The Reverend William Levington founded St. James’ and was the first black priest to serve as a missionary of the church in the South.
Levington, a native of New York, was ordained a deacon on March 14, 1824 and a priest on March 23, 1828. Both ordinations were by Bishop William White of Pennsylvania (http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/202.html) at St. Thomas’ Church in Philadelphia. It worth noting that Bishop White also performed the ordination of Absalom Jones (http://www.satucket.com/lectionary/AbsalomJones.htm), the founder of St. Thomas’ parish in 1795, at which time Levington was an infant in New York.
In the same month he was ordained a deacon, Levington traveled to Baltimore with the goal of establishing a church for persons of African decent. Considering the social conditions facing people of color, the boldness and courage displayed by this thirty year-old man were remarkable. The Reverend George F. Bragg, (http://www.episcopalarchives.org/Afro-Anglican_history/exhibit/legacy/george_f_bragg.php), Rector of St. James’ from 1891 to 1940, wrote “And thus it came to pass that the little African babe born in New York, after having received his bristly light from the shrine of Absalom Jones, was the first of his kind to penetrate the land where slavery reigned, and successfully planted the cross of Jesus Christ, in spirit, saying as he journeyed southward, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” Levington wrote, “with the blessings of the great Head of the Church, the twenty-third of June , I got a place where I performed divine service and held a day and Sunday school.” This first place was at Park Avenue and Marion Street and was called the “Upper Room.”
From these humble beginnings, St. James’ Church has moved to various parts of Baltimore. The first church at North and Saratoga Streets was dedicated on March 31, 1927. In 1901, a new church was built at Park Avenue and Preston Street. At 6 o’clock Easter morning in 1932, the first service was held in our current building at Lafayette Square.
From its inception, St. James’ Episcopal Church-Lafayette Square became and remains a guiding force in the life of the community of Baltimore. Its long history of 184 years is best summarized in a time line.
- 1824, June 23 rd: the Rev. William Levington, Deacon, established St. James’ First African Protestant Episcopal Church in the “Upper Room” at Park Avenue and Marion Street.
- 1825, October 10 th: the cornerstone of the new church was laid at North (now Guilford) and Saratoga Streets.
- 1827, March 31 st: the new Church was consecrated.
- 1828, March 27 th: Rev. Levington was ordained to the priesthood. April 7 th, Easter Sunday, first vestry elected. December 10 th, first confirmation held for class of thirteen.
- 1829: Vestry incorporated under the laws of Maryland.
- 1836: Rev. Levington died in Baltimore. From 1836-1892, St. James’ reverted to Diocesan control.
- 1843: First ordination held at St. James’ Episcopal Church.
- 1889: Church moved to Park Avenue and Dolphin Street.
- 1890: St. James’ occupied a building at Lexington and High Streets.
- 1891: The Reverend George Freeman Bragg, Jr. called as Rector of St. James’ Episcopal Church.
- 1892: The Bishop of Maryland restored full parish rights to the vestry of St. James’.
- 1899: Dr. Bragg founded the Maryland Home for Friendless Colored Children at 404 Courtland Street.
- 1901: High Street Church sold June 22 nd, cornerstone laid at Park Avenue and Preston Street October 22 nd
- 1924: St. James’ celebrated its 100th Anniversary. The history reads, “ Upon the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of St. James’ in 1924, many were the tributes from Bishops and others from all parts of the country. With St. James’ communicant list at about 500, Dr. Bragg was convinced the church needed larger quarters and a location closer to the heart of the black population. Dr. Bragg secured the support of the Bishop and in the face of strong opposition from the vestry and congregation, sold the Park Avenue property to the city, and purchased the much larger “Church of the Ascension” building from a white Episcopal congregation in flight from its changing neighborhood.”
- 1932: Good Friday: marked the final service at Park Avenue and at 6 o’clock Easter Sunday, the first service at Lafayette Square was held.
- 1933: St. James’ largest confirmation class of 100 was presented to the Bishop.
- 1940: March 12 th: Dr. Bragg died, ending forty-nine years as rector of St. James’.
- 1949: St. James observed it 125th Anniversary.
- 1959: The first woman, Mrs. Cleo Diggs, was elected to the vestry, making this event a first in the Diocese of Maryland.
- 1963, April 19: The Reverend Cedric E. Mills was consecrated Bishop of the Missionary District of the Virgin Islands at St. James’ Church; September: The Reverend Donald O. Wilson was called to lead St. James’ Church.
- 1968: St. James’ Terrace Apartments were completed and dedicated.
- 1974: St. James’ celebrated its 150th Anniversary.
- 1986: The Reverend Donald Wilson retired.
- 1988, Advent Sunday: The Reverend Michael B. Curry presided at his first service as Rector.
- 1993, June: Lighting struck St. James’ Church, heavily damaging the sanctuary, and causing the loss of the Rose window.
- 1995, June 11: Bishop Charles Longest re-consecrated the church and the congregation returned to the sanctuary. The newly constructed Parish Center was consecrated in the same year.
- 1999: St. James’ celebrated its 175th Anniversary.
- 2000, February 11 th: Father Michael B. Curry was elected Bishop of North Carolina. ( http://www.episdionc.org/article73877.htm)
- 2002, October 5 th : The Reverend Allen F. Robinson was installed as Rector of St. James’.
- 2008, March 29 : St. James’ hosted the electing convention for the 14 th Bishop of Maryland. The Rev. Canon Eugene Taylor Sutton (http://www.ang-md.org/bishopsearch.php) was elected on the first ballot and became the first African American bishop of the diocese.
- 2015, General Convention, The Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, bishop of North Carolina and former rector of St. James’ is elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church on the first ballot and became the first African American Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church