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Church transformed into neighborhood school

Church transformed into neighborhood school

A decaying, empty Episcopal Church complex in Philadelphia is repurposed as a neighborhood school.

In the late 2000s, the Episcopal Church of St. James the Less had ceased to be a beacon of hope in Allegheny West, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia. Windows were broken and boarded-up. The grass was waist-high. Mold and animal feces made spaces unusable.

Today, the scene couldn’t be more different. St. James School, an Episcopal middle school, is completing its third year on the site. Its 46 students, all African-Americans from neighborhood families earning less than $22,000 a year, receive a tuition-free private education.

Formerly vacant spaces are now filled with sounds of children answering questions, sharing laughs and saying prayers in daily worship.

How the property was so radically transformed, in just a few years and without any change in ownership, offers a case study in how an albatross can become an asset for mission. It came to pass through a combination of resilient vision, valuable partnerships and savvy delivery of exactly what cautious stakeholders needed to feel at ease.

Read it all in Faith & Leadership.

More about St. James School at its website.


St. James School is a faith-based Philadelphia middle school in the Episcopal tradition, committed to educating traditionally underresourced students in a nurturing environment. The school is a community that provides a challenging academic program and encourages the development of the moral, spiritual, intellectual, physical and creative gifts in its students.



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This. This this this. This is exactly what could revitalize and renew the Episcopal church nationwide. Episcopal schools build on our strengths, and schools are something that Episcopalians do well. If every diocese would get to school planting (especially ones like this) we would become a thriving denomination with a lot to offer our communities. (But I am a little biased. St Andrews Episcopal School in Jackson, MS was one of the best things that ever happened to me.) We need more schools like this in all sorts of communities and neighborhoods around the country.

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