Love Note #79: A beautiful piece by Chris Bartlett about The Church of St Luke and The Epiphany, a congregation of The Episcopal Church

Chris Bartlett
Favorite Spot: The Church of St Luke and The Epiphany, a congregation of The Episcopal Church
Neighborhood: Washington West

Address: 330 S. 13th Street

I am: Executive Director of the William Way LGBT Community Center, Radical Faerie, and past host of @TEDxPhilly.
Years in Philly: 46
Current home: Bella Vista

My love note: Since I consider myself more spiritual than religious, it is perhaps strange that I chose a church as the recipient of my love note. But the Episcopal Church of St. Luke and the Epiphany is a special place to me and many others who lived through the worst years of the AIDS epidemic in Philadelphia. This church is a haven, a sanctuary, and a place for restorations and occasional epiphanies. Hundreds of activists have been energized and inspired within its walls, and hundreds of men and women who died of AIDS were eulogized and given a proper funeral within its lofty sanctuary.

I fell in love with St. Luke and The Epiphany when I attended my first ACT UP Philadelphia meeting in 1990. ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, is an activist group that has fought to bring an end to the AIDS crisis since 1987. ACT UP has met in the basement of this church at 330 S. 13th Street each Monday for almost the organization’s entire history, and to return to that space brings back the ghosts and memories of those weekly meetings and a very satisfying feeling of having been woven into the fabric of an activist community that taught me how to make a difference.

Until recently, I thought that the name of the church must refer to an epiphany that had struck Saint Luke, who is, by the way, the patron saint of artists, physicians, surgeons, students, and butchers. In fact, The Church of St. Luke & The Epiphany is the merger of two formerly independent Episcopal churches: St. Luke’s has since 1839 been located at its current site on 13th between Spruce and Pine, and merged in 1898 with The Church of The Epiphany, which used to have a grand church at the northwest corner of 15th and Chestnut. The inspiring sanctuary entrance sits upon a pedestal of granite, but we activists entered the church through the “Furness Addition”, the southernmost part of the church designed by my favorite architect, Frank Heyling Furness. Entering there, we descend via a grand marble stairway into a meeting space and kitchen, where we sit in concentric semicircles to plan strategies to reduce the price of AIDS drugs, bring condoms into the schools, improve the situation for prisoners living with AIDS, and help our friends who were living with AIDS get the latest information so that they can survive. Some of us did survive.

The Episcopal Church of Saint Luke & The Epiphany welcomed ACT UP in the late 1980s because the Rector, Rodger C. Broadley is a gay man who himself was to lose dozens of friends and parishioners during the AIDS epidemic. He arrived as an assistant priest in 1980 and served alone from the end of 1982, a year after AIDS came on the scene. He became the Rector in early 1984 and wanted St. Luke & The Epiphany to take leadership in supporting its local community, which was deeply impacted by these AIDS deaths. During the worst plague years of AIDS, Reverend Broadley sometimes had to preside over two funerals each weekend. St. Luke & The Epiphany conducted funerals for anyone who died of AIDS in the early days when many churches, synagogues and mosques ostracized their gay members. Rodger continues to welcome ACT UP and many
other organizations into its basement meeting rooms.

My favorite spot in the church is the lovely Chapel on the second floor of the Furness Addition. Frank Furness loved details like mini-pillars, blue painted stars, and leaded glass windows. This is a great place to come and sit in peace. And I should also mention the little garden as you enter the church at the main gate. I like to go there to sit and listen to the birds. Somehow the acoustics of the courtyard make this a great place to hear birdsong without being distracted by the street.

The Church of St. Luke & The Epiphany, perhaps more than any other building I have known well, symbolizes how a successful church (or really any successful building) embodies the community that it shelters and nurtures. The marble bones of this old church vibrate with the energies of so many who have been committed to strengthening the lovely neighborhood and communities in its vicinity. Next time you walk down 13th Street past its Corinthian columns, see if you can feel that energy.

Posted on by Emma Fried-Cassorla in Center City 3 Comments

3 Responses to Love Note #79: A beautiful piece by Chris Bartlett about The Church of St Luke and The Epiphany, a congregation of The Episcopal Church

  1. Pingback: Emma Fried-Cassorla, Philly Love Notes | 14th Street Oats

  2. Roger Atkins

    Thanks for sharing I found your words to be inspiring. As a Christian and a Gay man I have been concerns that many individuals in the community have missed out on having some kind of connection with a higher power or faith experience. Blessings to you and yours.

  3. Anna Forbes

    I couldn’t agree more with what Chris has written. Another group St. Luke’s sheltered was Action AIDS (now called Action Wellness). When we started ActionAIDS in 1986, Jim Littrell suggested we call Rodger Broadly and ask him if he could house us, as we had no money for an office. Roger said yes but the only space he had was a Hymnal closet into which they had just moved a new photocopier.

    No problem. They moved the photocopier out into the hall, moved a desk in and ActionAIDS had its first office amid a lot of dusty hymnals.

    About a year later, the ActionAIDS buddy system had become so large that we barely had space in the Furness addition for all the monthly buddy team meetings. One night, we had one of the seven teams convene in Rodger’s office (he was home having dinner) because there just wasn’t room for them anywhere else. I was facilitating that team meeting when Rodger came back,planning on doing some evening work.

    I apologized profusely to him for the intrusion and offered to move the team somewhere else (racking my brains for where “somewhere else” should be). But he said no need to apologize or to move. He said, this is exactly what a church should be — crowded with people working to reduce the suffering of others.

    I never forgot that. It is the best definition of a house of worship that I have ever heard. Thank you, Rodger, and thank you, St. Luke’s.


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