ST. CYPRIAN’S CHURCH – ITS ORIGIN
It was out of this context of discrimination and humiliation that these Black Episcopalians decided to ban themselves together and to begin the process of building and owning their house of worship. It was out of these circumstances that St. Cyprian’s Church took its origin.
First, as an immediate response to their lukewarm reception in the white church, a few of them decided to meet for family worship in a private home at 218 Northampton Street. Their first meeting was in May 1910. The rapid increase in membership forced them to move to Franklin Union on Berkley Street. Services were conducted by a layreader who was a medical student studying in Boston. Subsequently a congregational minister the Rev. Mr. Barrows presided over the services. In 1913, during the Episcopacy of Bishop Babcock, the congregation was organized as a Mission of the Diocese of Massachusetts.
Coinciding with the official recognition was the appointment of the first Episcopal Priest-in-Charge, the Rev. Joseph M. Matthias. The Congregation moved to St. Paul’s Cathedral where they were allowed to worship in a chapel. The resignation of Rev. Matthias signaled the incumbency of the Rev. David Leroy Ferguson who began his ministry in December 1920 until 1951. During the early years of his pastorate, the congregation worshipped at St. Paul’s Cathedral and later at the Church of the Ascension. This nomadic form of worship was further exacerbated by the fact that at one church where the congregation was allowed to worship on Sunday evenings it was discovered that the church was being fumigated after being used by Black worshippers. This cruel assault on the dignity of these Black worshippers caused them to redouble their efforts and determination to build and own a place of worship. For this, credit must be given to the leadership of the Rev. David Leroy Ferguson. In fact no history of St. Cyprian’s Church can be written without taking note of the outstanding contribution of Father Ferguson. For it was under his tenure that the idea of building a place of worship was eventually brought to fruition.
In July 1921, a lot located at Tremont Street in Roxbury was purchased. The work of construction began with a groundbreaking ceremony on June 25th 1922 and the church building was opened for worship on Sunday February 10, 1924. The church was named after Cyprian, an outstanding theologian and Bishop of Carthage in North Africa.
These chronology of events, however, cannot adequately express the sacrifice, dedication, and level of commitment of its founders and later its members in general. The building was not just a house of worship, but the embodiment of their pride and dignity. The social context of discrimination and prejudice which gave birth to St. Cyprian’s undoubtedly helped to shape its ethos and mission.
From its inception, St. Cyprian’s has viewed its mission in terms of the empowerment of its people. Consequently it has sought aggressively to combat those factors which militate against the empowerment of the people it serves. Social outreach and activism became a pivotal part of its ministry. Its current members cognizant of the noble legacy which they have inherited continue to carry on both the mission and vision of the original founders.
CYPRIAN 200 – 250 A.D.
The founders of St. Cyprian’s Church ought to be commended for choosing Thascius Caecilianus Cyprianus as their Patron Saint. This was extremely appropriate for two reasons. First, since the composition of the membership was African Americans and West Indians, it was a profound affirmation of their common African roots; secondly it conveyed a clear message that their commitment to the gospel would indeed be modeled upon one of the most remarkable personalities of the ancient church.
It is believed that he was born about the year 200 in the city of Carthage in North Africa and that he spent all of his life in the city. He was a man of considerable wealth and education having won the distinction as a Teacher of Rhetoric. About the Year 246, he was converted to the Christian faith, two years following he was ordained to the Priesthood and almost immediately after that he was consecrated Bishop of Carthage. In this capacity Cyprian demonstrated high executive ability.
In addition to his outstanding administrative abilities Cyprian was a prolific writer and he used his writing as an apologist and defender for the faith and to expound many of the fundamental doctrines of the ancient church. In Cyprian’s teaching the tendencies illustrated in the development of the “Catholic” Church received their full expression.
According to him the Church is one visible orthodox community of Christians. “There is one God, and Christ in one, and there is one church, and one episcopate,” Cyprian strongly believed that there could be no salvation outside of the church, thus these famous words, “He can no longer have God for his Father who has not The Church for his mother.”
Cyprian lived during an era in which the Church experienced much persecution. During his incumbency he faced both the Decian and Valerian persecutions. During these persecution Christians were generally forced to renounce their faith or face torture and in many instances death. When the persecutions ended, the church was faced with the problem of how to deal with those who had repudiated their faith. How to treat lapsed Christians, should they be re-baptized? Cyprian’s administrative abilities were of great service to the church at this time. He favored settlement through the actions of special councils convened for the purpose.
In 257 during the Valerian persecution Cyprian was sent into exile. When attempts were made to arrest him, he initially hid himself, but on another attempt he surrendered himself and he was beheaded in Carthage on September 14, 258. He was the first bishop in Africa to suffer martyrdom. Cyprian was a profile writer, scholar, Bishop and defender of the faith. Few leaders of the ancient church have been more highly regarded.