Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church

Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church front entrance. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania

1001 South 4th near Washington Ave.

Founded circa 1847 and completed in 1869, Emanuel Lutheran has evolved to serve the needs of its changing congregation for nearly 150 years. It was established by German Lutherans, who began arriving in Philadelphia as early as 1683 and worshipped in Swedish churches until forming their own German-language congregations. Under current Pastor Cornelius Eaddy, Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran currently serves a diverse but primarily African American congregation.

Emanuel Lutheran’s historic steeple once provided a landmark for ships traveling up the Delaware River. A symbol of the church’s endurance, the steeple has withstood both the construction of the adjacent Southwark Plaza housing projects towers in 1962 and their implosion in 2000. (One tower of senior citizen housing remains standing.) Both events had a profound impact on the surrounding neighborhood and on Emanuel Lutheran’s congregation.

In 1959, confronted with the shrinking of its traditional German-speaking congregation, and the imminent construction of Southwark Plaza towers and sweeping neighborhood transformation that accompanied it, Emanuel Lutheran enacted changes of its own. The church dropped the traditional German and began holding services in English, and initiated a program of community-service programming that continues today through an alliance with Lutheran Children and Family Services. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is a denomination “committed to urban ministry.” In 2000, Pastor Eaddy, who grew up in Southwark Plaza, spoke of the changes in the neighborhood and the congregation in the wake of the towers’ demolition: “We lived through the dust when the old low-rises came down, and we’re glad to see new life breathed into the dry bones of Southwark,” he said. “But many of our neighbors still need help to rebuild their lives. They need spiritual guidance, and they also need practical assistance. Many of our senior citizens need help adjusting to their new surroundings. Our young people need an alternative to the streets.”

In addition to strengthening the congregation, Emanuel Lutheran has also worked to repair and renovate its historic church over the last decade, including replacing the roof and restoring windows. Though the historic steeple has weathered the implosion of the Southwark towers, maintenance and care of the almost 150-year-old church and steeple has been an ongoing challenge. Despite years of hard work, the lack of resources in the face of mounting needed repairs forced the small congregation to shutter the building in the fall of 2008. However, the members of Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran continue their commitment to their community and neighborhood in their new home a few blocks away at 1332 South 3rd Street, where the congregation shares space with St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church.

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