On May 1, 1870, Bishop William Bacon Stevens, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, founded the Protestant Episcopal City Mission, known as the City Mission. The City Mission pooled and coordinated resources throughout the Diocese of Pennsylvania to cope with the critical needs of the region’s poor.
The City Mission provided material assistance, spiritual comfort and charitable relief to the sick and the poor. In the early days, institutional care facilities were set up, including the Church Home for Children, providing shelter for orphans; the Home for Consumptives, in Chestnut Hill, which treated tuberculosis sufferers; and Sick Diet Kitchens, which offered meals for the invalid poor. Many of these early programs were staffed by volunteers, ministers and untrained workers. The City Mission also provided spiritual comfort through chaplaincy in these institutions and in prisons and hospitals.
The relationship between the Diocese and the City Mission changed over the years. Bishop Stevens handed the direction of the City Mission to an independent Board of Council that consisted of clergy and lay members of the Diocese. In the early 1900s, the Canon of the Diocese was amended to more explicitly define parishes’ role in the support of the City Mission, stating that “every Rector and Minister-in-Charge of a Congregation in the Diocese shall annually, in some way, present the cause of the City Mission to his people and bespeak their support of its work.”
In 1906 the City Mission gained its third and current home, Old St. Paul’s Church, at 225 South Third Street. By then, nearby Christ Church and St. Peter’s were sufficient to meet the needs of Episcopalians in Society Hill. Old St. Paul’s was designed by John Palmer and Robert Smith, and when it was finished in 1761 it was the largest church building in Pennsylvania. In the 1980s, ECS undertook major exterior and interior renovations, modernizing the entire building.
The Great Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal marked a turning point in the evolution of services to families. In the 1930s, these events and the new social work profession forged a closer partnership between the public and private sector. Under this new model, the government provided a base level of support and relief to the poor, while contracted agencies became responsible for supplementing that support and expanding the range of services to meet client needs. In recognition of this new environment, in 1958, the City Mission was renamed Episcopal Community Services (ECS).
Throughout its history, ECS has adapted its services in response to changing community needs. When a cure for tuberculosis was found, the agency redirected its energies to serving persons with other long-term illnesses such as the frail elderly and children with acute or chronic medical conditions. In the early years of the AIDS epidemic, ECS trained its social workers and home health aide staff to care for people with AIDS in their homes. ECS staff provided technical expertise and guidance as founding members of one of Philadelphia’s first AIDS care agencies.
Many of the institutional services first established by the City Mission no longer exist; however, ECS’ mission as a human service agency remains largely unchanged. Today, the social services landscape in the United States continues to shift. Government continues to contract services to organizations, but demands that they do more with less. Unfunded mandates, changing priorities and greater regulations make many core programs more difficult to administer. At the same time, need in the community is once again growing. ECS remains blessed by charitable support that helps the agency continue to provide high quality services today and innovation for tomorrow.