Final prayers at 145-year-old church


Like her beloved savior, Joan Pettit cherishes children. She has accomplished the task predominantly through motherhood and a 38-year School District of Philadelphia teaching career, with membership at St. John the Evangelist Church, 1332 S. Third St., giving her other occasions to assist youths and advocate for adults in need.

The passionate parishioner and her peers have consulted the heavens for consolation, as they needed to vacate their 145-year-old Pennsport location, which welcomed congregants from Emanuel Lutheran Church in 2008, Monday in preparation for its sale.

“We don’t feel the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania has been completely open,” Pettit, a resident of the 100 block of League Street, said Friday of the Center City-based overseer of 162 congregations. “We have heard so much secondhand information, but what’s certain is that our presence here has ended, or, more appropriately, has been ended.”

Diocesan property manager Sean McCauley could not divulge direct details on the reason for the sale or the worship site’s future but noted it is “under agreement to a qualified buyer.” He added that information could become public soon, with Pettit having heard from various sources that the space, which the City’s Office of Property Assessment assigns a market value of $261,300, might fetch $500,000.

“We gather for Sunday services, but what’s equally important is what we do during the week, our work with children and households, which makes this leave so difficult,” the 64-year member said as she and other believers organized items for Tuesday’s diocesan inspection, with many to go to Episcopal mission churches.

Her haunt began in 1854 as the Boone Street Mission near Howard and Reed streets. A fire forced a move to the Shiffler Hose Co., formerly Second and Reed streets, three years later, with increased enrollment prompting the erection of the present site in ’67. It has hosted successful camps, community programs and a thriving three-times-a-week food ministry, which a 2007 partnership with Philabundance, 3616 S. Galloway St., expanded. Those activities and the well-attended services ceased Dec. 31, though discussions with officials last summer had Pettit et al believing their exodus would not occur until this spring.

“Of course we don’t want to go at all,” the Queen Village dweller, who wed at St. John’s in 1974 and had her two children baptized there, said as she perused a prayer book. “We were told we had a valuable ministry and could stay open until Easter, only then to have to say farewell to one another after New Year’s Eve worship, where we had lots of tears, smiles and hugs.”

The gathering included figures from Emanuel Lutheran, formerly 1001 S. Fourth St., whose pastor, Rev. Cornelius Eaddy, has headed the joint churches for two years. Prior to that, the resident of the 1000 block of South Third Street spent eight years guiding the Queen Village haven, which the Lutheran Church consecrated July 4, 1869. Changing demographics, a dwindling population and declining monetary support caused the body to shutter the spot more than four years ago, and the merger with its fellow Christian sanctuary soon followed. The twinned destination shared only one similarity with Emanuel Lutheran, and Pettit and Eaddy, fully aware of the costs of maintaining and heating an aged refuge for reflection, had hoped the diocese would allow faith to matter more than finances.

“We have helped so many children, more than a few of whom have gone on to become community leaders, and now we wonder who will be their next benefactor, along with the individuals and families who are just beginning to learn they can no longer come to us for nutritional help,” Pettit said.

“I understand dollars and cents,” Eaddy, whose sister, Hilda Hudson, oversaw the food ministry with her husband, Bennie Hudson, added. “It’s still just a miscarriage of justice and a travesty to see it go.”

A light rain began falling Friday as members tended to religious articles, loading some for use at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church, 916 S. Swanson St., which has served as a new site for seeking salvation since the new year commenced. Pettit inspected assorted church literature, including a sesquicentennial booklet tracing history back to the Boone Street Mission days. The 12-page commemorative item accompanied an honorary service May 16, 2004, and features a reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John in which Jesus advises “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

“I don’t have any fear with regards to the newness,” Eaddy, who has preached at Gloria Dei since the closing took effect, said. “We welcome the chance to build a new community and to receive this opportunity to let God show how good He is.”

Local Lutherans, who comprised a fair share of the united churches, have gladly followed their trusted teacher to Pennsylvania’s oldest church, which opened in 1677 as a Lutheran facility before adopting Episcopalian views in 1845.

“There’s something to be said for stability,” Pettit, who spent her entire educational tenure at F. Amedee Bregy School, 1700 Bigler St., and all but a few days of her spiritual journey at St. John’s, said of parting with a site that has yielded so many memories and provided lessons on lessening fears that an individual’s quest for answers in an unstable world must be a solitary experience.

“We have gelled together,” Pam Hackney, whose family decades ago became the first African-American family to join St. John’s, said while going over goods in the lower church, where organs longed for fingers to exalt her creator. “Gloria Dei will be a change, but to God be the glory no matter where we go.”

The resident of Fourth and Dickinson streets has logged 44 years at St. John’s, a total that makes her proud yet somewhat sad only because she had felt more years would have yielded more successes, with the revitalization of Jefferson Square and its nearly two-century-old park, 300 Washington Ave., resonating.

“Our faith teaches us to be strong, so we will recover from this sadness,” Pettit, who has sought in vain for answers from the diocese, said of having to accept its decree. “We’d hoped officials would think outside the box, but, like each of us, they’re flawed. We’re looking to continue our programs elsewhere and welcome any suggestion and every prayer.”

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at or ext. 124.