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Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia
> The reference to the famous [or infamous, depending on one's point of
> view] Church of the Advocate is intriguing to me, though, because it
> appears to be a very large, even grand, Gothic revival church from the
> twenties or early thirties. They do not have a good website, nor do
> they have any kind of information about the building, and I suppose I
> will just have to get off my butt and drive down to Philly some Sunday
> morning to take it all in. In the meantime can anyone tell me more
> about this building, which appears to be in a very deep and somewhat
> unsavory neighborhood in inner city Philadelphia. Anything would be
> helpful to this Gothic revival disciple.
I encourage you not just to visit, but to make a pilgrimage.
The Advocate was built to be on the model of the Cathedral of Chartres, I
believe. Father Paul Washington, black patriarch and rector there for
decades, chose to make it the church of the neighborhood, on of the most
oppressed communities of the nation. I remember going there on a weekday
in the sixties while teaching at St. Andrew's School in Middletown,
Delaware. A few of our students were doing summer projects there. I
wandered into the huge nave and watched two small children playing
hide-n-seek around the altar. They seemed perfectly at home. Indeed,
The Philadelphia Eleven were ordained at the Advocate, as later was the
crucifer for that occasion, now Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris, long time member
of the parish.
I was at the Advocate for the WITNESS MAGAZINE dinner during General
Convention in 1997. Father Washington was still around. The current
rector is Isaac Miller, whose father once signed the vestry letter asking
me to leave St. Luke's in Ft. Valley, Georgia, and whose mother protested
that action and invited Ernest and me into their home for dinner. Before
coming to the Advocate, Isaac was Episcopal Chaplain at the
Interdenominational Theological Center at Atlanta University and the huge
complex of historically black colleges around it.
I returned to the Advocate in 1999 for the 25th anniversary service of the
Philadelphia Eleven. The church is undergoing a huge renovation. Huge
stretches of wire mesh protect the congregants from the chunks of stone
which occasion fall from the structure.
The Advocate has been a major advocate for the people of this
neighborhood. I see it in stark contrast with gorgeous St. Michael's and
All Angels in my home town Anniston, Alabama, which remained a white parish
stronghold in the midst of a similarly all-black neighborhood for
generation after generation. Now that's what I would call 'seedy,' not the
needy of the world, but those of us who shut up our bowels of compassion
Consider the contrast between two of our major ECUSA cathedrals, The
National Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, which is 'complete,'
with everything, including the congregation, spic and span; and the
divine St. John's in New York, which no longer intends to be 'finished,'
with everything, including many in the congregation a bit dirty. For my
taste, there is an integrity to the latter which eludes the Washington
I am reminded of the irony of the columnist who once wrote, "Bishop XXX
prayed one of the most beautiful prayers ever prayed to a Washington
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