FAITH IN ACTION FOR 250 YEARS

High Church, Low Church
St. Peter's cross removed for repair in 1977.

WHEN A GILT CROSS went up atop the new steeple at St. Peter’s in 1842, it was a first for an Episcopal church in the United States and represented a fairly significant change from the parish’s 18th-century origins. In fact, the cross was approved only when the rector, Dr. William Odenheimer, cast the deciding vote in the vestry.

ODENHEIMER was a “Tractarian,” a member of an Anglican movement that had begun in England but quickly spread to the United States and is today known chiefly as the Oxford Movement. Its core belief—that the Anglican Church, with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, was one of the three branches of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church—was expounded in a series of 90 pamphlets titled “Tracts for the Times,” published between 1833 and 1841.

High church bishops at Fond du Lac in 1900.

THE OXFORD MOVEMENT was triggered by a perception among some English clergy that the British government was trying to secularize the Church of England with the Reform Act of 1832. Beyond that, however, what the movement became was a reaction to liberalizing tendencies in the English church. The Oxford Movement, by contrast, emphasized the church’s “catholic” roots—stressing the lower-case C to reassure opponents that this didn’t mean Rome—and the bishops’ unbroken line of succession stretching back to the apostles.

THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND was neither Roman Catholic nor Orthodox—nor a Protestant denomination—but a separate branch with both protestant and catholic

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Robert Jenney (1687-1762), rector 1761-62. Son of the archdeacon of Waneytown in Ulster, Jenney received his B.A. from Trinity College, Dublin and was a Royal Navy chaplain 1710-14. Licensed as a catechist by the Bishop of London in 1714, he was sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts to Philadelphia that year as schoolmaster at Christ Church.  From 1715 to 1742 he served in various posts in and around New York City (rye and Hempstead) under Dr. Vesey, rector of Trinity Church Wall Street, before becoming rector of Christ Church. He favored baptism of African-Americans, beginning in New York. He also helped establish a mission to Pennsylvania’s native tribes. He died Jan. 5, 1762. Burial: Christ Church.

Richard Peters (1704-76), rector 1762-75.  Born in Liverpool, England, he was educated at Westminster School and studied law at Inner Temple.  He attended Oxford, and became a deacon in 1730 and a priest in 1731. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1735 as assistant rector of Christ Church but resigned after a dispute with the rector, Dr. Archibald Cummings, and became a vestryman. The Penn family employed him extensively. In 1762, the now-wealthy Peters was named rector of the churches.  He retired in ill health in September 1775 and died July 10, 1776. He used his fortune to leave both churches free of debt. Burial: Christ Church.

Jacob Duché (1737-98), rector 1775-78.  Born in Philadelphia, son of a former mayor, he was valedictorian of the first graduating class of the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) in 1757.  In 1759, he married Elizabeth Hopkinson, whose brother Francis was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He briefly attended Clare Hall, Cambridge, where he took holy orders, and then returned to Philadelphia in 1759 as assistant at Christ Church and professor of oratory at the college. At first serving as chaplain to the Continental Congress, he restored the prayers to the king when the British Army occupied Philadelphia in 1777-78. Duché fled the city in late 1777. In exile in England, he served as chaplain to the Asylum for Female Orphans in London.  He returned to Philadelphia in 1792 and died Jan. 3, 1798. Burial: St. Peter’s Churchyard.

William White (1748-1836), rector of the United Churches, 1779-1836, first bishop of Pennsylvania (1787-1836) and presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church (1795-1836). Born in Philadelphia, the son of a lawyer and surveyor, he graduated from the College of Philadelphia in 1765. Ordained in London in 1772, he became an assistant at Christ Church that year, was chaplain of the Continental Congress in 1777, and then became rector of Christ Church and St. Peter’s a few months after Duché fled to England. (Duché would attend White’s consecration in London on Feb. 4, 1787.) White presided at the first General Convention of the Church in 1785. His first ordination as bishop was that of Joseph Clarkson, a St. Peter’s parishioner, as a deacon, on May 28, 1787.  Although Christ Church and St. Peter’s became separate corporations in 1832, White remained rector of both churches until his death on July 17, 1836. Burial: Christ Church Burial Ground.

William Heathcote DeLancey (1797-1865), rector, 1836-39. Born in Mamaroneck, N.Y., he was the son a career British officer who fled to England after the Revolution but then returned. After graduating from Yale College, he studied theology under Bishop John Henry Hobart of New York. Ordained in 1822, he became a general assistant to Bishop White and was named assistant minister of the United Churches in 1823. He was elected provost of the University of Pennsylvania and professor of moral philosophy in 1828. In 1833, St. Peter’s vestry chose him to succeed White, who called him his “adopted son”; DeLancey became rector in 1836 at White’s death. In 1838, he was elected bishop of the new Diocese of Western New York. He was one of the founders of Hobart College in Geneva, N.Y. In 1861, he founded a theological seminary in Geneva, which was named DeLancey Divinity School in 1867. He died in 1865. Burial: St. Peter's Memorial Church, Geneva, N.Y. (More about DeLancey )

William H. Odenheimer (1817-79), rector 1839-59. Born in Philadelphia, he was the son of a prosperous merchant whose family came to Delaware County from Germany in the 18th century. Odenheimer attended St. Paul’s College in Flushing, N.Y., and then the University of Pennsylvania, where he gave the valedictory although he wasn’t yet 18. He graduated in 1838 from General Theological Seminary in New York, was ordained a deacon that year, and became assistant rector of St. Peter’s just as DeLancey, the rector, was elected bishop of Western New York. The vestry chose Odenheimer to succeed DeLancey, but waited until his ordination to the priesthood on Oct. 3, 1841, to elect him to the post. In 1842, he began daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as well as the celebration of Holy Communion every Sunday. Communion also was celebrated on holy days. The gilt cross on the spire was the result of his vote in the vestry. In 1859, he became bishop of New Jersey. Burial: St. Mary’s Church Cemetery, Burlington, N.J. (More about Odenheimer )

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The 18th Century

The 19th Century

The 20th Century

St. Peter's Today

The Churchyard

Church Architecture

Mission and Outreach

Did You Know?

The Next 250

The Hero of Tripoli

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