FAITH IN ACTION FOR 250 YEARS

A WALK THROUGH HISTORY

1800 The federal capital moves to Washington.

1806 Osage orange trees are planted in the churchyard from cuttings acquired during the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

1807 The Blackwell House (present St. Peter’s House) is completed for the Rev. Robert Blackwell, assistant rector of the United Churches.

1809 St. James at Seventh and Market Streets becomes the third of the United Churches until 1828.

1814 The first Sunday School is established by the United Churches at Commissioners’ Hall in Northern Liberties led by the Revs. Jackson Kemper and James Milnor.

1816 The Female Sunday School Society begins at St. Peter’s in March; later a boys’ division is established, both are taught in the pews of the church.

1820 The vestry room is built on the west end of the church.

1821 The General Convention meets at St. Peter’s (also in 1823, 1826, 1835 and 1838).

1825 The Ladies Missionary Aid Society is founded May 24 as the Education Society of St. Peter’s Church.

1826 First vote on separation of the churches fails (Oct. 30).

1832 A building at 319 Lombard St. is purchased for Sunday School classes; it was on the site of the 1870 school building – the present St. Peter’s School.

1832 The United Churches separate; Bishop White remains rector of both churches until his death in 1836. William H. DeLancey, provost of the University of Pennsylvania, accepts post of assistant minister to succeed Bishop White as rector of St. Peter’s when the latter dies; formally elected 1833.

1834 Bishop White founds the parish day school.

1835 The Rev. Jackson Kemper is consecrated first missionary bishop of the church on Sept. 25. Bishop White presented Bishop Kemper with the Episcopal chair given to him in 1787, which now sits in All Saints Cathedral in Milwaukee.

 

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The New Century

Except for clothing styles, 1858 Philadelphia looks much as it did in 1761.

In the years after the American Revolution and the establishment of the Episcopal Church, the United Churches of Christ Church and St. Peter’s continued under the leadership of Bishop William White. In 1809 with increasing demand and the westward movement of members in the city, a new church, St. James, was opened on Seventh above Market Street, joining the two other churches under the direction of one vestry and White. But the inevitability of changing times and an aging rector strained the relationship.

Reading the vestry minutes of the United Churches in the last half of the 1820s, it isn’t difficult to see why they chose to go their separate ways. Deborah Gough, author of Christ Church, Philadelphia, explores the situation in detail and believes that a complex set of problems brought about the separation of the three churches, starting in the 1820s. There was the declining population in the area around the first two churches as people moved to the west and other churches opened. There was also the increasingly bitter theological divide between evangelical Episcopalians and the traditionalists that began at St. Paul’s on Third Street and spread throughout the diocese, affecting the long-held moderate approach of the United Churches.

But perhaps the most insidious problem was systemic. White had turned 70 in 1818, and while he remained active, he was nonetheless overextended and overworked. Three churches would be enough for anyone, but he was head of the diocese and presiding bishop of the national church as well, and traveled widely to open parishes and consecrate bishops. Frequently, the vestry minutes suggested that White should reduce his duties (he tried to visit all three churches regularly and preside at all funerals) and give more responsibility to his assistants, including the elderly James Abercrombie.

The assistants were used as Sunday school teachers and preachers, and were not asked to take on duties such as regular visits to parish families or ministering to the sick.

White was also set in his ways, and those ways had been set in Colonial America. The three churches remained theologically and liturgically in the England following the Restoration, while the rest of the diocese and large portions of the American church had moved on. Preaching and worship remained the chief endeavor of the ministers of the United Churches, whereas many growing congregations began working among the poor and destitute, caring for bodies as well as their souls.

The more activist and evangelical Episcopal churches thrived, while the financial health of the United Churches suffered, as reflected in the large numbers of empty, unrented pews. Gough notes that “the number of pews rented at Christ Church decreased from 816 in 1813 to 666 in 1820 to 497 in 1828.”

The growing divide between the evangelicals and the traditionalism of Bishop White is reflected in the controversy over the election of an assistant bishop, to become bishop after White’s death. According to the biographer of Dr. Jackson Kemper, assistant minister and later missionary bishop, the controversy “convulsed the diocese of Pennsylvania and its convention in the years 1826 and 1827, and in fact, sounded the tocsin of party spirit throughout the church at large. The strife began with the nomination of William Meade, a partisan low-churchman of Virginia; and something in that name and the propaganda of its adherents made it distasteful to Kemper for the remainder of his days.

Forward       In the beginning

The 18th Century

The 19th Century

The 20th Century

The People of St. Peter's

The Choir

Mission and Outreach

Did You Know?

The Next 250 Years

The Hero of Tripoli

The Book