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The Church of the Advent has deep roots in San Francisco. The parish 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 Reverend Francis M. McAllister, Advent's first Rector.
By 1885, the neighborhood had changed, many parishioners moved away, and attendance and giving began to decline. About his time the parish moved to its second church building, at 11th and Market Streets.
In 1900, the Reverend 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. By the time he stepped down in 1905, the congregation was looking forward to a healthy future.
Then on Easter Wednesday, April 18 1906, disaster struck. The church building was completely destroyed. Fr. Charles Lathrop (the second Lathrop) has left us a detailed account of that day and of his efforts. Soon after, some parishioners managed to secure a pre-fab building from a ship headed for Alaska. It was put up at the current site on Fell Street and became the third church.
In 1910, the current church building was completed and put into use on Christmas Day. The building was intended to become the parish hall once a much larger church could be built, but on New Year’s Day 1944, it was consecrated and plans for further building were abandoned.
After the loss of many parishioners, including the newly arrived rector in the great influenza epidemic of 1918, the parish once again began to decline.
There followed a period of interim clergy. In 1921, the vestry elected a permanent rector, Fr. Kincaid, who, in April 1921, informed the vestry he wished to try his vocation to monastic life. The Cowley Fathers arranged for Fr. Kincaid to continue as rector while doing his novitiate with the Society. They sent two of the brothers to Advent for the novitiate period. Fr. Kincaid completed the novitiate and moved to the monastery in Boston. The Vestry invited the monks of the Society of St John the Evangelist (Cowley Fathers) to establish a house at Advent and serve the parish. Fr. Field, SSJE, was elected rector. 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, and, until recently, there had rarely been a day when Mass was not celebrated at Advent's altar.
Fr. James T. Golder, who came in 1959/60, was a graduate of Nashotah House Seminary in Wisconsin and was well connected to Anglo-Catholic communities. He was a leader in raising awareness about alcoholism and was responsible for initiating programs in seminaries to teach clergy how to assist people who came for help with their alcoholism. He was the first married priest at Advent since before the time of the Cowley Fathers. He had two children who lived locally and were active parishioners. His wife, Helen, was head of the altar guild.
Fr. Golder brought in an excellent associate rector, Fr. Warren Fenn, who started the parish newsletter, The Sceptre, which is still published today. He bought many vestments which are still in use today and revived High Mass. He also started a Sunday School, which met upstairs in what is now the rectory. The Sunday School served children in grades 1 through 8. John Porter (now a priest and one of our associate clergy) taught in the Sunday School. There were approximately 25-30 students in a given year. Over time and with changing demographics, the number of children in the parish declined and the Sunday School eventually disappeared.
The next major changes were to come in the early 1980s during the rectorate of Fr. Richard Deitch. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer was implemented and the altar was moved out from the reredos for versus populum celebrations. These changes were not without controversy and numbers declined for a time.
This period also saw a change to the fabric of the building with the addition of the Lady Chapel, consecrated by Bishop Swing on the Feast of the Annunciation, 1985. The Chapel of Our Lady of Walsingham was created in space that had been a neglected narthex closet. The chapel and the renovation of the narthex were undertaken as family memorials by a long time parishioner, Bill Goodwin, who had in fact been a child at the time of the Great Earthquake and who had witnessed the building of the present church in 1910.
Fr. William Rhodes was called as rector in 1984. His arrival at Advent roughly coincided with the appearance of a mysterious disease which came to be known as AIDS. The Church of the Advent was much affected: over many years more than a hundred parishioners died; it was a period of tremendous loss for the parish but it was also a period of powerful grace and deepened spirituality as members of the parish worked tirelessly caring for their sick and dying friends. Masses of requiem were frequent and the prayers of the people were filled with the names of those sick and dying. This period also saw an expansion and elaboration of Advent’s music program when noted organist and choirmaster John Renke, then at Grace Cathedral, was hired by Fr. Rhodes in the newly created position of “Vicar of Music.” Though this was not without some controversy, it renewed an emphasis on careful liturgy and beautiful and correct music that continues to this day under Dr. Paul Ellison. A major outreach effort in these years was the Advent Meal Program, a Saturday morning breakfast served to seniors, offered as a collaborative effort with the City and County of San Francisco. Advent provided a venue (the parish hall, garden, and kitchen) and volunteers, and the City funded a program administrator (a parishioner), food costs, etc. Fr. Rhodes’ rectorate is perhaps most fondly remembered for his extraordinary talent as a preacher.
Following an interim period with Fr. Raymond Harbort, Fr. Paul Burrows was called as rector and installed in 2001. Fr. Burrows was an enthusiastic liturgist and devoted much energy to relationships in the community, for example, with the French-American School, and with the arts community that surrounds our parish. He also worked to continue the relationships Advent has with the Diocese and Church Divinity School of the Pacific, working with seminarians in internships and training opportunities. He even introduced seminarians from St. Stephen’s House, Oxford, as summer interns over several years. In September 2002, a first and third Saturday evening Latin Mass was begun using Liber Precum Publicarum, a translation of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer into Latin (which translation was done by one of our associate priests, Fr. Roderick Thompson).
In the final several years of Fr. Burrows’ time at Advent, members left the parish and the pledge base contracted significantly. Parish liturgical, Christian formation, fellowship, stewardship, and outreach activities declined.
After the retirement of Fr. Burrows on Candlemas 2014, the interim rector was Fr. Mark Ruyak.
Our new rector, Fr. Paul D. Allick said his first mass celebrating the Last Sunday after the Epiphany on February 7, 2016.