Rush Memorial Congregational UCC was organized in1913. Dr. John Allen Rush was the founder. Dr. Rushand some ardent supporters were from Central AvenueMethodist Church which was located in downtownAtlanta, GA on Central Avenue.Dr. Rush, who was a Martin Luther type leader, and his followers were determined to have a church. They startedhaving meeting in the Morgan Williams Hall (adjacent tothe present site) and became known as The People’sChurch.
During this time, they were raising funds andseeking help to build their church building.The People’s Church purchased land at 150 Chestnut Street (now James P.Brawley Drive) and built a Sunday School Building that would also house worshipservices until a sanctuary could be erected. They received help from the American Missionary Association (later the Board of Homeland Ministries) during theSunday School Building construction. Services were held at Stone Hall on the OldAtlanta University Campus, now known as Fountain Hall at Morris BrownCollege, until the completion of the Sunday School Building.
Dr. Rush passed away in 1915 and was succeeded by Dr. James Bond, grandfather of civil rights icon Julian Bond. Dr. Bond renamed the church Rush Memorial Congregational Church. Dr. Bond’s vision for Rush Memorial Congregational Church was outlined in the August 13, 1917 Atlanta Constitution editorial Minister Makes Appeal for Worthy Negro Church. Bond envisioned the church as a center of social services and education for the revitalization of Atlanta’s Fourth Ward. Dr. James Bond Rev. G.J. Thomas became pastor of the church in 1919.
At the time he led a capital campaign raising enough funds to pay off the initial mortgage on the Sunday School building. The American Missionary Association appointed Rev. Thomas as
Superintendent of Churches and Sunday Schools for North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Washington, D.C. in 1921. The first Negro Boy Scout Troop in the city of Atlanta was
organized in the Sunday School building by Rev. Spurgeon Mayfield, who came to Atlanta to direct a Daily Vacation Bible School at Rush Memorial.
At the end of Bible School period, the troop moved to Friendship Baptist Church and was headed by Andrew J. Lewis. Ms. Mable V. Sullivan founded the Rush Memorial Elementary School which was second to none. She, along with Mrs. Lottie Smith Austin, Mrs. Minnie Robinson, and Mrs. Susie Perkins, served as Principal. Grades were added each year and enrollment steadily increased making it necessary to move the school to larger quarters.
During the 1920’s, Rush Memorial opened a Social Service Department which was headed by Professor and Mrs. F.J. Werking, prominent educators from Lexington, Kentucky. In the mornings, a rummage sale was held in the basement of the Sunday School building. In the evening, Mrs. Werking had a Girl’s Club and Professor Werking had a Boy’s Club. The boys were taught wood shop and music, while the girls were taught handicraft and music. Concerts were given the last week in each month.
Shortly after Professor Werking’s retirement and subsequent death, the Social Services Department of Rush Memorial was taken over by Mrs. Willie D. Rush, the wife of the late Dr. John A. Rush, the church’s founder. She continued to keep in contact with churches and clubs in the East who had supported Professor and Mrs. Werking by sending clothes, toys, and other gifts to the needy. Most of these boxes and barrels Rev. G.J. Thomas Professor and Mrs. F.J. Werking were sent near the Christmas season so that children in the Sunday School and the neighborhood would be remembered at the time. Consequently, each child received toys, clothing, fruit, and candy. For some this was their only “Santa”. The Rush Memorial Services Department delivered needed services at a time when few government or city social service agencies existed. It did not take long for word to get around Atlanta that Rush Memorial provided social services.
Later years found both children and parents from many sections of the city coming to Rush Memorial for services and aid Following Professor Werking’s example, Mrs. Rush traveled to other churches during the summer at her own expense. She detailed the services provided by Rush Memorial and demonstrated the need to expand these services. The response was gratifying and prompt. Donations of boxes and barrels increased to over a thousand gifts. Rush Memorial served not only those who came to the church but expanded its services to share with other communities. The Church took gifts to the Children’s Ward at Grady Hospital in downtown Atlanta, the Children’s Burn Center at Harris Hospital which served Atlanta’s Black community, and Happy Haven Home for the Aged and other institutions. Rush Memorial became “The Little Church with the Big Heart”, a motto the church has adopted to this day. During the mid-1930’s, Mrs. Rush opened a Thrift Shop to help raise money for the yet to be finished sanctuary. She solicited good and wearable clothing from local homes to sell at a very low price to those in need. Additional funds came from individual contributions the National Board, loans from banks and the week day rental of the Sunday School Building.
The sales receipts went to the National Board in New York to be deposited in the name of the church. The amount grew until the goal of $10,000 was reached. Mrs. Rush lived to see the sanctuary built in 1952, under Pastor John E. Garnett. She worshipped there until her death in 1960. Children’s Ward of Grady Hospital The church continued to grow and serve the community throughout the 1940’s, 1950’s and on into the 1960’s. It was always a hub of civil action, community service, and support to the students in the Atlanta University Center. During these years, the Church was pastored by Louis T. Beasley, Edgar T. Tatum, John J. Hicks, John L. Jackson, John E. Garnett, and Milton L. Upton.
Rush Memorial played an integral role in the Civil Rights struggles. During the 1960’s, the students of the Atlanta University Center used donated space with permission of then pastor Rev. Joseph E. Boone. Rush Memorial became headquarters for the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights (COAHR) after the students were turned away from their previous headquarters in Sage Hall of Morehouse College. Rush Memorial was convenient to all the campuses in the AUC. From their headquarters at Rush Memorial and under the leadership of Lonnie King and Julian Bond, the students organized demonstrations that led to the desegregation of more than 70 local businesses and establishments.
During this time the church supported students from Morehouse College who were conscientious objectors to the Vietnam war and allowed them to live in tents on church property. The Women’s Fellowship of Rush Memorial supported the students of Spelman College as they picketed downtown Atlanta department stores and provided toiletries, fresh clothing, food and blankets to those students who were arrested. From Rush Memorial Rev. Boone served as the chief negotiator for Operation Bread Basket, the economic arm of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He also coordinated the Atlanta Summit Leadership Congress, Inc. and was Rev. John L. Jackson ,Rev. Joseph E. Boone, Rev. Milton L. Upton responsible for negotiating with the Atlanta School Board for the desegregation of Atlanta Public Schools.
Rev. Boone ushered the church into the 1980’s. After 22 years of service, he stepped down from the pulpit to become the head of the P. J. Wood Center for the Blind. In March 2008 Boone’s memory was honored when Atlanta’s Simpson Road was renamed Joseph E. Boone Boulevard. Rev. Arthur E. Langford, Jr. became Senior Pastor of Rush Memorial in the early 1980’s. Langford campaigned against drug use and violence in poor neighborhoods. The youngest ever elected Atlanta City Councilman, Langford founded the United Youth-Adult Conference in 1972 with a group of Atlanta University Center students.
In the early 1980’s, Langford gained national attention when he organized weekly Saturday Searches during the Missing and Murdered Children of Atlanta investigations. Langford also served as a State Senator in the Georgia Assembly during his time at Rush. Most importantly, he inaugurated the church’s annual Homecoming and Anniversary Celebration and the Annual Summer Youth Retreat at Lake Allatoona. In 1995 Atlanta’s Lakewood Freeway was renamed Arthur L. Langford Memorial Parkway. Rev. Lawrence E. Calbert, Sr.’s tenure as Senior Pastor of Rush Memorial Congregational Church began in 1989.
He continued the annual summer youth outings to Lake Allatoona and began outings to Camp Rutledge at Hard Labor Creek State Park. This included excursions to Chattanooga, TN, Brasstown Bald, GA, and Roosevelt State Park in Pine Mountain, GA. Rev. Calbert’s pastorate has seen the church enhance its participation in and alignment with the United Church of Christ. His involvement included serving as moderator and chairperson of the Church and Ministry Committee, Rev. Arthur E. Langford, Jr. Rev. Lawrence E. Calbert, Sr. Chairperson of the Nominating Committee, and Acting Chairperson of the Church and Ministry Committee.
Rev. Calbert served as a member of the Board of Directors and as the Disaster Relief Coordinator for the Southeast Conference of the UCC. Rev. Calbert’s involvement with the conference ministries was instrumental in securing funds for the building of fellowship hall adjacent to the current sanctuary.
In 2009, Rush Memorial saw the realization of a long time goal with the groundbreaking on the J.E. Boone Fellowship Hall. On October 31, 2010 the church celebrated the dedication of the Joseph E. Boone Fellowship Hall. This facility supports special programs and allows fellowship with members and friends. Rev. Calbert’s vision for the future of Rush Memorial Congregational includes an expanded music program, ministries for the students of the Atlanta University Center and continued outreach to the surrounding community.
From Groundbreaking… To Dedication The following ministers have served as pastor of Rush Memorial Congregational Church, UCC
Dr. John A. Rush
Dr. James Bond
Rev. George J. Thomas
Rev. Samuel P. Fields
Rev. Samuel J. Lindsey
Rev. Alonza P. Wallace
Rev. Harvey E. Johnson
Rev. E. A. McGlaughlin
Rev. Louis T. Beasley
Rev. Edgar T. Tatum
Rev. John J. Hicks
Rev. John L. Jackson
Rev. John E. Garnett
Rev. Milton L. Upton
Rev. Joseph E Boone
Rev. Lawrence E Calbert, Sr.
More Information about Rush Memorial Congregational United Church of Christ
Hampton, A. (2003) The History of Central Methodist Church 1866-2000. Central Ministries UMC: Atlanta, GA
Hollyday, J (2005) On the Heels of Freedom: The American Missionary Association’s bold campaign to educate minds, open hearts and heal he soul of a divided nation. New York: Crossroad Publishing
Lefever, H & Page, M (2008). Sacred Place: A guide to the civil rights sites in Atlanta, GA. Macon: Mercer University