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Saint Cyprian’s Episcopal Church
corner of Tremont and Walpole Streets
St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in Roxbury was the first church to be built by black people. In the 1900s, the church served as a haven for immigrants from the West Indian Islands including Jamaica, Barbados and some smaller islands. Because there was only one black church in the area, and many immigrants did not want to attend it, early services took place in the home of Miss Ida Gross on Northampton Street in lower Roxbury. The congregation at Miss Gross’ home became a mission of the Episcopal Diocese. In 1911 the mission received the name St. Cyprian’s and Rev. J.M. Matthias, a black priest, was appointed to lead the mission in 1913.
Attendance grew slowly, but eventually the membership was so large that Miss Gross’s home was no longer sufficient in size. Settling on a good location was difficult because every building the congregation found turned out to be too small. After several temporary locations and a change in pastors, Rev. Leroy Ferguson came to St. Cyprian’s Church in 1920 and in 1921 the Church purchased a lot at the corner of Tremont and Walpole Streets, where it still stands today.
Because of the low employment rate among the church members, the congregational set up an employment bureau to help their members find jobs. The Church was also so successful at raising money that they were able to purchase a house for the Rev. and Mrs. Ferguson. The Church also formed many social organizations and church clubs such as a youth group, choir, St. Bede’s Literary and Musical Guild, and a women’s sewing and reading group.
St. Cyprian’s Church gathered a steady following a membership throughout the years. It served as a place of comfort for West Indian immigrants as it allowed them to focus on their aspirations while still maintaining their own cultural identity. Many felt secure in the church and wrote that it helped shape them in growing up.
Rev. Ferguson guided the church for 30 years and was replaced by a short string of pastors. In 1980, Rev. Henderson L. Brome came to St. Cyprians and is still there today. He instituted an awards banquet in honor of all those before him who made the church what it is today. The banquet has become an annual tradition.
The most prominent feature of the Church, architecturally speaking, is its panorama of 12 stained glass windows. Each window depicts a historically significant person in Black history. Such historical figures include: Harriet Tubman, genius of the underground railroad; Sojourner Truth, she traveled the country preaching about the evils of slavery; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Crispus Attucks, the first to die in the American Revolutionary War; Absalom Jones, the first black Episcopal priest in the United States.
Saint Cyprian’s Episcopal Church continues to offer spiritual services and community outreach programs.
Faith, Culture, and Leadership: A History of the Black Church in Bostonby Robert C. Hayden