The congregation of The Church of the Atonement has grown with its Edgewater neighborhood over the past 120 years. When the first service of the mission church was held on June 17, 1888, there was little development in the area. In fact, this service was held in the district’s first commercial building, the Guild Hall, which used to stand on the southwest corner of Bryn Mawr and Winthrop Avenues.
Services were led by a lawyer, Frederick Keator, who soon gave up law for the priesthood and became the first priest-in-charge at the mission Church of the Atonement. Father Keator remained at Atonement until 1896. In 1901, he became the first Bishop of the mission diocese of Olympia, Washington.
On November 30, 1889, the cornerstone was laid for The Church of the Atonement. The church was then much smaller, although it had a large stone tower on the northwest corner. The nave extended from the current chancel steps on the east to about fifteen feet west of the current vestibule doors. The same wood trusses we see today supported the roof, only they were sixteen feet lower. The architect was the prominent Henry Ives Cobb, whose work includes the Newberry Library and the original University of Chicago buildings.
Both the neighborhood and congregation quickly grew. The Church of the Atonement became a self-supporting parish on May 23, 1898. To meet the congregation’s needs, the first Parish House was built in 1901. The chancel was extended to the east in 1911. In 1919, the church took the form we see today, with the raising of the roof, the addition of side aisles, and the extension to the west to Kenmore Avenue. The Parish House was enlarged in 1924. The designer for all these additions was well-known local architect J.E.O. Pridmore, a longtime member of the parish.
The Church of the Atonement has long been recognized as one of the Diocese of Chicago’s leading Anglo-Catholic parishes. In the 1920’s, Rector Frederic Fleming was active in the Anglo-Catholic movement on an international level, representing the Diocese of Chicago at several Anglo-Catholic Congresses in London
Through the long tenure of Rector Dean Paxton Rice, a dedicated congregation and clergy served a changing community. The Church of the Atonement became an important anchor in a diverse neighborhood. Early outreach by the congregation included St. Augustine’s mission, focusing on the Native American community in the Uptown neighborhood. In the 1970’s, the Reverend Carlos A. Plazas began a ministry to the Spanish-speaking residents of the area at The Church of the Atonement. The church’s outreach continues today with strong bonds to service organizations such as Care for Real.
The music program at The Church of the Atonement has been a central part of its ministry since the church’s beginnings. Directed since 1960 by the Reverend Thomas Harris, it was originally a choir of men and boys. Under Father Harris’s leadership, women’s voices were introduced, making it one of the earliest choirs of its type to do so. The current organ was custom built for the space under the direction of Father Harris in the 1960’s.
Rectors of The Church of the Atonement
Frederic William Keator (1855-1925) Lay reader/Priest-in-Charge 1888-1896, Bishop of Olympia (Washington), 1902-1925
J. M. D. Davidson (1854-1931) Priest-in-Charge 1896-1898, Rector 1898-1903
Charles E. Deuel (1864-1932) Rector 1903-1914
Frederic Sydney Fleming (1886-1956) Rector 1915-1927, Rector, Saint Stephen’s Church, Providence, Rhode Island 1927-1930, Rector, Trinity Church, New York City 1932-1951
Alfred Newbery (1889-1937) Rector 1927-1937, Rector, Church of the Advent, Boston 1937
Calvert Buck (1895-1969) Rector 1937-1943
James Murchison Duncan (1902-1968) Rector 1943-1950, Rector, Church of the Ascension and St. Agnes, Washington, D.C. 1950-1960
Robert Leonard Miller (1914-1992) Rector 1950-1958, Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Chicago 1961-1978
Dean Paxton Rice (1932-2003) Rector 1958-2003, Dean, Chicago-North Deanery 1969-1991
John David van Dooren, Rector 2005- 2017, Dean, Chicago-North Deanery 2013-2017