The Rev. Henry Hurd Bruel has steered St. Thomas's Episcopal Church at Dupont Circle through 25 years of U.S. presidents and street people, hippies and yuppies, high teas and the homeless.
Tomorrow, Bruel preaches his last sermon as rector of the 100-year-old Episcopal parish before retiring in June. A resolution honoring Bruel is being entered into the Congressional Record by. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), and Norton and other dignitaries are expected to attend an open reception in the priest's honor after tomorrow's 10 a.m. service.
St. Thomas's parish worships in the "upper room" of the parish hall, behind the popular community garden at the corner of Church and 18th streets NW. The garden became the parish's choice as a replacement for the massive granite church that was destroyed by arsonists in the early morning hours of Aug. 24, 1970.
The Gothic building had been one of this city's churches of presidents: Franklin D. Roosevelt attended services there for many years and was a vestry member from 1918 to 1920. Harry S. Truman was photographed at Thanksgiving Day services there in 1952.
Bruel and St. Thomas's always have focused their attention on neighborhood residents. "My philosophy is that a church serves the larger community, the city, the world, whatever is out there that needs help," Breul said.
The 67-year-old priest, a graduate of Harvard University and General Theological Seminary in New York, was ordained in 1952, and served in Devon, Conn., and Topeka, Kan., before going to St. Thomas's.
When Breul, the great-great- gransdon of P.T. Barnum, came to the District in 1965, Dupont Circle was the site of racial unrest and anti-war demonstrations. One of his first and most memorable acts was to organize his own demonstration -- a Sunday morning Rogation Day Parade around the neighborhood, to signal the parish's concern and alliance to its community.
St. Thomas's soon was operating a shelter and aid station during Vietnam protests, and cooperating with a VISTA program tutoring children in their homes. Breul also was named to the D.C. Advisory Commission on Civil Rights.
Breul and his wife, Sally, who now works with AIDS victims at the Whitman-Walker Clinic, became full-time residents of Dupont Circle when they moved to the rectory at 19th and S streets in 1977. From 1979 to 1980, Breul extended his ministry to Dupont Curcle's gay community. He recalled helping staff the Gay Pride Day booth at S and 17th streets during the first Gay Pride parade.