The name stuck. The church has served the acting profession and others since 1848.
On the first Sunday in October, 1848, the first service of the Church of the Transfiguration was held in a private home at 48 East 24th Street. The church itself, erected the following year, was built on what were then the outskirts of the city. To this day, there have been but six rectors spanning the Church's 152 years. The first Rector, sometimes called the first Saint of the American Church, the Rev'd George Hendric Houghton, served for 49 years. Under his leadership the Church was built and expanded, as some said, "like a holy cucumber vine." It was he who pioneered the Oxford Movement to revive the full Catholic Faith among Episcopal Churches in the United States. In his ministry to those in need, he sheltered escaped slaves during the draft riots of the Civil War, maintained a bread line for the unemployed, and had a prominent part in the founding of the Order of the Holy Cross, the oldest continuing monastic Order in the Episcopal Church in this country.
It was in 1870 that Joseph Jefferson was rebuffed in arranging for the funeral of his friend, George Holland, an actor. Told that there was a little church around the corner where "they do that sort of thing," Jefferson fervently exclaimed, "God Bless the Little Church Around the Corner" and that famous benediction has echoed down through the years. This brought about a close relationship with the people of the theater which has continued to this day. It also brought about the founding, in 1923, of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, which carries on an active program at its national headquarters in the Guild Hall. Because of our work in the Church and Theater, the Church of the Transfiguration was designated a United States Landmark in 1973.
29 December 1870, New York Herald, pg. 11, col. 6:
A CLERGYMAN OF THE PERIOD.
How the Remains of an Old Actor Were
Treated in Madison Avenie - Conscien-
tious Scruples About His Funeral.
(From the Evening Telegram.)
Two of the sorrowing friends of Mr. George Holland waited on the Rev. Dr. Sabine, whose church is situated atthe corner of Twenty-eighth street and Madison avenue, to make arrangements for having his funeral service read at that church. The gentlemen who waited on the reverend doctor regarding this charitable and, in the opinion of the latter, very unactorly work, were Mr. Joseph Jefferson, of Booth's theatre, and Mr. Edward Holland, the son of the deceased. When these gentlemenstated that they had come on this errand he at once politely informed them "that really his congregation had conscientious scruples about having the funeral service performed in the church, as Mr. Holland had belonged to the theatrical profession; but, however, there was a church round the corner where they usually did these things, and where he was sure, from the practice of the minister, that no
eiher on his part or on the part of the congregation, would interfere with the performance of the ceremony."
2 January 1871, New York Times, pg. 2:
From the Springfield Republican. Dec. 31.
We recorded, the other day, the death of an old man, after a life as honest as it was long, who had, in his unpretending way, tried to do unto others as he would have others do unto him, through eighty years of various fortune. Yet when GEORGE HOLLAND's mortal remains were to be finally committed dust to dust, ashes to ashes, there was found in New-York an Episcopal clergyman to refuse to solemnize his burial - because he was an actor.
This man's name deserves to live, as representative of a class of small caliber and narrow scope, in the Christian ministry, who are thrown into spasm of apprehension when approached by any requirement from without their particular pale. Know him then as Rev. Mr. SABINE, rector of a fashionable church on Madison-avenue. JOSEPH JEFFERSON called on him at the request of a lady, SABINE's parishioner, an a relation of the old comedian. The rector had consented to perform the service, when Mr. JEFFERSON revealed to him Mr. HOLLAND's profession, and the Pharisee was straightway awakened; he holily folded his cloak about him, and declined "to be mixed up in it." He referred his visitor to "the little church round the corner," where he "had read that funerals of actors had taken place." Mr. JEFFERSON replied, "All honor to that little church around the corner," and, with his feelings greatly shocked, left the righteous man, to visit the rector of the church so slightingly spoken of, and to meet a very different reception.
It is unnecessary to comment at length on this example of bigotry. The facts bear their own lesson. But we may remark in passing SABINE's name to it brief notoriety and its long oblivion, that his was a mere class prejudice, bearing no reference to the character of the person he was called on to bury. He is willing to profance the sanctuary he so jealously guarded against an actor's funeral, with obsequies of men whose lives have been progressive records of impurity and dishonor, or women who never really knew whether they had a soul or not. He would neer close the portals of his church to the final pageant of such men as TWEED, or SWEENY, or FISK, Jr., should their friends desire his services. Men to whom the spotless fame of JOSEPH JEFFERSON is forever attainable, would nevertheless have met a courteous assent; it is the profession of the stage that shocked the sensitive clerical conscience of SABINE. We submit that this is a prejudice totally unworthy of the age and of the religion of Christ. These professed disciples who share it have not the remotest conception of the divine freshness and freedom which characterized that holy personage.
28 May 1873, New York Times, pg. 2:
The funeral services over the remains of the late James W. Wallack, the actor, took place yesterday morning at 11 o'clock, in the modest little Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, more generally known of late as "the little church around the corner."
Appletons' Dictionary of New York and its Vicinity
New York: D. Appleton & Co.
"Little Church Round the Corner" is the name by which the Church of the Transfiguration, in 29th st., east of 5 av., is popularly known. When Goerge Holland, an aged actor as well known for the integrity of his life as for his professional ability, died some years since, it is said that application was made to the rector of a church in Madison av. to read the funeral service over his remains in his church. His hesitating refusal was accompanied by the suggestion that there was "a little church round the corner" where they did that sort of thing; to which Mr. Joseph Jefferson replied, "God bless the little church around the corner!" and Mr. Holland was buried from the Church of the Transfiguration. THe incident obtained wide publicity, and from it the church received its name. It is a low Gothic brick church in the form of a Latin cross, seating about 800, and contains a number of memorial windows, among them one to the late H. J. Montague, the actor. Acharming bit of well-kept greensward, the shade from a number of noble trees, green vines climbing over and around the porch, and a miniature fountain in the churchyard, give it in summer a delightfully rural aspect. There are 200 free sittings in the church, and the congregation is made up from all classes. Almost all members of "the profession" who die in or near New York are buried from it. The church is open to the public, and services are conducted in it every day.