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.
“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.” – Charlotte Cook
“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.
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. Currently, Covenant hosts the daily preschool, kindergarten and Mothers’ Morning Out programs of The Spanish Academy.
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.
For more information, see covpresatlanta.org.
By Julie Herron Carson
Photo caption: Credit/ Special
Some members of Covenant Presbyterian Church, which recently celebrated 90 years of service.