An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Rainsford, William Stephen

(Oct. 30, 1850-Dec. 17, 1933). Priest and social reformer. He was born near Dublin, Ireland. Rainsford received his B.A. from St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1872. He was ordained deacon on Dec. 21, 1873, and priest on Dec. 20, 1874. He began his ministry at St. Giles's Church, Norwich, and came to the United States in 1876. He was a mission preacher in America for two years. Rainsford was assistant rector at St. James' Cathedral, Toronto, 1878-1882. In Jan. 1883 he became the rector of St. George's Church, Stuyvesant Square, New York. He reorganized St. George's as a free church with no pew rents. Rainsford turned it into an “institutional church,” that is, an urban church organized to provide not only worship and Christian education but a full program of social services. Under his leadership, St. George's was turned “into a giant hive of activity.” Rainsford was an active social reformer and a defender of the rights of labor. He even permitted dancing in the parish house. After several physical breakdowns, he resigned from the parish in 1906. On May 3, 1912, he was deposed from the priesthood at his own request. Rainsford was a part of the broad church movement, sharing its liberal theology and commitment to social action. He described his ministry in The Story of a Varied Life: An Autobiography (1922). Rainsford died in New York City.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.