Saint Augustine's Church was formerly a chapel of the parish of Trinity Church (Wall Street) and is the outgrowth of two churches - All Saints Church and Saint Augustine's Chapel.
In 1819, a mission was started near the old Grand Street Ferry by students of the General Theological Seminary. The mission grew soundly under the lay leadership of Colonel Marinus Willet, early leader in the American Revolution and lifelong friend of General Lafayette. The real organization of All Saints Church was accomplished on May 27, 1824, under the Reverend William A. Clark, who continued as Rector until 1837.
During this period the present church was built. The stone was quarried from Mount Pitt, a hill sixty feet high, on which were erected the earthworks which guarded Washington's retreat from Long Island. The church was consecrated by John Henry Hobart, third bishop of New York in 1828, although it was not finally completed until 1829.
In its early days, the church was attended by Edgar Allan Poe, who used to seek peace and quiet from his disturbed mind. Later, "Boss" Tweed, when a fugitive from justice, attended his mother's funeral here, hiding from the authorities in the slave gallery.
Saint Augustine's Chapel was started in 1869 under the guidance of Trinity Parish. Its home, on East Houston Street, was completed in 1877. "A church for the people," Saint Augustine's was, from the beginning, the church home of diverse peoples. The large number of central European names which are found in its records testifies to the breadth of its ministry. Gradually, however, the neighborhood changed from residential to business. After nearly seventy years of great activity and witness to the faith of Christ, Saint Augustine's was closed and the congregation merged with that of All Saints' in the winter of 1944-45.
The present congregation is a mixture of people of every race and cultural background, most notable being the old Holy Cross Mission Chapel and Corpus Christi, each of which ended its existence several years ago. The furniture of the church itself indicates something of the church's varied history:
The High Altar, dedicated in honor of Saint Augustine, was once the High Altar of the Mother parish, having been replaced there by the magnificent Astor Reredos. The Lady Altar, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, was in Saint Augustine's Old Chapel, and was made by the father of one of its parishioners.
The Great Golden Rood of Christ the King (as it was called by the New York Times) is a memorial to all the faithful departed of Saint Augustine's Chapel. It, along with some of the statues, was made in Bruges, Belgium.
The wine glass pulpit was formerly in Saint John's Chapel. Its ostrich-feather crest, the emblem of the Prince of Wales, takes us well back to Colonial Days. The organ, built in 1830 by Henry Erben, is rebuilt.
Perhaps the most interesting feature in Saint Augustine's are the two slave galleries at the rear of the balcony on each side of the tower. As grateful as we are that the day of the slave and the indentured servant is over in this country, we ought also be grateful for this grim reminder of less happy days. Eternal vigilance is the price we must pay for the preservation of the liberties of all peoples. It stands to remind us that without the reality of the Fatherhood of God there can be no Brotherhood of Man.
The late Bishop Manning, when Rector of Trinity Parish, summed up the purpose of Saint Augustine's Chapel. Its value for today and the future of Saint Augustine's makes it worth quoting for the close of this brief note about Saint Augustine's:
"Saint Augustine's... is intended to be, in the strongest sense of the words, A Church For The People; the Spiritual Home of all that live in this neighborhood. It addresses itself to every man and woman living in this part of the city, who believes that after this life there will be a better one in Heaven. It is a church where all may come and feel that they are welcome. Worldly conditions make no difference here... Everyone unites in common prayer with his brethren of every rank and condition. All hear the same words of instruction and warning and hope.
"The real object of Saint Augustine's and every other church of the One Living God is this... to announce to them the glad tidings of salvation."
Saint Augustine's was separated from Trinity Parish in 1976 at which time Trinity endowed Saint Augustine's.