Positive signs of change for an historic church

The Church of the Crucifixion’s energetic new vicar recently celebrated the church’s reopening and a street renaming with her flock.

Shortly after her October 10, 2020 ordination as a priest, Mother Jessie Alejandro learned she would head the Church of the Crucifixion, 807 Bainbridge Street. Noted for an impressive history that includes designation as the second Black church in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, as well as connections to South Philly-born singer Marian Anderson and renown sociologist W.E.B. DuBois, the Bella Vista site had fallen on difficult times, with the pandemic being a principal thorn in its side. On June 12, however, Alejandro and the faithful celebrated the official reopening of the space and witnessed the unveiling of a street sign that honors a former leader of the location.

“It’s been wonderful to see the church come back to life, and our recent gathering shows that people want that connection to strengthen them,” the vicar said of the 174-year-old haven that had begun to hold services again in the winter following the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus. “There’s so much more to tackle so as to help them to meet their spiritual needs and other hopes, too.” 

Alejandro, the first Latina to receive ordination as a priest within the state’s Episcopal Diocese, has won immediate approval from her congregation and has aided its growth through an assortment of offerings, including a food pantry, yoga sessions, drumming classes, a Friends Of group, the creation of a 501 (c) (3), weekly Mass, and a capital campaign to fund the restoration of the church’s facade. All of those boons and more came to the fore a couple weeks ago through a six-hour block party that intensified her devotion to her assignment. 

“My journey is exciting because I can see how many people are hungry for Christ and want something bigger than themselves,” Alejandro said. “We’re growing momentum each day, and that’s invigorating.” 

She and the other attendees at the June 12 celebration welcomed Daniel Gutierrez, the 16th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Philadelphia, whom Alejandro lauded for his vision to keep churches attracting as many believers as possible.

The event also recognized Henry L. Phillips, who became the Church of the Crucifixion’s rector in 1877 and held that role for 35 years. To honor Philips, the City renamed the 800 block of Bainbridge Street “Henry L. Phillips Way.” A new street name sign was installed bearing Philips’ name and First District Councilman Mark Squilla was in attendance to help mark the occasion.

“What we are doing at the church today is echoing what he did long ago,” Alejandro said of Phillips. “We’re just going to keep following our calling to see what Christ is asking of us.” 

For more information on the church’s facade restoration campaign, visit https://www.facebook.com/crucifixionphila or https://www.diopa.org/.