New head of Mt. Airy church has come a long way

by Len Lear
Posted 4/25/24

The Rev. Tanya Regli was just appointed Clergy in Charge at Grace Epiphany Episcopal Church.

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New head of Mt. Airy church has come a long way


The Rev. Tanya Regli, who was just appointed Clergy in Charge at Grace Epiphany Episcopal Church, 224 E. Gowen Ave. in Mt. Airy, where her first service was on Feb. 14, Ash Wednesday, did not exactly grow up in the lap of luxury. She grew up in the Amazon Rain Forest in Colombia, South America, three degrees from the equator. 

“It was so remote that we had no electricity or running water,” she said last week. “There were no roads and no high school. I had to study at home.”

Regli was raised in a jungle because her parents, now in their 80s, were passionate activists who were inspired by the civil rights movement and anti-war movements of the 1960s to work with indigenous communities.

Her father, Paul, born in Kentucky, was a deacon in the Catholic Church who adhered to “liberation theology,” and her mother, Ginny, a Jewish native of Queens, New York. Both now live in Northeast Philadelphia and are still involved in social justice efforts. 

Regli's maternal grandfather, Abraham Theodore Cohen, born in 1907, and his two sisters were raised in a Jewish orphanage next door to Germantown Friends School. (It is no longer there.)

Paul is now active in the Sanctuary movement, and Ginny works with a cooperative in Kensington, growing food. 

“It is an ecumenical family,” said Regli. “Dad goes to synagogue with my mom. He thinks in terms of 300-year increments. He keeps the faith. And I have a younger brother, Eric Witte, who works for the U.S. State Department all over Africa. He is currently in South Africa working on food sustainability.” 

After living her first nine years in Colombia and the next nine in Venezuela, Regli was offered a full scholarship to Georgetown University, where she earned an undergraduate degree. She later earned a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and two more master's degrees in Social Work and Law and Social Policy from Bryn Mawr College. 

She went on to work for numerous churches and non-profits such as Olney Charter High School, where she helped place more than 100 students with disabilities into internships and employment.

As a community organizer in Washington and Boston, Regli built programs to support immigrant communities and marginalized groups seeking access to social services. Her fluency in Spanish was a major asset in these efforts. In Philadelphia, she served as executive director of The Arc of Philadelphia, an advocacy organization serving the needs of individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. In that role, she built a national program to assist major corporations with job placement and training.  

After Princeton, Regli had chaplaincy training and was a seminarian at a Spanish-speaking church in Plainfield, New Jersey, and then at St. John's Church at the Diocesan Center in Norristown. She also worked in rotation at different congregations in the area.

“That's how I got to know Grace Epiphany,” she said. “This is a special community, where the spirit is strong. It was very exciting when I was offered this job. Dr. Martin Luther King said we are never more segregated than on Sunday mornings. That's why I love this place because it is the opposite. It has been thoroughly integrated since the 1950s.

“There is so much lay leadership here,” she continued. “It's an amazing, powerful thing. Many congregants can walk here, and there is a growing number of Spanish-speaking people in this area. I'd like to know more about them. To worship in Spanish every so often would be wonderful, and I would like to have Spanish language classes.”

The church also has a social justice book club; “Fridays at Grace,” an inter-generational gathering; the “Big Backyard pre-school cooperative,” the Mt. Airy Dance Studio, many Mt. Airy Learning Tree classes and other community events such as Jazz Night. 

“They used to have supper once a week here,” said Regli, who has also been a choir member, liturgist and pastoral caregiver at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Chestnut Hill. “I hope to bring that back. It's a wonderful way to have fellowship.” 

Regli's husband, Brian, works for Governor Josh Shapiro. Their daughter, Andrea, 23, is an electrical engineer working on her master's degree in Ireland. Their son, Gabriel, 25, has a computer animation business and lives with his parents in Cheltenham.

Grace Epiphany Episcopal Church was formed in 1991 by the merger of two racially integrated Mt. Airy Episcopal churches: Grace, founded in 1857, and Epiphany which was founded in 1898. Founder Franklin B. Gowen was a railroad tycoon who is believed to have committed suicide in 1889.

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