Philadelphia is a city of firsts. One area where this is exemplary is in the list of accomplishments for its churches. Philadelphia is home to Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’ Church), which is located at 916 Swanson St (Columbus and Christian) in South Philadelphia. The original church was founded as part of the New Sweden settlement on Tinicum Island in 1646. Later, the church was moved to its present location, and was consecrated on July 2, 1700. This early lineage makes Gloria Dei, the oldest church in Pennsylvania.
Gloria Dei would have the distinction to several other firsts. Dr. Carl Magnus Wrangel was a minister there from 1759-1768. During this time he baptized approximately 20 Africans, which distinguishes Gloria Dei as one of the earliest multiracial churches.
Gloria Dei also lays claim to the first Lutheran ordination in the nation. Justus Falckner, a theology student from Germany was ordained in 1703. Furthermore, this may have been the first Christian ordination on the continent, because prior ordinations were confirmed in Europe.
The church has gone through a number of renovations and additions over the years, but in one of its earliest, a marble baptismal font added in 1731 is one of the oldest still being used. This is all the more impressive considering that the church was without a pastor from 1733-1737. It is surprising the church has lasted.
Like the heart of Philadelphia which continues to change and grow, Gloria Dei stands as an example par excellence of this spirit. Even today, the church remains active, and is open for visitors.
- Williams, Dr. Kim-Eric, “The Eight Old Swedes’ Churches of New Sweden.” (1999) The Swedish Colonial Society. http://www.colonialswedes.org/Churches/GloDei.html (accessed October 25, 2006).
- Gloria Dei ‘Old Swedes’ Church. http://www.old-swedes.org/ (accessed October 25, 2006).