All Souls Church, Unitarian (Washington, D.C.)

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For other similarly named churches, see All Souls Church.
All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, D.C.
The original building, designed by Charles Bulfinch, located at what is now the intersection of 6th and D Streets Northwest. Pennsylvania Avenue runs in the foreground.

All Souls Church, Unitarian is a Unitarian Universalist church located at 1500 Harvard Street NW at the intersection of 16th Street, Washington, D.C., roughly where the Mt. Pleasant-Columbia Heights-Adams Morgan neighborhoods of the city meet. The design of its current building, completed in 1924, is based on St. Martin's-in-the-Fields in London. All Souls, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, describes its theology as having evolved from a liberal Christian tradition into a "rich pluralism."


All Souls was founded in 1821 as the First Unitarian Church of Washington; among the church's founding members were President John Quincy Adams, Vice President John C. Calhoun, and Charles Bulfinch (who designed the original church building at 6th and D Streets NW and more famously the United States Capitol). The All Souls bell was cast in 1822 by Joseph Revere, the son of Paul; this bell, paid for with contributions by, among others, President James Monroe, originally served as a quasi-official town bell for Washington, DC.[1]

Former location of All Souls Church in downtown Washington, D.C., ca. 1916

The church has a long tradition of promoting liberal religious views and social justice issues. In the first half of the 19th century, it was known for its opposition to slavery, and counts among its past ministers the prominent abolitionist William Henry Channing. The Revere Bell was stripped of its status as Washington's "town bell" after the congregation tolled it to commemorate the death of John Brown; it was thereafter often called the "Abolition Bell."

In 1877 the congregation changed its name to All Souls Church, a reflection of the words of William Ellery Channing, founding father of Unitarian Universalism (and uncle of Willam Henry Channing): "I am a member of the living family of all souls."

In 1943 All Souls called A. Powell Davies to be its minister. Davies became nationally prominent for his progressive views, advocating civil rights for African-Americans and women, desegregation, and for keeping control of nuclear weapons in civilian hands. It was during Davies' tenure that All Souls organized a large shipment of school supplies for the children survivors of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During this period, All Souls also founded the first desegregated boys' club in the city, in response to the Police Boys' Club's reluctance to desegregate. Davies' popular ministry caused explosive growth both at All Souls and also in the formation of new Unitarian churches in the Washington, D.C. area, starting with the Unitarian Church of Arlington.

James Reeb, a civil rights martyr, was Assistant Minister at All Souls prior to his murder at Selma, Alabama in 1965. All Souls' progressive vision continued through the 1970s and 1980s as well, under the Rev. David Hilliard Eaton, the church's first African-American senior minister. Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act revealed that J. Edgar Hoover was so deeply distrustful of the direction in which Eaton was leading All Souls that he planted an undercover FBI agent in the church to monitor the congregation and undermine Eaton's ministry.

Members of All Souls Church, Unitarian marching in memory of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing victims. September 1963.

All Souls has been performing interracial and same-sex weddings for decades.

On the evening of September 11, 2001, All Souls and its newly called senior minister, Robert M. Hardies, held a memorial service which was covered by National Public Radio. Soon thereafter, All Souls hosted a public memorial service for Joseph Curseen Jr. and Thomas Morris Jr., two local postal workers who died from anthrax exposure. It was recently the site of a large conference of religious liberals and progressives, and on June 5, 2006, Rev. Hardies was shown speaking against the Federal Marriage Amendment in a clip from a National Press Club news conference on CNN's The Situation Room . On December 18, 2009, mayor Adrian Fenty signed into law the "Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009" at All Souls, which made same-sex marriage legal in Washington, D.C.

Prominent members of All Souls have included President and Chief Justice William Howard Taft, Associate Justice Wiley B. Rutledge, the Hon. Hilda Mason, former D.C. mayor Marion Barry, mezzosoprano Denyce Graves, and Sweet Honey in the Rock member Ysaye Maria Barnwell.


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Coordinates: 38°55′34″N 77°02′10″W / 38.926°N 77.0361°W / 38.926; -77.0361