Chestnut Hill Conservancy Looks at Racism through our Cultural Heritage and Architecture

In our History at Home Then and Now series of jigsaw puzzles, we pair two images, offering different levels of difficulty, Beginner and Expert. For this month’s Then and Now puzzles, we’re featuring images of St. Martin-in-the-Fields church on the corner of West Willow Grove Avenue and St. Martins Lane. The ‘Now’ image is from 1996, the ‘Then’ image is circa 1890-1900.

At our request, The Reverend Jarrett Kerbel has shared his thoughts on the history and future of the church and its beautiful building:

“The Church Building of St. Martin-in-the-Fields is more puzzling than it first appears. On the one hand, it is a beautiful and generous gift to the community by the families that developed West Chestnut Hill, the Houstons and the Woodwards. Sincere in their faith, these families built a dignified building to worship God. At the same time, the building was meant to attract “the right people” – meaning White Anglo-Saxon Protestants – to buy or rent property in the new planned community around it. Not until the late 1970s did the church begin even the slightest integration.

“From its earliest days, inspired by our Patron Saint, many charitable endeavors overflowed from this building including Buttercup Cottage on Cresheim Road. Yet, once again, like the church itself, the charitable enterprise reinforced segregation by race and class rather than challenge it as the Gospel teaches us to do. Buttercup was for white working class women only and was separate from the Wissahickon Inn which served a wealthier caste. We hold gratitude for gifts and repentance for error together as a normal tension that propels us deeper into faith. At St. Martin’s today we are working hard at Anti-Racism through our Becoming Beloved Community program of education, system change and advocacy. We have a long way to go but we look forward to a new puzzle with many, more diverse pieces.”

— The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel, Rector

Learn more about the efforts of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church to become a racism-free and diverse community that reflect the city where we worship here.

We might want to add our own contribution to this healing process and ask – what is St. Paul’s doing “to become a racism-free and diverse community that reflects the city where we worship?”

Albert Ogle