We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

St. Peter's Church

Faith in Action for 250 Years

Cornelia Frances Biddle

Publication Year: 2011

Celebrating 250 years, St. Peter's Episcopal Church in the Society Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, has witnessed a rich mixture of people and events that reflect critical periods of American political and cultural history. George Washington worshiped here as did abolitionists and slave holders, Whigs, Democrats, and Republicans. St. Peter's was a point of first contact for thousands of immigrants, and the church opened schools for immigrants to help them to acculturate to life in Philadelphia.

Opening a window onto colonial Philadelphia and the nation's histories, St. Peter's Church is a glorious testament to this National Historic Landmark. In addition to the stories and hundreds of black-and-white and color photographs, this handsome volume provides a history of the grounds, the churchyard, and the church itself-a classic example of eighteenth-century Philadelphia design that later incorporated the work of renown architects William Strickland, Thomas U. Walter, and Frank Furness.

Published by: Temple University Press

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (417.0 KB)

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (942.2 KB)
pp. ix

“Who do you say that I am?” is the question Jesus asks his disciples (Matt. 16:13–19). We hear this particular passage of Scripture each year on our patronal feast day, the Confession of Peter, and we recognize that Jesus asks this question of each of us: “Who do you say that I am?” Each of us is invited to consider our own response and confession, and we are well advised to consider this not once ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (221.5 KB)
pp. xiii

à is book grew out of plans for the 250th anniversary of St. Peter’s Church and a strong desire to tell the little-known stories about the church, especially from the years since the colonial period. We wanted to explore the many ways in which the members have ministered to the surrounding community and have sustained it through changing times. It is our hope that by learning of the church’s rich past, ...

Part One: 1761-1836

read more

Chapter 1: Let the Building Speak

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.4 MB)
pp. 5-35

To enter St. Peter’s Church at the corner of à ird and Pine Streets in Philadelphia is to step into the story of a congregational continuum in an architectural constant. à rough 250 years of American history, from the time Pennsylvania was a proprietary colony, people have worshipped God, ministered to the surrounding community ...

read more

Chapter 2: The Sacred Cause of Liberty

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.0 MB)
pp. 37-63

A close look at the situation of the Anglican Church leading up to and during the American Revolution shows the complexity of individual decision-making needed at that time. For the ten years aft er 1765, the situation became only more difficult, as the move to independence from Britain evolved. Members of the ...

Part Two: 1836–1865

read more

Chapter 3: The Churches Disunited

pdf iconDownload PDF (1008.8 KB)
pp. 67-72

In the years aft er 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 the westward movement of church members in the city and the increasing ...

read more

Chapter 4: The Building Evolves

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.0 MB)
pp. 73-86

By 1842, St. Peter’s Church had evolved as an institution.   e independence of the church, so dearly desired in 1758, had taken more than seventy years to achieve, and now a new generation was looking forward. Many members of the congregation saw the Oxford movement’s call to return to the rituals of early ...

read more

Chapter 5: The Industrial City: 1836–1845

pdf iconDownload PDF (865.5 KB)
pp. 87-94

During the years 1836–1845, the Industrial Revolution continued to blaze across Philadelphia. Manufacturing replaced trade as the focus of the city’s commerce. à e metamorphosis from the “Athens of America” into the hurly-burly world of mills and factories affected not only the physical appearance of the metropolis but also the emotional character of its residents. ...

read more

Chapter 6: St. Peter’s and the Oxford Movement

pdf iconDownload PDF (831.7 KB)
pp. 95-98

When the 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 eighteenth-century origins. In fact, the cross was approved only when the rector, Dr. William Odenheimer, cast the deciding vote in the vestry. ...

read more

Chapter 7: Civil War Divides the City

pdf iconDownload PDF (635.7 KB)
pp. 99-103

By the mid-1800s Philadelphia’s long history of commerce and industry had created intricate personal and professional ties to the Southern states. Marriages between Philadelphians, Virginians, and Carolinians created extended families in North and South.   e city’s textile mills depended on Southern cotton, which was shipped north, woven into “cottonade” (an exceptionally sturdy fabric), and resold ...

Part Three: 1865-1911

read more

Chapter 8: St. Peter’s Reaches Out

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.4 MB)
pp. 107-118

What had been cow pastures and ponds in the middle of the eighteenth century was, by the middle of the nineteenth, a crowded and gritty commercial and industrial neighborhood. In twenty-first century terms, the area that St. Peter’s served—Society Hill and Queen Village—was also demographically “diverse,” and ...

read more

Chapter 9: From a Side Pew

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.4 MB)
pp. 119-128

... Having come from three generations of ministers, I knew the agony and eff ort that a weekly sermon required—but I also felt I had done my part in listening to my family’s eff orts. In any event, I discovered that during the fi ft een minutes of Wendel (Tad) Meyer’s typically beautifully constructed but soft ly spoken sermons, I could organize my own ...

read more

Chapter 10: The Jewish Mission

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.0 MB)
pp. 129-135

... It was the worst time in Russia for the Jews, but not the fi rst time they felt the need to emigrate. Between 1881 and 1914, some 50,000 or more of Russia’s Jews left every year, for an estimated total of 2.5 million Jews.   ousands fl ooded into Philadelphia, primarily to the area surrounding St. Peter’s, especially along South Street. By 1889, the weekly Presbyterian was reporting: ...

Part Four: 1911 to the Present

read more

Chapter 11: “No Longer a Wealthy Parish”

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.7 MB)
pp. 139-150

Edward Miller Jefferys’s first years as St. Peter’s rector were ones of steady growth in membership, income, and outreach to the neighborhood. à is initial success was probably gratifying to Jefferys, who had not been the vestry’s first choice to succeed Richard H. Nelson when the latter was called as ...

read more

Chapter 12: The Choir School

pdf iconDownload PDF (3.1 MB)
pp. 151-166

From St. Peter’s earliest days, a choir has been an essential part of the church’s cultural and religious life. In the nineteenth century, the parish also instituted formal education. With the creation of St. Peter’s Choir School for Boys in 1903, music and schooling became intricately intertwined, and remained that way for close to six ...

read more

Chapter 13: 1950–1962

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.6 MB)
pp. 167-188

In the years shortly before and aft er St. Peter’s 200th anniversary in 1961, the clergy and parishioners of the church began the process that has resulted in its transformation from a parish whose survival was in jeopardy to the healthy community that exists today—one with leaders willing to take risks and members who welcome diversity. ...

read more

Chapter 14: The ’70s and Beyond

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.4 MB)
pp. 189-199

West of Second Street in Philadelphia, between Catharine and Queen Streets, is a stretch of green space called Mario Lanza Park. It hasn’t always been a park. From 1822 to 1908, the space was occupied by Trinity Episcopal Church, Southwark. For years, a large congregation of prosperous neighborhood residents gathered ...

Part Five: The People of St. Peter’s

read more

Chapter 15: The Churchyard

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.0 MB)
pp. 203-216

“Peter” means rock, of course, but the land that the Penn family donated in 1757 for Philadelphia’s second Anglican church was originally swampy, with a duck pond that drained into the Delaware River via a tributary of Dock Creek. At first the yard was surrounded by a wooden fence so nearby residents ...

read more

Chapter 16: The Rectors of St. Peter’s Church

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.6 MB)
pp. 217-230

à ere have been twenty rectors of St. Peter’s Church since September 4, 1761. Eight were native Philadelphians. Five were sons of priests. Two had brothers who were priests. William White served the longest, at fifty-seven years. William H. Vibbert served the shortest term, slightly more than a year. Five rectors served in the military, three as chaplains, and three participated in the Battle of Okinawa. ...

read more

Chapter 17: Members of the Congregation

pdf iconDownload PDF (526.2 KB)
pp. 231-236

Hundreds of thousands have entered St. Peter’s Church over 250 years. Besides those mentioned in the discussion of the churchyard in Chapter 15, congregants who have left a mark include the following. ...

read more

Chapter 18: “A House of Prayer for All People”

pdf iconDownload PDF (1019.4 KB)
pp. 237-240

à ere is a good chance that William White would not recognize St. Peter’s immediately if he came face to face with it today. When the saintly bishop died on July 17, 1836, what he called his “other church,” in contrast to Christ Church, had no tower and no spire crowned with a gilt cross. à e tower, spire, and cross came in 1842. While the first two appear to have been part of ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (789.8 KB)
pp. 241-246


pdf iconDownload PDF (555.5 KB)
pp. 247-254

About the Authors

pdf iconDownload PDF (272.4 KB)

E-ISBN-13: 9781439907979
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439907962

Page Count: 254
Publication Year: 2011