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Closed Episcopal Church in Center City reopened to find a new mission — and graves beneath the floorboards


For years, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Center City had been inching toward oblivion. The families that sustained it for nearly two centuries were vanishing, until Sunday services became lonesome gatherings of fewer than 10 worshipers.

So, in 2016, leaders of the denomination’s Pennsylvania Diocese decided to close the church at 10th and Ludlow Streets, between Market and Chestnut, even though they would be leaving some longtime parishioners behind — buried beneath the floorboards.

he nine graves, some dating to the early 1800s, are still in the sanctuary, but invisible no more as part of a resurrected St. Stephen’s, retooled for a new definition of “church.”

The change agent was Bishop Daniel Gutierrez, who arrived here from the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande. “When we abandon one of these places," he said, "we abandon the possibilities of spreading what we believe in so deeply.”

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