20. Methodist Sailors Home
On July 4th 1831 seven young men from Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church (which was also located a few blocks from here) were inspired by the sailor preacher Rev. Edward T. Taylor of Boston when he was in town to preach. Known as “Father Taylor,” this gruff but passionate preacher made his appeal: Methodists needed to establish a ministry to help the many sailors who came ashore in Philadelphia. Moved to action, the seven young men pooled money they had been saving and did what Father Taylor asked. First they rented a third floor sail-loft near South and Front Street. For two years they met in this rented space until, in November 1833, they moved a few blocks further south and finally, in 1845, they built what became the Methodist Episcopal Mariner’s Bethel near what is today Front Street and Bainbridge Street. (The actual street configurations have been dramatically altered over the years making the precise location of Penn Street and Bainbridge Street difficult to ascertain.)
The inaugural sermon at the newly constructed Mariner’s Bethel in 1845 was given by none other than Father Taylor who first inspired the young men to establish this ministry. Father Taylor today is perhaps most famous for being the likely inspiration for Herman Melville’s character, Father Mapple, in Moby Dick!
Herman Melville described his Father Mapple preaching about the biblical story of Jonah like this:
While [Father Mapple] was speaking these words, the howling of the shrieking, slanting storm without seemed to add new power to the preacher, who, when describing Jonah’s sea-storm, seemed tossed by a storm himself. His deep chest heaved as with a ground-swell; his tossed arms seemed the warring elements at work; and the thunders that rolled away from off his swarthy brow, and the light leaping from his eye, made all his simple hearers look on him with a quick fear that was strange to them… There now came a lull in his look, as he silently turned over the leaves of the Book once more; and, at last, standing motionless, with closed eyes, for the moment, seemed communing with God and himself.
One wonders how similarly Father Taylor may have preached here many years ago.
The Mariner’s Bethel ministered to sailors for many decades and changed locations a number of times. Today, a few former members of the Mariner’s Bethel – now closed – still worship at Clifton United Methodist Church in Clifton Heights, Pennsylvania.