ABRIDGED HISTORY OF ST. PHILIP'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH

St. Philip's was founded May 30, 1861 and will celebrate 150 years in May 2011. Today, five years from that moment we rejoice in the wealth of community that this parish continues to provide.

St. Philip’s was founded in the same year as the start of the Civil War and one year before the Emancipation Proclamation and only 23 years after the Diocese of Western New York was established. This ranks St. Philip’s as the seventh most senior African American congregation in the United States, following  the historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas,  Philadelphia; St. James, Baltimore; St. Luke’s, New Haven; St. Philip’s, New York City, St. Mathews, Detroit and The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepard in Alabama.

During this period of much northern migration of emancipated slaves, Western New York, while a haven from slavery, was not without its racial conflicts. In 1863 One week before the infamous Civil War Draft Riots in New York City, Buffalo shippers tried to replace Irish longshoremen with African Americans. Angry mobs attacked and slew Blacks on the docks of Lake Erie and other parts of Buffalo. It was within this historical climate that about 30 parishioners met as the first Negro Episcopal Congregation of Buffalo. 

The congregation selected and adopted the name St. Philip's on July 9, 1861.  From 1861 to 1865 St. Philip's was under the supervision of a white clergyman - Reverend Witherspoon, whoconducted services and led the congregation until the congregation was able to call a full-time Rector. 

The Reverend Samuel L. Berry of St. Luke’s, New Haven, Connecticut became the first black full-time Rector of St. Philip's Church, an independent colored congregation, in September of the year that the Civil War Ended - 1865.  St. Philip's was incorporated in September 1866 and canonical consent was given by The Right Reverend Arthur Cleveland Coxe. The second Bishop of the Diocese of Western New York. 

In 1865 Rev. Samuel Berry along with the Rev. James. T. Holly founded the "Protestant Episcopal Society for Promoting the Extension of the Church among Colored People", this society eventually became the Union of Black Episcopalians, an organization that fights to remove racism and encourage the growth of members with African roots in our church today.  In July 1876, Reverend Joseph Robert Love became the rector of St. Philip's. 

In the roaring twenties, the steel and automobile industries were booming in Buffalo.  Airplanes were being built on Seneca Street and grain mills were helping to feed the country.  St. Philip's grew steadily, and after the turn of the century felt the need for expansion.  In 1921, under the leadership of The Reverend Edmund Bennett (1916–1923) and the vestry, our congregation moved to Goodell Street where we remained until 1974.  Due to urban renewal projects in the neighborhood, the building on Goodell Street was scheduled to be demolished, and we were forced to relocate. We moved to our present location at Sussex Street and Fernhill Avenue.  The property currently consists of the Church, its adjoining parish hall, the adjacent rectory and two adjacent vacant lots.  The parish survived a parish hall fire in 1975, and in 1988 funded the restoration of its organ.

St. Philip's from its inception has been and continues to be a predominantly African-American congregation; and it remains the only parish in the Diocese of Western New York that can be so described.  The congregation is a working class to middle class/professional and draws members from all over Buffalo and the immediate suburbs. 

The story of St. Philip’s is God working through its people.  St. Philip’s has always been the church home of many a humanitarian, artist, community leader and trail blazer.  One example is Buffalo’s first African American Architect; John E. Brent.   In 1926, Brent became the second African-American in history to design a YMCA for blacks; the Michigan Avenue YMCA.  This now demolished edifice was the cultural center of Buffalo's African-American community at the time. Brent lived on Glenwood Avenue in Buffalo with his wife Neeton, and was active in St. Philip's Episcopal Church, earning the Bishop's Medal for meritorious service.

Another example is the late Geneva B. Scruggs, who in 1950 was confirmed as a member of St. Philip's and served the parish in many capacities including Church School Teacher, member of the Episcopal Church Women, and The Acolyte Mother's Guild.  In 1968, Mrs. Scruggs became the first woman elected to the Vestry.  She also served on the Board of St. Philip's Community Center and as its executive director.  On the diocesan level Mrs. Scruggs was a member of the Committee for Restructuring the Diocese, Standing Committee and served as Secretary of the Central Erie Deanery. She was awarded Woman of the Year; Brotherhood Award; Community Award; Citizens Award.  She was cited as Outstanding Church Woman and bestowed the Bishop’s Cross.

Yet another great example is the late Wilhelmina McAlpin Godfrey - a magnificent artist and humanitarian.  As a youth Mrs. Godfrey took all the art classes available at Fosdick Masten Park High School, (now City Honors High School) but the Depression interrupted her art education until the mid-1940s, when she won scholarships to the Art Institute of Buffalo and the Albright Art School. Her paintings from that era documented life on Buffalo's east side. In 1951, she organized and taught painting and drawing classes at the previously mentioned Michigan Avenue YMCA. She organized the weaving department at the University at Buffalo and was an instructor at its Creative Craft Center from 1967 to 1970. She was a founder and director of the Langston Hughes Center, organized and taught creative craft classes at St. Philip's Episcopal Church's Community Center. Her commissions included a triptych altar painting for St. Philip's Episcopal Church (destroyed in a fire) and a five-panel altar painting for St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Buffalo. In December 1994, the Burchfield-Penney Art Center's Art Committee voted to accept Wilhelmina's City Playground, 1949-50 for inclusion in the permanent collection.  Mrs. Godfrey commissioned the artist to create our magnificent Christus Rex

Mrs. Godfrey was a seventy-year member of St. Philip's Episcopal Church. She was married for fifty-eight years to another stalwart pillar of St. Philip’s, William Godfrey, Jr.  Mrs. Godfrey organized the church's Girls Friendly Society in 1951, and was a past president of St. Philip's Episcopal Churchwomen. She also was a member of St. Philip's Community Center, past member of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York's Church Mission of Help, and chairwoman of Episcopal Churchwomen for the Central Erie Deanery from 1968 to 1970.

We are proud of our heritage and a tradition influenced significantly by the late Father Osmond Brown (1923 – 1956).  This patriarch became the first black Canon in the Episcopal Church of the United States.  We strive to maintain our tradition of "High Church" worship and this tradition as a means of expressing our love of Jesus and our parish.

Father Kenneth Curry succeeded Father Brown in 1957 and continued to provide the leadership and guidance needed to take us through some very difficult years.  Father Curry,  for a period in his tenure, served as Dean of the 13 parishes in the Central Erie Deanery.  During his rector ship, he started the St. Philip’s Community Center with an after-school program for neighborhood children.  The St. Philip's Community Center has been in continuous operation since it's founding more than forty years ago.

The Right Reverend E. Don Taylor, in 1973 was invited by the Right Reverend Harold B. Robinson, Bishop of Western New York, to become the Rector of St. Philip's Church, Buffalo. He served the Parish for five years and during that time he started and developed the St. Philip's School of Music and Boys' Choir.  His arrival at St. Philip's 1974 coincided with the move to our present location.  He worked long and hard to reorganize the parish and to his credit began a movement of new outreach programs.  Included in these was the Music School which operated for 10 years.  At its prime, the Music School's Boys Choir toured Europe and placed 5th out of 16 at an international boys’ choir competition in Vienna, Austria.  Fr. Taylor went on to become the Bishop of the Virgin Islands and presently serves as the Assistant Bishop of New York City. 

The Reverend Walter Bryan (1979-1981) was active in community organizations and was particularly effective in programs for youth and Christian education for adults.  The Food Pantry, established under his tenure, is still maintained today.

Under the leadership of The Reverend James Manning (1982–1987), the traditional "Sung Mass" flourished, vestments were restored, and new lay leadership was developed in the area of acolyte training and liturgical participation.

The Reverend Julius Jackson (1989–1995), remembered for his ministry to the sick and bereaved, trained and enhanced the role of Lay Eucharistic Ministers in the parish.  During his tenure, African American hymns became a regular part of weekly worship through the use of the hymnal "Lift Every Voice and Sing II."

The Reverend D. Antonio Martin (1998-2001) worked to re-organize the ministries at St. Philip’s to more effectively carry out the mission. During his tenure our great sign greeting the community was constructed and placed on the corner of Fernhill and Grider Avenues

St. Philip's is especially proud of her sons who were ordained to Episcopal  priesthood and ministry: The Reverend Canon Laughton D. Thomas, the late Reverend James E. P. WoodruffThe Reverend James Oliver Lee, The Reverend James Williams, and The Right Reverend Michael B. Curry, Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina. We claim and raise up the ministries of the Reverend Richard Meadows and the Reverend Andre Williamson as they do God’s work in other denominations.

Multiple generations of church families make up the tapestry that is St. Philip’s.  Several of our members have a St. Philip’s presence going back more than three generations.  During the 1920’s to 1940’s, people who had emigrated from the West Indies and who sought the familiarity of the Anglican traditions of their home lands dominated the congregation, but today the congregation is predominantly native born African-American. There is still a West Indian flavor present, which makes St. Philip's a unique and interesting congregation.  

We are blessed with one of the larger corps of acolytes and licensed Eucharistic ministers in the diocese. Our worship service blends Anglo-catholic Anglican traditions with gospel, jazz and the spirituality of a multicultural world.    We like to think that God smiles at different beat of the St. Philip’s drum.

 Lay leadership can be credited with initiating and institutionalizing a number of events that help to define St. Philip’s including the historic St. Philip’s Festival, Men’s Club dance and Everybody’s Birthday Party.  Of more recent vintage are the Graduates’ Mass, Children’s Sabbath, and our annual Shrove Tuesday Chicken 'n Waffle Dinner. 

We thank our heavenly father for the blessings received, the worthy accomplishments of our forefathers, sages and spiritual leaders. 

 We pray that God continues to grace us with a strong sense of community and social justice.  May we always endeavor to be God’s Force For Good and instruments of His peace.

Archives of the Episcopal Church 

 

TODAY AT ST. PHILIP'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH

St. Philip's is a predominantly African-American congregation and is the only parish in the Diocese of Western New York that can be so described.  The congregation is a working class to middle class/professional and draws members from all over Buffalo and the immediate suburbs.  During the 1920’s to 1940’s, people who had emigrated from the West Indies dominated the congregation, but today the congregation is predominantly native born African-American. There is still a West Indian flavor present, which makes St. Philip's a unique and interesting congregation.

Demographically, the ages are mixed, but heavily weighted in the older age ranges.  We have a core of highly committed and active parishioners.  The congregation is defined as middle-of-the-road to moderately conservative liturgically. However, the congregation is receptive to change if it is reasonable, not radical and well explained.  We believe there is a healthy dissatisfaction with the way things are, and that the congregation would welcome changes to help the parish fulfill its potential.  Rectors have found it necessary to develop skills in the areas of consensus building and diplomacy in order to encourage lay leadership and program implementation among this talented congregation.

Lay leadership can be credited with initiating a number of events including Graduates’ Mass, Children’s Sabbath, annual Shrove Tuesday Chicken 'n Waffle Dinner, a quarterly newsletter, "S.P.E.C.", having various church organizations conduct Lenten Stations of the Cross, and last year our first "In-House" parish retreat where many ideas and concerns were freely and enthusiastically discussed.

There is still an insufficient response on the part of the parish to the needs of the immediate community in which the church resides.  This is due is large part to the fact that the membership is from a large cross section of the city.  We do have a food pantry, and we distribute a large quantity of food to those in need in the neighborhood.  We provide the facility for a Community Center.  Although there are parishioners on the board of the Community Center, ownership in the outreach objectives of this needed institution could be improved.

In spite of our small size and financial struggles, St. Philip's has always managed to pay its full diocesan assessment and to contribute substantially to Episcopal Community Services.  We are very active in diocesan affairs with membership/leadership on the board of Episcopal Community Services, the Diocesan Commission on Racism; the Diocesan Council, and a number of other diocesan activities.  Additionally, we acknowledge a need to grow and improve our parish life through development in the following areas

Youth Programs and the Church School:  The vestry feels very strongly that it is of paramount importance that we develop programs that will attract our young people and cultivate their spiritual values while keeping them involved in the church. 

Community Outreach Development:  Our motto, "A FORCE FOR GOOD" indicates a desire to make a positive impact on the community in which we reside and establish a community bond.  Effective community outreach will enhance our stewardship and evangelism efforts.

Strengthening of Christian Education: We need to provide for enhanced education in the basic teachings of Jesus, the Christian Faith, and our Episcopal Tradition.

Stewardship Development:  We must begin to function beyond crisis situations to insure regular financial support of the parish by its members; and to provide systematic response to the individual needs of the parishioners in the spirit of Christian Fellowship. 

Development of An Effective Parish Administration: It is vital that the parish has sufficient staff to coordinate and implement parish liturgical, social, and administrative programs.

Long-term goals identified are:

Revitalization and Expansion of Parish Organizations:  Parish organizations need to be expanded and /or revitalized through broader based participation of parishioners, development of leadership, and more definitive directional focus of these organizations. 

Enhancement of the Mass:  Develop a program to foster a deeper understanding of the Mass, development of the musical program of the church to enhance the services. Infuse more African-American music into the service.  Foster more congregational participation in the services.

Parish Retreats & Other Vehicles to Foster Communication:  Because we are not a neighborhood parish, there must be constant efforts made to strengthen social bonds among parishioners.  In addition, retreats, fundraisers, and forums can strengthen and deepen our understanding and appreciation of each other and of our church.

Development of Buildings and Grounds: We wish to renovate the church buildings, their facilities, and our adjacent empty lots into attractive, creative, and utilitarian additions to our parish and community.