revival design by Ralph Adams Cram that was adapted by local architect Louis Bull was completed in 1930. 

Due to financial constraints, the parish had to give up St. Lawrence Hall in 1933. 

The mortgage for the church building was paid off and the church building was consecrated as Christ Church (William Clendenin Robertson Memorial) in 1944.

Fox Parish Hall, built on the lot at 665 Douglas Street, opened in 1957.

The parish purchased the Van Cleve Apartments at 661-663 Douglas Street (originally two adjoined townhouses) in 1984.  Renamed it the Canterbury Building, it housed the church office beginning the same year, with the rest of the building providing space for several other concerns throughout the years, including the original offices of the Episcopal Metropolitan Ministry.  In 1997, it was renovated to provide housing for HIV patients and later refugees and others who needed housing, and Project Canterbury.

The Memorial Garden was initiated in 1999.

The Herbert J. Peck Memorial Loo on the first floor of the church tower was dedicated in 2012.

Priest's sacristy

The wooden crucifix with the polyceramic figure of Jesus was donated by Fr. Christopher Morley.

Working sacristy

The artwork on the walls is from the collection of Joel King.

The holy water stoup (or unifier) at the entrance into the nave was donated by the Altar Guild for Christmas 2017.

The Christus Rex was donated by Fr. Christopher Morley in 1970 purchased with funds given him by Betty Van Cleeve.


None of the records tell anything about the source of the wooden cross and plaster corpus on the wall above the high altar’s reredos except to say that no one knows.  It may have been part of the renovation in 1930.

The high altar was a gift to Christ Church as the then only Anglo-Catholic parish in the South by St. John the Evangelist in Toledo, Ohio, which was closing its doors to merge with another parish in that city.

The relic from the Catacomb of St. Callistus in the mensa of the high altar was given by Fr. Jerome Harris at the consecration of Christ Church in 1944.

The altar cross on the high altar given by Paul Williams in memory of Mary Ann Williams in 1901.

The primary chalice was given by Charles Bearden in memory of his mother Mrs. Elizabeth Ells Bearden in 1901.

The paten was given to the memory of Seth Walker Sizer in 2001.

The secondary chalice was given in memory of Kate I. Harding at Eastertide 1964.

The monstance is of unknown provenance.

The lunette was given by James Kalanzas in 1925 to replace one stolen.

The eucharistic lights were given in memory of Edith Sevier in 1901.

The office lights were given as a thank offering by Catherine Lynch in 1901.

The two seven-branched candleabra used for special services in memory of Eleanor P. Williams by Mrs. Elizabeth Peck and in memory of Letitia P. Howell by Miss Kate Howell in about 1919.

The missal stand was given by Florence Simmons in 1970.

The flower urns were given by Florence Simmons for the wedding of Florence Collier Leech in 1972.

The pavement candles were given by the rector, wardens, and vestry of the Church of the Advent, Boston, Massachusetts, in June 1923.

The Presence lamp of the high altar is of unknown provenance.

The Sanctus bell was given in memory of Robert Hume Tatum.

The large Oriental carpet in the chancel was given by Paul Reynolds in 2014.

The small Oriental carpet on the altar stoop is a gift from the estate of Paul Reynolds in 2014.

The processional cross was given in 1916 by Linda Lea Robertson in memory of her father Overton Lea who died in 1908.

The processional crucifix was given by Mary Thankful Everett, a descendant of the founder of St. Elmo and therefore of the Thankful for whom Thankful Memorial is named.  She was very active in leadership in the 1920s and ‘30s.

The torches were given by Mrs. Irving Reilly and Mrs. Virgin.

The thurible was given by Mrs. Mary Duncan in memory of Joe Johnston.

The censer boat was purchased by the parish in 1980 with insurance money to replace the previous one which had been stolen.  That censer boat was given to the parish by the Sisters of the Tabernacle in 1925 to replace another one that had been stolen.

The Paschal candle stand was given by in memory of Myrtle Chakalakis by Mrs. Charles Oliphant, Mrs. Walter Wooten, and Mrs. Arthur Yates around 1970.

The brass Advent wreath holder was given by Dr. Ronald Bohrer in 1983.

The bishop’s chair, or cathedra, was given by St. John’s Church in Knoxville, which is now the seat, or cathedra, of the Bishop of East Tennessee in the other sense of that term.

The prie-dieu on the epistle (right) side of the chancel by Fr. Robertson in memory of his adoptive mother, Evan Hutchins Robertson.

The litany desk on the gospel (left) side of the chancel was given by W.T. Gaston in memory of his mother, Jane Wilson Gaston.

All of the oil candles throughout the entire church were donated by Mrs. Mary Duncan in memory of Jerry Martin.


The pulpit was given in memory of  Elbert Franklin Sevier and Edith Sevier, parents of Elbert Franklin Sevier, Jr.

The eagle lectern was given in memory of the father of Mrs. Louis H. Mattair in 1901.

The pavement candles aside the lectern were given by Chess Ewton and Jerry Martin in about 1990, especially made to match the pavement candles in the chancel.

The cross atop the altar in St. Mary’s chapel was given in memory of Mother Mary Gabriel of the Sisters of the Tabernacle by her parents in 1931.

The cross atop the altar in St. Joseph’s chapel was given in memory of the Sisters of the Tabernacle by the Associates of the order in 1931.

The identical presence lamps in the two side chapels were given by Catherine Lynch in 1901 for the reserved sacrament of the high altar and by Fr. C. M. Hall in 1914 for the reserved sacrament of the altar in the Lady Chapel.

The prayer desks at the two shrines were made by and given separately by Mr. Reedy and Mr. Jerry Martin.

The statues of Mary and Joseph in the side chapels respectively dedicated to them were given by Fr. Robertson in memory of his birth parents, Benjamin and Nancy Boldridge.

The pedestals for those side altar statues given by Jack Jewell in memory of his mother Sarah Jewell in 1958.


The baptismal font came from the former St. John’s Chapel west of Cameron Hill in what later became Tannery Flats.

The silver baptismal bowl was given “to the Glory of Almighty God”.

The baptismal shell was given in memory of Elmer M. Ellsworth.

The aspergillum is of unknown provenance.

The aspersorium (holy water bucket) was given by Mrs. W.H. McKroskey in 1955.

The flagon was given in memory of William S. Keese in January 1980.

The hymn boards were given by Steve Harding.

The Stations of the Cross were given in memory of Alan Parker, 1863-1911.  Probably given the same year as his death, they were decorated 1925-1926 by Sylvia Haldeman and re-tinted in 1941 by Mrs. J.B. Fitts (later Mrs. A.Z. Durham).  In the late 1980s, they were refurbished again by artist Hubert Shuptrine and Sue Lawrence.

The crèche set was given by Mrs. Quinter Kephart in memory of her parents Paul and Adelle Query for Christmas 1919.

The Christ Church banner was created and donated by Sue Lawrence, wife of Fr. Harry.

The holy water stoup (or font) at the door from the narthex into the nave was given by Allyne Burns in thanksgiving for hers and her daughter Martha’s confirmations.

The altar stone atop the oblations table was given by Fr. Harvey Bullock in honor of the consecration of Christ Church in 1944.

The Mass bells at the door to the narthex were given in memory of Jerry Martin by Mrs. Mary Duncan.

The panelling along the side walls of the nave was given then senior warden Larry B. West in 1942.


The alms basins were given by Mrs. Anderson and H. H. Headen.

The statue of St. Peter was given by John and Amy C. Robinson, Jr. in memory of John Robinson, Sr.

The statue of St. Paul was given by John and Amy C. Robinson, Jr. in memory of Nathan Rhea Cartwright, father of Amy.

The stand for the Book of Remembrance was given in thanksgiving for the life of Florence Leech Simmons in 1983, for whom the archives currently in the Canterbury Building are likewise named.

The prints in the lobby of Fox Hall and the working sacristy came from Joel King.

Lady Chapel

The altar in given in memory of Elizabeth Theone Hawk by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. M. P. Hawk.

The tabernacle was donated by Mr. and Mrs. John Robinson in October 1960 to replace the one destroyed when the retable was removed.

The altar crucifix in the Lady Chapel was given by Mary Dudley Dake in memory of her grandfather William Church Dake.

The chalice was given by Mrs. Mary Duncan in 2011.

The paten was given by The Rev. and Mrs. Thomas D. Roberts in 1960.

The eucharistic lights were given by Mrs. Mary Duncan.

The ciborium was given by E.N. Webb in memory of Martha Hartford Webb in June 1927.

The lavabo bowl with the silver cross engraved on the outside is of unknown provenance.

The wooden missal desk  was given in memory of Mrs. Mary Frances Chapman by George M. Chapman and Josephine Chapman in June 1901.

The brass missal desk was given in memory of Mrs. George W. (Julia) Chapman in 1902.

The Oriental carpet in the chancel was given by Fr. Jon and Anne-Drue Anderson in 2014.

The angels in the Lady Chapel came from the old Montague house on Cameron Hill in the West Side in 1962 at the time of the construction of Interstate-124 (now U.S. 27) and the Golden Gateway development.

The statues of Joseph and Mary in the Lady Chapel were given by Laura Rodgers of California through Mrs. E. K. Magrath in memory of her brother Richard Hardy in 1948.

Memorial Garden

The stone cross inscribed with the name William Clendenin Robertson was given by his family in 1949 when they replaced it at his grave in Chattanooga Memorial Garden with a brass plaque.  The cross was first placed in the baptistery at the gospel end of the narthex, but later moved outside when the font was moved to its present position.

The statue of St. Fiacre, patron saint of gardeners, was given by Jim Greasby soon after the Memorial Garden was dedicated.

The statue of St. Francis of Assisi was given in honor of the ministry of Fr. Harry Lawrence on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood in 2004.


Thanks go out to Fr. Bill Murchison, Fr. Harry Lawrence, Mary Duncan, Garvin Colburn, and Joel King of Christ Church for the information with which they supplemented Notes toward a History of Christ Church, 1901-1960 by deceased parishioner Grady Long.  Also to Florence Simmons, long-time archivist at Christ Church, and to Deacon Felicity Peck, who worked on straightening the archives which had gotten somewhat disheveled in moving to the newly appointed location named for Florence. 

Special thanks to Fr. Brian Wilbert, archivist of the Diocese of Ohio and rector of Christ Church, Oberlin, Ohio, for the information on St. John’s in Toledo. 

And, as always, I am grateful to the librarians at the local history section of the Chattanooga Public Library for assistance with maps and newspaper articles.


Ronald H.L.M. Ramsay said...

Hello, Mr Hamilton: I stumbled (as one does on the internet) on your blog while looking for images of St Paul's, Chattanooga. I'm an architectural historian who has the temerity to be writing a book on architect William Halsey Wood, who designed St Paul's. I was especially interested in your observations about the varying types of Episcopal churchmanship; Wood was an avowed Anglo-Catholic, so I have wondered about the circumstances of his receiving the commission in the first place. So, thanks for that insight. If you'd be interested in corresponding, my email is plains.architecture@gmail.com.

Ron Ramsay

Chuck Hamilton said...

You're very welcome, Mr. Ramsay, and thank you for the feedback.