Project Canterbury






[St. Ambrose Church, New York]


The Rev. E. Elliot Durant, D. D., LL.D.



Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012

St. Ambrose Church



At last! I had fulfilled my life-long desire. I was in Jerusalem, the Holy City.

I had forgotten the World, whence I had just come. Palestine was now my world. O, the Joy, the Rapture, the Glory of the occasion. From my earliest boyhood days it had been my desire to visit the Holy Land where my Saviour was born, lived and died for me. And now, at last the desire had materialised.

It was a glorious Summer Day. All nature was a riot of beauty. Not a cloud rippled across the face of the azure blue sky, while the sun marched with triumphant glory across his usual pathway. The hills of Judea were bespangled with the wild Syrian flowers whose balsamic odors filled the air with an unusual seductive enchantment. The Dome of the Mosque of Omar scintillated in the distance like a colossal Gem from some supernatural jewellers. The verdure-clad hills in the distance looked like giant sentinels guarding the Holy City. And as I gazed enthralled at them they seemed to be moving, and then I could understand why King David when looking at those same hills had cried Out, "Ye little hills that skipped like rams." Truly it was marvellous.

With my companions we made our pilgrimage along the Via Dolorosa, or road of Sorrow. We stopped at each spot where our Blessed Lord and Master is supposed to have fallen with His Cross on the way to Calvary.

Finally we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which crowns the top of GOLGOTHA. We had passed the Chapel of Decision, South of the Greek Cathedral, and ascended the staircase leading to the chapels of Mount Calvary, and now stood before the spot where Jesus was supposed to have been crucified. Try as you will no one can understand my feelings at that time. A panorama of history passed in rapid review like a kaleidoscopic picture before my mind's eye. Like Moses I was standing on Holy Ground. I wanted to take off my shoes. All around me was silence. No one spoke. I suppose all felt as I was feeling. Even nature seemed to stand still. I heard a sob, and looking up into the face of the man standing next to me I saw the tears coursing down his cheeks, and then he spoke solemnly and sincerely—"God be praised, that I am permitted to stand on the spot where My LORD was crucified for me." The speaker was the Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Sharp of Merton Lodge, New Barnet, Hertfordshire, England, President of the Free Churches of Britain.

Standing there with bowed head before the Majesty of the Ages I made a solemn vow, to re-dedicate my entire life to the cause of Christianity—that I would return to New York City to establish a Church, which should be a shrine for all people, to worship God in Spirit and in truth.

This was not a vacation—this trip of mine was a religious pilgrimage, from Dan to Beersheba. From Jerusalem to Gallilee. I was interested in Archaeology. I wanted to study Palestine on the spot. And so I visited every spot mentioned in the Old and New Testament. I wanted to preach with authority. Our guide took us to the vicinity of the place where our Lord was baptized by John the Baptist. There I bathed, and baptized myself in the name of the Holy Trinity. (Smile if you will. Perhaps you are wiser than I am.) I received great inspiration from that bath in the River Jordan. I talked with the women at the [5/6] "Virgin's Well," in Cana of Gallilee, and meditated for hours on the banks of the Sea of Tiberius. I went through Samaria, and stopped at the well of Sychar. As I looked around at the sacred scenery I could imagine I heard the woman saying to her friends, "Come see a man who told me all things that ever I did. Is not this the Christ?" Over and over again we traversed the Jericho roadway, and stopped off in Bethany and Bethpage, in Capernaum and Nain, and Nazareth. We spent hours in the Garden of Gethsemane.

During these weeks of study my plans were being formulated for my new work in New York City.

On our way back to Europe we passed through Italy, and spent a couple of days in Milan. I spent half a day in the Cathedral of Milan—that poem in stone. [6/7] It was the Church of St. Ambrose. As I admired its architectural splendor, and meditated upon its history I decided there that when I founded my church I would call it St. Ambrose. Thus the beginning of the Great Parish of St. Ambrose in New York City. I also remembered my old church of St. Ambrose in Barbados, B.W.I.

On my return to America I found myself out of place in the little Mission which had called me as its Vicar two and one half years before. That Mission had been established by a group of enthusiastic Church people for another clergyman, and I was called with the understanding that I would have to relinquish my position when that clergyman could come to New York City. My position under those circumstances was somewhat irksome. The people never knew under what condition I held the position. This was known only to the controlling Board.

On October 1st 1925 I tendered my resignation to take effect on November 15th 1925. On November 16th I moved away from the Mission without having any place in mind. I did not want to accept any position in any other Church. I wanted to start one myself.

On November 18th I went to Coatesville, Pa., to deliver a lecture on my trip to the Holy Land. On my way back to New York City, on the train that night something whispered to me, "What about St. Luke's Hall in 130th Street." Next morning I went and looked at the hall and found it was a large auditorium which could accommodate over six hundred persons. As I surveyed the building I felt the inspiration that had come to me was surely Divine. At once I rented the place on a monthly basis, for Sunday services only.

That evening I told several of my friends what I had done. They rejoiced. They felt it was the best thing to do. My fiancée Miss Gladys Perinchief sent out a dozen post cards to a dozen families. Miss Cecilia Carrington asked if I would let her loan the money for the first week's rental. We accepted. No other plans were made. We left everything in the hands of Providence. That week was like Holy Week to us.

Early that week a lady Mrs. Amanda Elburn who had been a member of my former charge lay dying. She made two requests of me. "Father Durant" she said, "when I die I want you to take care of my body. Carry it wherever you go. And please take care of my younger daughter. She has no one else to take care of her. Two days afterwards she died."

What a dilemma I found myself in! A young priest, without a home, without a wife, without a Church. But with a dead body and a young girl fifteen years old. You who read this will smile, but you will not be able to understand my feelings at that time. Mrs. Elburn had been a very faithful worker in my former Mission. She was devoted to me as her priest, and like hundreds of others she wanted to be with me, dead or alive.

As I have always done all through my life, I did then. I took the problem to the Throne of Grace. Directly from the presence of God I went to the Funeral Chapel of the late Mr. Thomas Kirton and made arrangements to hold the funeral services there for Mrs. Elburn. Then I discussed the problem of her daughter with Mrs. Theresa Shepperd, and we were able to get a lady to take the young girl, while I superintended her training.


[8] Sunday morning, November 22nd 1925 dawned in all of its Autumnal splendor. Nature seemed to have realised that American Church History was going to be made that day. The sun rose with unusual splendor. The atmosphere was crisp and crystalline. Not a cloud obscured the deep blue of the sky. The morning was really beautiful, and I felt like the morning.

[9] We did not begin our service at the usual hour of 11 o'clock. We had no permission of the Diocese for regular service and we did not want to violate the Canons of the Church. Eighty-four persons came out, and at 11:30, when all of the churches were in the middle of their services we began a prayer service.

After that service which was like a family gathering, we formulated plans for the establishment of St. Ambrose Community Center and Chapel. That evening at 8:30 one hundred and twenty persons came out and we had a glorious and spiritual service. The people were enthusiastic and really happy. Mr. Montrose Thompson volunteered to form a choir.

Immediately forty-nine young persons and Mr. Thompson's wife were organized as a choir. Mr. Thompson was a very ambitious organist. He selected the biggest musical numbers in the music world and soon St. Ambrose had a choir which was one of the finest in New York City.

People began to flock to St. Ambrose by the hundreds. We were careful to get the signature of people who were not affiliated with any other church. As soon as we had a thousand signatures of persons who wanted to become members of St. Ambrose, we sent the list of the signatures by Mrs. Eddie Aspinall to Bishop Manning, the Bishop of the Diocese of New York, asking him for permission to be organized as a regular church in the Diocese of New York.

The Bishop stated that he was greatly interested to know that such a large number of persons were willing to form a new church, but it was with regret that he could not give his permission. The Bishop's refusal acted as a stimulus to every-one of us. We carried on with redoubled energy and enthusiasm. We knew it was God's work and it just had to prosper.

Six months later we sent five hundred more signatures to the Bishop. Again he decided he could not give permission.

Discussing this matter with someone at the Cathedral, I was reminded that the Bishop would have to be responsible for any new work and perhaps the Bishop did not see his way to accept the financial responsibility of another work. I told the individual that I was not seeking any financial aid from the Bishop. That my people were quite capable of supporting their own work which they had been doing from the day we opened our doors.

St. Ambrose had become a household word in New York City and by 11 o'clock every Sunday A.M. every seat was occupied. In order to add interest to our evening services I advertised every once in a while special evening sermons. I will never forget the first of these series. It was in the late 20's when a wave of materialism began to sweep over New York City. People were selecting Sunday nights for Cocktail Parties, Night Clubs and Parlor Socials. There had been many cases of prominent young people who had been led astray by these Sunday night parties. Two young people confided to me that they did not relish drinking whiskey or any other strong drinks, but they had to do it to please the "bunch."

I advertised a special Sunday night sermon, entitled, "Riding To Hell With The Bunch." That Sunday night half an hour before service began there was a long line waiting outside the door of the building, which was already filled to capacity. I lost two members of the choir that night because they felt I had been preaching about them, but I gained more than two dozen new members from that sermon.

[10] Another Sunday night we advertised a sermon entitled "Sowing Wild Oats." Another record breaking crowd came out. We could not accommodate the crowd, but scores remained outside on the sidewalk.

Another advertised sermon was entitled "A Woman For Sale." Again Harlem turned out in large numbers. About that time a number of women all over the country had killed their husbands. We advertised a special Sunday night service entitled, "Why Are Women Killing Their Husbands? If You Intend Killing Your Husband, Don't Kill Him Until You Have Heard This Sermon." The largest crowd we ever had came out to that service. An hour before the service was scheduled to begin, hundreds of people blocked the sidewalk. When I arrived I had great difficulty, myself, in fighting my way through the crowd.

About this time the Rev. Dr. Motet, Rector of the Church of the Holy Communion wanted a priest to help him with the colored people who were invading his church. [10/11] The Late Bishop Shipman advised Dr. Motet to consult me on the matter.

Dr. Motet and I entered into an agreement, in which I was to hold the service for the colored people of his community, every Sunday afternoon at 3 o'clock and to hold social activities for the young people two evenings a week. It was a great arrangement for our people in Harlem. We literally took possession of the church of the Holy Communion. I prepared my first confirmation at St. Ambrose of One-Hundred-Fifteen persons and took them down to the Church of the Holy Communion where they were confirmed by Bishop Shipman. The church was too small to hold our great crowd. We took our weddings down to the Church of the Holy Communion. Our activities were great indeed in those days. We had services at St. Ambrose on Sundays at 7:30 A.M. 11:30 A.M., Sunday School at 3 P.M., Evensong at 8:30 P.M. and services at Holy Communion at 3 P.M. When [12/13] I could not go down to the Church of the Holy Communion. I always got another priest to go for me.

About this time we sent Mrs. Aspinall to Bishop Manning again. The Bishop told her on that occasion that he was very sorry about something that had happened. It had been his intention to secure for St. Ambrose the building belonging to Holy Trinity Parish on Lenox Avenue which had been burned out by fire some time ago, but, at some meeting he had discussed the matter of the numbers of people who signed the petition to become members of St. Ambrose and Dr. Sunderland the Superintendent of the City Mission, said, "Why Harlem is a fertile field for the City Mission" and so Dr. Sunderland purchased the old Holy Trinity building, and started a Mission there known as St. Martin's.

The work had grown to such flourishing proportions that I felt I was able to support a family, and so on September 7, 1927, Miss Perinchief and I were united in the bonds of Holy Matrimony at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine at 5 o'clock.

The unique part of it was that my own choir from St. Ambrose sang the service at the Cathedral, which was packed to its utmost capacity, while an even greater crowd crowded around the sacred edifice. In the procession there were thirty-three vested clergyman, my personal friends, who had come from various Dioceses. The ceremony was performed by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Lloyd, one of the Suffragan Bishops of New York, because Bishop Manning was out of the City.



[14] During these years we were like the Israelites in the early days of their history—We were a nomadic people, our activities were great, and we were compelled to hold them in the gymnasium of various Public Schools. Our organization's meetings were held weekly in the homes of our members. Our choir rehearsals were held in the home of the organist, Mr. Montrose Thompson. There were two choirs, the junior and senior. The juniors held their rehearsals at 6 o'clock Friday evenings, while the seniors held theirs at 8 o'clock.

1 always attended each rehearsal; in fact from the day of my ordination until this day I always attend all of my choir rehearsals, when I am in the city. I like to know what kind of service my people are going to have on Sundays. So many people complain about the dullness of some churches. All people like a bright, spirited service. I love it myself, and I have always seen to it that there should never be a dull moment in my service.

Those were really the halcyon days of St. Ambrose. Everybody was happy, interested and enthusiastic. We had two basketball teams. One for the boys, and one for the girls. Our basketball teams broke up, when one of the managers went home one night after a public contest with an outside team, and forgot to leave with us the funds that had been taken in. We have never seen him anymore.

We had a very large and flourishing Sunday School. The superintendent was Mr. Montrose Thompson. We are happy to say that from this Sunday School went out boys and girls who today occupy leading positions as physicians, lawyers, teachers, nurses and business men. I am very proud and happy when I see these young people all through Harlem, who are the products of St. Ambrose Church. We had also a very enthusiastic debating society which was the pride of Harlem.

Of course it took money to carry on our work. Our people were poor. I had to think of every plan possible to raise money and interest the people at the same [14/15] time. We organised a Queen's Contest. That is, we selected about eighteen foreign countries and selected a young woman as queen of each country, while one served as Miss America. Each queen was given so many votes to be sold at ten cents each. The one who brought in the most money on the night of the contest, was crowned Queen.

The night King George the Sixth of England was crowned, we duplicated the entire coronation ceremony at Rockland Palace, New York City. That night the police had to stop the crowds from going in. They estimated that about five thousand persons were in the hall. It took a police escort about twenty minutes to escort the British Consul General and his two daughters from the entrance to their box.

We were able, after paying all expenses to bank over three thousand dollars from that affair. The winner who was crowned Queen was a member of the choir, Mrs. Ulrica Baird. She brought in over two hundred dollars. She was crowned by the late Dr. Murcot Wiltshire, who acted as the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was vested in the full robes of an archbishop, and wearing a mitre, and carrying a staff.

The rental of the costumes for the Queens and Miss America cost over five hundred dollars. It was a most magnificent and dazzling spectacle to see the Queens and their attendants in the Grand Procession. It thrilled the people and filled our coffers.

After that a new wave of enthusiasm swept over our members and friends. Everybody was happy.

The amusing aftermath was, that after that, several other churches of the Denominations staged Queens' Contests also, but, they never invested in the expensive and gorgeous costumes that we used.

Another idea came to us for raising money and interesting the people at the same time. We organized a Governor's Rally. We selected forty-eight persons to represent the forty-eight States of America. Each person was called the Governor of his particular state. He had assisting him a Secretary and Treasurer. Each Governor was given a number of tickets inviting friends to become members of his state, and as citizens of his state, they were naturally expected to pay taxes.

This rally was generally held the last Sunday afternoon in January every year. We arranged it for this time because our choirs could render the anthems, and solos they had prepared for Christmas and the Christmas spirit was still in the air. With the money which came in from this rally we were always able to liquidate our debts for the past year.

Imagine my chagrin when several churches began to follow our example by giving Governor's rallies also. One church actually used on their tickets every word that we had used on ours.

I announced one day in church that we would relinquish the Governor's rally, to other people, who wanted it. We had no intention to compete with anyone, but, instead of a Governor's rally, we would have an annual Senator's rally. We selected two Senators for each state, gave them their tickets, and envelopes, and had our joyous Senator's rally the last Sunday afternoon in January. It was a glorious success. Laugh if you will, but, don't you know that shortly after that some other church group gave a Senator's rally, also.

We were the first church people to give a moonlight excursion on a steamer, up the Hudson River. One night we carried twenty-two hundred persons. We [15/17] had a large orchestra, the people danced and enjoyed themselves tremendously. We had a glorious time. The Sunday before one excursion, one of my friends, a well-known clergyman criticized me from his pulpit. He said "Father Durant is going to make a bad house, etc., etc., out of that moonlight excursion." I laughed heartily when the criticism was told to me, but, bless my soul, that very clergyman hearing of our great success, the next year chartered a boat and took his people for a moonlight excursion up the Hudson River. The next year after that about six other churches had moonlight excursions up the Hudson River. The following year I announced to my congregation that we would not have another moonlight excursion up the Hudson.

Before I finished making the announcement in church there was a general wave of resentment. The people thought our excursions had been so successful and why should I stop them. I continued making my announcement, I said, "no, we are not going up the Hudson anymore, but, we are going down the Hudson, past the Statue of Liberty, through the narrows, and see Coney Island lighted up by night."

There was a broad grin on every face, of every member in the congregation. That year we carried a larger group than ever. When our steamer was leaving the pier to go down the river, several other steamers pulled out also, but, went up the river. The next year would you believe it, many of those went down the river also.

A well known lady made a remark jocularly; she said; "if Father Durant were to walk down Seventh Avenue in his shirt tails, some of these people would do the same thing." And by the way I was thinking about doing that very thing, but, my wife said she would put me in the crazy house.

Seriously, I have had a great deal of fun and enjoyment financing St. Ambrose Parish. To my people, and to myself, it has never been work, but fun. I always insisted on my people getting outsiders to help them, so they would help us carry our burden.

On one occasion we gave a "Dumb Supper," hundreds of people came because they wanted to know what a dumb supper was. Everybody had to eat with their left hand. Every table was watched. Every time anyone used their right hand they had to pay five cents. If anyone spoke while eating they had to pay five cents, each time they spoke. If anyone laughed, they had to pay five cents.

A waiter would ask, "will you have sugar for your coffee?" if you answered, you were fined five cents. People were telling jokes all over the hall, and everyone who laughed had to pay five cents. It was an evening of amusement, and financial gain.

On another occasion we advertised an entertainment in which the public was told that five dollars was hidden in the room, and whoever found it could have it. The young people almost tore the place to pieces, but no one found it. At midnight they were shown publicly where it was, and almost everyone had touched it unknowingly.

One Sunday during the very hot summer we advertised that twenty-one dollar bills would be secreted in the hymn and prayer books and the persons finding them could keep them. Plenty of non-going church people heard of it, and came out to church. To the honor of these people I must say, that 99% who found those dollar bills every Sunday, brought them and gave them back to me. They enjoyed the hunt.

[18] One Sunday night, we had a singing contest between the males and females of the congregation. All of the males were asked to sit on one side of the church, while the females were to sit on the other side. The males would stand up and sing six hymns, then the females would stand up and sing six also. These hymns were sung alternately. After each hymn the judges would give each group a number of points. At the end the winners would be announced. Sometimes the men would come from all over Harlem. Some would bring their old hymn books, and believe it or not, they always beat the ladies.

One Sunday night we had a hymn contest between the congregation and the choir. The congregation sang six hymns and the choir sang six. It was a draw. I was the judge that night and the congregation said they won, but they continued "you only wanted to save the face of your choir."

These various services were designed to bring the unchurched people out to church, and they succeeded.

We literally went out into "the highways and hedges and compelled men to come in." At every service there was a dynamic, evangelistic sermon.

Of course we upheld the dignity of the church and presented the beauty of our liturgy to the people. Through it all we were seeking human souls.

That has always been my object in life; to touch the lives of men and women, to present Jesus Christ to them in the power of his Resurrection.

We invited clergymen from all over the country, in order that our people could get a cross section of Christian theology.

If a man did not preach as we thought he should preach, we never invited [18/19] him again into our pulpit. By this I mean, if he did not present Jesus Christ as the incarnate son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and rose again, we had no use for such preachers.

One Sunday morning, as usual, the church was filled. There was a special preacher, the sermon fell flat—very flat, indeed. Everybody was twisting, and turning, and coughing. The choir members were giggling. The people had gotten nothing from that sermon; and I would not under any condition allow them to go home spiritually hungry. Whether the preacher liked it or not, I did not care. He had a right to preach. As he came out of the pulpit I repeated his text. Thanking him for it, and preached on the subject for twenty minutes. Every member of the congregation thanked me for it after the service. Several members of the choir said, "we knew you were going to do that."

I want to be very serious here; the apostles and the early ministers of the church were men who had a definite message and delivered that message so that people could feel, understand and be convinced.

Today some of the Ambassadors of Jesus Christ do not realize what their job is.

I am a Catholic Clergyman, and no one loves a beautiful liturgical service more than I do, but I certainly want to hear something about Christ and his philosophy.

When Paul of Tarsus stood on Mars hill, he would have been stoned to death, had he stood up there making gestures, only. But with all of the dynamic power in his body he said, "Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD, whom therefore ye ignorantly worship; him declare I unto you."

St. Paul presented Jesus Christ, and men and women listened and were converted.

At the end of 1929 the great depression had struck America. People were thrown out of employment. Thousands were walking the streets of Harlem hungry. The Home Relief System was not yet organized.

People were selling oranges on the street. Some were begging, some were snatching pocketbooks, and others were knocking people down. Many people had appealed to us for aid.

One Sunday morning after the sermon an inspiration came to me and I announced, that beginning the following day I would "feed the hungry at the Parish House."

This idea seemed preposterous. I had no money and no prospect of getting any.

Immediately after the service a young man, who was not a member of the church came to me and informed me that he would supply all of the meat I needed, every day as long as I served the free meals I had promised.

Other persons volunteered to contribute vegetables, etc. I secured four men from an organization which had been formed in Harlem to find work for the unemployed.

The next day we served eighty-six free hot lunches, and every day all through that winter and into the spring we served an average of one hundred thirty-five free dinners.

Like everything we have done at St. Ambrose, that was done on faith. God certainly sent the food. I had faith that God would do it, and he did.



[20] Our work had been progressing by leaps and bounds. God had blessed us considerably. We had kept in touch with the Bishop; finally one day I received a letter from the then Suffragan Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Herbert Shipman, in which he informed me that he had been discussing our situation with Bishop Manning, and had made an appointment to meet me with the Bishop, on a certain day that week. As I entered his office he greeted me joyfully with these words; "Mr. Durant, we have done it. I think we have converted Bishop Manning."

Bishop Shipman and I proceeded to Bishop Manning's office, and found him in a very unusual, amiable manner. We discussed the work of St. Ambrose in all of its phases. Bishop Manning informed me that he knew everything that had transpired at St. Ambrose. We had carried on our work without financial aid from the Diocese, and he felt we were entitled to become a Parish.

Of course I had to redouble all of my efforts to get all of the papers ready for the Standing Committee thirty days before the meeting of the Annual Convention.

[21] A meeting was called by our congregation in the Auditorium of P.S. 139. A vestry of six men and two wardens was elected and they in turn called as their Rector the founder of the Parish. The Wardens and Vestry elected were Mr. T. A. Rudder, Sr. Church Warden; Mr. M. E. Holder, Jr. Church Warden; the Vestrymen were Mr. John Taitt, Treasurer; Mr. O. Montrose Thompson; Mr. Luther Tudor, Secretary; Mr. George Davis; Mr. Edwin Jones; Mr. Hubert Marks.

The call to the rector was read by Mr. Montrose Thompson amidst the cheers of the congregation.

The Annual Convention of the Diocese of New York met in the Synod Hall of the Cathedral of St. John The Divine, the second Tuesday in May. It was an historical occasion for us. Our four delegates took their seats with me in the Convention Hall.

In the usual place for the admissions of new parishes in communion with the Diocese, St. Ambrose was received. Bishop Manning told the congregation the thing that made him happiest was "The fact that St. Ambrose came into existence without asking or receiving a penny from the Diocese." The Bishop then called upon Father Durant to stand up, and the convention cheered wildly for some time.



[23] As a child I used to hear the old time devout Christians say "No cross, no crown, and the heavier the cross the brighter the crown."

We had been rejoicing, greatly, at St. Ambrose. Our congregation was a most unusual one. We were like one great family. Everybody knew each other, our members came from every island in the Caribbean Sea and from almost every state in the U. S. A. Of course we had many differences. My greatest task was to settle these differences.

We had been paying eighty dollars a month for the rental of the auditorium in which he held our services. That was an exorbitant price. To make it worse the price was raised to one hundred dollars a month. We thought that outrageous and refused to pay that amount. The manager told me "you have a great crowd of people every morning and evening, and they can pay it all right," we refused on principle. But while we were sleeping those people were planning for us.

It had been our custom to go to the auditorium on Saturday evenings and fix up our altar, and make the building church-like. Sometimes when other affairs were held there on Saturday evenings we would be compelled to go at five o'clock on Sunday mornings in order to be ready for our celebration at seven o'clock.

There were three devoted persons who assisted me in this work. The late Miss Edith Smith, the president of our Altar Guild who would let no one fix the altar but herself. Mr. Joseph Best and Mr. Fritz-Herbert Smith.

One Sunday morning the three of us arrived as usual at five o'clock. We heard singing inside of the auditorium, but the doors were locked. Some one peeped out of one of the doors and told us "they were the New Church Congregation in that building," and they had kept service all night so as to have possession of the building when we arrived. It was a most embarrassing and horrifying situation for us. They had offered more money than we were paying, and so the building had been rented to them in our absence. By seven o'clock our congregation had filled the sidewalk. Three or four times we appointed delegations which went to the Police Precinct for advice.

At Ten-thirty I invited the congregation to come to the Rectory. None of us will ever forget that day. The crowds packed each floor of the building. We hastily constructed a Chancel and Altar on the first floor of the building. People were standing up like sardines in a tin. Crowds who could not get in stood in reverence on the sidewalk outside. There was a Pentecostal, outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that morning. I preached as I had never preached before.

During that week we secured the Elks Hall in 129th Street for our services. The facilities there were ten times better than our previous hall. Everybody wondered why we had not secured that hall in the first place.

Our congregation continued to grow and prosper, but the angel of death claimed many of our best workers.

On 130th Street near Fifth Avenue there was a large Gothic Church. The most beautiful of its kind in New York City. It had been built by the Puritans [23/25] who had come over from Scotland. Visitors to New York City would go through that block which was called Astor's Row, after John Jacob Astor, who had erected a row of houses in that block. It was also called "block beautiful." Every congregation which wanted a church in Harlem had tried to purchase that church, because the white congregation had moved away and the attendance was very poor.

Every night for five years while I was in the city, I would pass through that block, stand in front of that church, and ask God to give it to me for my congregation. I have always believed in the power of prayer. I know that I am a Son of God—and as his Son I am heir to a part of everything which belongs to my Father, and my Father has never failed me once, in anything I ever really wanted.

In 1934 I was informed that the organization of the Puritans had refused an offer of $250,000 for their edifice which I wanted so badly. I felt if they refused such a large amount where would I get a larger amount from?

In 1935 I was informed that another offer had been made to them of $150,000. My courage rose then and I communicated with them.

To my great surprise, they agreed to talk with me if I would pay $90,000 for the building. I was very happy that at last we had started something.

I spoke to Bishop Manning about the matter. He advised me to allow him to enter into the negotiations for me. For several months I heard nothing from the Bishop or the Puritans. Suddenly, one Friday morning about March 1936, I received a special delivery letter from Bishop Manning asking me to see him at his office the following day.

As I entered his office he asked "Mr. Durant, how much money can you raise in three weeks time?" Immediately I replied, $5,000 Bishop. That was a very momentous, audacious and presumptuous decision of mine.

The great depression was at its height. Tens of thousands of people had been thrown out of work, a great number of people had stopped coming to church because, as some of them had confided to me they had no money to give the church. In each instance I had advised, "please do not let money keep you from coming to church, that is the reason why you should come to church, now, more than ever."

The day after my interview with Bishop Manning I told my congregation that I had some very happy news for them, but I could not tell them until I had discussed it with the Vestry, but next Sunday I would tell them the joyful tidings.

The following Monday evening I told my Vestry the good news. We were bubbling over with excitement and enthusiasm.

The Saturday of that week I received another special delivery letter from Bishop Manning in which he asked me not to discuss our conversation of the previous Saturday with my congregation until I had heard from him further on the matter.

It is difficult to describe my feelings when I read this letter from the Bishop. A week ago I had been lifted up to the highest pinnacle of heaven, and now I was dashed to the lowest depths of hell.

Fr. Durant prepares to cense the new Altar.

[26] I knew something had happened. How was I to face my congregation on Sunday morning? I had promised them good news that morning. As I went into the Chancel that morning I felt as though I was going to the electric chair. The congregation was keyed up to the highest pitch. Everybody had come out to church that morning with joyful expectancy. Every face was filled with joyful anticipation as their eyes were focused on me. I told them that the news I had for them would have to be delayed for a little while longer. That something happened which would change my plans for a little while, but soon I would tell it to them.

After that service, everybody gathered around me, everyone wanted to know what the news was, but I could not tell them. Human nature is inquisitive, but today, I couldn't blame these people. I had made them a promise last Sunday and now I had failed them.

I lived in a nightmare for the next two weeks. Finally, I received a hint that one of the other parishes was objecting to St. Ambrose moving into that building.

Fortunately, I had already consulted the Standing Committee and the matter was to be decided by that committee at their current meeting. The secretary of the Standing Committee was a firm hard-hearted lawyer. At our first interview, he seemed as though he was not in favor of St. Ambrose making the move. I felt convinced that at the meeting, had he raised an objection, he would have been able to get the other members to agree with him.

[27] On the morning of the day the Standing Committee was to meet, I went to the Rev. Fr. Barrett and challenged him. I said Fr. Barrett I understand you are objecting to St. Ambrose purchasing the church of the Puritans. Immediately, he replied, "Oh, no, I am not objecting at all. It is Dr. Ribourg who is objecting. He advised me to go and see Bishop Manning and make a protest."

I asked him, "then you are going down to the Standing Committee this afternoon to protest the purchasing of that church by my people?" He said, "No Father Durant, I am not." I said, "I am glad to hear that, because I am in a fighting mood, and I mean fighting."

That afternoon I went down into New York's great financial district, into the office of the Registrar of the Diocese of New York where the Standing Committee of the Diocese of New York was going to meet. The fires of Hell were burning in my bosom as I entered that room. My people and I had been working for the extending of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ upon earth, and the thought that Christian people would try to stop us now was enough to rob me of my reasoning faculties. I was ready that afternoon for a showdown with anybody, under any condition.

As I entered the room, I asked for the secretary of the Standing Committee. His secretary told me he would not be there because he was ill. I said, "thank God."

[28] It is the first time in my life I ever rejoiced to know that anyone was ill. God was on my side. He had removed an obstacle from my pathway. The meeting began while I was sitting in an outer room. After a while I was invited into the midst of that August Assembly. I was questioned concerning the work of my parish. I was asked how much money I received from the Bishop and Diocese for the support of my work. I replied "not a penny, my people have been carrying the work from the day we opened our doors."

The Rector of St. Michael's Church who had asked me that question said "that's a marvelous thing." All of the other members agreed with him.

They were about to take a vote on the matter when one of the members said, "Don't let us keep the Reverend any longer, let him go home, we will write him tomorrow and let him know the results."

The acting secretary at that meeting was my friend, the Rev. Canon Pritchard. The fact is I felt that the members did not want me to know how they were going to vote.

A week passed and I got no news. On the tenth day when I could stand it no [28/29] longer I went down to the office of the Registrar of the Diocese and his secretary told me they had written to me that very morning and the reason why I had not heard before was, because the acting secretary, Canon Pritchard had been ill. She told me the Committee had passed on our application unanimously.

I rushed home and when I arrived, my wife told me that Bishop Manning had called me on the telephone twice, and left word for me to call him. Immediately, I did so. As I got him on the phone, he said, "Mr. Durant go ahead, everything is alright."

I was so happy I hung up before he did. I know my good Bishop has excused that seeming discourtesy.

Next Sunday morning I told the congregation that we were about to purchase the church of the Puritans and must have $5,000 more within three weeks. I asked all of those persons who could bring $10.00 next Sunday to do so. It was phenomenal. The following Sunday the people brought in almost $4,000. One of our men pawned a suit of his clothes for $10.00 and brought the money to us. That Sunday I asked those people who couldn't bring in $10.00 to bring in $5.00 or whatever they could the next Sunday. By the next week we had the money.

The first down payment of $15,000 was made and elaborate preparations were made to enter the church for our first service.


[30] Sunday, May 23, 1936 dawned in all of the beauty of a summer day. The sun shone down with resplendent glory from an amethystine sky. All nature was alert.

The Avenues were filled with happy, laughing people who promenaded in their Sunday best. My cup of joy was overflowing as I crossed over Lenox Avenue with my family and saw a long line of people waiting to enter the church.

The people were clamoring as they clamor to get into the theatres. It was good to see this crowd in line waiting to enter the house of God.

Admission to this service was by tickets. At 9:30 the doors were opened and by 10 o'clock the church was packed to its utmost capacity while hundreds remained on the sidewalk. There was a large number of policemen patrolling the block in honor of the occasion.

The preacher was the Bishop of the Diocese, The Right Reverend William T. Manning, D.D., D.C.L. The service was grand. The Bishop spoke in glowing terms of the work and praised the good people of St. Ambrose for their loyalty and devotion.

That evening at 8:00 o'clock there was another large service.

When the glamour and pomp of the opening services were over, we sat down to face grim realities.

There were four large heaters in the cellar and four were in bad condition.

We needed about a thousand dollars to put in new ones. The plumbing in the building was in bad condition. Several places in the roof leaked.

I told the congregation that my mother had not brought me into this world to be a beggar and I was not going to beg now, but, they knew their responsibilities and I was going to depend upon each and every man, woman and child to do their duty.

New members began to become affiliated with us, and it was a pleasure to witness nine hundred or a thousand people in the congregation every Sunday morning.

Our services were always bright. The people entered heartily into the singing.

Meanwhile, as in every church, Satan had been busy. There were difficulties from within, as well as from without. Many storms broke over our heads by self-seeking individuals, but we were always able to dispel the storms and restore serenity.

I had to remind my congregation, continually, that we were out to fight Satan, and it was not to be expected that he would take his licking lying down. We had to expect him to fight back. We organized the people into a large number of Guilds, and each Guild has been working heroically.

We needed three thousand dollars to redecorate the church. We wanted to make it look more beautiful than when we took it over. We spoke to the people about it and within a short space of time they brought me the money.

We had been using a lovely wooden altar, which had been built by one of our men, Mr. Charles Leacock. It was placed on top of the platform which the Presbyterians had been using. It was very unsightly to me, and to most of us. We had been hoping and longing for the day when we could tear down that platform and build a suitable Chancel.

As I always do, I took this matter to God in prayer. I told him I wanted an altar.

[31] One day a church critic, from another parish, came to see me and said, "Father Durant, why don't you cut down that platform and make a regular Chancel." I replied, "I am waiting until I can build what I want." He said, "I suppose you want a marble chancel?" I replied, "that is just what I want." He said, very sarcastically, "you will never get it, it costs too much money." I smiled at him.

Shortly after that, I received a telephone call from the office of Trinity Parish. I was asked if I could use an altar, I replied, "I think so." The speaker said, he would be up to see me in a half hours’ time.

Within the space of an hour a gentleman came into my office and told me he was the one who had called about the altar. He showed me several photographs of a marble altar and asked if I liked it. I replied, "I think I do." He asked me to meet him next morning at 10:00 o'clock at Trinity Chapel where I could see the altar.

Before 10:00 next morning, I was at the church. As I beheld the altar for the first time, I was thrilled by its Gothic beauty. The gentleman who was standing at my side asked me if I thought I could use it. I hesitated and replied slowly, "I think so."

I did not want him to see how anxious I was to secure that poem in marble. I wished I could have lifted it up then and take it to St. Ambrose. Arrangements were quickly made to have it moved to our Gothic building.

Mr. Alexander Pelli, the world-renowned altar builder, had charge of the job. It came to us one day in a blinding snow storm, boxed up in four hundred pieces. I could not imagine that so much material went into one altar.

To accommodate this gem, I wanted my marble chancel and stone pulpit. The cost I was told would be about fifteen thousand dollars. That was plenty of money for poor people to raise.

I asked every member to bring me ten dollars. They did. By the first of October the work was completed and every penny was paid on it.

That was a magnificent achievement by these faithful people. The entire chancel was made of solid marble just as I wanted it. I designed the pulpit as I had always desired my pulpit to be. We called it God's altar, because it came as a direct gift from God.

The Boston poet, Mr. St. Clair Kirton, who heard me refer to it as "God's altar," composed the following poem for the dedication:—


"Gods Altar" at St. Ambrose!
There where the faithful kneel
In prayer and consecration,
I'll offer my appeal
To God, the Triune Father
Whose Majesty Divine
Is seen in His Creation
The earth, O Lord, is Thine!

"God's Altar" at St. Ambrose!
Approach, ye weary souls,
Before the mystic splendor
Where boundless love unfolds!
Where Christ the Mediator
With pierced Hands and Side,
Becomes an Intercessor,
There, Lord, we would abide!

"God's Altar" at St. Ambrose!
Lead us Spirit Divine,
On to Thy Crystal Waters,
Forever to recline.
Praise be to God the Father,
And His Eternal Son;
And to the Holy Spirit,
While endless ages run!
—Copyright 1944 by St. Clair Kirton.


New High Altar Unveiled at St. Ambrose
Stone Pulpit and Lectern Dedicated
Vast Throngs Attend High Mass

The Rev. E. Elliot Durant and Bishop Manning

[32] Sunday, October 8th will go down in Church History as one of its epoch-making festivals. The occasion was the dedication by the people of St. Ambrose Parish, New York City, of their new Marble Chancel, Stone Pulpit, and Brass Lectern, and the unveiling of the new high altar. The ceremonies were performed by the Bishop of New York, the Right Reverend William T. Manning, D.D., L.L.D.

The service which was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., was a festive High Mass, at which the Rector, the Reverend E. Elliot Durant, D.D., L.L.D., was the celebrant, the Rev. Fr. Adolphus Henry, deacon, and the Rev. C. G. Howell, sub-deacon.

Admission to the service was by invitation, and from 8 a.m. the parishioners and friends began to assemble, until 10 a. m. when every niche of the large and ornate church edifice was filled to capacity, with hundreds standing on the sidewalks outside. The police Inspector was thoughtful enough to close the street to public traffic from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. A large number of mounted policemen assisted the foot police in keeping in order the great crowds, which were composed of people from every walk and station in life, both Colored and White.

About 10:30 the British Consul General at New York City, the Hon. Francis E. Evans and Mrs. Evans arrived and were escorted by a guard of honor, which also escorted Bishop Manning on his arrival. Following close behind these were Mr. Philip Avery, of the British Ministry of war transport, and his wife the British Pro-Consul, Mrs. Avery. Dr. Alli Khuli Khan, former Persian ambassador to America, and Madame Khan. Special seats had been reserved for these and dozens of other out of town guests who came from Florida, Washington, D. C., Atlantic City, Philadelphia, Boston and other cities.

Precisely at 11 o'clock Dr. Durant entoned the opening prayer, and the great procession which had been formed in the street moved up the center aisle in solemn dignity, presenting a picture of unrivalled beauty. The procession was composed of fifty choir members, and forty acolytes led by thurifers and Crucifers. Behind the choir came the Lay Readers, the Reverend Clergy and the Bishop.

As the procession reached the Chancel the Bishop read the dedication prayers, at the conclusion of which the Wardens and Vestrymen of the parish unveiled the Altar, Pulpit and Lectern.

This was followed by a solo, "Open the Gates of the Temple," sung by Mrs. Ethylyne Smith, a member of the choir. The guest soloist was Mr. Philip Fey, who sang "Fear Ye Not O Israel," by Dudley Buck.

Bishop Manning delivered a very inspiring and powerful sermon, touching on the tragic events which are transpiring in the world today, and admonishing the people to continue their loyalty to Jesus Christ, who is Lord and Giver of Life. He heartily commended the Rector, Dr. Durant for the great work he has done for the church, and the loyalty of the members of St. Ambrose who have built up that great parish. The Wardens and Vestrymen also came in for their share of commendation.

[33] At the conclusion of the service the procession moved slowly down the aisle out into the street. The Bishop was vested in a golden Cope and Mitre, preceded by a priest carrying his Crozier. The Rector also wore a golden Cope. The deacon, sub-deacon, and acolytes who served at the altar were also vested in golden vestments. Mr. Gladstone Marshall, the organist of the church, presided at the organ.

A number of guests remained for luncheon, among whom we noticed, the Marchesa Regis de Franchimont Porcelli, Mr. Phillip Avery, Mrs. Avery, the only female Pro-Consul in the British Empire. Dr. and Mrs. Arthur Donnelly, The Rev. and Mrs. C. G. Howell, and Miss Howell; the Rev. Adolphus Henry, Mrs. Laura Bascome, Dr. and Mrs. Norman Pritchard; Mrs. Gloria Marquez, M. and Mrs. R. Baird, Mrs. Margaret Richards; Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Durant, Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Quarles, Mr. St. Clair Kirton; Mr. Dudley Barrow, Mr. Clarence King; Mr. E. Elliot Durant, Jr., Miss Gladys Constance Durant; Miss Evelyn Ashby, Dr. and Mrs. Charles Augustin Petioni, Lady Ada McGuire, Mr. and Mrs. Philip Fey, Miss Winifred Donnelly, Mrs. E. Hamilton; the host and hostess, Dr. and Mrs. E. Elliot Durant, and others.



[34] After the consecration of the chancel, altar and its appurtenances, we began to sit down and enjoy the glory of our handiwork.

Naturally, we had just closed our financial campaign of fifteen thousand dollars. We thought that was a marvelous job. But just at that time it was suggested to us by the people who held our mortgage that it would be a splendid thing for us, if we would endeavor to pay off a part of our thirty thousand dollar mortgage.

In a talk with the officials of the New York Presbytery, one of them graciously suggested, a campaign Manager who had raised large sums of money for a goodly number of their churches.

I took the matter up with my vestry at the next meeting. One of the vestrymen, Mr. Wilton Pollard, said, "Fr. Durant, we are grateful to the people who made that suggestion, but I am sure that the members of our parish would respond better to an appeal from you than from anyone else."

I thought this was very flattering and all of the other members of the vestry were unanimous in this suggestion. The next day I prepared literature for the printers, and the following Sunday we started the campaign to raise the thirty thousand dollars. Everyone giving twenty dollars or more was to receive a certificate of gratitude.

I had no idea the success of the venture could have been so phenomenal, but Sunday after Sunday our dear people flooded me with money. Many Sundays, when it was time to begin the service, there would be six or more persons around me with their hands filled with money. Sometimes, I had to dismiss them without taking the money.

On these occasions my nerves were strained to the highest tension; perhaps I was brusque, as I refused to take the money. The people would look at me with opened-mouth astonishment, but they were all darlings. They never got offended. They understood me. They made allowances for my seeming brusqueness.

After service they were there again with their contributions.

The treasurer was also taxed to the utmost to receive this money from me, and make the necessary records.

One day he said enthusiastically, we have already twenty thousand dollars.

After a special vestry meeting the treasurer and I went to the bank and got a certified check for twenty thousand dollars and took it down to the New York Presbytery, who held our mortgage. They were overjoyed when I delivered to them the check. They did not think it possible for us to have raised that amount in so short a space of time.

[35] They gave us the following receipt.

February 19, 1946

Received from St. Ambrose Episcopal Church Twenty Thousand ($20,000) Dollars (certified check) for the reduction of the mortgage on the church premises, 9-15 West 130th Street.

A further payment of Nine Thousand ($9,000) Dollars will be accepted as full payment on account of this mortgage.


The same day they sent us the following letter:

February 19, 1946

The Rector, the Officers and Members St. Ambrose Episcopal Church

Dear Brethren:

We are in receipt of a payment from you of $20,000 for the reduction of the mortgage on your church property.

You deserve the highest praise and the heartiest congratulations for this very remarkable achievement. It is a splendid sum of money to have raised considering the many other financial efforts in which you have been engaged, and you are well on your way to removing the last indebtedness which you bear.

Even more than this freedom from obligation is the evidence that you have of the wonderful spirit of loyalty in your people and the strength of your parish and the very wise leadership of your Rector.

We of your sister communion congratulate you heartily and wish God's continued blessing upon you.

Sincerely yours,

Bishop Manning and Bishop Gilbert were equally enthusiastic about our achievement.

Meanwhile, the rest of the money continued to come in, and by May we had raised the other Nine Thousand Dollars.

When we had paid them the Twenty Thousand Dollars, I made a plea, asking them to accept as final payment a sum of Five Thousand Dollars. They did not see their way to do this, since as they said they had practically given us a half million dollar church building for little or nothing, so they accepted nine thousand dollars.

Joyfully, we began to make preparations for the service in which the mortgage papers were to be burned. The following report from the Christian Courier of July, 1946 will give the reader the best account of that service.


[37] A never-to-be-forgotten service was held at St. Ambrose Church on Friday evening, June 28th, 1946. The occasion was the burning of the Thirty ($30,000) Thousand Dollar Mortgage Papers. The service was a solemn evensong and sermon. From an early hour in the evening large numbers of people wended their way to the large and ornate building, and by eight o'clock there was not standing room. About two dozen clergymen of all denominations marched in the procession and took their places in the chancel. The preacher was the Rev. Canon West from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. He brought greetings and congratulations from Bishop Manning, who was away from the City for the Summer. The Canon took as his text: "The Lord is in his Holy Temple." He preached a very powerful and inspiring sermon. He reminded the large congregation that they had now given to God something without strings attached to it—a building free of debt. He complimented the Rector, Wardens, Vestry and congregation on the unique work they had done in so short a time.

Before burning the Mortgage papers the Rector had the historic document read to the congregation by the Rev. Aaron T. Peters of British Guiana, who is visiting New York City. Dr. Peters is also a practicing Barrister-at-law in British Guiana. The Senior Warden, Mr. George Davis, held the brass dish. Canon West held the paper, and Dr. Durant applied the lighted match, while the entire congregation smiled their pleasure at the lifting of the financial burden from their shoulders.

Dr. Durant said, "I want, from the depths of my heart to thank every member and friend of this parish for the hearty co-operation they have given me in this stupendous task. When we started this campaign we were just closing another one for $15,000.00, besides the monies for the current expenses. I entered this campaign with some trepidation. Nevertheless I knew you would make it successful, because you have never failed me once in anything I have asked you to do. May God's richest benediction rest upon you all. You will remember when we began the campaign I said when we had completed it I would say, "Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace." But tonight I have changed my mind, and now I say, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant begin to live in PEACE."

The Rector announced that the ladies of the various organizations had provided refreshments for over 1,200 people. After the service the vast crowds of over 1,600 people filled the parish hall, the music hall and the basement, and partook of all kinds of refreshments. The last batch left about 3:30 in the morning. It was a great time.

Sitting at the Rector's table we noticed Mrs. Avery, the popular British Pro-Consul, and her husband, Mr. Avery, of the Consulate Service at New York. The beloved Vice Consul, Mr. Walter James and Mrs. James, Lady Helen the Mancresa De Porcelli; Dr. A. Winstone Scott, the Rev. and Mrs. C. G. Howell, Mrs. H. P. Grannum and daughters, and several others, who milled around the various departments of the building.

The choir under the leadership of Mr. Gladstone Marshall played a very important part in the service. They sang three anthems, closing with the Allelulia chorus, as the grand finale. Every one went home feeling it was glorious to have been there.

That was a never to be forgotten service, and now we are looking forward to the service of Consecration of our glorious Gothic building which is scheduled to take place on Saturday morning, December 7th, 1946.

[38] THE MEN'S GUILD OFFICERS: President, O. Franklin; Vice President, D. E. Barrow; Treasurer, Ed Morrison; Secretary, F. Greenidge; Asst. Secretary, W. Cheeseman; Chaplain, M. Pile.

RECTOR'S GUILD OFFICERS: President, Mrs. Josephine Crump; Vice President, Miss Ermintrude Welch; Secretary, Miss Adina Grant; Asst. Secretary, Mrs. Geraldine Crichlow; Treasurer, Mrs. Ivy Morgan; Chaplain, Mrs. Adele Jackman.

THE WOMAN'S AUXILIARY OFFICERS: President, Mrs. Edith Cheesman; Vice President, Mrs. Amy Deane; Secretary, Mrs. Ethna Cumberbatch; Asst. Secretary, Mrs. Clementine Waldron; Chaplain, Mrs. Gill.       

DAUGHTERS OF THE KING OFFICERS: President, Mrs. Ivy Morgan; Vice President, Mrs. Amanda Lord; Secretary, Mrs. Lillian Dash; Treasurer, Mrs. Laara Linton.

EVER READY GROUP OFFICERS: President, M. Martindale; Vice President, Sylvia St. Hill Cummings; Treasurer, Elsie Holder; Secretary, Vivian Moore.

THE NOVEMBER CLUB OFFICERS: President, Mrs. Louisa Payne; Vice President, Mrs. M. Martindale; Treasurer, Mrs. Lydia Crichlow.

ALTAR GUILD: President, Miss Edith Woods.

[39] WILLING WORKERS OFFICERS: President, Mrs. Estelle Hinds; Vice President, Lucille Folkes; Treasurer, Mrs. Gladys Durant; Secretary, Mrs. Ethna Cumberbatch; Chaplain, Mrs. Bertha Ward.

FLOWER GUILD OFFICERS: President, Mrs. Ethel Barker;

THE MOTHER'S UNION OFFICERS: President, Mrs. Edith Cheesman; Vice President, Mrs. Louise Weeks; Secretary, Miss Jean Niles; Asst. Secretary, Miss Enid Bradshaw; Treasurer, Mrs. Ivy Morgan; Chaplain, Mrs. Ruth Forde


JUNIOR LEAGUE OFFICERS: President, Victor Gulston; Secretary, Doris Evelyn.

The present Vestry of St. Ambrose is composed of the following persons:
Mr. Frederick Padmore, Jr., Church Warden
Mr. George Davis, Sr., Church Warden
Mr. Edward Morrison, Treasurer
Mr. Joseph Best
Mr. Edwin Jones
Mr. Wilton Pollard
Mr. Clarence Hines
Mr. Charles Leacock

These men are giving splendid service during their term of office for which I want to thank them heartily. I hope they will be able to continue to give service for many more years to come.

I want to pay special tribute to our associate The Rev. C. G. Howell, M.A., B.D. Father Howell has been with us from our inception. He has rendered valuable and faithful service. We have always been able to depend upon him whenever we needed his service.



61 Gramercy Park, North
New York 10, N. Y.
June 28, 1946
The Reverend E. Elliot Durant, D.D. St. Ambrose Church
9 West 130th Street
New York 17, N. Y.

My dear Brother:
Hearty congratulations on your getting off of your thirty thousand dollar mortgage. That is a great achievement, and all of us who are your brothers in the Church must rejoice with you and congratulate you.
I am sorry I cannot be with you this evening at that very significant ceremony, but I pray it may not only be a time when the mortgage is burned, but when some person in the congregation is definitely touched by the Spirit of our Lord Himself.

Faithfully yours,

The Congregation leaving on Low Sunday 1946

New York, N. Y.
June 28, 1946
P.M. 12:50
Rev. E. E. Durant
St. Ambrose Episcopal Church 9 West 130th Street
New York, N. Y.


June 27, 1946
P.M. 8:42
REV. E. E. DURANT 9 West 130th Street
New York, N. Y.


109 Sterling St.
Roxbury, Mass.


Rev. F. G. Moore-Brown, Priest in Charge
Providence 5, Rhode Island
June 27, 1946
My dear Friend:
I am convinced that nothing is impossible with you, when once you make up your mind to do it. "Thirty Thousand Dollars" paid and mortgage on St. Ambrose is burned. It sounds unbelievable, but it is true. As a Priest in the Church your position is unique. No one can say to the contrary. My wife and daughter join with me in offering you, and the dear people of St. Ambrose sincere congratulations.
Your friend,
Signed: P. G. Moore Browne


N109 20—Boston Mass 28 149P
Rev. E. Elliott Durant
Rector 9 West 130 St. June 28, 1946
P.M. 2:27


South Centre and Pierson Streets
Orange, N. J.
Mail Address: P.O. Box 44, Orange, N. J.
June 25, 1946
My dear Durant:
That is good news you sent me this morning on the cancellation of the mortgage on St. Ambrose Church. The accomplishment is momentous. Gods richest blessings on you and your dear people is the sincere prayer of
Your friend,
Signed, George Plaskett

19 West 99th Street
New York, N. Y.
June 26, 1946
The Rev. E. Elliot Durant 9 West 130th Street
New York City
My dear Doctor Durant:
Accept my sincere congratulations on the great achievement of you and your congregation in liquidating the large mortgage of $30,000 on St. Ambrose Church.
You have labored long and arduously to build up a splendid congregation and while doing so you have been helpful and sympathetic with other striving churches and missions. You are an outstanding example to your ministerial brethren.
Kindly convey my best regards to your dear wife. With best wishes to you, your family and congregation, I am,
Very truly yours,
Signed, Floarda Howard


730-23rd Street, Northwest
Washington 7, D. C.
Rev. E. A. Christian, Rector
June 26, 1946
Dr. E. E. Durant, D.D., L.L.D 228 West 131st Street
New York, N. Y.
My dear Dr. Durant:
This morning I was most happy to learn that due to the prayers, labors and sacrifices of you and your devout Congregation a very significant dream has been realized. I rejoice with you and the faithful of St. Ambrose Church.
God has most wonderfully bestowed His richest blessings upon your corporate efforts. I am sure the Solemn Te Deum will be sung with prayer and thanksgiving. You and your congregation certainly have seen the salvation of the Lord.
As Rector of St. Ambrose you deserve unspeakable credit for your able and consecrated leadership. Over a period of years you have toiled, planned, exhorted, and now God has blessed you to see the fruits of your prayers, patience and labors.
When you burn the mortgage, I truly believe that heaven will rejoice.
You and your congregation have done a grand work with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Please accept my most hearty congratulations, and may God continue to bless you and St. Ambrose.
I am,
Yours very sincerely,
Signed: Ellis A. Christian, Rector
St. Mary's Church
Washington, D. C.

The Rev. Joseph Nathaniel Durant, father of the present rector

[46] Here we find a picture of the founder of the House of Durant, The Rev. Joseph Nathaniel Durant, D.D., L.L.D., father of the present rector of St. Ambrose. Dr.  Durant was the first colored man to graduate from the Philadelphia Divinity School. He graduated in 1869, was appointed commissioner of the Freedman Schools in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D. C. In 1870 the convocation of New York appointed him Dean of the University Antilles in Haiti. After a few years he retired and returned to his native island of Barbados where he served as a priest of the Anglican Church.


Curate of St. Ambrose Church, New York City

[47] When St. Ambrose is consecrated on December 7, this event will assume the significance of a dream come true. This statement may be open to challenge, but the writer is prepared to stand by it, because he believes that nothing ever happens by chance; that somewhere there is a master plan of the Universe which brings together the man, the time, the place and the occasion. In the case of St. Ambrose, these factors all come together in the person of the Rev. Edward Elliot Durant, prophet, and the son of a prophet.

The story of St. Ambrose cannot be written apart from the story of its Founder, Edward Elliott Durant, because, in a sense, St. Ambrose is Durant. Many years ago, in Barbados, British West Indies, Elliot Durant was born, the son of the Rev. Joseph Durant, distinguished theologian, linguist, astronomer and teacher. From his father he inherited a keen intellect, a thirst for knowledge, the gift of language, and an interest in things spiritual and religious. So evident was this last, that even as a boy his playmates called him "Proph," an abbreviation for Prophet.

But, just as the first Apostles were fishermen, tax collectors, physicians and tentmakers before they became Apostles, so Elliott Durant served his apprenticeship as journalist, teacher and lecturer, before he came to the Ministry. It is the proud boast of the writer that he had some hand in bringing about this event. When Elliot decided that he wanted to follow his father's footsteps and prepare for the ministry of the Episcopal Church, he communicated his desires to the writer who put him in touch with the Rev. J. Da Costa Harewood, who was instrumental in getting him admitted to the Philadelphia Divinity School, of which his father was the first, and perhaps, the most distinguished Negro graduate.

Following pastorates in Pennsylvania, he came to New York to take charge of St. Luke's Mission on Edgecombe Avenue. It was there that an idea which had been in his mind these many years began to take form and to crystallize, as it were.

Since the turn of the century, West Indians had been flocking to America, and especially New York City. Most of them had been reared in the teachings and traditions of the Church of England, so it was but natural that they should be filled with nostalgic yearnings for the faith of their Fathers, and the religion of their youth. They filled the local Episcopal churches to overflowing, and yet there wasn't room enough. Barbadians yearned for the home churches of St. Philip, St. Michael, St. Peter, St. Ambrose, Christ Church, and the rest. It was here that the time, the place, the occasion and the man met. Elliot Durant decided that something had to be done, and St. Ambrose was born. He named it after his own home church in Barbados—St. Ambrose, whose patron saint, Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan was known for his eloquence and his Christian fortitude. It was [47/49] Ambrose who turned away an emperor from the church door because he had sinned, and refused to admit him to the Holy Communion until he had repented and done penance. Durant in his youth had come under the influence of the Rev. Charles King-Gill, one of the most eloquent and brilliant preachers in the Church in the West Indies, and for many years Vicar of St. Ambrose, Barbados. So it was natural that he should name this church St. Ambrose.

Examination of the records shows that St. Ambrose was founded by the Rev. Edward Elliot Durant, in the City of New York on Sunday, November 22, 1925. There were 84 persons present at the first service, held in a hall, and this number has grown to 2,176 listed in the 1946 issue of the Living Church Annual. These are cold figures, which gather meaning only as we realize that only one Negro Episcopal church in the whole United States reports a larger membership. St. Philip's, New York City, in the same issue reports a membership of 3,194. But, while St. Ambrose attains its majority—21 years—this year, St. Philip's reaches its one hundred and twenty-eighth year. Moreover, in its early years, St. Philip's had the backing and support of wealthy Trinity Parish, and in later years acquired property of its own to the value of "possibly more than a million dollars." St. Ambrose has never received a penny from any outside source.

This is not written in any spirit of boastfulness. God forbid! This writer thanks God for our great Negro Parishes—St. Agnes, Miami; St. Martin's and the Crucifixion, New York City; St. Edmund's and St. Thomas', Chicago; St. Thomas' and St. Simon's, Philadelphia; St. Philip's and St. Augustine's, Brooklyn; St. Cyprian's, Boston and St. Bartholomew's, Cambridge; the Church of the Epiphany, Orange, New Jersey, and several others. But, he cannot refrain from stressing the unique character of St. Ambrose, to which attention was called by Bishop Manning in his message to the Diocesan Convention of the New York Diocese in 1928. Said the good bishop on that occasion: "One of the interesting features of St. Ambrose is the fact that it came into existence without asking, or receiving one penny from the Diocese; it has been self-supporting from its very incipiency."

On March 6, 1928, St. Ambrose was incorporated as a parish of the Protestant Episcopal Church of America, and of the Diocese of New York. On May 8, the same year, the Right Reverend William T. Manning, Bishop of New York, received St. Ambrose Parish into union with the Convention of the Diocese of New York, and herein did a dream begin to come true. But St. Ambrose is more than a dream. It is something very real, concrete and substantial. This writer likes to think of it as a house of sacrifice.

Take for example the year 1928, the year the church became a parish. The congregation is still worshipping in a rented hall. The choir members bring their vestments to church and take them home after the evening service on Sundays; the altar is a temporary one, erected and taken down every Sunday; the pulpit, too, is a temporary fixture, put into place and removed after the Sunday night service. The odor of incense is mingled with that of fried chicken, for in the basement below is a restaurant. But parish life is active and alive; the congregation is alert and enthusiastic, the rector dynamic. Looking back we recall that on Friday evening, June 15, 1928, the Second Annual Queens' Contest is being staged at Manhattan Casino, 155th Street and 8th Avenue. The names of the contestants interest us. John Yearwood is Father Knickerbocker—dear old "John D," as he was known to many of us; Miss Caminita Carter is Miss America; Mrs. Ulrica Baird is the Queen of England; Miss Olga Griffith, the Queen of Australia; [49/51] Mrs. Lottie Sinclair, the Queen of Italy; Mrs. Madeline Cumberbatch, the Queen of Sweden; Mrs. Estelle Thompson, the Queen of Rumania; Miss Elaine Seale, the Queen of Russia; Miss Cecilia Carrington, the Queen of India, and so on and so forth.

Two weeks later, Miss Lenon Holder, assisted by the Misses Roslyn and Arline Morrison, and Miss Iris Holder, is presenting "The Buds of St. Ambrose" in a May Queen Festival at the New Harlem Casino, 116 Street and Lenox Avenue. Let us look at some of the "Buds" and "Buddies": Margaret Baird and Velda Lowe; Cynthia Piggott and Thelma Duesbury; Daisy Guy, Thelma Skeete, Dorothy and Stella Thompson, Arthur Seale, Arthur Greenidge, Darnley Cummins, Roland Holder, Oliver Holder, and others.

These names are here mentioned "lest we forget." We must not forget our history—whence we came. It is good to look back occasionally. There are other names writ large in our Book of Remembrance. A few went out from us for one reason or another, but most of them have passed from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant. Never should we forget Mrs. Eddie Aspinall, the Adonis family, Charles Adams, Mary Walters, Gladys Renwick Banks, Alice Westcott, Reuben Jones, Edith Smith, Agnes Ralph, Moses E. Holder, Murcot Wiltshire, Clarissa Gulston, Claudine Wood, Mrs. Archer, Mr. and Mrs. Dial. Our anniversary almost coincides with the observance of All Saints, so it is fitting and proper to think of the saints of St. Ambrose as we sing:

"The saints of God! their conflict
And life's long battle won at last,
No more they need the shield or sword,
They cast them down before their Lord:
O happy saints! for ever blest,
At Jesus' feet how safe your rest!'

The year 1928 is just a typical year at St. Ambrose. There is nothing unusual about it. The writer merely singled it out because he happened to have certain figures available. That year a class of 110 was presented for Confirmation, but that is not unusual at St. Ambrose. He was the anniversary preacher that November, and includes here some extracts from his sermon. Speaking from II Chronicles vii 12, "I have heard thy prayer and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice," he said among other things:

"You have embarked on a great enterprise here. You represent for the most part, a group of people who have been transplanted into new soil. Generally speaking, you have prospered. You are a social unit of force and importance in this community; and it is a sign of your growing unity and strength that you desire an expression of your religious unity and solidarity. You want your own church. You want to build a temple to God. The time is ripe, if ever. Many of you are home owners. As God's people how can you help from saying what David said to himself? Lo, I dwell in a house of cedars, but the ark of the covenant of the Lord, remaineth under curtains." You are in nice, solid, permanent homes, while God wanders around without a permanent habitation.

"The task we face is a tremendous one, calling for consecration service, and much sacrifice. We have the leadership. God chooses certain men for certain tasks—Moses to lead His people out of captivity; Joshua to take them into the land of hope and promise, and stake out their claims, so to speak; David to subdue their enemies and unite the tribes into a nation; Solomon to build his house.

[53] "It seems that we have a temple builder with us. Others have come and gone, and have contributed their quota to the sum total of achievement, but none has achieved such striking success in marshaling the people of this group under God's banner. It is significant. Under his leadership we shall go forward until we have completed this task we have begun. And then we shall go into God's presence, and offer Him His temple. I said into God's presence, for if the building we are going to erect means anything, if it is going to be different from any ordinary building, it will be because God, Jesus, will be present there in a special sense. Just as the ark of the covenant signified God's presence among the ancient Hebrews, so the sacred altar for us signifies the presence of Christ. And for that reason, we want it housed in a fitting manner. We want such a place as God would choose for Himself as a house of sacrifice.

"Time was, when Colored congregations were satisfied with the scraps of charity handed out by our white brethren. So, there are today not as many self-supporting parishes among us as there should be. We have scores of missions, whose running expenses are paid wholly or in part by the dioceses or by strong white parishes. Many of these have been going on in this way for ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years or more. And we wonder why it is we don't get more respect and consideration as church people. We forget that respect must be commanded, not begged for.

"It is not good for a race, any more than for a child, that it should be forever under tutelage and in leading-strings. With the coming of maturity, Nature demands that the child be given more say in the control of its own affairs. The best argument in favor of St. Ambrose is, that it has been self-supporting from the start. This can be said for few Colored congregations. It is almost unique in the history of the Episcopal Church in these United States.

"A big man inquired recently in my presence, whether there are any millionaires in St. Ambrose, and was surprised to learn that there is none. There are not even many professional people. Most of our members are working class people, in the low income brackets; the kind we call 'the common people,' those who heard the Master gladly. So they do not give out of the abundance of their riches. When they give, it is a real sacrifice, and often they give until it hurts.

"In so far as God, in the person of His Son limits himself in place and time, we believe that He is here this morning at the place of sacrifice—His sacred altar, where His people come together to plead His sacrifice, and to offer their own sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and to present unto Him their souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice.

"It is well to remember that the house we want to build for God, will be a house of sacrifice. As the one great Service in that house which you shall build, will be the Service of the Great Sacrifice of our Lord, so all your service must be a service of sacrifice—sacrifice of time, of money, of individual preference, of self. So will you build strong and sure; so only will you build at all."

The aims set forth, and the hopes expressed in that sermon, have been achieved and amply fulfilled. The stock market crash came in October 1929, and mighty fortunes were wiped out in a day. People lost their money. their homes, their jobs. The depression followed with its attendant bread lines followed by "relief." Through it all St. Ambrose continued to pray, to serve, to work, and [53/55] above all to sacrifice. Amazingly, through all the depression years, the building fund grew, and in 1936, almost exactly in the middle of them, the present magnificent Gothic church was bought. The property is reputed to be worth some half a million dollars. Most people felt that the congregation would be saddled with a heavy burden of debt for the next twenty-five or thirty years, and that their children would still be paying mortgages in the years ahead. But today St. Ambrose is free of debt, the mortgage has been burned, and on Saturday morning, December 7, 1946, the building will be consecrated by the Right Rev. William T. Manning, the Bishop of New York. It took this congregation just ten years to liquidate all indebtedness on their property, and while doing it, they were remodeling and adding, adorning and beautifying.

Truly this is a house of sacrifice—a sacrifice in which all have shared, priest as well as people. But, to Elliott Durant a special meed of praise is due. St. Ambrose is his monument, and when the time shall come for him to pass from time into eternity, it might fittingly be written on his tomb as it was on Wren's:

"Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.''


We have been extremely lucky at St. Ambrose. We have been blessed with true and faithful members.

Our dear people come from the forty-eight states of the union and from all of the Islands of the Caribbean Sea.

St. Ambrose is unique in every way. The people form one big family, with the Rector as the father of them all.

Our Church Wardens and Vestrymen serve very efficiently. Perfect harmony has always existed with Rector and Vestry. There are a large number of organizations in the Church. By virtue of his office the Rector is chairman ex-officio of each organization.

A special tribute must be paid to one or two men. The Treasurer, Mr. Edward Morrison, has had a stupendous task in checking and banking the various sums of monies which have been taken in regularly. The Sexton, Mr. Joseph Best has been very faithful and efficient in his work. He has only been absent two Sundays out of the twenty-one years, and on those two Sundays he was confined to bed seriously ill. The Senior Warden, Mr. George Davis should also be singled out as one who has been faithful in the discharge of his duties.

Two other men deserve mention, Mr. Gordon Ward a member of the choir; who is also a charter member of the Parish. His heart and soul are wrapped up in St. Ambrose. The Warden Acolyte, Mr. Samuel Eaton also plays a very important part in the life of St. Ambrose. He has brought a large number of boys in the parish whom he has trained to serve on the Altar.

Too much praise cannot be given to the women of St. Ambrose Parish. They are the best workers in any church in any part of the world.

I will only mention in passing Mrs. Edith Cheesman, Mrs. Montha Boyce, Mrs. Louisa Payne, Mrs. Estelle Hinds, Mrs. Lydia Crichlow, Miss Malvina Nurse, Miss Emma Sealey, Mrs. Ella Sealey, Mrs. Ella Davis, Mrs. Gladys Durant and all of the others.

I would like to mention the entire group of members of the parish, but these individuals stand out conspicuously for their dynamic work today.

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