St. Clement’s Church, Philadelphia

This is a fusion blog, remember, so I discuss a varied amount of topics.

My regular readers have noted that I am interested in the politics of the Episcopal Church. This is because, about twenty years ago, I regularly attended Episcopal Church services. I’m baptized a Roman Catholic, but to me the differences were small and not so significant. Nowadays, as a Christian I am more influened by later thinkers like the Quakers (Society of Friends)—even though they are fundamentalists and non-sacramental.

I think anyone who spent time in Philadelphia becomes influenced by the Quakers, whether they realize or not. There are very few of them around, but the impression they made on American life was much greater than their numbers ever were. For another post!

St. Clement’s is an interesting joint. It outwardly practices a form of Episcopalianism called “Anglo-Catholicism”. In the main, this was a 19th century group of English Anglicans (Church of England) that expressed an affinity for the Roman Catholic Church, and hoped for a re-union of the Church of England with Rome. That is, with the Pope.

What I learned that, in practice, as most of these parishes are in urban city centers, “Anglo-Catholic” is like a gay movement. Admittedly, most of the people who follow Anglo-Catholic aren’t. But it’s a strong theme within American Anglo-Catholicism.

St. Clement’s is also artistically a very interesting place–a lot of attention has been paid to making every corner of it a place worth looking at for undefined time.

Protestant congregations kind of revolve more than evolve, so I doubt that the people I had met there 20 years ago are still around. (Especially the families.) But it’s also sort of a dark and bad place, because of the sociological trends I mentioned earlier. This was in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s.

So if you like the mysticism and beauty of the pre-Vatican Two Roman Catholic Church, then the people at St. Clement’s have done a lot through the years to try and maintain it. (Even though it’s in early modern English and not Latin.)

But on the other hand, if you don’t have much patience for the worst in political correctness as it goes to attacking personal dignity, and deceit, and shadowy, well, bad shit, then you would have had a difficulty with this place in its early ’90’s incarnation.

A[n] big online fan of St. Clement’s seems to be “Serge”, John Beeler, who contributes to the Conservative Blog for Peace. Once, when I was searching on Good Shepherd Rosemont issues, I came across his site, and he is big on St. Clement’s.

Most folks who are impressed with the razz-ma-tazz of High Church usually haven’t stuck around long enough to see some of the negatives. But apparently the folks who post on CBFP have, as evidenced by the discussion attached to a post there:

BTW Brian has let the cat out of the bag about Clem’s and gayness.

Which out of respect etc. I never intended to do.

Neither rainbow flags nor bashing: here’s how old-school tolerant conservatism works there.

At least since building the Ben Franklin Parkway right after WWI wiped out the neighbourhood that was S. Clement’s parish (families who lived in the rowhouses near the church and happened to be Episcopal), the church has been a magnet for artistically inclined gay men of certain cultural tastes (stereotypes don’t tell the whole truth but they exist because lots of people fit them), also something Anglo-Catholicism’s been known for since Tractarian theology got together with romantic artistic nostalgia in the 1800s, essentially conceiving ACism. (Lots of other YFs are gay.)

Except for an unfortunate period in the 1970s – Clem’s modern mainstreamish Episcopal phase – this fact of a gay majority has never affected the integrity of the liturgy or the preaching there.

The Episcopal diocese knows most of Clem’s is gay so it doesn’t take them seriously, assuming that underneath all the old-school Roman Catholic religion they’re secretly on its side.

Clem’s knows that the diocese knows that and thinks that, and is happy to let them think that so it can practise Tridentine Anglo-Catholicism undisturbed, which will work (practically if not theologically) as long as the bishop’s not a woman who refuses to give them an episcopal visitor.

(Which seems off course from the original Anglo-Catholic claims of Anglicanism’s Catholic character and the hope truly held 50-60 years ago of corporate reunion with the Roman Catholic Church. Also the reason, besides Thomas Day’s masterly explanation of American RCs, why Clem’s isn’t the RC national parish it should be.)

Liberals think it’s hypocritical; conservatives are inclined to bash. Clem’s at its best sees it as inclusive not in the liberal but really Catholic sense: all are welcome to come and pray but the church is not a vehicle for secular causes.
The young fogey | Homepage | 06.28.09 – 7:06 pm | #

See? I’m not sure if poster “young fogey” is “Serge” is Beeler. But the fact is that if someone is “letting the cat out of the bag”, what it means is that it’s something that people know but that isn’t generally known.

And in the context of conservative churches, I think that sort of game is bad.

Because on the one hand, the parish is pitching a conservative style of worship that is meant to attract people who are keen [on] the outward manifestations of pre-Vatican II Catholic worship.

But on the other hand, it’s a gay men’s social club. Where the people who play along with the deception are OK. And those that aren’t, aren’t.

Hmmmmmm.

Again, I haven’t been to St. Clement’s for the better part of 20 years. Most of the people I knew there are long gone. The families left, and the older people passed on. But definitely, in the early ’90’s, the place practiced a form of political correctness. And the fundamental evil of political correctness is the attack on basic human dignity.

It’s if you don’t agree with the political agenda, then you lose personal rights. If you don’t agree, then your personal dignity is attacked. That was at the heart of the Political Correct Movement, wasn’t it? That’s why even practitioners of it then run away from the identification now.

And that’s what these guys used to do down there in the early 1990’s. And what made it sickening is it was behind all the outward “conservative” religious practices.

So I think in general everyone should be welcome in a church. And I’m sure that St. Clement’s gang would agree. But if people bring personal agendas in, directed at others, and meant to be harassing against them, then they don’t belong. And there’s no camouflaging under ancient religious practices to get around that.

Controversy around homosexuality is a little boring at this point in history, and a little stale. To me, civil rights as a concept doesn’t work unless everyone’s civil rights are respected. So all these movements for updating the written laws I go with. Gay civil marriage, it’s boring already. I can’t believe people make a stink about it. Marriage is a contract, and the state ought to be liberal about who among adults can make that contract.

Anyways . . .

The stuff that had gone on at St. Clement’s is really not excusable. This was individuals using the church for a purpose other than what the rest of the public was being told, and, really, against the fiduciary responsibility of property trustees. Then beyond that, trying to pull the parish out of the Diocese of Pennsylvania using avenues such as joining the Episcopal Synod of America (1990-1994). And the trustee fraud surrounding a trust where the Episcopal Hospital was a beneficiary in the event that the parish didn’t have a seminarian in training.

If you note from the website, they don’t seek for you to become a member of the parish. They carefully control that, because you would have a vote over the parish corporation and the property. Instead, they offer that you can become a Friend of St. Clement’s. If you notice, nowhere on the website do they give information about becoming a member of the parish itself. It’s about control, not about practicing the Episcopal faith as determined in General Convention. It’s “if you like what you see, give money”. Not something saying we respect your personal dignity and “if you want to be a member of the parish, here’s how.”

So it’s an impressive church as a facility. But, (again, going on 20 years ago) if you know anything about it, or even read between the lines, it kinda smells.