Located at the southeast corner of East Twenty-Sixth Avenue and Williams Street in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood, the Church of the Holy Redeemer is a 1910 Gothic Revival building designed by the Denver architects Fisher and Fisher. The church was originally home to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, but as the Whittier neighborhood shifted from white to black in the 1920s, the white St. Stephen’s congregation moved out and the integrated Holy Redeemer congregation moved into the building. Holy Redeemer played an active role in the campaign for civil rights in Denver, and today it continues to be an important Whittier institution.
Organized in 1885, the Episcopal congregation of St. Stephen’s met for its first few years in a building on East 29th Avenue between Gilpin and High Streets. By the 1890s the congregation needed a larger home. In 1896 it moved a few blocks south to a new building at East Twenty-Sixth Avenue and Williams Street. The building was located at the south end of the lot, and despite many changes and additions over the years, portions of this structure can still be seen there.
In the early 1900s the congregation began to add buildings to accommodate its growth. In 1907 it erected a two-story brick rectory just south of the church. Two years later it hired the Denver architectural firm of William E. Fisher and Arthur A. Fisher to design a new and larger sanctuary to be built as an addition to the original 1896 building.
The Gothic Revival church, one of only two churches that Fisher and Fisher designed in Denver, cost the congregation $20,000. It was an L-shaped building with a steeply pitched, gabled roof and a large stained-glass window above the west-facing entrance. Inside, the raised altar occupied the eastern end of the building, with the organ to the north and a small chapel to the south. The church was dedicated on May 1, 1910.
When St. Stephen’s built its new church, it was a white congregation in a white neighborhood. In the 1920s, however, Whittier began to change. Denver’s growing black population, which had been crowded into Five Points because of discrimination and restrictive housing covenants, began to expand east past Downing Street. By 1930, St. Stephen’s fell within the new boundaries of Denver’s black neighborhood, which extended all the way to Race Street. As a result, the white St. Stephen’s congregation left the neighborhood.
The former St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church soon became home to another Episcopal congregation, Holy Redeemer, which moved there in 1931. By that time Holy Redeemer had a long history that made it perfectly suited to a location near the sometimes tense boundary between black and white neighborhoods.
The Holy Redeemer congregation started in 1892, when a group of English Anglo-Catholics (Episcopalians who emphasized the Catholic roots of their practice) joined with black Episcopalians from Memphis, Tennessee, to form an integrated congregation. At the time, with segregated housing and worship on the rise, integrated congregations were becoming increasingly rare.
Named after the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Clerkenwell, London, the group was initially homeless and had to worship in the basement of St. John’s Cathedral and in the former Emmanuel Episcopal Church at Tenth and Lawrence Streets. In 1893, the congregation bought lots at the corner of East Twenty-Second Avenue and Humboldt Street. It later built a small church there and slowly grew to 153 members by 1917. The congregation continued to grow throughout the 1920s, and in 1931 it seized the opportunity to move to the large church at East Twenty-Sixth Avenue and Williams Street that had recently been vacated by the white St. Stephen’s congregation.
By the time Holy Redeemer moved to the former St. Stephen’s building, it was under the leadership of Reverend Henry E. Rahming. Rahming had come from Kansas City in 1921, and over the next four decades he was the driving force behind what became one of the largest and most active congregations in Whittier.
Under Rahming, Holy Redeemer was the only Episcopal church in Denver with black leaders and a majority black congregation. It became a beacon for black Anglicans and for Denver’s black community as a whole. The congregation included civil rights leaders such as Clarence Holmes, co-founder of Denver’s branch of the NAACP. Other members also played an important role in promoting social integration in Denver through their work with the Urban League. The congregation’s contributions to desegregation received special mention in a state citation celebrating its centennial in the 1990s.
During Rahming’s many years at Holy Redeemer, the church was known for its adherence to traditional liturgy as well as for its collection of art by local artists. Rahming retired in 1966, and in 2004 the congregation’s rectory was renamed the Rahming House in his honor.
By 1977, the original parish hall, which dated to 1896, was in need of repair. The congregation fully renovated the building and added new construction designed by local architect Guion Cabell Childress. Completed in 1978, the project received an American Institute of Architects citation in recycled buildings.
Holy Redeemer has remained active in the Whittier neighborhood. In the late 1980s, for example, Reverend Dan Hopkins was well known for his work to decrease drug use and gang violence. Over the years the church has also offered short-term housing for the homeless, youth and senior programming, and a food pantry. It is the oldest Anglo-Catholic parish in the Diocese of Colorado.