Saint Ambrose Episcopal Church was founded in the post Civil War era on Tuesday, February 11, 1868 as a ministry to the recently emancipated persons of African Ancestry. Saint Ambrose began as the worshiping community associated with Saint Augustine’s University, founded in 1867. The church was under the leadership of the Rev. Jacob Brinton Smith. Ten Christ Church members transferred to help form the congregation. The North Carolina Legislature authorized property at Lane and Dawson Streets in downtown Raleigh to be used as a worship site in 1868. That same year, the worshiping community built a Carpenter Gothic style chapel on that site in the Smokey Hollow Community. The church was one of the first African American churches in Raleigh. Since it was organized from an integrated church, it provides an example of the move from integration to segregation during Reconstruction.
St. Ambrose painting by C.N. Drie from 1872 at the Lane and Dawson Street location.
The 1868 St. Ambrose Church building at the S. Wilmington and Cabarrus Street location from 1900-1965.
In 1896, the worshiping community at Saint Augustine’s because a separate congregation with the name Saint Ambrose under the leadership of the Rev. James E. King. Saint Ambrose remained on Dawson Street until 1900 when parishioners helped move the entire physical plant one-half mile to the corner of South Wilmington and Cabarrus Streets. One parishioner reported sitting on her mother’s front porch, watching people slowly “roll” the church to the new location. The church was renovated to contain education rooms in the basement as well as a rectory for the clergy.
It was under the leadership of the Rev. George A. Fisher that Saint Ambrose attained parish status in the 1950s. It was the first historically African American mission in the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina to become a parish. Under the leadership of the Rev. Arthur J. Calloway, Saint Ambrose moved from downtown Raleigh to its present location at 813 Darby Street in the Rochester Heights neighborhood on June 20, 1965. The church finished an additional wing to house education classrooms and offices in 1987, bringing the church’s physical plant to 17,000 square feet.
Saint Ambrose continues its history of ministering the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Raleigh. Its founding in 1868 was to help foster the spiritual and educational lives of the newly emancipated. Education reformer, Mary Phillips, helped found the Saint Ambrose School in 1896 during a time where there were few public schools for African Americans. This school enrolled 170 students and had one of only four Kindergartens in the state of North Carolina. The 1920s saw innovation in music with the third rector, the Rev. Arthur Myron Cochran. He was the music professor at Saint Augustine’s University and composed the Cochran Mass, a service music setting based on Negro Spirituals. Historians consider him one of most prolific and innovative church music composers during his time. The eighth rector, the Rev. Arthur Calloway, served three terms on the Raleigh City Council. The ninth rector, the Rev. Dr. Michael Battle, brought another musical innovation by receiving a Trinity Wall Street grant to begin the Jazz Mass, a worship service with music provided by Jazz instrumentalists. The Rev. Kimberly Lucas, the first African American woman ordained priest in this Diocese, became the tenth and first female rector in 2008. The church’s outreach continues to impact Raleigh: Urban Ministries, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, Partners for Environmental Justice, weekly tutoring and mentoring for high school students, and the One Church, One School Ministry with Fuller Elementary School. Saint Ambrose continues to be the Light of Jesus Christ in Southeast Raleigh.
A History of Our Clergy:
Saint Augustine’s Church (the forerunner to Saint Ambrose)
1868 – The Rev. Jacob Brinton Smith
1871 – The Rev. Floyd
1873 – The Rev. John Smedes and The Rev. Bennet Smedes
1876-1879 – The Rev. George A. C. Cooper
1887 – The Rev. W. G Emanuel and The Rev. Robert Bean Sutton
1892 – The Rev. Aaron Burtis Hunter
Saint Ambrose Episcopal Church
1896-1913 – The Rev. James E. King
1913-1919 – The Rev. James K. Satterwhite
1919-1927 – The Rev. Arthur Myron Cochran
1929-1939 – The Rev. George A. Fisher
1941-1946 – The Rev. Joelzie H. Thompson
1948-1958 – The Rev. George A. Fisher
1958-1959 – The Rev. Joseph N. Green
1959-1998 – The Rev. Arthur J. Calloway
2001-2004 – The Rev. Michael J. Battle, Ph.D.
2005-2011 –The Rev. Kimberly D. Lucas
2012-Present – The Rev. Robert Jemonde Taylor