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Universal Church of the Kingdom of God

Status: Active, Christian

Formerly Known As: St. Stephen (Roman Catholic)

Construction: 1884

Broad & Butler Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19140

Visit its website

Original visit: November 24, 2007


Where Is It?

Broad & Butler Streets, in the Nicetown-Tioga section of North Philadelphia.


The Skinny

Most churches the Project has seen have been in use by the denomination that built them. But how about we take a look at a church that started off as one denomination and later became another?

That's right! Caveat Emptor!

If Universal Church of the Kingdom of God looks a little too extravagant for a fringe religious group, that's because it is. This picturesque edifice at N. Broad and Butler Streets used to be the Roman Catholic church of St. Stephen.

Astute readers may recall that St. Stephen was a victim of the North Philadelphia Swath of Destruction; it was closed during the Year of Hell and consolidated into the new Our Lady of Hope parish.

It’s quite a shame, since St. Stephen looks to have been a fine church in its day. It’s not huge, but it has lovely brown stone construction, ice-cream cone spires and script work, especially around the doors and in the corners.

Unfortunately, that's about as far as I can go. It’s difficult to truly evaluate this building, because its new owners took a hatchet to the interior.

Yes, another Pimp My Church experiment gone wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.

From the inside, Universal Church looks nothing like a church. They dry-walled over the arches and vaults, shrunk the interior space, and turned it into a glorified plaster classroom.

You would never know that you were inside a grand church, and there’s now a ridiculous disconnect between the interior and exterior. Not content to leave well enough alone, they even replaced the ancient front doors with clear glass ones. Yeah, you heard me.

The sight so horrified me that I couldn't bear to take pictures. But let me put it this way. See this vintage photo?

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Standing inside the church now, you'd never know this existed. I don't have the words to convey such a drastic change.

I've been told by people of the parish that the renovation was due to a combination of heating, lighting, maintenance, and ecclesastical issues. I won't delve too deeply into that here, but I believe at least two of those reasons are utter nonsense.

Not that it matters. The damage is done, and the Project weeps.


How's It Doing?

There's little to go on here, but the Universal Church is actually not some fringe sect. It's a worldwide movement that started in Brazil and is quickly gathering steam. You can check out their site for more specifics, especially regarding the stark differences they have with Catholicism.

They offer three to four masses a day, which is pretty impressive. And, more amazingly, they keep the church open during the day, a practice Roman Catholic churches haven't done in years. They've also managed to salvage a property the Archdiocese abandoned 14 years ago, so their message seems to have found an audience.


Travel Tidbits

At Broad & Butler, Universal Church is one block north of a major intersection at Broad & Erie. Nicetown still has little that’s nice about it, and the flashing police cameras confirm that. But you’re at a major enough crossroads that you really shouldn’t worry that much, especially during the day.

Parking? Well, park on Broad. Broad is your friend. Other streets? Not so much.


Interesting Note

My great-grandparents got married at this church back in the 1920s. I’d really love to see what the area was like back then. I might finally understand why the area was called Nicetown.

They’d be spinning in their graves if they saw this now.


Additional Resources

Mailbag 17: Universal Church's Redesign / November 26, 2010

Anyone? Anyone? / April 16, 2009


Image Gallery


The Final Word

Come to see the exterior, which hints at what this church used to be. But the interior has been hacked to pieces, rendering it meaningless.