The year was 1926. Calvin Coolidge was president of the United States. Harriet High donated her home and the surrounding land to be used as an art museum in Atlanta. A.A. Milne published his beloved children’s classic “Winnie-the-Pooh.” And a Presbyterian congregation left its original home in downtown Atlanta and moved to a new facility “just north of Peachtree Creek” in what would later become Buckhead.
That was the beginning of Covenant Presbyterian Church, this year celebrating 90 years of service from its sanctuary at 2461 Peachtree Road.
“In our 90 years on Peachtree Road, we’ve weathered a lot of changes, especially in geography, demographics, culture and politics,” said interim pastor Rev. Dr. Richard Hill. “Throughout it all, we have sought out opportunities to do God’s work, and I am confident we will continue to do so for the next 90 years and beyond.”
Covenant Presbyterian had its early beginnings in 1874 as an outreach church of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Tennessee. Over the next 30 years, the new congregation met in borrowed space, disbanded and re-formed, and built a church at the corner of Harris and Spring streets in 1904. Harris Street Presbyterian Church was known for its open door policy, and strengthened that reputation during World War I by inviting soldiers of all faiths to the church for services and social events.
In 1924, the decision was made to move the church’s location to a “quieter area,” and Harris Street Presbyterian became one of the first of the downtown churches to move north.
“Our church started a trend of downtown congregations moving north,” says Charlotte Cook, who has been a member of Covenant Presbyterian Church since 1939. “Everybody thought we were crazy to relocate outside the city limits, beyond Peachtree Creek, but our congregation has never failed to step out in faith and do what we believe is right.”
Choosing a location at the corner of Peachtree Road and Terrace Drive, the congregation commissioned architect Charles Henry Hopson to design the structure that has served the church for 90 years. Hopson, who was known for designing in Gothic Revival style using a combination of building materials, chose stone and brick for the new church building.
In a nod to the past, the cornerstone of the old Harris Street church was placed at the base of the sign at the sanctuary entrance on Peachtree Road. The first service in the new building was held May 2, 1926, and the new church and manse were dedicated as Covenant Presbyterian Church on Nov. 7, 1926. The current building retains much of the original design, although a new educational wing and chapel were added in 1955.
One of the church’s most notable and forward-thinking pastors was Rev. Dr. Herman L. Turner, who served the church for over three decades, beginning in 1930. He guided his congregation through the Great Depression and garnered national recognition for his support of the Civil Rights movement. In 1957, he was the principal author of the “Ministers Manifesto: A Declaration of Equality,” a statement calling for peaceful debates about school integration, which he and 80 other Atlanta ministers signed.
Under Turner’s guidance, Covenant Presbyterian became the first north Atlanta church to welcome African-American members. He also voiced support for the establishment of the United Nations, and served as Moderator of the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., which was formed when the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and the United Presbyterian Church of North America merged in 1958.
Throughout the ensuing decades, Covenant’s members have remained focused on their mission of serving others, despite demographic shifts and other challenges. In the 1960s, the church established a kindergarten for minority and immigrant children, and in the 1970s offered an after-school latchkey program for students at nearby E. Rivers Elementary School. Currently, Covenant hosts the daily preschool, kindergarten and Mothers’ Morning Out programs of The Spanish Academy.
Recently, the Buckhead Coalition recognized Covenant Presbyterian Church for its 90 years of service to the community.
Today, under the leadership of interim pastor Hill and associate pastor Dr. Jill Ulrici, Covenant Presbyterian Church continues to welcome new members and serve the city of Atlanta through its mission of “Equipping the people of God to serve Christ in the world.” The church boasts a lively youth group, hands-on mission work, a women’s spirituality ministry and a strong music program led by Jeffrey McIntyre. Throughout the year, the church presents public lectures, social events, musical performances, educational opportunities and more.
The church supports numerous local organizations including Buckhead Christian Ministry, the Central Night Shelter, ChildSpring International, Habitat for Humanity, The Open Door Community, Earth Covenant Ministry and Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta. Parishioners tutor Latino children from nearby E. Rivers Elementary School at the church as part of the LaAmistad After School program. Covenant also takes a leadership role in the LaGonave Haiti Partners, a more than 20-year partnership with the Episcopal Church of Haiti. Ongoing Haiti projects include a community health center, as well as programs for education, agriculture, adult literacy and children’s nutrition.
The church will officially celebrate its 90th anniversary on Sunday, Nov. 13. For more information, see covpresatlanta.org.
–Julie Herron Carson