History of Christ Church, Part 2

Thursday, February 5, 2015 - by Chuck Hamilton
Interior of Christ Church
Interior of Christ Church

No history of Christ Church could be complete without the history of some of its more interesting physical parts.

High altar of Christ Church

First, some terminology.  The actual altar is the base.  Its top, or table, is called the mensa.  The shelves at the back which look like steps are called the retable.  The wooden screen behind the altar, some much more elaborate than others, some lacking one completely, is a reredos.

  This last is sometimes confused with a rood screen, which is a wooden panel screening off the nave from the chancel, but with ample opening for the congregation to see what is going on.  These get their name from the cross, or rood, at the center top.

The Daughters of the King donated Christ Church’s first high altar, the one it used in the chapel in the Lewis Shepherd house and later after the new building opened 12 April 1908. 

In 1913, St. John the Evangelist Episcopal in Toledo, Ohio, gifted Christ Church with what was for us a new high altar, and the Guild installed it at no cost to the parish in time for Easter that year, as reported by the wardens that Easter Monday.

Around the same time that Fr. Robertson was communicating with Ralph Adams Cram in the late 1920’s about plans for the renovation of the interior, parishioners started a fund for an even bigger altar than that received from St. John’s.  In the end, however, widening of that altar was incorporated into the plans drafted by Cram (and modified by local contractor Louis Bull) instead.  Careful examination will render obvious which part of the altar is original.

In addition to the widening, the first reredos donated to the church building by Mrs. Mary Walker and Mrs. E. C. Johnson fell victim to the renovation, along with the original retable.

St. John the Evangelist, Toledo, Ohio

Founded in 1863 as a mission of Trinity Church in Toledo, with Fr. Nathaniel R. High as its first rector.  Upon his death in 1884, the parish called Fr. Charles DeGarmo from the Diocese of Pennsylvania.  The liturgical and physical make-up of St. John’s almost immediately took a turn toward the Anglo-Catholic.  Fr. Degarmo instituted sung Mass, had a rood screen put in between the chancel and the sanctuary, hung a rather large and graphic crucifix above the high altar, used six candles rather than the simple two, and, horror of horrors, placed a side altar on one side of the chancel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

These High Church practices brought Fr. DeGarmo and St. John the Evangelist into direct conflict with the rest of the diocese, which was intensely Low Church, along with its very Calvinist-oriented Ordinary, Bishop George Bedell.  In 1887, Bishop Bedell and his council sent the parish a letter admonishing Fr. DeGarmo for the changes at the parish since his arrival and calling on him to recant.

 The vestry of St. John’s responded with a letter condemning Bishop Bedell’s actions and having a copy published in the city’s main newspaper, which proves the direction taken was not just the will of the rector alonge.  The conflict ended only when Fr. DeGarmo accepted the call to a parish in the Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1888, after which the parish found itself saddled with a more compliant priest.

In 1912, the parish’s attendance and membership had dwindled to the point where it could barely keep its doors open.  Its vestry voted to merge with another struggling parish in Toledo, Calvary Episcopal, upon which the twain became St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.  Since the new parish occupied the facilities of the former Calvary Episcopal, the vestments, furnishings, font, candlesticks, and other accoutrements were sold off or donated.  With Christ Church in Chattanooga having a reputation as the first Anglo-Catholic parish in the South, it probably seemed natural to gift it with St. John’s high altar.

Altar relic

In the center of the mensa (top surface) of the high altar, there is a small stone cross inscribed with the Latin phrase “EX COEM CALLISTI”.  The stone is a relic from the Catacomb of St. Callistus, Pope (218-223) and martyr, given by Fr. Jerome Harris, a former communicant admitted as a postulant of the Diocese of Tennessee on St. Bartholomew’s Day (24 August) in 1915.  He served as associate rector and then rector at St. Ignatius in New York City for decades.

 Callistus himself is not buried there, but in the Catacomb of St. Calepodius.  He did, however, build the catacomb named for him while he was a deacon for Pope Zephyrinus.  A slave then a convict before his conversion, he was elected Bishop of Rome almost immediately after Zephyrinus' death in 218.

Callistus was the first Bishop of Rome to face an antipope, the better known to history Saint Hippolytus.  Among the complaints of the latter were that Callistus had the temerity to readmit to Holy Communion those guilty of fornication, adultery, and murder after they had completed their penance, those who renounced their faith in fear of torture or death, and repentant heretics.

According to the most reliable account, St. Callistus was killed during a riot in Rome and is considered a martyr, the first leader of the church in Rome martyred since St. Peter.  His feast day is 14 October.

Christ Church’s other altars

The altar in the Lady Chapel, off  the epistle side of the narthex, was gifted as a memorial of Elizabeth Theone Hawk by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. M. P. Hawk. 

In the photographs from the Nativity Pageant of 1952 hanging on the wall of the church’s working sacristy, the altar appears to be an entirely different model, but it is indeed the same.  Originally, the altar in the Lady Chapel had a retable (the shelves on back that look like steps) like the high altar, but it was removed when the altar was refinished in 1966.

In the original Christ Church nave which opened on 12 April 1908, there were no side chapels off the chancel.  Creating them was part of Cram’s suggested renovations, of which the altars and their tabernacles and retables were part.  The altar on the Epistle (right) side is the Altar of St. Joseph and the altar on the Gospel (left) side is the Altar of St. Mary the Virgin. 

The identical crosses atop the two were given in 1931 by parties connected with the Sisters of the Tabernacle.  The one on St. Mary’s altar was given in memory of Mother Mary Gabriel by her parents.  The one on St. Joseph’s altar was given in memory of the Sisters of the Tabernacle by the Associates of the order.

Christ Church’s baptismal font

In 1882, St. Paul’s Church established a mission in the neighborhood south of the west end of Ninth Street on the river side of Cameron Hill, which was then called Roane Iron Company Addition.  At that time, Sixth Street came over the hill where W. Martin Luther King Boulevard (formerly W. 9th Street) does now, while Ninth Street crossed a block south of that.  The neighborhood, later known as Tannery Flats, was built for workers at Roane Iron Works. 

That company, which led Chattanooga’s postwar industrial surge, was founded and owned by former Union officers of the Army of the Cumberland John T. Wilder, Hiram Chamberlain, and W.A. Rockwood.  Foremen and lower-level managers of the company lived in the neighborhood north of the west end of Sixth Street, then called Lewis and Spitzer’s Addition and later known as Blue Goose Hollow and home to Bessie Smith.

St. John’s Chapel, was built with funds raised by Miss E. C. Buckler, who had organized a Sunday school of about eighty pupils, from her friends in the east.  St. John’s was a brick structure west of the hill at the corner of Ninth Street and Short Street in the neighborhood later known as the Tannery Flats.  Bishop Charles T. Quintard, a former chaplain in the Confederate army, consecrated the chapel on 19 February 1882.  Among its furnishings was a marble baptismal font given by Mrs. John Minturn.

In 1890, Roane Iron Works shut its doors, driven out of business by rapid progress in technology of producing low-cost steel in the North.  With its closing, much of the surrounding population drifted away, including current and potential members of St. John’s Chapel.  It soon closed, and when Christ Church organized eleven years later, it was gifted the font, which was originally placed in what used to be the baptistery at the liturgical north end of the narthex.

Incumbent priests of Christ Church

An incumbent priest refers to any priest in charge of any church to any degree regardless of the status of that church.  The meanings of the terms differ slightly in the Church of England.

In the Episcopal Church, a rector is the permanent priest or head priest at a self-sufficient church. 

A vicar is the permanent priest or head priest at a supported or aided church. 

A priest-in-charge is priest or head priest at a church of either status for a defined period of time, usually a year, which may or may not be renewed. 

An interim priest is at church without a permanent priest for an undefined time, with somewhat fewer responsibilities and less authority than a priest-in-charge. 

An associate rector is hired by the parish to assist the rector, while an assistant priest does so on a non-stipendiary basis. 

The term curate is sometimes used in either of these last two cases. 

A locum tenens is a priest in residence for religious services and visitation, usually not paid by the church in question, when the rector of another parish has authority over a church in the absence of a regular hired priest there.

Fr. William Clendenin Robertson, rector, 1901-1924

Fr. Henry S. Whitehead, acting rector, spring 1923

Fr. Alfred W. Treen, acting rector, 1923-1924

Fr. Thomas Jefferson Haldeman, rector, 1924-1926

Fr. J. Marvin Lake, priest-in-charge, 1926-1927

Fr. Arthur G. Wilson, rector, 1927-1929

Bish. Coad. James M. Maxon, rector, 1929-1931

Fr. Charles Edgar Wood, vicar, 1930-1931, rector, 1931-1932

Fr. J. Reginald Mallet, rector, 1932-1933

Fr. Walter Lawrence Fielding Haylor, priest-in-charge, 1933-1936

Fr. Charles W. Sheerin (rector of St. Paul’s), priest-in-charge, 1936-1937

Fr. William S. Lea (assistant rector at St. Paul’s), locum tenens, 1936-1937

Fr. Thorne Sparkman (rector of St. Paul’s), priest-in-charge, 1938-1949

Fr. Harris J. Mowry, vicar, 1937-1941

Fr. Harley Bullock, locum tenens, 1941-1942

Fr. George Fox, vicar, 1942-1955, rector 1955-1957

Fr. Kent H. Pinneo, rector, 1958-1962

Fr. Christopher Morley, rector, 1962-1978

Fr. Don Johnson, rector, 1978-1986

Fr. Harry Lawrence, interim priest, 1986-1988

Fr. David Gable, rector, 1988-1989

Fr. Jim Bills, priest-in-charge, 1990, rector, 1991-1998

Fr. Bob Boatwright, interim priest, 1998-1999

Mo. Jocelyn Bell, rector, 1999-2011

Fr. Jon Anderson, priest-in-charge, 2011-2014

From 1936 to 1949, Christ Church’s priest-in-charge was the rector of St. Paul’s, who at that time was dean of the Chattanooga area for the Diocese of Tennessee in all but name.  The priests who were locum tenens and vicar during that time technically reported to the virtual dean.


Thanks go out to Fr. Bill Murchison, Fr. Harry Lawrence, Mary Duncan, Garvin Colburn, and Joel King of Christ Church for the information with which they supplemented Notes toward a History of Christ Church, 1901-1960 by deceased parishioner Grady Long.  Also to Florence Simmons, long-time archivist at Christ Church, and to Deacon Felicity Peck, who worked on straightening the archives which had gotten somewhat disheveled in moving to the newly appointed location named for Florence. 

Special thanks to Fr. Brian Wilbert, archivist of the Diocese of Ohio and rector of Christ Church, Oberlin, Ohio, for the information on St. John’s in Toledo. 

And, as always, I am grateful to the librarians at the local history section of the Chattanooga Public Library for assistance with maps and newspaper articles.

Chuck Hamilton


Lady Chapel
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