Our Staff Contact us
Dean's Corner
Dean's Address to 2017 Convention

The Very Rev. Judith A. Sullivan
Dean of the Cathedral
Convention Address 2017                                                                                                                   

Bishop Gutierrez, sisters and brothers, grace and peace.  The state of this Cathedral is strong and I would like to recognize the members of the Cathedral staff who help to make that happen every day by asking them to stand.

Your Cathedral is a place of unconditional welcome, healing, and reconciliation for all who pass through our doors.  Here, we join together to form the body of Christ and to offer the best of ourselves in prayer for the major liturgical moments of our Diocesan life. We are delighted and honored to welcome you here once more.

We began our institutional life in 1850 as the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Saviour.  In 1992, we were designated by the Convention and by Bishop Allen Bartlett as the Cathedral Church of this Diocese and we have become the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. And this year, we celebrate our 25th anniversary.  It has been an extraordinary journey that in many ways mirrors the broader experience and challenges of many Episcopal churches in these times: Changing demographics of the surrounding community, a historically small mission presence, a deteriorating campus, a diminished endowment, a shrinking denomination.  Ours is a story of rebirth and renewal that is literally up from the ashes.

You are now seated in what is the third church on this site.  The first dates to 1859; the second, a Charles Burns church which was a much smaller version of this one was built in 1889 and burned to the ground in 1902.  You can see the remains of the front façade and the bell tower which formed the inspiration for our logo, representing faithful endurance now and among those who went before us, in the midst of trial.  The third church, this one, also designed by Charles Burns, was completed in 1906 and was the spiritual home of approximately 1600 families in an affluent, trolley car suburb of downtown Philadelphia.  By 1968, I am told that there were approximately 10 families worshipping here and the neighborhood had changed dramatically.  The street grid was altered and 38th Street was widened as neighboring institutions expanded and many families followed the developing Main Line Railroad west.  By 1988, the former Gateson and Cathedral House, which contained our offices, were the last brownstones standing in the neighborhood. By 2010, they were ready to fall down, as was the front façade of the Cathedral and its chimney.

In the face of these stark challenges and as faithful stewards of this historic Cathedral, the Dean and Chapter boldly proceeded in a real estate development project, utilizing the resources that we did have, land and air rights. Today, that project is very nearly completed and it has accomplished all that we had hoped from the outset, years earlier than we anticipated:

  • This historic Church, now a Cathedral, will remain in this corner of University City, formerly West Philadelphia as a visible sign of Christ’s enduring love and presence. 
  • Through the sale of the apartment tower 3737 Chestnut Street in July, 2017, those pre-existing assets of land and air rights have been converted into assets that will generate resources for deepened and expanded ministry.
  • The Cathedral building will stand and sustain: Its walls, foundation, chimney, and bell tower have all been stabilized.
  • The Childcare Center, just below us in the renovated undercroft, serves more than 100 children, providing the highest quality care and subsidies to many families in need.
  • The Cathedral will now relocate its own offices to the second floor of 3717 Chestnut Street, thereby opening the entire Stephanie Liem Azar Cathedral Center for congregational, diocesan, and community ministry.
  • Our congregation is growing, not only in numbers, but in love and active engagement in ministry. 
  • We serve the Diocese as a home for conventions, ordinations, rites of initiation, and festivals.  Our new facilities and increasing space only enhance our capacity to serve you and to be a place of ecumenical and interfaith gathering and worship, as well.
  • We have thriving visual arts and music ministries.  Please note that beautiful Diocesan art show that is now adorning our walls.
  • Our Cathedral Table Ministries provide 20,000 pounds of food per month through our pantry.  We serve hot meals and offer legal, medical, and social work services here in the sanctuary throughout the week.  We provide clothing and shelter.  We offer love and physical and spiritual sustenance for the hunger that cripples body and spirit.

In this anniversary year, it is appropriate that our Bishop will bless the sculpture the Hungry and Thirsty Jesus, now installed outside our west doors, as an emblem of these faithful ministries and as an invitation for all to come and see and be fed.  From Matthew 25:35, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” This is the Gospel imperative that is constantly before us and we give thanks to God for bringing us this far by faith.

We also give thanks for the faithful ministry and leadership of Bishop Bartlett, without whom we would not be here today.  I ask the members of the Cathedral Chapter and the Honorary Cathedral Canons to join me here at the ambo to present this gift, this miniature of the Hungry and Thirsty Jesus, to the Rt. Rev. Allen L. Bartlett with our thanks and love on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of this Cathedral church.

Last Published: November 6, 2017 2:35 PM