Rush Memorial Congregational UCC was organized in
1913. Dr. John Allen Rush was the founder. Dr. Rush
and some ardent supporters were from Central Avenue
Methodist Church which was located in downtown
Atlanta, GA on Central Avenue.
Dr. Rush, who was a Martin Luther type leader, and his
followers were determined to have a church. They started
having meeting in the Morgan Williams Hall (adjacent to
the present site) and became known as The People’s
Church. During this time, they were raising funds and
seeking help to build their church building.
The People’s Church purchased land at 150 Chestnut Street (now James P.
Brawley Drive) and built a Sunday School Building that would also house worship
services until a sanctuary could be erected. They received help from the American
Missionary Association (later the Board of Homeland Ministries) during the
Sunday School Building construction. Services were held at Stone Hall on the Old
Atlanta University Campus, now known as Fountain Hall at Morris Brown
College, until the completion of the Sunday School Building.
Dr. Rush passed away in 1915 and was succeeded by Dr.
James Bond, grandfather of civil rights icon Julian Bond.
Dr. Bond renamed the church Rush Memorial
Congregational Church. Dr. Bond’s vision for Rush
Memorial Congregational Church was outlined in the
August 13, 1917 Atlanta Constitution editorial Minister
Makes Appeal for Worthy Negro Church.
Bond envisioned the church as a center of social services
and education for the revitalization of Atlanta’s Fourth
Dr. James Bond
Rev. G.J. Thomas became pastor of the church in 1919. At the
time he led a capital campaign raising enough funds to pay off
the initial mortgage on the Sunday School building. The
American Missionary Association appointed Rev. Thomas as
Superintendent of Churches and Sunday Schools for North
Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Washington, D.C. in
The first Negro Boy Scout Troop in the city of Atlanta was
organized in the Sunday School building by Rev. Spurgeon
Mayfield, who came to Atlanta to direct a Daily Vacation Bible
School at Rush Memorial. At the end of Bible School period, the troop moved to
Friendship Baptist Church and was headed by Andrew J. Lewis.
Ms. Mable V. Sullivan founded the Rush Memorial Elementary School which was
second to none. She, along with Mrs. Lottie Smith Austin, Mrs. Minnie Robinson,
and Mrs. Susie Perkins, served as Principal. Grades were added each year and
enrollment steadily increased making it necessary to move the school to larger
During the 1920’s, Rush Memorial opened a Social
Service Department which was headed by Professor and
Mrs. F.J. Werking, prominent educators from Lexington,
Kentucky. In the mornings, a rummage sale was held in
the basement of the Sunday School building. In the
evening, Mrs. Werking had a Girl’s Club and Professor
Werking had a Boy’s Club. The boys were taught wood
shop and music, while the girls were taught handicraft and
music. Concerts were given the last week in each month.
Shortly after Professor Werking’s retirement and
subsequent death, the Social Services Department of
Rush Memorial was taken over by Mrs. Willie D. Rush, the wife of the late Dr.
John A. Rush, the church’s founder. She continued to keep in contact with
churches and clubs in the East who had supported Professor and Mrs. Werking by
sending clothes, toys, and other gifts to the needy. Most of these boxes and barrels
Rev. G.J. Thomas
Professor and Mrs. F.J. Werking
were sent near the Christmas season so that children in the Sunday School and the
neighborhood would be remembered at the time. Consequently, each child
received toys, clothing, fruit, and candy. For some this was their only “Santa”.
The Rush Memorial Services Department delivered needed services at a time when
few government or city social service agencies existed. It did not take long for
word to get around Atlanta that Rush Memorial provided social services. Later
years found both children and parents from many sections of the city coming to
Rush Memorial for services and aid
Following Professor Werking’s example, Mrs.
Rush traveled to other churches during the
summer at her own expense. She detailed the
services provided by Rush Memorial and
demonstrated the need to expand these services.
The response was gratifying and prompt.
Donations of boxes and barrels increased to over a
thousand gifts. Rush Memorial served not only
those who came to the church but expanded its
services to share with other communities. The
Church took gifts to the Children’s Ward at Grady Hospital in downtown Atlanta,
the Children’s Burn Center at Harris Hospital which served Atlanta’s Black
community, and Happy Haven Home for the Aged and other institutions. Rush
Memorial became “The Little Church with the Big Heart”, a motto the church has
adopted to this day.
During the mid-1930’s, Mrs. Rush opened a Thrift Shop to help raise money for
the yet to be finished sanctuary. She solicited good and wearable clothing from
local homes to sell at a very low price to those in need. Additional funds came
from individual contributions the National Board, loans from banks and the week
day rental of the Sunday School Building.
The sales receipts went to the National Board in New York to be deposited in the
name of the church. The amount grew until the goal of $10,000 was reached. Mrs.
Rush lived to see the sanctuary built in 1952, under Pastor John E. Garnett. She
worshipped there until her death in 1960.
Children’s Ward of Grady Hospital
The church continued to grow and serve the community
throughout the 1940’s, 1950’s and
on into the 1960’s. It was always a
hub of civil action, community
service, and support to the students
in the Atlanta University Center.
During these years, the Church was
pastored by Louis T. Beasley, Edgar
T. Tatum, John J. Hicks, John L.
Jackson, John E. Garnett, and Milton L. Upton.
Rush Memorial played an integral role in the Civil Rights
struggles. During the 1960’s, the students of the Atlanta
University Center used donated space with permission of
then pastor Rev. Joseph E. Boone. Rush Memorial became
headquarters for the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights
(COAHR) after the students were turned away from their
previous headquarters in Sage Hall of Morehouse College.
Rush Memorial was convenient to all the campuses in the
AUC. From their headquarters at Rush Memorial and under
the leadership of Lonnie King and Julian Bond, the students
organized demonstrations that led to the desegregation of more than 70 local
businesses and establishments.
During this time the church supported students from Morehouse College who were
conscientious objectors to the Vietnam war and allowed them to live in tents on
church property. The Women’s Fellowship of Rush Memorial supported the
students of Spelman College as they picketed downtown Atlanta department stores
and provided toiletries, fresh clothing, food and blankets to those students who
From Rush Memorial Rev. Boone served as the chief negotiator for Operation
Bread Basket, the economic arm of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
He also coordinated the Atlanta Summit Leadership Congress, Inc. and was
Rev. John L. Jackson
Rev. Joseph E. Boone
Rev. Milton L. Upton
responsible for negotiating with the Atlanta School Board for the desegregation of
Atlanta Public Schools.
Rev. Boone ushered the church into the 1980’s. After 22 years of service, he
stepped down from the pulpit to become the head of the P. J. Wood Center for the
Blind. In March 2008 Boone’s memory was honored when Atlanta’s Simpson
Road was renamed Joseph E. Boone Boulevard.
Rev. Arthur E. Langford, Jr. became Senior Pastor of Rush
Memorial in the early 1980’s. Langford campaigned against
drug use and violence in poor neighborhoods. The youngestever
elected Atlanta City Councilman, Langford founded the
United Youth-Adult Conference in 1972 with a group of
Atlanta University Center students. In the early 1980’s,
Langford gained national attention when he organized weekly
Saturday Searches during the Missing and Murdered Children
of Atlanta investigations. Langford also served as a State
Senator in the Georgia Assembly during his time at Rush.
Most importantly, he inaugurated the church’s annual Homecoming and
Anniversary Celebration and the Annual Summer Youth Retreat at Lake Allatoona.
In 1995 Atlanta’s Lakewood Freeway was renamed Arthur L. Langford Memorial
Rev. Lawrence E. Calbert, Sr.’s tenure as Senior Pastor of
Rush Memorial Congregational Church began in 1989.
He continued the annual summer youth outings to Lake
Allatoona and began outings to Camp Rutledge at Hard
Labor Creek State Park. This included excursions to
Chattanooga, TN, Brasstown Bald, GA, and Roosevelt
State Park in Pine Mountain, GA.
Rev. Calbert’s pastorate has seen the church enhance its
participation in and alignment with the United Church of
Christ. His involvement included serving as moderator
and chairperson of the Church and Ministry Committee,
Rev. Arthur E. Langford, Jr.
Rev. Lawrence E. Calbert, Sr.
Chairperson of the Nominating Committee, and Acting Chairperson of the Church
and Ministry Committee.
Rev. Calbert served as a member of the Board of Directors and as the Disaster
Relief Coordinator for the Southeast Conference of the UCC. Rev. Calbert’s
involvement with the conference ministries was instrumental in securing funds for
the building of fellowship hall adjacent to the current sanctuary.
In 2009, Rush Memorial saw the realization of a long time goal with the
groundbreaking on the J.E. Boone Fellowship Hall. On October 31, 2010 the
church celebrated the dedication of the Joseph E. Boone Fellowship Hall. This
facility supports special programs and allows fellowship with members and
Rev. Calbert’s vision for the future of Rush Memorial Congregational includes an
expanded music program, ministries for the students of the Atlanta University
Center and continued outreach to the surrounding community.
From Groundbreaking… To Dedication
The following ministers have served as pastor of
Rush Memorial Congregational Church, UCC
Dr. John A. Rush
Dr. James Bond
Rev. George J. Thomas
Rev. Samuel P. Fields
Rev. Samuel J. Lindsey
Rev. Alonza P. Wallace
Rev. Harvey E. Johnson
Rev. E. A. McGlaughlin
Rev. Louis T. Beasley
Rev. Edgar T. Tatum
Rev. John J. Hicks
Rev. John L. Jackson
Rev. John E. Garnett
Rev. Milton L. Upton
Rev. Joseph E Boone
Rev. Lawrence E Calbert, Sr.
More Information about Rush Memorial Congregational United Church of Christ
Hampton, A. (2003) The History of Central Methodist Church 1866-2000. Central Ministries UMC: Atlanta, GA
Hollyday, J (2005) On the Heels of Freedom: The American Missionary Association’s bold campaign to educate minds, open hearts and heal he soul of a divided nation. New York: Crossroad Publishing
Lefever, H & Page, M (2008). Sacred Place: A guide to the civil rights sites in Atlanta, GA. Macon: Mercer University