History Edit

Calvary Parish (later to be called St. Thomas’ Parish) was formed in 1891 to serve the Dupont Circle area of Washington, D.C. with the Rev. John Abel Aspinwall as its first rector.[1] The Rev. Aspinswall was the son of William H. Aspinwall, who built the Panama Railroad across Panama. In 1894, the cornerstone of the new St. Thomas’ Parish church building was laid. The first service took place on June 25, 1899.[2]

St. Thomas’ became known as a “very high society” church because so many of the Washington elite came through its doors including Franklin D. Roosevelt,[3] Harry Truman, and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson. On the first Sunday in Lent, 1933, parishioners welcomed the return of Roosevelt who the day before had been inaugurated as President of the United States.[4]

The parish shed its aristocratic feel over the next few decades as many of the city’s white residents left the city for the surrounding suburbs.[5] Dupont Circle and the rest of the city became mired in the social upheaval of the 1960s.[6] The neighborhood attracted people whose behavior was viewed by some in the mainstream as “unconventional,” including a core of artists, hippies and some who lived on the fringe of society.[7]

In 1970, the church building was destroyed by arson fire.[8] The Vestry voted to remain in the same location and carry on an active ministry within the community. St. Thomas’ leaders decided to convert the area where the old church building stood into a park that could be enjoyed by the whole neighborhood. The Parish Hall, which was left standing behind the footprint of the old church, was also transformed. The Upper Room was reshaped into the simple, nontraditional worship space we use today. The rest of the building became a center for community meetings and various recovery groups.

Traditions Edit

St. Thomas’ has long considered itself “an inclusive and welcoming congregation.” It played a supportive role in the civil rights movements for blacks and women as far back as the early 1960s, and later for gays and lesbians. During the 1970s, St. Thomas’ was one of the few churches that welcomed IntegrityUSA, the organization of gay Episcopalians who did not feel welcome in their own parishes, to celebrate Holy Eucharist in its worship space.[9] As a result, the parish became the spiritual base for a number of gay and lesbian Episcopalians trying to find their way back to their Christian faith. St. Thomas’ also distinguished itself as a place for memorial services and funerals for people who died from AIDS, whether or not the person had been a member of the parish.

St. Thomas’ started an important new era when the Vestry called the Rev. James Holmes to be its rector in 1992, an openly gay priest in a committed relationship with his partner of more than 15 years.[10] Then in 1998, St. Thomas’ adopted a procedure for blessing same-sex unions.[11]

After Rev. Holmes retired in 2002, the parish selected the Rev. Elizabeth Carl, as its interim rector. Rev. Carl was the first woman openly living in a lesbian relationship to be ordained by the Episcopal Church in June 1991.

In December 2004, the Dr. Rev. Nancy Lee Jose was called to be St. Thomas’ eighth rector, the first woman to hold that position.[12]

On July 14, 2006, St. Thomas’ was honored to have the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, ninth bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, as a special guest.[13] In his presentation, Bishop Robinson talked about his personal experiences at the 2006 General Convention and his perspectives on the leadership of gay and lesbian persons in the church.

Today, St. Thomas’ is transforming once again to reflect the diversity of the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Young, single and married persons make up a growing percentage of the population and the parish is blessed to have more and more infants, children and youth as vital members of our congregation. We provide opportunities for education and spiritual formation for all parishioners including Sunday activities before and after worship, events throughout the week and special seasonal programs.

Worship Services Edit

Sunday, 9:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist (Spoken)

Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist (Choral)

Sunday, 5:00 p.m. Taizé Eucharist (This evening contemplative Eucharist uses contemporary liturgies, inclusive language, and Taizé music, often accompanied by recorder and cello. The service also includes lay homilies from members of St. Thomas’ who share their messages of living life practicing a relevant faith.)

Wednesday, 12:15 p.m. Holy Eucharist (Spoken)

All services use the Rite II service found in the Book of Common Prayer.

Labyrinth Edit

St. Thomas’ also features an outside Prayer Labyrinth in the park where our former church building once stood. It is truly “open to all.” Set on a street corner, our Labyrinth is open all hours of the day and night prompting our former interim rector, Elizabeth Carl, to state that “we’re the labyrinth for insomniacs and night workers.”

The Prayer Labyrinth was adopted by the European Church during medieval times as a means to meditate, pray and connect with God. It is not a maze because it has only one path on which one cannot get lost. There are no tricks or dead ends. St. Thomas’ Labyrinth is modeled on the classical seven circuit Labyrinth, meaning that the path moves around the center seven times.[14]

External links Edit


  1. St. Thomas' Parish History
  2. St. Thomas' Parish History
  3. FDR Photos
  4. FDR Photos
  5. NPS History of Dupont Circle
  6. Washington Post; The Wreckage of a Dream
  7. NPS History of Dupont Circle
  8. St. Thomas' Parish History
  9. Integrity USA History
  10. St. Thomas' Parish History
  11. Integrity USA
  12. St. Thomas' Parish History
  13. A Conversation with Bishop Gene Robinson
  14. About Labyrinths

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