The year of our Lord 2018 is the 68th year of this congregation’s ministry in Penn Wynne. It is the 50th anniversary of our becoming an independent, self-sustaining parish. Inspired by this and leading up to our celebration in October, I am going to use the “Note from the Rector” to highlight some of our history and the history of some of the furniture and sacred articles that fill our beloved worship space.
Church of the Holy Apostles was founded in 1950 as the Chapel of the Holy Apostles. The parish that established this chapel and sustained it for 18 years was Church of the Holy Apostles and Mediator in West Philadelphia. So I will start with the founding of our mother church.
In 1867, neighborhoods in southwest Philadelphia were growing as soldiers were returning from fighting in the Civil War. The Rev. Samuel Appleton, the rector of Church of the Mediator, and the Rev. Phillips Brooks, the rector of Trinity Church, Rittenhouse Square met with several others to explore the possibility of founding a new church to meet the needs of this growing part of the city. Phillips Brooks was one of the Episcopal church’s greatest pastors and preachers (and an alumni of Virginia Theological Seminary, my own alma mater). Earlier in 1867 he had written the hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for his congregation. Now he turned his considerable energy to founding a new parish. He enlisted the help of the investment banker, Mr. George C. Thomas, who was a vestry member and deeply involved in the Sunday School at Trinity, Rittenhouse. His name will appear prominently in the intertwined stories of Holy Apostles and her chapels, including what has become our beloved parish.
In early 1868, the fledgling congregation began meeting at a Presbyterian church, while work began on a church building of their own at the corner of 21st and Christian Streets. Reticent and first to leave Trinity, George C. Thomas quickly became the driving force of the new church. He began work on a Sunday School. On the first Sunday, the Sunday School was attended by 37 children. Under Thomas’s leadership, Church of the Holy Apostles Sunday School grew to be the largest in the diocese, and one of the largest in the entire country. At its peak before World War I, the Holy Apostles Sunday School averaged 1,500 students a Sunday. Shortly after the Sunday School began, the vestry called the Rev. Dr. Charles D. Cooper to be their rector. Cooper was Phillips Brooks’s best friend (more on him and his significance to our congregation next week). The original frame building was completed in October of 1868. Within two years, a new stone building was built, with a large contribution from George Thomas, and the Sunday School used the frame building, which they quickly outgrew. A new Sunday School building was finished in 1873. The neighborhood was struck with financial difficulty beginning around 1876, and the church suffered financially as well. The building projects had incurred some debt which the congregation did not pay off until 1882, when the Church of the Holy Apostles was consecrated.
More to come next week!