Out reverend bids farewell to Center City congregation after decades of leadership

Out reverend bids farewell to Center City congregation after decades of leadership

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Rev. Rodger Broadley, the out gay rector of Saint Luke and The Epiphany (SLATE), will retire after almost 40 years of leadership at the church after his last service on Jan. 19.

Broadley is beloved by the SLATE congregation, as well as by the broader community in the church’s Center City neighborhood.

“He really is very wise, compassionate, and very inclusive,” said Mary Ellen Desmond, head of the vestry at SLATE. “He makes everyone who walks through the door of that church feel welcome. We have a pretty wide cross-section of people that are congregants there.”

Many members of the SLATE congregation identify as gay. Most of its current population belongs to the senior generation, though the church is hoping to welcome some younger members in the coming years, Desmond said.

In the 1980s, Broadley provided funeral and counseling services for people with HIV and AIDS and their families.

“I was raised in the tradition where anyone who wanted to have a funeral should have one,” Broadley said. “The basic decency of providing for people who were grieving was just so important. We had about 200 funerals over that period for people with HIV/AIDS.”

In 1989, in collaboration with Mercy Hospice, an organization that provides care for women experiencing homelessness and women in recovery, Broadley established an AIDS-focused ministry called St. Luke’s Hospitality Center. To his knowledge, it was the first full-time, church-run HIV/AIDS program in the country, which began by offering a support group specifically for women with HIV — a population that did not receive adequate care at the time. Many people in the area came to know SLATE through the Hospitality Center.

“We were trying to make a statement. We had experienced a lot of loss and sadness but had built a lot of resilience as well,” Broadley said in an email. “We wanted to extend what we knew to a larger community — HIV wasn’t a white gay men’s problem, as some wanted to portray it.”

Broadley also emphasized SLATE’s long-standing role in the neighborhood, well before he became a pastor there. In the 19th-century, a large immigrant population was present in the community surrounding the church, situated at 13th and Pine streets.

“It was always a boundary line in the 19th century between African-American Philadelphia and white Philadelphia,” Broadley said. “There’s always been a sense that we were connected to a very complicated neighborhood.”

In addition to providing services for those with HIV/AIDS, Broadley opened SLATE’s doors to groups such as ACT UP, Action AIDS, as well as the longest-running Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the city.

The Catholic mass Dignity also holds its Sunday night service at SLATE, which is for “...anyone involved in the gay community that feels like that’s really the place that is comfortable and accepting of their identity within the format of the Catholic Church,” Desmond said.

Since 2004, Desmond has been running the annual concert “Comfort and Joy,” where she sings with a jazz quartet. Proceeds from the concert are donated to help people living with HIV. 

Broadley never felt the need to hide his sexual orientation, even though being an LGBTQ+ member of the clergy was controversial when he became ordained 42 years ago.

“You had to sort of keep it quiet,” Broadley said. “I’ve never been interested in the kind of double life. In fact, one of the things that I feel most happy about in my life, and in the Episcopal Church, is that I have not had to divide my life into my gay life and my Christain life.”

Broadley married his long-time partner, Joe Quinn, five years ago. “Our relationship is also a very important part of the next step in my life,” Broadley said.

Amid a significant transition in church leadership, Broadley has spoken about the change that the parish will experience upon his retirement.

“He really believes that we’re going to get through this transition with flying colors,” Desmond said. “He believes that everyone there is very dedicated to continuing what he established and continuing the relationships that we have to each other and being open to new leadership.”

As part of the Episcopal clergy, Broadley is able to keep working in different environments beyond his retirement, if he chooses to do so.

“I think what I need to do is not do that for a while, to figure out what it means to step back from this work, for six months or a year or longer,” Broadley said. “But I’m very committed to Philadelphia, and I’m very committed to the Episcopal church here but also to the secular community, so I see myself being engaged in lots of stuff.”

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