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Church History

Emmanuel Church is located in Newport, Rhode Island, a historic seaport city of 25,000 residents at the southern tip of Aquidneck Island, the largest island in Narragansett Bay.

A Brief History of Emmanuel

A Brief History of Emmanuel

Many residents of the old “fifth ward” (southerabout_historyn Newport) could not afford to attend church due to the tradition of churches selling pew seats. In 1841, three women from Trinity Church began to hold cottage meetings in their homes, inviting their neighbors to join them. By 1849, they had grown to 88 members and bought an empty Baptist Church on South Baptist Street. Welcoming everyone, regardless of financial status, Emmanuel Free Church was incorporated and admitted to the RI Episcopal Diocese on June 2, 1852. Edward King bought land on the corner of Spring and Dearborn Streets for $700 and donated it for a new church. In 1855, a wooden Tudor building was designed by Richard Upjohn and built by local carpenter, Michael Spencer.

When that building became in disrepair, Natalie Bayard Brown replaced it with the current stone building in memory of her husband, John Nicholas Brown, who died of Typhoid Fever in May of 1900.   Designed by Ralph Adams Cram, our present building was styled after fifteenth century English Gothic Revival churches, with the interior designed by Bertrand Grovesnor Goodhue.  The cornerstone was laid June 29, 1901 and the first service held June 3, 1902.  Many of the furnishings and memorials from the Upjohn church were moved to this stone church and are still in use today.  Emmanuel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

In a 1922 report, Newport Hospital named Emmanuel “the church of the people”, stating that “only strangers can realize how few open doors there are in a small conservative New England city.  If we are at times disconcerted, we try and remember how few desirable avenues are open.  In this connection, we must thank Emmanuel Church for its wonderful hospitality.”   This statement still holds true today, almost a century later!  Emmanuel is welcoming to all – single or married, infant, elderly, or in between; racially or sexually diverse, a member or a visitor – we all worship and work together as friends.  Changes have been many since our founding but one thing remains — the sense of being a family and in a special community.

Emmanuel has long been a meeting place for numerous community organizations, some of which had their beginnings at Emmanuel, outgrew our facilities, and still continue to this day, including outreach programs such as “Soup’s On”.  With a goal of simply feeding people, this blossomed into a cooperative ministry of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center and twenty-two houses of worship from fourteen different denominations, working together to provide at least one meal every day of the month.  Also getting their start at Emmanuel, and outgrowing our facilities, was a support group for parents with developmentally challenged children.  This group became what is the current James L. Maher Center.

Again and again, throughout the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, we are reminded that God created the heavens AND the earth. Among projects in which we are progressing are: composting, recycling, energy efficiency lighting and replacement, and outreach to other churches in Newport.

The Rev. Anita Louise Schell, our 18th rector, once said “Emmanuel is our home; ‘God with us’ is our name, ‘Serving our Neighbors,’ is our motto.  That statement is so true.  We tell our story every Sunday. We live our story every day.  We are Forever Emmanuel, and Mother Anita continually challenges us and guides us in fulfilling this.

For more information about the rich history of Emmanuel, please contact the church historian, Annie Sherman, at bookkeeper@emmanuelnewport.org