By Brianna McAdoo, Special to the AFRO

In 2020, Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel will celebrate its 125th year of serving as a spiritual, historical and cultural center on Howard University’s campus. 

Built between the years of 1894 and 1895, Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel has served as a pillar of truth, service and a spiritual oasis for students, faculty, staff, alumni, the greater Washington D.C. community and visitors from across the nation and throughout the world for almost 125 years. 

The chapel was constructed under the leadership of former Howard University President Jeremiah Rankin. In 1896 the chapel was dedicated and named after Andrew Rankin, President Rankin’s late brother. Rankin’s widow had donated $5,000 to the construction of the chapel.

Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel is celebrating its 125th year serving the Howard University spiritual community. (Courtesy Photo)

Throughout its existence, the Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel has had four Deans of the Chapel including Dr. Howard Thurman, Dr. Daniel Hill, Dr. Evans Crawford and Dr. Bernard Richardson who currently serves as the Dean of the Chapel. The Chapel is serviced and supported by the Chaplains, Chapel Assistants, the Chapel Ushers, Interfaith Fellows and “Friends of Rankin Chapel.” 

In a newsletter to the Howard University community, President Wayne A.I. Frederick shared that an architectural assessment of Rankin chapel took place.  Frederick explained that major monetary contributions are necessary, in order to renovate and repair the historic chapel to the extent that the university wants and needs. 

“A significant fundraising effort will be needed to complete this project,” Frederick wrote. “Our desire is to move forward with the renovation and expansion of this national landmark given its central place in Howard University history and those chapters yet to be written.”

Rankin Chapel is a non-denominational chapel that has welcomed prolific people throughout history to the pulpit including Howard’s very first Black President Dr. Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Eleanor Roosevelt, Desmond Tutu, Vernon Johns and Mary McLeod Bethune. For over a century, many people have been able to find a spiritual haven in the 90-foot long building that offers an array of worship, ranging from their Jummah Prayer Series to their Sunday Chapel Service. 

“As a member of the Howard Gospel Choir, the chapel became my second home,” Samiyah Muhammad, a current student at Howard University shared. “Rehearsals in the Chapel became my place of refuge and release from the stressors of college life, and I am grateful to know I always had a place where I could find peace of mind.” 

Their Sunday Speaker Series is one of a kind.  Every Sunday a new sermon is delivered by a different speaker, who range from clergy, to civil leaders, ambassadors and the president of the Howard University himself. 

“Andrew Rankin Chapel is the easiest way for me to stay connected not only spiritually, but also politically. Being that every Sunday there is a new speaker and it’s situated in the capital, Rankin creates somewhat of a breeding ground of different forms of Christianity, while bringing in notable speakers with different sets of social beliefs,” said Howard student, Kennedy Jennings. 

“The chapel itself feels like nothing short of home, and seeing the families within the community that come out allows for it to be a pivotal part of history by linking us all by experience and spirituality.”

President Frederick also emphasized the importance of Rankin to Howard history and the community at large.

 “For more than a century, Rankin Chapel has served as the locus of spirituality for generations of Howard students, faculty and staff and has been a consistent haven for all marking different seasons of life,” he said.  “Within its walls, students have been inspired and provoked to manifest heavenly values here on earth. Sacred vows have been exchanged at the altar to celebrate love and marriage. Generations of families have been comforted in its pews even as they grieved loss.”

Frederick is hopeful for Rankin’s future.

“We look to the future of Rankin Chapel with great anticipation, knowing that a thriving chapel advances a dynamic University and strong community,” the 17th Howard University said. “In the words of Dr. Howard Thurman, ‘community cannot feed for long on itself; it can only flourish where always the boundaries are giving way to the coming of others from beyond them — unknown and undiscovered brothers.’  With open hands and open hearts, we begin to press beyond old boundaries to build an even stronger community in our time with Rankin Chapel leading the way.”