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Church of the Advent was organized on February 25, 1858, by members of Trinity Church. They selected a South of Market location in the fashionable area known as Rincon Hill. Bishop Kip, the first Bishop of California, presided at the first service on March 7, 1858.
Although the parish did not originally have a building of its own, within two years the new congregation erected a church on Howard Street at New Montgomery. The parish at that time had nearly 400 communicants, and was flourishing under the leadership of the Rev'd F.M. Lathrop, Advent's first Rector.
After Fr Lathrop's retirement in 1878 the parish continued to thrive until 1885, when San Francisco underwent a series of changes which transformed the neighborhood around the church into an industrial area. Many parishioners moved away, and attendance and giving began to decline. The parish moved to another church building at 11th and Market Streets in order to alleviate financial difficulties, but debt continued to mount. By the turn of the century, Church of the Advent had transformed from a dynamic new parish to a struggling congregation in a heavily urban area.
The Rev'd Herbert Parrish, former Rector of the Anglo-Catholic parish of St Mary the Virgin, San Francisco, became Advent's new Rector. He accepted his new position with assurance from the Vestry that he would have a free hand in regard to both finance and liturgy. Almost overnight, Church of the Advent became an Anglo-Catholic parish, a tradition which continues to this day.
Fr Parrish also managed to reduce the massive debt the parish had accumulated. By the time he stepped down in 1905, the congregation was looking forward to a healthy future, but in 1906 disaster struck. The church building was completely destroyed during the massive earthquake and subsequent fire that struck San Francisco that year. In the midst of severe adversity, Advent parishioners managed to secure a portable building for worship service, and was one of the first burned-out churches to resume regular services in the wake of the earthquake. The congregation used relief money to buy a site on Fell Street, where the current church now stands. The current church building was actually planned to be the parish hall, and "temporary" services were held beginning Christmas Day, 1910. The building was finally consecrated on January 1, 1944, and plans for further building were abandoned.
The current church building seats approximately 110 people, and is well-known for its peaceful, contemplative atmosphere. The church windows are made entirely of yellow glass, which was the only glass available after the 1906 earthquake. The parish has kept this glass intact as part of our historical legacy, and the the sunlight streaming through the windows illuminates the altar beautifully. A large rectory is located directly above the church building, and a pleasant garden adjacent to the church is enjoyed year-round by both parishioners and nearby office workers.
In 1918, a flu pandemic took the lives of many parishioners, including Advent's Rector, the Rev'd Arthur Burton, who had just arrived in February of that year. At this point, the parish began to seriously decline.
In 1921, Advent's vestry invited the monks of the Society of St John the Evangelist (Cowley Fathers) to establish a house at Advent and serve the parish. In October 1921, Fr Field, SSJE, became Advent's priest-in-charge, and the Society began nearly two decades of service to the parish. In addition to serving the needs of Advent's members, the brothers also served as chaplains to the inmates at Alcatraz, and taught at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley. The Society strengthened Advent's Anglo-Catholic practice, emphasizing order, prayer and devotion to God through the sacraments. Their legacy continues to this day; there has rarely been a day when Mass has not been celebrated at Advent's altar.
The next major changes were to come in the early 1980s, when the Rev'd. Richard Deitch instituted the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as the liturgical customary of the parish, replacing The People's Anglican Missal and St.Augustine's Prayer Book. Other changes were made during this period, including moving the altar away from the reredos so that celebrants face the congregation. These changes were not without controversy, but Rite II from the 1979 Prayer Book is used almost exclusively at all of Advent's liturgies. In 1991, Paul Ellison, Advent's Music Director, undertook the task of adapting musical settings to modern English usage by arranging the minor propers from the melodies in the Liber Usualis. The parish has become known for the beautiful choral music at its Solemn services, and have premiered works by Manuel Cardoso, Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, Walter Vale, and David Conte..
When the Rev'd William Rhodes came to Advent as its 27th rector in 1984, the illness that came to be known as AIDS was beginning to affect a number of parishioners. Over 100 members of the congregation died of AIDS-related illnesses over a ten-year period. The church was the site of 2-3 Requiem Masses per week, and many members had become too ill to carry on the running of parish affairs. It was during this dark period when the grace of the Holy Spirit sent women to join Advent in increasing numbers and take over responsibilities traditionally carried out only by men. Women served as senior and junior wardens and began to appear at the altar as acolytes. In addition, these women undertook the care and support of men who were ill and exhausted by grief. In the late 1980s, Fr Rhodes moved toward a less gender-exclusive structure in Advent's organization, and the Rev'd Nancy Eswein was called to be our parish deacon from 1994 until 1999. After nearly 16 years of service, Fr Rhodes accepted the call of another parish. Currently Church of the Advent has approximately 100 parishioners, but we receive many visitors and "come-and-go" attendees who are attracted to one of the few churches in the Diocese of California where Solemn Mass is held . The parish also has an endowment fund for the first time in its history.
Social outreach is one of the hallmarks of Advent. The parish has strong ties to the Episcopal Sancutary, a shelter for homeless men and women. Volunteer members serve meals, conduct worship and Bible study, and host a lunch on the second Tuesday of every month for Sanctuary residents. Worship is offered daily, with Mass in the morning, Evening Prayer at the close of every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and Stations of the Cross on Saturday Evenings, except for the first Saturday, when there is a Latin Chant Mass.