“Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you.”

– Deuteronomy 32:7


A Legacy of Leadership: Keeping Faith: A Historical Timeline of Abyssinian Baptist Church

Dedicated to “the worship of God and the service of humanity.”

1808 - The Beginnings Of Abyssinian

1808 Abyssinian bought property at 40 Anthony Street (now Worth Street) in 1811 and was located there until 1854. After the property was sold, the church rented space at Broadway Tabernacle, then to buildings on Thompson and Spring Streets. This period of transition became known as the Thompson Street migration. Thompson Street in Greenwich Village was then the center of an African American community also known as Little Africa.

The Reverends Jacob Bishop, John Seager, Drake Wilson, John Van Velzer, James Hayborn, William Loomis, William Moore, and J.T. Raymond succeeded Rev. Paul… Read More

1856 - Abyssinian Grows
1856 The Rev. William Spellman became pastor.  During Spellman’s tenure from 1856 to 1885, membership increased to 1,600.
1859 - Abyssinian Incorporates
1859 The Abyssinian Baptist Church incorporated on April 16.
1864 - On The Move
1864 The $3,000 profit from the Worth Street sale was used to purchase property at 166 Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, an African-American hub in the city.
1885 - Waverly Place
1885 Following Spellman’s retirement, the Rev. Robert D. Wynn of Norwich, CT became pastor of the church. For 16 years he led a growing congregation that completed the purchase of the Waverly Place property.
1902 - A Great Migration
1902 Rev. Dr. Charles Satchell Morris succeeded Robert Wynn as Abyssinian’s pastor.  During Morris’s tenure, the Waverly Place church was sold and the income used to begin purchasing a church and apartment house on West 40th Street. The relocation of the church to 242 West..Read More

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1908 - The Powell Years
1908 On December 30, 1908, in Abyssinian’s 100th anniversary year, the Rev. Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. became Abyssinian’s 17th pastor. Powell ushered in a new era in the church’s history, known as “The Powell Years.’’ A Social Gospel Reverend Powell devoted the first 12..Read More
1920 - A Renaissance In Harlem
1920 Shortly after the start of the cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, Abyssinian purchased lots on West 138th Street between Lenox and Seventh Avenues for the construction of a new church building and community house. That summer, the church initiated a tithing campaign..Read More
1922 - Breaking New Ground
1922 Abyssinian’s West 40th St. site was sold for approximately $200,000. Ground breaking for the new church was held on April 9. Construction of the Gothic- and Tudor-style church—which featured imported European stained glass windows and an Italian marble pulpit—and the adjacent community house* was..Read More
1923 - A Church Dedication
1923 On June 17, the buildings were dedicated “to the worship of God and the service of humanity.”
1928 - Pouring Out A Blessing
1928 A 12-year, $60,000 mortgage on the outstanding debt was retired in less than five years. At the mortgage burning service, Dr. Powell, Sr. emphasized the faithfulness of the congregation and generosity of friends as key to Abyssinian’s success.  “Every dollar of the money was..Read More
1928 - A Home For The Aged
1928 After the church structure was paid for, the congregation began purchase of a $40,000 home for the aged on St. Nicholas Avenue.
1930 - Keep The Faith, Baby!
1930 Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. began service to Abyssinian as an Assistant Pastor and Director of Abyssinian’s Kitchen and Relief operations which fed and clothed thousands of Harlem’s needy during the Great Depression.
1930 - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
1930 While studying at Union Theological Seminary, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who became known for his staunch resistance to Nazi dictatorship, attended Abyssinian and taught Sunday school.
1932 - Welcome Home
1932 Abyssinian completed its purchase of the home for the aged, which it operated for 17 residents for over 12 years.
1937 - The “Adam” Years
1937 Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. succeeded his father as pastor. Church membership had grown to 7,000 and later increased to approximately 10,000, marking Abyssinian as one of the largest and most influential black churches in America and one of the largest Protestant churches in..Read More
1941 - Powell And Politics
1941 Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. became the first African American elected to the newly constituted New York City Council (which replaced the Board of Aldermen on which African Americans had served). Abyssinian’s membership numbered approximately 14,000.
1944 - Powell Goes To Washington
1944 Rev. Powell was elected to the US Congress, representing the newly formed 22nd District. He went on to serve 14 terms in the House of Representatives. Powell masterfully combined the Christian message of justice and equality with the militant oratory of a leader over..Read More
1965 - A Dreamer Speaks
1965 The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Abyssinian and preached at services marking the church’s 157th anniversary.
1971 -Powell Retires
1971 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. retired as pastor of Abyssinian.
1972 - The Proctor Years
1972 Samuel DeWitt Proctor, Th.D., succeeded Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. as pastor of Abyssinian. The distinguished educator was a former President of Virginia Union and North Carolina A&T universities and a member of the governing boards of the United Negro College Fund and the Council..Read More
1989 - Winning Souls For Christ
1989 Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III succeeds Dr. Proctor as the church’s 20th pastor. Butts’ ministry has a pervasive impact on the church, and in community development initiatives including homelessness, senior citizen and youth empowerment, cultural awareness and ecumenical outreach. Throughout his ministerial career,..Read More
1989 - Uptown Urban Renewal
1989 The Abyssinian Development Corporation was established. The ADC, a comprehensive, community-based not-for-profit organization, is responsible for over $600 million in housing and commercial development in Harlem, and the $10 million renovation of the Abyssinian church façade and sanctuary.
1989 - Community Outreach
1989 Abyssinian was one of the first churches to respond to the call for a Harlem Week of Prayer, started to mobilize the religious community in support of people with AIDS and their families. This led to the development of Abyssinian’s own HIV/AIDs ministry.
1990 - Taking To The Streets
1990 Reverend Butts led an effective, nationally acclaimed campaign to eliminate negative billboard advertising in Central Harlem and other New York City communities. The local billboard whitewashing initiative helped further sensitize the country to the evils of alcohol and drug abuse and exploitive advertising.
1993 - R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
1993 Dr. Butts waged a campaign against negative lyrics and images in the recording industry, specifically in rap music, bringing national attention to the repercussions of negative messages on our youth.
1993 - Landmark Status
1993 New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Abyssinian Baptist Church an official city landmark.
1993 - Education And Faith
1993 ADC opened the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, the first new high school built in New York City in more than 50 years.
1995 - The Preacher’s Wife

1995 Rev. Butts served as a consultant to actor Courtney B. Vance in his role as Rev. Henry Biggs in The Preacher’s Wife, a remake of the 1947 film, The Bishop’s Wife. The movie, which starred Vance, Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, was released in 1996.

2000 - Academia Calls
2000 Dr. Butts was named president of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury.
2001 - Saluting Fallen Heroes
2001 On September 23, 2001, Rev. Butts offered reflections at “A Prayer for America,” an interfaith service at Yankee Stadium in honor of the missing and dead from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. About 20,000 people attended the event.
2004 - Teach The Children
2004 The Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School, a public elementary school that serves students in grades K-5, was established. It opened in September 2005.
2006 - Miracle on 138th Street
2006 National Basketball Association players, including Los Angeles Lakers’ player Kobe Bryant, launch “Miracle on 138th Street,” a holiday food distribution event at Abyssinian.
2007 - A Pilgrimage To Ethiopia
2007 Pastor Butts and more than 150 congregants traveled to Ethiopia, re-connecting with the country that inspired Abyssinian’s name, as part of the church’s 18-month bicentennial celebration.
2008 - Abyssinian 200
2008 Abyssinian celebrated its 200-year anniversary. Anniversary events included special worship services, an original theme song composed by Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, an exhibition at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, commissioned art work, galas, a musical CD, and Wynton Marsalis’s “Abyssinian..Read More
2009 - The Aby Fund
2009 The Abyssinian Fund, or Aby Fund, was established. The Aby Fund is committed to reducing poverty in Ethiopia by partnering with farming communities, providing training and equipment to help them produce high quality coffee. Keeping the Faith Under Dr. Butts’ spiritual leadership, Abyssinian continues a..Read More
2009 - Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/Aids
2009 Under President Barack Obama, Rev. Butts is named as a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/Aids (PACHA). He serves from 2009-2016.
2012 - History in the Making

2012 Reverend Calvin O. Butts, III was a featured speaker at the groundbreaking of the Smithsonian Institution’s newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Speaking of its legacy and importance, he says the museum will be a “tangible manifestation of Dr. King’s dream.”

2013 - Still Standing Strong
2013 Abyssinian celebrated its 205th Anniversary. Events included “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration,” a reprisal of Wynton Marsalis’ “Abyssinian Mass.” Commissioned to commemorate the church’s 200th Anniversary in 2008, the piece was performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra during a U.S. tour and at..Read More
2014 - Looking Back, Moving Ahead
2014 Abyssinian celebrated Black History Month with a special book signing to mark the release of Witness: Two Hundred Years of African-American Faith and Practice at the Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem, New York. Witness is a detailed history of the church beginning with its..Read More
2014 - Westward, Ho!
2014 “And thou shalt spread abroad to the West” – Genesis 28:14 Abyssinian embarked on an expansion plan to build a $12 million, five-story education and community center. AbyssinianWEST was launched with “3.0 in 24 Mo,” an inaugural funding campaign to raise $3 million in 24..Read More
2015 - AbyssinianWEST Moves Forward
2015 Abyssinian broke ground on the AbyssinianWEST project. Following the initial appeal of a “3.0 in 24 Mo” funding campaign, more than 40% of the church’s membership responded to the plea to make a supporting pledge to raise $3 million in 24 months to begin..Read More
2016 - National Museum of African American History and Culture
2016 Reverend Calvin O. Butts, III spoke at the at the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is located near the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
2018 - 210th Anniversary celebration
2018 Abyssinian member Cicely Tyson was the guest speaker for Women’s Day.
2020 - Facing a Global Health Pandemic
2020 As a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) global health pandemic, Abyssinian closed to the public and halted in-person attendance. Church Service was conducted as “Virtual” streaming on the internet.
2020 - New York State Vaccine Equity Task Force
2020 Abyssinian Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, was named a member of the New York State Vaccine Equity Task Force, which worked to break down barriers to vaccination and ensure an equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine across the state. [include as part of COVID initiatives]. He was also named co-chair of Choose Healthy Life, a collaboration of Black churches working to fight against COVID-19.
2020 - President Emeritus of the State University of New York at Old Westbury

2020 Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, retired as President and was appointed President Emeritus of the State University of New York at Old Westbury, in recognition of his 20 years of distinguished service to the college.His leadership reinvigorated the Long Island campus, leading to the college’s largest enrollment ever, the addition of full-time faculty, and the expansion of student support services. The school also earned new accreditations and created its first-ever graduate programs during his presidency. He oversaw the college’s investment of approximately $200 million in capital projects. During his tenure, SUNY at Old Westbury received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine for 2018, 2019, and 2020.

2021 - On the Front Lines

2021 On January 17, 2021, Abyssinian became the first church in New York to collaborate with the New York State government to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine onsite. Through the “Vaccinate New York” initiative, the church distributed 500 doses of vaccine over two days to eligible New Yorkers. [see whether we can use some of the photos Mikell took during the 1/17 event]The church continued to serve as a COVID-19 vaccination and testing site during the pandemic. Abyssinian partnered with local and national health initiatives to offer regular COVID-19 testing, and during the year dispensed almost 14,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots. We also distributed hand sanitizer and 10,000 face shields to our church and community members.

2021 - Memorial Sloan Kettering Vaccination Clinic

2021 First Lady Jill Biden and the President Joseph Biden’s Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, visited the Memorial Sloan Kettering Vaccination Clinic at Abyssinian.Throughout the pandemic, church members, including eligible youth, and people within and outside of the Harlem community, as well as those visiting New York from around the world, came to Abyssinian to get vaccinated!

2021 - Cicely Tyson
2021 Abyssinian mourned the passing of long-time member, actress Cicely Tyson. Shortly before her passing, Ms. Tyson taped an interview with television personality Gayle King at the church.
2021 - Fordam University Graduate School of Education
2021 Reverend Calvin O. Butts III, D.Min., joined the faculty of the Fordam University Graduate School of Education as a distinguished visiting professor in the Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy Division (ELAP). Starting in the spring 2022 semester, Rev. Butts will teach in the ELAP division, and will support programs in the GSE’s Center for Catholic School Leadership and Faith-Based Education.
2022 - Remembering André Leon Talley
2022 Abyssinian mourns the passing of longtime member and fashion industry icon, André Leon Talley on January 18, 2022. Mr. Talley’s memorial service was held at the church on April 29, 2022.
2022 - Golden Anniversary
2022 Rev. Dr. Calvin O.  Butts, III celebrates 50 years at Abyssinian.
2022 - Rev. Butts Receives Honorary Doctorate

2022 Rev. Butts served as the commencement speaker for the Class of 2022 at Fordham University’s 177th Commencement where he was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Divinity.As an adjunct professor at Fordham, Dr. Butts taught a course in Black church history. In the spring, he joined Fordham’s Graduate School of Education as a distinguished visiting professor in support of the Center for Catholic School Leadership and Faith-Based Education.

2022 - Upon This Rock

2022 Abyssinian celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the current church building on 138th Street/Odell Clark Place in Harlem in July 1922.In 1922, an estimated 25,000 Abyssinians, friends, and well-wishers gathered for the momentous occasion. Masons of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, New York State and Boyer Lodge #1 were given the honor of presiding over the ceremony.

Construction of the new church and Community House was completed within 14 months of beginning the work.

2022 - In Memoriam
2022 Pastor. Mentor. Truth-teller. Warrior: Abyssinian Baptist Church mourns the passing of our beloved and visionary pastor, the Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, on October 28, 2022. Read More
2023 - 100th anniversary of church edifice
2023 June 17 marked the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the current church edifice and former community house. The space formerly known as the community house houses administrative offices, rehearsal space, the nursery and credit union as well as the former church dining hall.