My brothers and sisters, I am writing about the pilgrimage one church at a time. I do so to remain current (albeit a few months behind) with the pilgrimage. This week we are sharing Holy Apostles and the Mediator. The Come and See pilgrimage continues with visits to our congregations in the heart of Philadelphia. West Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, and near City Line Avenue. Our churches (Holy Apostles, St. Mary's and St. Thomas) are integral to our diocese and important to the people seeking Christ. I see the joy in their faces and the hope they espouse.
Each day that I am in our Diocese, I cannot believe how fortunate I am to be in this place and at this time. Over time, you will hear me saying that I pray that my Episcopacy will be formed around prayer, proclamation, and peace. The churches visited are proclaiming the good news of our Lord, and I can feel the Kingdom surrounding these places of worship. I also want to reiterate that I carry with me the qualities desired when you were seeking a new Bishop. One of the desires was “to grow through building up existing parishes and ministries and starting new ones.” Throughout this pilgrimage, I have heard of the desire to grow through empowering our congregations. As I have said - my vision is your vision. We will work to enable the congregations to envision, grow and spread the Gospel.
I began the day with my dear friend Fr. Martini Shaw picking me up outside the diocesan offices. Fr. Martini is a kind, intelligent and faithful servant of the Lord. I met him during the candidate's retreat during the Bishop’s search. He has a quick wit and welcoming smile. I knew he was a Pastor from the first time we were introduced. I am continually amazed at how he can seamlessly move between the business community, halls of political power, the working community and the church. He cares about people of different races, backgrounds, beliefs and economic conditions. More importantly, he is a man who knows Jesus Christ. He is faithful, loving and I am blessed to serve with him.
On our way to Holy Apostles, we discussed the importance of their ministry in West Philadelphia. Holy Apostles is leading the way for the mission, outreach and the hope of Jesus Christ. I describe this congregation as the scouting party leading the way for bringing the Good News to our brothers and sisters in West Philadelphia. As I walked into the sanctuary of Holy Apostles, I immediately felt a sense of warmth, love, and belonging. I looked upon this magnificent church and felt the transformative power of Jesus Christ. In the midst of homes, businesses, and families, we have the light of Christ.
Holy Apostles and the Mediator has a history of endurance. It was founded in 1868 by Fr. Phillip Brooks. There have been two prevailing ministries that guide Holy Apostles and the Mediator: (1) work with children and young people, and (2) a commitment to ministry and mission that is centered on preaching Jesus Christ.
During the 1960’s, the Rectors of Holy Apostles were the Reverend John H. Bomberger and the Reverend David Hyatt. Rev. Hyatt was a staunch supporter of civil rights and often voiced his concerns from the pulpit. He continued the tradition of active involvement in the neighborhood civic association and activity for youth.
In 1975, Reverend Stephen Billings became the 10th rector of Holy Apostles, and he served until 1993. In 1997, the Reverend Carver W. Israel became the Rector. The parish history states that it “returned to its roots of deepening each parishioner’s relationship with God through Christian Service. Father Israel was a ‘parish priest’ and sought to find in every parishioner how the Lord will do His will with a listening and discerning heart.”
The current rector is the Reverend Charles Messer. I am moved by Fr. Messer’s love for people and his love for Christ. He is the type of Priest that I would have loved to have shared parish ministry. I could see the two of us, working hand in hand, walking step by step, laughing, crying, praying. He is a caring, committed and faithful. Now we share our call in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and we are “working and sharing” parish ministry together.
The work of Holy Apostles is close to the heart of the diocesan mission. My brothers and sisters at Holy Apostles are needed to build up our beloved diocese. This sense of fellows and collaborative work is essential to our shared identity as a community of faith. It is my prayer that through action, words, support, and engagement our brothers and sisters in West Philadelphia will never feel as if they are on their own.
The people of Holy Apostles and the Mediator are trailblazers in a field that is ripe for planting and growing. Aside from Holy Apostles, the Episcopal Church does not have a presence in West Philadelphia. We need to envision ways to support and uphold their ministry. Our brothers and sisters are the anchors, missionaries, and voices for spreading the Gospel message.
Please visit Holy Apostles. The congregation is joyous, welcoming, faithful and has the heart for ministry. Each time I am at Holy Apostles, I notice that everyone has a broad smile, a warm and welcoming embrace and specific attention to Christian hospitality. The elderly interact with young children. I have seen teens come in and speak to groups at a meeting. Parishioners go out into the street and invite people into the sacred space. The structures and grounds are beautiful and well maintained.
Two areas need we need to highlight - outreach and the sacred structure. Holy Apostles can host a variety of community and diocesan activities. If you have a meeting, a community event, or a place to engage the seeker - please consider using Holy Apostles. The impact on the surrounding community and the congregation will be transformative. The physical structure and sacred spaces stand as a beacon of hope and light. From this sanctuary and grounds - ministry is occurring. A full sized basketball court provides recreational opportunities for the neighborhood and youth programs. There exists the great potential for a variety of artistic performances (the area has a strong history of music venues). Holy Apostles can accommodate a variety of needs. The congregation is ready and prepared for healthy and dynamic growth.
I am inspired each time I visit Holy Apostles. The outreach is moving, and the congregation walks the journey with the neighborhood. As with many of our congregations, the Offices of the Diocese will work to support their ministry. Our collective vision is to grow this diocese by empowering our congregations for ministry. Finally, I cannot say enough about the beauty of the sanctuary. There is a sense of reverence when you enter a sanctuary. I believe Holy Apostles rivals the great cathedrals in New York. I will argue this point with all other dioceses - we have the most beautiful places of worship. Saying that, if you have not seen the baptismal font at Holy Apostles, it is one of a kind and unlike any other in the country. Take a drive to West Philadelphia. Come in and speak to the people of this beautiful church. Spend time with Fr. Chuck, and you will experience his passion for the Gospel. You will find a beautiful, loving and spiritual community. Holy Apostles and the Mediator is growing, building and beginning the next chapter in their history. It is giving life and in the process - changing lives.
An extraordinary day at Holy Apostles. I am blessed to serve as your Bishop. I give thanks for you each day. The following churches are next on the blog schedule. The Historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, St. Mary’s Hamilton Village and Christ Church Ithan.