The Reverend Paul M. Washington

Jennifer A. Allcock
Willard G. Rouse, III

Paul Washington was always up for a good fight. From the Black Panthers to gay rights, Washington as an activist was no stranger to controversial causes. Add to this mix the fact that he was an ordained Episcopal priest, and you had a force to be reckoned with.

W ashington was, in many minds, synonymous with the Church of the Advocate, a predominately Black, Episcopal congregation in North Philadelphia. But the influence of that church had implications beyond those borders. He was assigned to that struggling parish in 1962. By the time he retired in 1987 the church was not only thriving, but also had a $3.2 million community center named after Washington and his wife Christine.

In 1968 the Church of the Advocate hosted the National Black Power Conference; two years later it hosted the Black Panther Party convention. But it was 1974 that almost brought the national Episcopal Church to its knees. For Washington opened the Advocate’s doors to host the ordination of the first 11 women into the priesthood. The ordination was performed by three retired Episcopal bishops in defiance of church law. The Episcopal Church eventually changed its rules and recognized the ordinations in 1976. In 1980, at the request of U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Washington participated in an international peace conference in Iran.

On a more local scale, Washington served on the MOVE Commission that investigated the 1985 bombing of a house, and subsequent incineration of a neighborhood, in West Philadelphia. He was a supporter of the 1995 Million Man March in Washington, but a vocal opponent of the Promise Keepers movement. While both movements stressed male responsibility in the family, the Christian fundamentalist Promise Keepers insist that, according to scripture, the husband should be obeyed as head of the family. In 1996 he broke ranks with the Black Clergy of Philadelphia (and was on the opposite side of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia) when he supported domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian city employees.

Even closer to home was the work that Paul and Christine Washington did for their neighborhood through the Advocate Community Development Corporation, rehabbing hundreds of housing units and reducing urban blight in North Philadelphia. Washington was a firm believer in the social Christian gospel. His successor at the Church of the Advocate put it this way: “Paul, first and foremost, no matter what arena he was operating in, was a priest. He did not function in a way that his identity as a servant of God and a servant of the church was ever confused. Everything he did flowed out of that.”

Lee Arnold

Sources: William R. Macklin and Mark Wagenveld, “The Rev. Paul Washington, Voice of the Oppressed, Dies,” Philadelphia Inquirer (Oct. 9, 2002); Melanie Burney, “N. Phila. Clergyman Reaps a Tribute for His Activism,” Philadelphia Inquirer (Oct. 28, 2001); Acel Moore, “Paying Tribute to a Couple Who Helped Lift a Community,” Philadelphia Inquirer , Oct. 25, 2001; David O’Reilly and Dianna Marder, “Clerics Rally for Rendell’s Benefits Rule,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 19, 1996; William R. Macklin, “A Joyful Affirmation for Women Priests,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 30, 1994; “Remembering Father Paul,”; “Paul Washington,”