If you step inside St. Mary’s Church, you will feel decades of African-American history within its walls, from a series of murals depicting angels to the ornate capitals atop each of its stone columns. In 1897, the church moved to its current location at 18th and Bainbridge from the north side of Lombard Street. At the time it was St. Mary’s Chapel, a mission of St. Mark’s Church that was founded by the Society of St. Margaret, an order of women in the Anglican Church.
Changing demographics have affected this church like others in the Diocese. At one point, in the last five years, the church faced the possibility of closing. But, the church is learning to adapt. “St. Mary’s is renting their non-church properties to support their budget and creating ministries that will engage their neighborhood ‘to know Jesus and change the world,’” said Rev. Betsy Ivey, canon for growth and support. The new rector, Father Modayil Philips, arrived from South India in January 2016 and the Diocese has been working with him and the vestry to repair an empty house that the church owns. The church also provides space for self-help groups such as Al Anon, offers a soup kitchen and provides shelter and housing to the homeless in the city.
In 2017, Bishop Gutiérrez renewed a commitment the church. “We can change the prevailing attitude in the Church that the only way to survive is to close churches,” said Gutiérrez. “We can do more than survive; we can thrive.”