• African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas vestry minute book page 1
  • 264 South 23rd Street  
  • Philadelphia, PA 19103
P 215.545.0613
F 215.735.9313


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Institution: African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas
Stewardship Participation: Preservation Planning
Project Lead: Mary Sewell Smith, Archivist

About the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas: The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas was founded in Philadelphia in 1792, by and for persons of African descent.  It became the first African American Episcopal Church in the United States, and over the years its clergy and parishioners have played key roles in the struggle for racial equality, from the abolition movement and Underground Railroad to the civil rights movements of the 20th century.  Early religious services were held in private homes and in a school, until the original church house was constructed in 1794 at 5th and Adelphi Streets.  Preservation has been a major focus at the Church since its Historical Society was founded in 1981.  As well as collecting and studying the history of the Church itself, the Historical Society also strives to honor the life and Ministry of The Reverend Absalom Jones, the first Episcopal priest of African descent and St. Thomas’s first rector. 

What were you able to accomplish as a result of your institution’s participation in the Stewardship Program?

Having a Preservation Plan in place has helped us guide the process of creating an upgraded storage facility.  One of our ongoing problems was that we had no proper storage area; even as items were processed, they were still not stored securely, in appropriate climate conditions, or in a place where researchers could comfortably use the material. Over the last few years, however, the Church has built a beautiful, state-of-the-art archival facility for us.  We were able drive many of the design decisions with recommendations from CCAHA.  Our ultimate goal is to move all of our holdings there. 

What did you learn about your collections, or about preservation in general, because of the Stewardship Program?  What information has been helpful to you? 

Everything!   Most of our members, including myself, are retired professionals from other disciplines, so without guidance we would just be feeling our way. 

In particular, I’ve learned some helpful information about creating exhibits.  I create an exhibit every February on some aspect of the Church history as it reflects black history, and it’s been important to find ways to adapt the space we’re allotted in ways that work for the exhibit.  I have gotten resources from CCAHA that enable me to plan and make decisions that I can be confident are sound. 

What was the main benefit of participating in the Stewardship Program for your institution?

The reports and resources that CCAHA has given us have really been our guide during the process of building the new archival facility.  We were able to give the architects and construction planners the information we had from CCAHA and say, “This is what we need!”  We have used the Center as our authority and guide in what we’re trying to do.