TWO CENTER-CITY CONGREGATIONS FORM NEW PARTNERSHIP AT 17TH AND SANSOM STREETS
Ownership of the renown First Baptist Church Building at 17th and Sansom Streets in Philadelphia has been transferred in an historic agreement signed this past Monday. In order to sustain their continued presence and ministry, the members of First Baptist Church found it necessary to sell the building. The new owner is Liberti Church, a member congregation in the Reformed Church in America. The Liberti congregation has been worshipping here for the last three-and-a-half years under a lease agreement. While facing several options, the membership of First Baptist chose Liberti instead of a commercial development interest, so that this building would continue to be a source of ministry, healing, and a center for community life and support.
The Rev. Dr. Peter C. Wool, Pastor of the First Baptist Church, sees this as a new opportunity for the building and for the congregation. “Selling this building to another church is, we believe, the best option for sustaining this building as a place of ministry.” The First Baptist congregation, founded in 1698, will remain in the building, leasing space for a newly designed chapel that will incorporate elements of their original worship space.
Liberti is a new congregation that launched in Center City Philadelphia in the spring of 2009, and has an additional campus at Rosemont College, in Bryn Mawr, on the Main Line. What started as simply a rental agreement between First Baptist and Liberti blossomed into a productive partnership between a historic congregation and a very new one. The Rev. Jared Ayers , Founder and Preaching Pastor of Liberti Church, puts it this way: “Our dream in coming to Philadelphia to launch Liberti was to develop a church and cultivate a community that would be a hospitable place for anyone and everyone to explore the good news of God’s love in Christ, whatever their background.”
The substantial support group ministry housed in this building will remain a part of Liberti’s approach to community life and support. The building will also remain open for concert and community forum events and home to the Off-Broad Street Theatre companies.
The Edgar Seeler-designed building at 17th and Sansom Streets, was completed and dedicated in 1900. It is distinguished by an exceptional Byzantine-inspired sanctuary, based on the 6th century Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and decorated in an exuberant Beaux Arts style. Liberti church is committed to the restoration and updating of the building with an eye to maintaining its historic integrity, beauty, and long-term viability.