“Paul was devoted to a Person not to a cause. He was absolutely Jesus Christ’s, he was nothing else, he lived for nothing else. ‘For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.’” Oswald Chambers. My Utmost for His Highest.
Is the church dying? Not in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. Each place that I visit, there is energy to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. There is an abundance of faithfulness. A willingness to move beyond the past and build the Kingdom. No other message matters but the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It is real, it is alive, it is our call. Our priests, deacons, and laity, are asking the question: “what is God calling us to do in the world?”
This path in our pilgrimage was the Pennyback Deanery, and I was accompanied by Dean Jon Clodfelter. One thing you can say about our beloved Dean - he can maneuver the streets of Philadelphia with skill and precision that would make stunt drivers jealous.
I was running late from meetings at Diocesan House and had Linda Hollingsworth call my friends at Trinity and let them know I behind schedule. For those of you that know me, I attempt never to be tardy, and I will always call if late. The bit of stress was assuaged by the fact that I was going to visit with my friend and faithful Priest Rick Datos Robyn.
I first met Fr. Rick during the walkabouts. He is a gifted Priest, and I was immediately impressed by his kindness and devotion. As I entered the drive into the church, I was met by a group of smiling members of the church. I jumped out of the car and noticed that it would help if I turned off the motor Once we stopped the engine, we toured the cemetery, and I received a fascinating and detailed history of Trinity Oxford.
The church is one of the oldest churches in the country. A marble stone in the west wall of the Church states that Church of England services was first held in1698 in a log meeting house that had belonged to the Oxford Society of Friends. A solid silver communion chalice was presented by Queen Anne of England in 1713.
After Independence, Trinity played a role in the new Protestant Episcopal Church. In 1784 Mr. Benjamin Cottman represented Trinity at a meeting with the Rev. William White to organize the Diocese of Pennsylvania. Trinity was admitted into Convention in 1786. Buried in the courtyard is the former rector Rev. Edward Buchanan (brother of President James Buchanan).
Frank Furness designed additions to the Church, and the interior was decorated with Tiffany windows and elaborately carved woodwork. The old stone wall bordering the cemetery has an old lift for people to enter into the carriages. There is also a local legend that a Native American Chief and his horse are buried beneath the stone monument pictured above.
As one of the oldest churches in the United States, there is a sense of centering reverence felt upon entering the church. I reflected on the generations of prayers that imbue the walls. The marriages, the morning prayers, the baptisms all the hope contained within the sacred walls. It is the beauty of our faith tradition that causes our collective hearts to skip a beat. We are a people based in Jesus Christ, gifted with the sacred poetry of the Book of Common Prayer. Upon entering and departing from this holy sanctuary, I reflected on our blessings. We are truly fortunate to belong to this communion of believers.
Trinity renovated the office space and it is stunning. All are welcome to stop by for a tour. The office space reflects the openness of the congregation. The leadership of Trinity has been conscious of the need to be innovative. Thus, they are reviewing various paths for growth that will allow their ministry to grow and thrive in Oxford.
The redevelopment committee has also completed its search for a suitable tenant and developer of the 6901 Rising Sun Avenue property. The Vestry has decided to pursue necessary rezoning to further develop the site and provide long-term security for the church.
The congregation of Trinity is energized and are “thinking outside of the box.” They are willing to work hard and to take a chance. The congregation is always trusting in Jesus Christ. If you love history, you will love Trinity Oxford. Take the short ride up to Trinity and simply be present. You will find a beautiful sanctuary and moving liturgy. I encourage you to come and see. Visit Trinity Oxford at http://www.tcophilly.org
ALL SAINTS RHAWNHURST
Fr. Jon and I (he was once again parked on the wrong side of the street) took the supposedly short ride to All Saints. I say short ride because he kept looking at his GPS and not the road. What is particularly distressing is that he kept saying “it is close.” However, the steeple of Trinity Oxford kept appearing. I had the distinct feeling that we were going around in circles. In fact - we were. I gently removed the phone from his hand and skillfully navigated toward All Saints.
When we arrived, we were greeted by Fr. Tim Griffin and the Senior Warden. We learned of the extensive renovations undertaken at All Saints. The congregation has worked to repair the roof, the surrounding grounds, and the sanctuary. I was impressed by the concern for the appearance and cleanliness of the worship space. I Fr. Tim greeted us with his broad and welcoming smile, and we toured the facility. I learned that All Saints was a merger between Ascension Rhawnhurst and All Saints Moyamensing on June 1, 1949.
The stained glass window behind the altar, is referred to as the Bishop White Window in memory of the first Bishop of the Diocese of PA., This window was acquired from St. James Church at 22nd and Walnut when the church was demolished. Because of the size of the window, only the center portion was installed. At a later date, the rest of the window was installed in the rear of the church.
All Saints is engaged in active children’s ministries and has worked to create a community for members of the church. They were busily preparing for their annual Liberian Dinner Night. While I could not attend, I am positive that the evening was filled with laughter, hope and a sense of community. I am proud of the work of All Saints. The diocese is blessed by you. Visit All Saints at: http://www.allsaintsrhawnhurst.net
MEMORIAL CHURCH OF ST. LUKE'S BUSTLETON
Fr. Jon and I followed Fr. Tim Griffin to St. Luke’s Bustleton. Fr. Tim serves two parishes: All Saints and St. Luke’s. He is a steadfast Priest who ministers faithfully among the two congregations. Fr. Time carefully prepares his sermons for each congregation. At the same time, he attends to the pastoral needs of each and all while moving between two congregations as if they were one.
He works tirelessly to assure that both congregations and fed and live into their baptismal covenant. This work is not easy, yet he is called to this ministry and has my respect and admiration. He has my prayers and the prayers of his brothers and sisters in the diocese. We are on this journey together, and I am blessed to serve with him.
St. Luke’s is a beautiful stone parish set against modern-day Philadelphia. You have a sense of ease and peace while walking the campus. It is a welcoming place; a refuge in modern day Philadelphia. People were walking down the sidewalk and waving as we toured the church grounds. I must also say I was taken by the smell of barbecue wafting in the background. I was told it was the restaurant next door and I am easily distracted by a barbecue.
We toured the office space and the sanctuary. The office has easy access and faces the bustling neighborhood. Fr. Tim pointed out the way the sunlight reflects on the altar during the Eucharist and how the stained glass has a particular hue. Fr. Tim spoke of the potential of St. Luke’s in the community and how the laity had taken charge of various aspects of ministry. They are living fully into our call to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.
One aspect of spiritual formation at St. Luke’s was the development of contemplative prayer before the Healing Eucharist. The Senior Warden arrived from work, and we were given a tour of the “store.” The store at St. Luke's is an excellent ministry. In the undercroft of the parish hall, the shop is remarkable. Any item you would like to buy; clothes, dishes, compact discs, sports equipment, etc., can be purchased. It is another example of the creativity of our parishes. It is a story worth repeating; church mission meeting the needs of the community. Please stop by the thrift store at St. Luke’s. Purchase an item and build the kingdom. Visit the Memorial Church of St. Luke's at: http://www.memorialchurchofstlukes.org
ALL SAINTS TORRESDALE
I had an enjoyable meeting with Fr. Bradley Huff, and it was also good seeing Stacey Carmody. All Saints is a shining city on the hill. It is growing into a beacon for the surrounding community. It will serve not only as a liturgical and spiritual center for the Episcopal Church; it will be a gathering place. I was impressed by the willingness to go out into the world and do those things no one thought possible.
A place for literary conversations, public discussions, music offerings and a “center for educational and intellectual enrichment.” All Saints has been a part of Philadelphia’s spiritual life for over 243 years. It is also part of my journey in that the final “walkabout” was at All Saints. I remember fondly waiting in Fr. Brad office before the last round of questions.
All Saints is a faithful congregation and strive to live into the invitation that everyone is are equally welcome at All Saints. Fr. Brad and the congregation have worked diligently to create a communal space. The Episcopal Church Women meet the 2nd Wednesday of every month. Additionally, for over 40 years, Boy Scouts Troop 252 has been a part of All Saints.
In reading the history of All Saints, the Torresdale area was a rural one initially settled by the Swedes and then later the British. Frankford Avenue was the King’s Highway or the Bristol Pike–one of the earliest toll roads in the state. One of the “toll booths” was located at the bridge over the Pennypack Creek. This bridge was built in 1697 and served as one of the toll collection points on the pike between Trenton and Front Street in Philadelphia.
The building was completed and dedicated on November 3, 1772. Included in the covenant of ground was a stipulation that the church was not to be separated from Trinity Oxford and that the Swedish minister was to preach in it every three weeks. When General Howe advanced towards Philadelphia in 1777, Dr. William Smith preached a farewell sermon at All Saints’ Church and the mission was closed until 1778, when Dr. Smith again reopened Trinity and All Saints’ with a sermon titled “Of Joy Succeeding to Sorrow.”
The Rev. Dr. Bradley S. Hauff became the 19th Rector of All Saints’ Church. In my short time in Philadelphia, I have found Rev. Huff to be deeply faithful, outgoing and willing to think creatively. Every interaction with Rev. Huff is filled with joy. I look forward to our time together in the diocese. I am still searching for the book on this history (hint. hint). As we were leaving the church, I smiled when told of the deer that live in a field adjacent to the parish. God’s creatures sense holiness, peace, and safety. I am eager to visit All Saints once again. We are scheduling a return visit soon. Visit All Saints Torresdale at: http://www.allsaintstorresdale.org
As usual, we jumped into the car and headed off. I had a night meeting and Fr. Jon was tasked to keep me on schedule. As they say in Disneyland, we jumped onto Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Fr. Jon can sure maneuver a curve and drive on the wrong side of the street. As usual, we laughed as we were going on and on about life in general. There is a knowing deep in the recesses of my being that my cup runneth over.
I am blessed to serve you as your Bishop. I cannot think of a better call. I cannot imagine a better way of serving God than through serving you. Have hope. Go and make disciples. Be courageous. Jesus is with us until the end of time. And time will never end.