Our Story

Chronicles Of Faith and Action

The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church originated from the merger of F Street Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and Second Presbyterian Church in 1859. With its location just blocks from the White House, NYAPC has hosted presidents, cabinet secretaries, and Congress members throughout its rich history. The church has been deeply involved in social justice and civil rights movements, notably during the civil rights era and anti-war protests. NYAPC’s commitment to hospitality, homelessness support, outreach, and tutoring persists, showcasing its strong legacy and promising future.

Our Timeline

F Street Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

The F Street Associate Reformed (later Presbyterian) Church organized in 1803, in the shadow of the new White House. The congregation was led by Rev. Dr. James Laurie, from 1803 to 1853. Laurie  was a leader in promoting equality in education and was a  founding officer of the American Colonization Society, a self-described effort to encourage emancipation and assist freed people to escape discrimination by emigrating to Africa.    


Second Presbyterian Church

In 1820, the 2nd Presbyterian Church formed on the site where NYAPC stands today. 2nd Presbyterian drew political luminaries as John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun.  Daniel Baker, its first pastor, brought black persons into church membership, before leaving in 1828 to serve congregations in the South where his preaching drew many to the Presbyterian Church.  Black members of 2nd Presbyterian left in 1840 to form 15th Street Presbyterian Church, the first African American Presbyterian congregation in the Nation’s Capital.  


Phineas Gurley, 1854-68, and President Lincoln

President Lincoln attended his first service at NYAPC in March 1861.  The Lincoln family soon rented a pew and were regular attenders of NYAPC. As the Civil War raged on, the President appreciated that Phineas Gurley “did not preach politics from the pulpit” even as Gurley’s sermons and their frequent conversations affected Lincoln’s perception of the war and its meaning for the nation, culminating n the Second Inaugural Address as Lincoln wrestles with understanding God’s will in the war and concludes by calling for “malice towards none and charity toward all”.


New York Avenue Presbyterian Church

Rev. Dr. Phineas Gurley, then pastor of F Street, led the merger of the F Street church with the 2nd Presbyterian Church.  A new church building, on the site the current building occupies,  opened in 1860 and the congregation assumed the name of the new location, The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. 


John Marshall Harlan

Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan taught NYAPC Bible study for 30 years. His contemporaries said he went to bed with the Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other.  Known as the great dissenter for his resistance to rulings that protected powerful corporations, he offered a famous dissent for Plessy v. Ferguson, when the court ruling condoned segregated schools. Harlan reported that, after attending a Sunday morning service at NYAPC, he went home and wrote his dissent, “. . . our Constitution is colorblind . . . and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.”  


Turbulent Years for the Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Dr. Wallace Radcliffe led NYAPC through three turbulent decades as the Presbyterian Church in the United States grappled with developments in science and Biblical research and the rise of the Social Gospel Movement, all of which challenged traditional reading of the Biblical text. 


Congregational Growth: Joseph Sizoo, 1924-1936

In 1924  Reverend Joseph Sizoo accepted the call to NYAPC. Sizoo’s sermons applied Biblical interpretation to the contemporary problems of a nation facing economic depression, the specter of a second world war, a population losing its commitment to religious practice, and the ever-present undercurrents of racial injustice. The combination of Sizoo’s preaching, his willingness to explore new media, including the radio, and the growth of Washington itself during the New Deal contributed to phenomenal growth of the New York Avenue congregation. However, the church remained largely a place for personal reflection and not a place to promote, support, or host social action. 


The Church Clock Tower

Recognizing the importance of NYAPC to the President and his son Robert, Robert’s wife and daughter give the chimes that sound from the NYAPC bell tower throughout the day. This is the only physical memorial ever created by Lincoln’s descendants. Dedicated in 1929, the  inscription on the bell affirms the significance of NYAPC to the President. 


A Nation’s minister: Peter Marshall, 1937-1949

The reputation of Scottish native Peter Marshall as powerful preacher and inspiring leader spread quickly. NYAPC  membership grew to over 2,000 souls, stretching the capacity of the old church building. Reluctantly the church leadership decided to replace the 1859 edifice with a new building, in downtown DC, as opposed to making a move to the burgeoning suburbs.  


Marshall’s commitment to hospitality meant he insisted that the church was more than a place for Sunday worship but should be a respite during the week for service men and women who needed a place to socialize, and for disadvantaged youth in the neighborhood who needed a place for recreation. In the late 1940s Marshall was appointed U.S. Senate Chaplain; during those years some of his sermons condemned the injustices of American society, as did many of his opening prayers before the Senate. However, it would be another 15 years before the congregation would envision its church as a place where people advocating for progressive public action would gather and where they would peacefully protest and witness.  


The Marshall Legacy

Marshall died prematurely in 1949. His wife Catherine Marshall’s book of her husband’s life served as the basis for a feature film by the same name, “A Man Called Peter,” depicting Marshall’s memorable years at the church.  Visitors from around the world still come to NYAPC to worship in the church  that Marshall led over 70 years ago.


New York Avenue Presbyterian Church - A New Building

The 1860 church was replaced by the present structure in 1950 to accommodate the large crowds attracted by Rev. Dr. Peter Marshall.  The current building was built to be a close replica of the 1860 structure.


George Docherty faces a moment of change 1951-1976

Another Scot, the Reverend George Docherty, comes to Washington in 1951 and remained Senior Pastor for 25 years.  Docherty led a large congregation through his profound and poetic sermons and imaginative leadership.  What had been an establishment church transitioned over Docherty’s tenure into a beacon of the social gospel in Washington and a national leader in the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements.


Jack McClendon, 1957-1991

Under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Jack McClendon, Associate Pastor from 1957 to 1991, the congregation’s current foundational commitment to social justice in the city and nation emerged.  McClendon’s commitment to social justice, his great friendship with George Docherty, and his dedication to nurturing the souls under his care, combined to redefine the church’s mission and to start three of our ministries that have flourished for decades.


Community Club: 1962 until today

Community Club pairs students from Washington, DC public and charter schools with adult volunteers for one-on-one mentoring. The Community Club Study Hall meets every Thursday night at 7:00 P.M. during the school year, with over 100 7th-12th grade students and over 100 mentors (tutors) working on homework, longer-term school projects, and college applications.  Some of the friendships generated last for lifetimes.  Thousands of our students have graduated from high school and hundreds have gone on to college.


Challenging the Congregation: Selma and Civil Rights, 1965

Mary Docherty, the Senior Pastor’s wife, and Thelma Odom, an African American staff member at the church, responded to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for church people to come and join the Selma Alabama voter registration drive in January 1965.  Upon her return, Mary emboldened her husband to join her for a second trip in February and  Rev. Docherty and other NYAPC pastors and lay people participated in the March 1965 protest that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1965.  Rev. Docherty reported back to the congregation in sermons after each return to Washington. 


Challenging the Congregation: Viet Nam Protest and CALCAV

America’s religious leaders were among the first to raise their voices in opposition to the Vietnam War.  NYAPC hosted the first two national convocations of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam [CALCAV].  Among the leaders for worship in our sanctuary is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The crowd proceeded from the church to the Pentagon to present their concerns to Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense who was at that time a member of NYAPC.


McClendon Center: Forty Years and Going Strong

For over 40 years the McClendon Center serves as a socialization program for destitute seriously mentally ill people in Washington, DC.  The Center provides therapy, skills training, arts instruction, and peer conversations in the church fellowship hall five days a week.  The program is JACO-certified. 


Radcliffe Room

Since 1981, on Sunday mornings our neighbors experiencing homelessness are invited to join volunteers in the Radcliffe Room of NYAPC for refreshments, conversation, and hymn singing.  During their visit, guests, numbering over  100, are also able to acquire clothing from our clothing closet, use the restroom, and obtain transportation passes.  They are also encouraged to join in serving the food and drink, welcoming others into conversation, and joining in song. 


Challenging the Congregation: Poor People’s Campaign, 1968


NYAPC served as the Washington information center and DC headquarters of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, the fruit of the Civil Rights Movement’s effort to wed civil rights and poverty.  In that capacity, NYAPC hosted many of the leaders of that campaign, including Ralph Abernathy, Bernard Lafayette, and Andrew Young.  The Rev. William Barber introduced his recent revival of the Campaign at NYAPC in 2019.


First Woman Assistant Pastor

In 1980 NYAPC called its first woman pastor, The Rev. Rose Mitchell, as Assistant Pastor. The New York Avenue Church has been served by a long and faithful line of women-ordained Associate Pastors since the Mitchell pastorate.


Rob Craig, 1990-1999

Reverend Craig’s emphasis on pastoral care, social action, cooperative leadership, and congregational healing after the tumultuous 25 years set the foundation for later congregational growth.  His active support of and witness for gay ordination helped the congregation navigate that potentially divisive issue.


More Light Church, 1999 until today

As the result of the two-year deliberations of a Task Force on Sexuality, the Session unanimously agrees to become a More Light Congregation and join the Covenant Network, thereby affirming its commitment to the LBGTQ+ community’s full membership, participation, and leadership in the NYAPC.  


Roger Gench, 2002-2019

Roger Gench interwove recent theological scholarship with the life of 21st-century Christians through his finely crafted sermons.  During his 17-year ministry, young adults and families were drawn to this downtown congregation.  Reverend Gench supported the spiritual growth of the congregation in small book groups, silent retreats, and training in Ignatian spiritual practice. Reverend Gench brought his keen interest in community organizing and urban ministry to NYAPC. This dimension of Reverend Gench is captured in the title of his book, The Cross Examen: A Spirituality for Activists. 


McClendon Scholar-in-Residence

The Scholar-in-Residence program has, since 2006, brought theologians, ethicists, Biblical scholars, pastors and political leaders to share their insights, witness and fellowship with NYAPC and the larger Washington and even national faith community.  Such luminaries as James Cone, Bryan Stevenson, Ellen Davis, Chris Coons, E.J. Dionne, Taylor Branch, Walter Brueggemann, James Forman, Jr., Raphael Warnock and Kelly Brown Douglas, and William Barber  have graced our program and helped us explore the places where faith and justice meet.


Prophetic Witness

NYAPC has maintained a tradition of hospitality and prophetic Witness that began with the 1963 March on Washington, continued with hosting other civil rights and anti-war protests, and continues to this moment with recent Inauguration open houses (2009, 2013, and 2017) and welcoming stations at the church for the Women’s March in 2017, the March for our Lives in 2019, and 2020 BLM protest hospitality.


Downtown Day Services Center, 2019

In 2019, NYAPC entered into an agreement with the City and the Downtown Business Improvement District to host a Downtown Day Services Centers for the City’s residents experiencing homelessness in the wholly renovated church basement.  The Center provides a multitude of services at a single location such as applying for housing, obtaining IDs, and similar paperwork. Also available are restrooms, showers, laundry, phone charging, emergency clothing, and lunch. During the global pandemic, the Center has remained open for a limited number of guests through appointments only.  In recent winter months, the Center has used a first-floor room in the church as a Warming Center for their clients.


First Called and Installed Woman Senior Pastor

In 2022 NYAPC called and installed The Rev. Dr. Sarah Johnson as the first installed woman Senior Pastor.