St. Mary’s is also proud of its long tradition of social activism; here church membership carries with it a concomitant obligation to work actively for the betterment of all. Our commitment is grounded solidly in the theological values we espouse, in the God of justice and love we worship, and in the commandment that we love one another as God has loved us. For at least 40 years, St. Mary’s has had an institutional concern with working for peace and justice in the world, in the United States, and in University City. St. Marians have been in the forefront of issues of world peace, disarmament, social and economic justice, and racial, ethnic, gender and sexual orientation fairness for a long time.
Believing that every person has an inherent right to food, shelter, education, and health care, St. Mary’s founded in the mid-1980’s and continues to support strongly the University City Hospitality Coalition. This all volunteer program provides hot meals five days a week and a good meal every day of the week for upwards of 200 homeless and hungry residents of University City in host churches, of which St. Mary’s is one. UCHC also supports dental, medical, legal, and social work clinics that match Penn professional school students and UCHC clients and work not only to provide care but also to advocate for economic justice in a largely unjust world. St. Mary’s is the locus for food storage and handling for UCHC, and St. Mary’s parishioners coordinate the meals program and serve as UCHC volunteer coordinator (both volunteer jobs).
For almost 40 years, St. Mary’s has acted out its commitment to quality affordable education for children of all races and ethnicities by operating St. Mary’s Nursery School. About 50 pre-school children attend the school and reflect the great diversity of the community in their make-up. St. Mary’s Nursery School attempts to make child care and education as affordable to as many of its students as possible. Beginning in fall 2002, St. Mary’s will host a four afternoon-per-week tutoring and reading skills program with third-grade students from the Lea Elementary School, a local public school. The Neighborhood Bike Works, located in the Parish Hall basement, provides opportunities to West Philadelphia youth to learn bicycle safety and repair, obtain safe and reasonably bikes, and to take organized bicycle rides. In response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, St. Mary’s created the St. Mary’s Respite Center, now an independent entity providing care for children living with HIV and for the children of adult parents with HIV.
Peace and Justice
During the long years of the Vietnam war, St. Mary’s was both a prophetic voice opposing war and supporting peace and a literal sanctuary for many young men who for reasons of conscience would not serve in the military. That commitment to achieving a just peace in the world and opposing war is still alive and well. What is clear to many of us is that in 2002 as in 1962 (when the Vietnam conflict began) and given the enormity of the United State’s own injustices, there are better ways to achieve peace abroad and equity at home than by dropping million dollar bombs from billion dollar planes, often on civilians.
For many years, St. Mary’s has been involved in the struggle for achieving full civil rights for those people in the United States historically denied those rights: people of color, women, and sexual minorities. One way we do this is by being attentive to issues of language in our liturgy, understanding that the language we use shapes our view of the world as well as reflecting it. We have also, through the years, supported inter-racial discussion groups to foster dialogue and change, and hosted the first lesbian and gay religious organizations (Integrity and Dignity) in their early years. St. Mary’s hired openly gay clergy for most of the decade of the 1990’s, and its current Rector is an openly gay man active in the community. Believing the death penalty to be inherently racist and unfair, St. Mary’s opposes it strongly and is a member of Pennsylvania Abolitionists. During the late 1980’s, when southeast Asian refugees began to settle in large numbers in University City, St. Mary’s pioneered a program that provided education, health care, and social supports for many of those newly arriving in the neighborhood, particularly those coming from Cambodia. This program was later absorbed by community-based organizations.