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.

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10 comments

  1. hoofin · December 6, 2009

    More about St. Clement’s in this post: https://hoofin.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/ellen-cooke-felon-crook/

  2. Pingback: Pennsylvania as the category and St. Clement’s Philadelphia as the topic. | Hoofin to You!
  3. Matthew · September 9, 2010

    What political correctness are you talking about? I am not aware that Saint Clement’s supports any ‘politically correct’ causes. To the best of my knowledge, parish contributions go to perfectly acceptable projects by any standard. The current rector is the first, as far as I am aware, to express liberal positions on some matters of doctrine and I doubt that all in the congregation agree. My understanding is that his blog is personal, though I do think it should not be part of the parish website. As for the sexual orientation of members of the parish, I can only say that this is really a private matter and not one for you or anyone else to judge. I have never seen any gay flags at Saint Clement’s, not any political meetings, nor any open encouragement to support “gay causes”. Indeed, in this respect Saint Clement’s is far more apolitical than many Episcopal parishes populated largely by families that you seem to favor. A gay men’s club? That is an exaggeration. And if there are gay male parishioners, so what? One could call certain suburban parishes “WASP country clubs”. Indeed, the Episcopal Church used to be almost exclusively a conservative Republican institution, a kind of religious extension of the Union League in days gone by. Is the latter so much more preferable to you? There is something insidious about your use of the term “gay men’s club” and it too smells. Your Christ may be exclusive; mine is not.

    • hoofin · September 10, 2010

      Matthew, thank you for your comment. You make numerous points; some are easy to respond to, and others require a bit of text. I will do the best I can, especially because you seem to be concerned about it. These may not exactly be in the order you put them.

      To the best of my knowledge, parish contributions go to perfectly acceptable projects by any standard.

      To my understanding, the parish was the beneficiary of three trust funds, set up long ago. The two larger ones pay an income to St. Clement’s for parish maintenance. A third one was to pay for the support of a seminarian attached to the parish. In the event St. Clement’s was not sponsoring a seminarian, the money was to go to Episcopal Hospital. (It’s now defunct and part of the Temple University Health System.) The vestry of the time was diverting this trust fund money to pay the high school tuition of an influential parishioner’s son.

      What political correctness are you talking about? I am not aware that Saint Clement’s supports any ‘politically correct’ causes.

      To me, political correctness can be found among all political persuasions, not just the social far-left. There is that element of “my way or the highway”, or “I live my life my way, you live your life my way, too.” In St. Clement’s case–again twenty years ago for sure–this sort of thing was seriously present. Even just in the notion, again created at that time, that the influential parishioners had the legal right to include OR exclude who they wanted at the parish. This, in turn, meant that if you wanted to use the parish (or wanted to continue to use the parish), you did what those influential parishioners wanted. Or you walked and leaved your pledge and plate money behind. In other words, you dealt with the upheaval of finding another place and losing your associations with the friends and acquaintances you have there.

      The current rector is the first, as far as I am aware, to express liberal positions on some matters of doctrine and I doubt that all in the congregation agree.

      Peter Laister expressed equally liberal positions, but he simply did it from the Rector’s house. A priest-in-charge, it has been said, was similarly as “liberal” in the 1960’s.


      My understanding is that his blog is personal, though I do think it should not be part of the parish website.

      It is definitely not part of the parish website. Did it become so somehow?? I do a lot of blogging–very little on St. Clement’s.

      As for the sexual orientation of members of the parish, I can only say that this is really a private matter and not one for you or anyone else to judge.

      Matthew, let me put out a hypothetical to you: What happens when someone else decides that he or she is going to make his sexual orientation an issue for you? Particularly, in the situation of a gay or bisexual that you have only known as a person a very short time deciding that he is going to impose his romantic feelings on you, but do so through stealth or deceit? So that, when you speak up, the other people around say, “no no! That just is impossible!”, and when you say, “well, I don’t want to have anything to do with person in any event”, the priest-in-charge, for example, says “no, no, you must continue to be [so-and-so’s] ‘friend’.”

      Now, let me ask you: does the person really just have to put up with that in private? Sure, it’s in a sense a private issue. But does the victim really just have to sit and take it?

      Think about that.

      I have never seen any gay flags at Saint Clement’s, not any political meetings, nor any open encouragement to support “gay causes”. Indeed, in this respect Saint Clement’s is far more apolitical than many Episcopal parishes populated largely by families that you seem to favor. A gay men’s club? That is an exaggeration.

      To tell you the truth, I’m really just thinking that you miss the point. You seem to think “political correctness” simply means a rainbow flag or something. Or a McCain or anti-Obama sticker on the Buick. At the heart of political correctness is the idea is that somebody else tells you what your views are, and you are going to be manipulated, bullied, insulted or otherwise pressured or required to submit to those views. And in American social issue politics, it goes on in all quarters.

      And if there are gay male parishioners, so what?

      I agree, so what?

      One could call certain suburban parishes “WASP country clubs”.

      Some people do. Although the country club is quickly becoming eligible for TARP.

      Indeed, the Episcopal Church used to be almost exclusively a conservative Republican institution, a kind of religious extension of the Union League in days gone by.

      I don’t know enough to say either way. But I think it was probably a much more varied organization than the stereotype that gets painted of the days of old.

      Is the latter so much more preferable to you?

      Now, why is that necessarily true?

      There is something insidious about your use of the term “gay men’s club” and it too smells.

      Matthew, the full quote was: “[It puts itself out as an orthodox parish.] 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.” And sorry, I just think that’s highly accurate. And no, you’re misreading and text proofing what I am saying. I’m not saying that gay people can’t go to church. What I am saying is that—20 years ago now—if someone there decided they, ehem, “liked” you, and you did not “like” them back, you had trouble. It was like it turned out there was casting couch for parish membership. (But my readership shouldn’t get me wrong, there were several other issues.)

      Your Christ may be exclusive; mine is not.

      I think my Christ would be rolling his eyes over the intense wedge issue battles and social issue debates that go on in the Episcopal Church. No wonder it’s circling the drain.

  4. Pingback: Gay people are wonderful. Political correctness and social militarism are not. | Hoofin to You!
  5. Matthew · September 15, 2010

    I’ve followed your example and quoted some of your remarks with my views following the quotes:

    “The vestry of the time was diverting this trust fund money to pay the high school tuition of an influential parishioner’s son.”

    I know nothing about this so I can not make any authoritative comment. If, however, the stated beneficiaries of the trusts no longer exist I would imagine that the parish has some discretion over how the money can be spent. In any event, there is no way that of my knowing of what you allege is even true.

    “Even just in the notion, again created at that time, that the influential parishioners had the legal right to include OR exclude who they wanted at the parish”

    This could be said for any parish. Each parish has its own ethos. If the individual does not like or can not reasonably conform, s/he should go elsewhere. Let’s say, for example, that you went to Christ Church on 2nd Street and started demanding the use of vestments and high church liturgy. Why should the parish change for you? The parish’s tradition is different and it would make far more sense for you to go where you feel more comfortable.

    “Peter Laister expressed equally liberal positions, but he simply did it from the Rector’s house. A priest-in-charge, it has been said, was similarly as “liberal” in the 1960′s.”

    That may be true. Again, I have no way of knowing it. What one says in private is often different from what says in public as a representative of an organization. To my knowledge, Fr. Laister never made a public statement that could be considered unorthodox. What he may have said privately could have been misunderstood or misinterpreted.

    “It is definitely not part of the parish website. Did it become so somehow?? I do a lot of blogging–very little on St. Clement’s.”

    The blog appears on the parish’s website though I suspect vestry would say that the opinions expressed are the rector’s.

    “Matthew, let me put out a hypothetical to you: What happens when someone else decides that he or she is going to make his sexual orientation an issue for you?”

    What happens? I would say “get lost”. Period. You aren’t going to convince me that because you refused to have sex with a member of the parish you were mistreated, are you? I find that very hard to believe. Wherever there are groups of people there is going to be intrigue. It’s simply human nature. Surely you were mature enough to handle an unwanted sexual advance. Must the entire parish be held responsible for the misbehavior of an individual?

    ” At the heart of political correctness is the idea is that somebody else tells you what your views are, and you are going to be manipulated, bullied, insulted or otherwise pressured or required to submit to those views. And in American social issue politics, it goes on in all quarters.”

    No-one at Saint Clement’s has ever told me how I must think and I would never tolerate it if someone were to do so. I’m sorry you feel that you were pressured in this way. Why on earth did you persist in attending Saint Clements if this happened? Wouldn’t common sense dictate that you go elsewhere?

    “Matthew, the full quote was: “[It puts itself out as an orthodox parish.] But on the other hand, it’s a gay men’s social club”

    Do you think all gay men are politically left thinking? I don’t think that is necessarily true. At the risk of another dispute, I should point out that homosexuality is hardly a choice. Call it what you will – genetic, inherent. It is a condition that one inherits and does not choose. Having a homosexual orientation does not necessarily coincide with voting Democrat. There are varying positions on how Christians should deal with homosexuality. The orthodox view is probably that of the Catholic Church — chastity. Others may take different approaches. I think this is a deeply personal matter and how the individual deals with it is a personal issue that you have no right to judge. You seem to think that if a person is homosexual he /she should not be attending a parish that adheres to orthodox doctrinal positions. I find that an outrageous view. How many Episcopalians are divorced or divorced and remarried and still go to church and receive communion? If they are high church, do they go to confession? Again, it’s a personal matter and you are being unfair in judging and making the assumption that only those who conform to your views should be in the pews on a Sunday morning.

    “I think my Christ would be rolling his eyes over the intense wedge issue battles and social issue debates that go on in the Episcopal Church. No wonder it’s circling the drain.”

    Yes, God can not be pleased at the divisions within Anglicanism or the wider Christian community. Debates, disputes, heresies are hardly new. God has seen it all. Still He loves us more than we can ever imagine. His compassion is limitless. We can not begin to imagine His greatness and mercy. Surely God wants all of us in church, praying and praising Him in our own ways no matter how confused, inconsistent and sinful we are.

  6. hoofin · September 22, 2010

    Matthew, I wanted to let you have your say in rebuttal, but I don’t really want to get into a back-and-forth.

    The trust fund diversion issue had nothing to do with an old trust where the church couldn’t find a beneficiary. Episcopal Hospital was always there. What the vestry of those days did was divert the trust fund money to an influential parishioner. A no-no.

    St. Clement’s can be as high church as it likes, but it’s supposed to use Rite I, 1979 Book. Not something somebody made up. It’s one thing to get special dispensation to have special services from time to time. It’s another to throw out the Book of Common Prayer and use somebody’s leaflet. Again, it goes to not being a responsible trustee. Just because all the people who are left don’t object doesn’t make it right. The U.S. military makes the same fallacious argument on DADT.

    I think that a lot of the conclusions you make about my read of 1990-era St. Clement’s are not what I really said. I point out that there was evident diversity-within-the-diversity. Everything from people just living their lives to whatever this “Queer Action” was supposed to be. To an extent, some of that diversity was really crossing the line, and certain adults weren’t being adult about it.

    I also get a little tired, as I mentioned in a recent Rosement-related post, of the people who start crying about a lawsuit. Lawsuits largely happen because one side of the “v” decides that they are not compromising one whit about some matter, and it leaves the other side with no choice. That isn’t the attitude of everyone, and every litigation, but the St. Clement’s vestry are good at that attitude.

    On other points you say that since I can’t prove things that obviously CAN’T be shown by evidence (like what Peter Laister had to say in private in 1990), the truth must have been what you think, rather than what I was told.

    One thing that is for certain, is that I was justified in taking it over to Orphans’ Court, even if the Roman Catholic judges decided to jerk around with the pleading. Now there is some more solid evidence that what the vestry did was inappropriate. And do you know what? Canon Reid’s attitude is “sue us”. So there you go.

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