Historic church in Society Hill opens fund drive

The historic St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia's Society Hill is shrouded in scaffolding while undergoing needed repairs. (Photo: stpetersphila.org)
The historic St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia's Society Hill is shrouded in scaffolding while undergoing needed repairs. (Photo: stpetersphila.org)

The 250-year-old St. Peter's Episcopal Church is raising money to repair a deteriorating roof.

Posted: September 18, 2012

The sign out front - "These doors are open to you" - and a downpour eight years ago caused Jennifer Childs to scurry into a historic Society Hill church with timber roof trusses as old as the 250-year-old brick building.

Childs was trying to lull her then 1-year-old daughter to sleep that day. It was quiet inside St. Peter's Church.

She began what became a weekly tradition of reading printed sermons there - her private worship, she called it.

At a fund-raising kickoff party Sunday, Childs joined several parishioners who shared stories of the church's impact in their lives to encourage parishioners and supporters to donate to a campaign to repair the rotting trusses and replace the roof at the city's second-oldest Episcopal Church.

At St. Peter's, Childs said, she found her "spiritual shelter."

The church, now encased in scaffolding, was closed in May at the recommendation of an architectural engineering firm that specializes in historic preservation since officials learned of the deteriorating trusses.

Members spent the summer worshiping at Society Hill Synagogue until Hebrew school started two weeks ago. Worship will continue at Old Pine Community Center until the church reopens, hopefully by Christmas.

The "Raise the Roof" capital campaign so far has $1.1 million toward a goal of $1.8 million.

The kickoff, held under white tents on Pine Street between Third and Fourth Streets, unveiled the public part of the campaign. The outpouring since May impressed the campaign cochairs, who together have more than 80 years of fund-raising experience.

"It says something about the love and care people have for this church, the depth of emotion and sincere belief that this church helps them fulfill their baptismal covenant to love and serve," said Claudia Stowers, a cochair and vice president of development for The American College in Bryn Mawr, which serves the financial services industry.

Indeed, the church, which celebrated its 250th anniversary last year, has been more than brick and mortar for many. St. Peter's 25-year-old food cupboard feeds more than 100 mostly Chinese-speaking immigrants each week. Parishioners do mission work in Guatemala.

Jim Colberg, a 40-year member and a retired general surgeon, said he leaned on the support of parishioners and clergy through two divorces over 20 years and becoming a single parent. He married his third wife 10 years ago.

"It serves as an anchor to me," said Colberg, who moved to the neighborhood to start the kidney transplant program at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in 1972.

Childs, the artistic director at 1812 Productions, a Philadelphia comedy theater company, joined five years ago after her daughter, Lilly, starting asking questions about God. Lilly now sings in the church's choir.

"What I appreciated about them was that they were very progressive. They didn't just talk about what was happening in the Biblical world. They talked about what was happening in our world, what was happening politically, what was happening socially," Childs said.

Twenty minutes into kickoff party, the Rev. Ledlie Laughlin joked that the roar of jets soaring above was planned.

"That's for us," Laughlin said.

Colberg, who was standing nearby, said: "Archangel flyover," about the salute actually meant for the Eagles vs. Ravens game.


Contact Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or at dsimon@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @darransimon.

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