St. Stephen's is a historic parish, established in Philadelphia in 1823. In 2017, St. Stephen's was reborn as a new model of church, one that is redefining the idea of congregation and forging a non-traditional path. Much has changed since 1823, and spirituality is no exception. St. Stephen's is committed to meeting this new challenge, to looking toward the future while celebrating our history and journey.
St. Stephen’s was consecrated in 1823, four decades after the founding of the nation and the Episcopal Church. Those involved in the new congregation sought to worship in a new way that was intimately woven into a city that had become the nation’s industrial leader. Instead of Philadelphia’s historic birthplace on the Delaware River, the founders chose a bustling new neighborhood several blocks to the west. There, they purchased an abandoned Methodist meetinghouse near the University of Pennsylvania (then at 8th and Chestnut), Jefferson Medical College, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and, to come one year later, the original Franklin Institute. Diverse urban enterprises flourished: schools, small shops, popular entertainment centers and hotels. As a result, the neighborhood streets teemed with residents and visitors from all over.
Because of its historic and artistic importance, St. Stephen’s was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and was designated a historical landmark by the Philadelphia Historical Commission in 1957.
After nearly two centuries, St. Stephen’s retains its commitment to serve the diverse and dynamic urban community in its Center City neighborhood. In February 1958, 135 years after its founding, Rector Alfred W. Price D.D. preached a sermon in which he said, “If you ask me what I think is the happiest thing about this dear old place, I would say it is the way that people use it without any self-consciousness, without any embarrassment…Somehow they all seem to feel and know, thank God, that this is God’s House and that they are welcome here.” Alfred Price’s words from sixty years ago continue to hold great currency. St. Stephen’s remains a sacred place of beauty and serenity that is open to all people, a gathering place that, with its worship, its visual art, and its performing arts offerings, welcomes pilgrims of all kinds who seek an intimate space in which they can experience God and find care for their spirit.