Status: Active, Episcopal
205 Huntingdon Pike
Rockledge, PA 19046
Original visit: September 7, 2008
Where Is It?
205 Huntingdon Pike, right over the city border in Rockledge.
The Project ventures back into the suburbs! Admittedly it’s not much of a journey, since Rockledge’s Holy Nativity lies literally two blocks past Philly’s Fox Chase section.
You won’t hear the Project complaining, though. After going (it seems) to the ends of the earth and back again — and, occasionally, South Philly as well — I’m overjoyed to have a church that doesn’t require a road trip of epic proportions.
Holy Nativity is a sterling example of that rare suburban church: an ancient, well-constructed, passionately-crafted edifice that does its best to counter the soulless and sprawled architecture common to newer suburbs. It’s a handsome cruciform gothic church that’s notable for its white castle-like trim and highly prominent tower. (Complete with gargoyles!)
Inside, we get a design that, like a lot of Protestant churches, relies on plainer plaster and wood. But here it’s supplemented by some really nice touches: a couple of intricate stone pulpits, a great altar section, a nifty baptismal alcove in the back, and some richly detailed stained glass — a rose window, a large altar backdrop and an especially nice nave set.
Sure, the plaster job doesn’t do a whole lot, and the clerestory and transept windows are probably the plainest I’ve ever seen. (You won’t see pictures of them, because I feared they’d break my camera if I tried.) Still, though, I like this church a lot. Not because everything it does is stellar, but because it’s a more complete church, top to bottom, than the others.
Look for it: One of the nave windows was dedicated to the parish after World War II. It’s the one to the left of the plaque on the right side of the church.
How the $#%@ do I get in here? It’s actually pretty easy here. Nativity uses the tower as their prominent façade, but there are conveniently located doors on both sides near the back of the church.
How's It Doing?
Protestant churches tend to be far smaller than their Catholic counterparts, and Holy Nativity is no exception. Sure, the last published membership count, 343 in 2005, might not seem that impressive. But that number is actually more than double what it was in 1998.
And, like their brethren, this is a passionate group, highlighted by a solid list of charities, endeavors and activities. You can get a good sense of the parish in their impressive profile, which features everything from their history to an architectural profile to their financial statements to a synopsis of their social work. If only all churches were so transparent!
Speaking of architecture, it’s worth noting that their buildings are in fine shape, helped along by some recent stained-glass refurbishing.
The Project befriended one of the ushers, who immediately enshrined himself in my Hall of Fame by making an astute observation: parishioners tend to think churches will take care of themselves, so they often skimp or forgo maintenance entirely until they’re in over their heads.
I’ve seen quite a few churches, and let me tell you: truer words were rarely spoken.
Of course, he also insisted that Holy Nativity has never received the maintenance it deserved, but it could have fooled me. The place looks pretty good.
Fox Chase / Rockledge is easily accessibly from the inner-ring Montgomery County suburbs and from upper Northeast Philadelphia. It’s also as inoffensive a place as you’re going to find on this tour, so you can traverse it without any worries.
Nativity does have a parking lot, but there’s also a lot of parking to be had on the side streets.
The Very Reverend Carl Metzger, Interim Rector, told me that Holy Nativity has more marble than he’s seen in any other church.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but I have a list of churches you might be interested in seeing.
The Final Word