While exploring New York a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the Church of the Transfiguration in midtown Manhattan. Lucky for me, the orchestra was playing the opening notes of a delighful afternoon concert!
Nestled into an English-style garden and surrounded by statuary, this church provides worshippers (and weary tourists!) a peaceful respite from the cacophonous city beyond its cast-iron gates.
Note that the Empire State Building towers above its roofline, pointing visitors to this quiet oasis.
The Neo-Gothic, wood and stone edifice is inset with gorgeous stained glass windows, and religious icons adorn every inside niche and corner.
Interior image credit: New York Daily Photo. (The
amateur exterior pictures are my own.)
The pipe organ is perfectly suited for this cathedral-like setting, and the musicians are among the finest in the city. But I was most inspired by the congregation’s longstanding dedication to serving the downtrodden and oppressed. They worked vigorously for the abolition of slavery, for example, and served as a place of refuge for runaway slaves during the draft riots of the Civil War. And from time its doors first opened, church members have provided food and necessities to those who might otherwise have gone without.
It was in 1870 that this church acquired its nickname, “The Little Church around the Corner.” As the story goes, the rector of a nearby church refused to conduct a burial service for actor Joseph Jefferson’s friend and colleague, George Holland. (During that era, the acting profession was considered “sinful” by some and marginal by many.) When the rector suggested that a "little church around the corner" would probably do "that sort of thing," Jefferson let his feelings be known by saying, "God bless the little church around the corner!" A stained glass window in the south nave gives tribute to the man who pronounced this benediction, as well as the man whose funeral he arranged.
In this little jewel box of a church, I found what I call sanctuary—a place where people of all backgrounds and belief systems can commune with nature, find peace, and create common ground. While the building itself is gorgeous, I think its true (and everlasting) beauty resides in the hearts of congregants who’ve reached out to their neighbors with compassion and grace.