FAITH IN ACTION FOR 250 YEARS

Dr. Snyder's Ministry

  Dr. Raymond C. Snyder, who began attending St. Peter's Church at the age of eight in 1917, found his work's meaning in a Bible verse: "I have not come to call the righteous but the outcast. "

  A volunteer for Episcopal Community Services, the Upper Darby resident was asked in 1965 to help conduct church services in the city's three prisons. He spent the nearly three decades corresponding with inmates, visiting city prisons every Sunday, and making monthly trips to the state prison in Graterford.

   Retired in 1985 after 52 years as a veterinarian, Ray Snyder might have been entitled to some peace. Instead, he continued to visit, clothe, and even house the people he called "the lowest persons on the totem pole."

  He continued his work after having his energy sapped by three heart attacks and his right eye weakened by cataract surgery. Caring little about himself, he worried more that no one would take on his work when he was no longer around.

"I'm not going to last much longer," Snyder said in a 1985 interview with Daily News reporter Steve Marquez, adding that he had already arranged his cremation. "I'd like to find some church to take over. It would have to be someone who is really vitally interested in the ministry. "

  Snyder bought two houses, at his own expense, for paroled prisoners who need a place to stay while they make the adjustment from confinement to freedom. The adjoining brick rowhouses, which Snyder called Christian guest houses, were in West Philadelphia. Over the years, 50 men and 10 women lived there.

  Snyder found residents through his prison visits. The usual stay was three months, but some lived there more than a year. They were forbidden to drink alcohol, smoke, or bring visitors to the upstairs bedrooms.  He charged $4 a day in rent, but he said few residents paid it. Some skipped out, leaving debts to Snyder in the hundreds of dollars.

  "A man coming out of prison into society needs those starting blocks - shelter, food, a friendly environment," he said. "I feel that we're helping someone to a better life, that's all."


 

 

 

Neighborhood children at the turn of the 20th century gather for a photograph.  

  In the years after the Civil War ended, Ann Wharton Lewis Glen, the wealthy widow of a prominent physician, began working on her own with poor women of the neighborhood, aided by other women of the parish. The Rev. Thomas F. Davies, who became rector in 1868, got the church behind those efforts, and the first St. Peter’s House opened in 1869 at 323 Lombard St., which later became the Girls’ Guild House. In the next two years, St. Peter’s House moved to larger, more centrally located quarters on Fitzwater between Front and Second Street, and then to Third and Queen Streets.

  In 1872, a new St. Peter’s House opened at Front and Pine Streets. In terms of parish outreach, it became the jewel in the crown. There were actually two buildings: One had been rented by Bishop William White between 1773 and 1786 and was donated to St. Peter’s by George Dawson Coleman with $5,000 to cover liens and renovations. The building next door was donated by Samuel Welsh, on the condition that the parish provide for the women still being cared for by his wife (Elizabeth), Rebecca Burton, Susan Binney, Glen, the Miercken sisters and others at 323 Lombard St.

  Under Glen’s care, 100 Pine St. became a settlement house with a live-in staff, “a center of the parish work for the poor,” according to the Rev. James A. Montgomery, one of St. Peter’s curates. “The House,” as it was often called, would stay there until 1923, when operations moved because the buildings’ foundations had been undermined by rats attracted by nearby poultry plants. Over the decades, it remained the neighborhood center of Christian life, fighting the foes listed by its vicar, the Rev. Bernard Schulte: “ignorance, intemperance, gambling, idleness, lust and pauperism.”

  In a sermon preached in 1899, after 18 months as vicar, Schulte said he had been impressed by “the vast opportunity for Christian work” and “the readiness of the people to respond to positive Christian teaching.” “I have never met with a rebuff, rarely with discourtesy and generally with a hearty welcome,” he said. “Surely there is field and opportunity enough for the best work and efforts of St. Peter’s Parish,” he said.

  The list of services that 100 Pine Street provided over its 50 busy years could fill a book. A daily kindergarten, operated as part of the public school system, served 60 children. A dry-goods store, run by parish women, sold products at wholesale prices on the installment plan. The Theodore Starr Savings Bank maintained a branch, taking in deposits of $20 one week.

  Then there was the Friday Night Club for “street boys,” an organization the staff seemed particularly proud of. “The boys are noisy, dirty, and very happy,” Schulte said. “This is one of the hardest works we have, and also one of which we are growing very fond. It demands strength and patience, but like all good works, it is worth doing. We have classes in reading, spelling and drawing, when we can attract the attention of the boys sufficiently to give instruction.”

  The meeting place was the basement. “Fortunately the timbers and flooring are strong enough to endure the effect of the rough and noisy games the boys love to play,” Schulte said. “These boys are rough, but thoroughly wholesome and genuine.”

  People who needed glasses came to St. Peter’s House to visit an optician; members of the parish who were lawyers offered their services to draw up papers and help the elderly secure their pensions. Physicians held regular hours (services donated), and the seriously ill were sent to Episcopal Hospital, founded by parishioner John Welsh, where church funds paid for treatment.

The story of Andrew Weinstein and the Jewish Mission

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