Archived Page: 175 Anniversary
Celebrate the Journey 1827-2002
Third Presbyterian Church
Celebrates 175 Years of Ministry
Dr. Richard D. Harlan (1894-1901)  

Dr. Harlan After the retirement of Dr. George Patton, there was an interval of nearly a year with pulpit supplies. Thus when Dr. Richard Davenport Harlan of Washington, DC, preached in the morning service on April 8, 1894, the session was so impressed with his ability that, without waiting fort the evening service, they called a congregational meeting for ten days later to invite him to be the pastor.

Though only 35 years of age, he was a man of impressive credentials. The son of John Marshall Harlan, a 34-year old associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, Dr. Harlan's nephew later became the Chief Justice of the court. His sister was a social secretary of Mrs. Harding and Mrs. Coolidge in the White House. Dr. Harlan was valedictorian of his class at Princeton University and a graduate of Princeton Seminary. Ordained in 1886, he served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in New York City, leaving that position after four years to study at the University of Berlin. While still at the church, he married a wealthy and aristocratic widow from Geneva, NY. A large man, 6 feet, 6 inches tall, he had correspondingly large ideas. It was said of him that "he was never unconscious of his superior origin and carried himself accordingly." The fact that his wife did not join the church until late in his ministry and sometimes waited, elegantly clothed, outside midweek prayer meeting to go off with him to social occasions, did not help his rapport with the church.

Until his arrival, the order of worship had been somewhat spare and simple, so his wearing of a black Geneva gown, use of an order of worship printed in two colors containing the Apostles' Creed, and other parts of worship in Latin, such as Nunc Dimittis, Gloria Patri, and Venite, did not find favor with many members. Had he introduced these changes gradually with appropriate teaching, everyone would have been happier.

Having been raised with wealth, he was generous to the church, providing the triple-width oak pulpit and carved communion table which were in use until 1952, as well as the carved wooden offering plates. He also purchased for the church the Meigs Street frontage which enabled the building of the 1910 parish house. Unfortunately he was absent-minded, forgetting dinner engagements, introducing himself repeatedly to the same people, and neglecting to follow through on plans. However, he had great imagination and enthusiasm, a great heart, and a loveable personality. As a pastor he was loved.

Convinced that he needed an assistant to help him in his work, he paid part of the salary of the first assistant pastor in the church. In 1898 he hired Charles Granville Sewall, a recent graduate of Union Seminary, was hired. He was "small in stature, fair, soft-voiced, precise, a model of correctness, tact and restraint, but genuine and earnest."

In 1901 to the relief of many, Dr. Harlan accepted the presidency of Lake Forest College, a Presbyterian college near Chicago. After six years he went to Washington to take charge of an early movement to establish George Washington University, which unfortunately was not a success at the time. He had not been provident in his use of money, and in the later years of his life, he held a minor government post in Montreal, where his wife conducted a stenography school. They died three days apart in 1931 and were buried in the family plot in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, DC.  


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