Feb 18, 2022 - News

First Black and openly gay pastor set to lead Center City church

The Rev. Joseph Wallace-Williams
Rev. Joseph Wallace-Williams. Photo courtesy of the Church of Saint Luke and the Epiphany

Rev. Joseph Wallace-Williams is primed to become the first Black and openly gay head pastor at Church of Saint Luke and The Epiphany (SLATE).

Driving the news: Wallace-Williams will take over the historically white church at 330 S. 13th St. on March 5.

  • He's stepping into the role after Rev. Rodger Broadley, the church's former head pastor, retired.

Why it matters: Leadership opportunities for African Americans have "opened across the board" inside the Episcopal Church in recent years, said Rev. Canon Martini Shaw of African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Overbrook Farms — which is considered the oldest Black Episcopal church in the U.S.

  • "At one time, if you were African American, you were pretty much limited to what churches were open to you to serve as head pastor, and those churches were predominantly African American," Shaw said.

State of play: Founded in the 1830s, SLATE's 250 members are approximately 85% white and 15% people of color.

  • SLATE has a long history of inclusion and activism over social issues, including sexual orientation, gender identity and racial equity.
  • The church helped provide assistance during the AIDS crisis — and has a sizable LGBTQ+ membership today.

Bio, in brief: A native New Orleanian, Wallace-Williams was the first openly gay, African American person ordained in the Diocese of Louisiana in 2012.

  • He has served as assistant rector of other churches and as a monk before taking over as acting head pastor of SLATE in early 2020.
  • The Philadelphia post will be his first leading a church as head pastor.

What they're saying: Wallace-Williams brings "what the church needed: a new voice, and new and diverse perspective, grounded in the spiritual traditions of the Episcopal Church," said Michael Krasulski, a member of the church on the search committee for the role.

Wallace-Williams told Axios that leading SLATE shows the church is putting "what it says and prays into action."

  • His goals include expanding membership and helping marginalized members of society.
  • "It's humbling. For me, it's also a continuation of what God has been up to in my life," he said.
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