A Note from the Rector – 11/01/2020

It’s been a difficult week for Philadelphia.  The murder of Walter Wallace, Jr. in West Philadelphia was just 11 blocks from our mother parish, Holy Apostles and the Mediator.  Subsequent violent clashes with the police, property destruction, as well as tense but mostly peaceful protests have all happened in close proximity to HAM the past few nights.  As of this writing, HAM’s property has not been damaged to my knowledge.  In one of his frequent online updates, HAM’s faithful Senior Warden, Everett Gillison, spoke about how the church opened its doors to police officers who needed a place to use the restroom and rest on Wednesday night during the hours of unrest.  I was deeply moved to hear about the witness of HAM and the Cookman Baptist Church with whom they share their buildings. 

I cannot imagine how it must feel to be living in that community right now.  It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to be a Black man in America, or a Black mother, or, for that matter, a police officer who is in the midst of this fray.  HAM is only five miles away from Penn Wynne, but it might as well be 500 miles away.  That structural and imaginative divide, which is replicated in many cities and communities around the country, is a huge part of America’s problem.  Racism, violence, and extreme political divisions are just symptoms of something deeper—we are divided from one another at an external, structural level and an internal, heart level.  Empathy, compassion, and mercy seem unimaginable.  Actual societal change seems impossible. The Christian tradition has a name for this situation.  It’s called sin.  Sin encompasses both personal hardness of heart and vast structural evil.  It is what divides us from God and each other.  While policy, voting, and all the rest of it are vitally important (please vote!), they cannot alone solve the heart problem that is at the root.  There is a sickness in the soul of America.  Only the grace and mercy of God can heal it.  Only the unconditional love and the indestructible life of the Risen One can heal it.  As the actual Body of the Risen Christ, we Christians are singled out by God to work toward breaking down the barriers that prevent compassion and empathy, not contribute to them.  We are set apart by God to work for the healing of our community.  We are called to participate in the reconciliation that can only come when justice and mercy meet. 

As important as these ongoing and terribly difficult conversations are for us to have, right now is also the time to support our siblings in Christ at Holy Apostles and the Mediator.  It’s hard to know what to do, especially with the pandemic.  But here’s one thing tangible to do:  leaders from Holy Apostles and the Mediator pray Morning Prayer every morning, Monday-Saturday, at 7AM.  Their prayer is broadcast on Facebook Live on their page https://www.facebook.com/HAMPhilly.  If you find yourself awake at that time, I encourage you to log on and join in their prayer, listen to them, and drop a simple comment to let them know you are there, and that you are praying with and for them.  The service is also recorded so you can watch and pray later in the morning, but it would be great to let them know that we stand beside them in prayer during this difficult time.  We will look for other ways we can support them. 

On the eve of this election, with all the upheaval and insanity all around us, our only path forward as people of faith is to reject contentiousness, jealousy, and pride.  Pray.  If you haven’t already voted, vote.  Then pray some more.  Prayer actually changes things.  It also changes us, orienting us more and more toward God’s desire for the healing of the world.   After the polls close on Tuesday at 8PM, the church doors will be open.  You are welcome to come and pray silently for a few minutes on your own. At about 8:30PM, I will lead a service of prayer for our nation.  This service will be live-streamed on our YouTube channel.  If you do come to the church, please wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet away from others.  

May the God of peace keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and the love of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

A Note from the Rector – 10/13/19

This is a special Sunday.  I know I’ve written that before, but really: this is a special Sunday.  Today we are honored to welcome our Mother parish, Holy Apostles and the Mediator for a special shared Eucharist AND we are honored to welcome Madeleine Diana Fleckser into Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church through the Sacrament of baptism.  Each of these two events are exciting and wonderful in their own right, but they are also integrally connected.  Our history reveals part of this connection.


In 1868, the vestry and rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square decided to establish a mission church to serve the growing post-Civil War population of southwest Philadelphia.  They partnered with Church of the Mediator in Philadelphia. The church that grew from that partnership was Church of the Holy Apostles, first located on 21st & Christian streets.  By the early 20th century, Church of the Holy Apostles became the largest parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.  In the early years of the 1900s there were 5,000 children enrolled in the weekly Sunday School. Around this time, Church of the Mediator and Holy Apostles decided to partner, and a new building, Chapel of the Mediator, was built on 51st and Spruce streets in West Philadelphia in 1919.  The establishment of this chapel reflected the congregation’s movement from south to west Philadelphia.  As this migration increased after the First World War, the Chapel of the Mediator flourished, while the congregation which met at the original Holy Apostles diminished. 

In 1944, the original Holy Apostles building was sold and the parish was consolidated in West Philadelphia.  The church was renamed Holy Apostles and the Mediator. In 1950, Holy Apostles and Mediator established the Chapel of the Holy Apostles in Penn Wynne.  This reflects the fact that many members of the congregation were moving farther and farther west into the suburbs, a movement that has been dubbed “white flight.” 

The funds from the sale of the original building on 21st and Christian streets were used to buy this property and build the parish hall.  Throughout the 50s, Holy Apostles and the Mediator raised money to build our church building, while financially sustaining this new congregation and ensuring that its first priests, Robert Bauer and John Kolb were paid.  When the church was built in 1959, the furniture from the original Holy Apostles in South Philadelphia was installed here: the altar and reredos (the wood panel behind the altar), the pulpit, the lectern, and the baptismal font.  Thus, Holy Apostles and the Mediator is responsible for the holy physical objects that shape our worship of God here in Penn Wynne every week.  

The font that baby Maddie will be baptized in this morning was originally given to the church in 1896 by George C. Thomas, who was, along with his wife, the primary benefactor to Holy Apostles in all of its incarnations.  Over more than a century, hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been baptized in this very font. That means something. Baptism is a spiritual and mystical tie which binds every Christian in every time and every place to each other and to Christ.  This baptismal font is a tangible, physical link between what has ultimately become Church of the Holy Apostles, Penn Wynne and Holy Apostles and the Mediator. It is a physical reminder that our histories and destinies in Christ are bound up with each other.  We are because they are, and this font reminds us of the debt of gratitude that we owe our Mother congregation, whose generosity benefits us every Sunday and especially on Sundays like this.  Hopefully this baptismal font will serve today as a symbol of our friendship, our mutual love for each other, and the joy we share in worshipping our God together as sisters and brothers.

In Christ,
James+