When the American Bible Society sold its swanky national headquarters in Manhattan for $300 million and decided to relocate earlier in 2015, the nearly 200-year-old ministry could have gone anywhere, as the ABS has branches throughout the United States.
They decided upon Philadelphia however because of its roots.
"Moving from New York City was about releasing real estate dollars that could be spent for the ministry, but we chose Philly because it is the home of our first founders," Geof Morin, the society's senior vice president, said of Philadelphia-born founding president Elias Boudinot — not to mention of John Jay, John Quincy Adams and Francis Scott Key.
"This move allows the organization to begin its third century of ministry from a city that was integral to its beginnings in 1816," said Roy Peterson, ABC president and CEO.
With the construction of a massive new Mormon meetinghouse off the Parkway and the just-concluded World Meeting of Families, Philadelphia seems to be growing in stature as a U.S. mecca for religious people and businesses.
Come Wednesday, the American Bible Society — one of the first nonprofits in the U.S. —will cut the ribbon on its new headquarter's offices at 401 Market Street, just steps from Independence Mall, and part of Philly's historical mile.
Yet, the ABS is not just about history, but the future.
"It's nice to explore our own background, and moving to Philly is an open exploration of where our country came from and how the Bible first connected to it — but we have global partners around the world and our work is never done," Morin said.
Peterson is focused on what the original purpose of the American Bible Society is in the first place: "to make the Bible available and alive for people in the most difficult circumstances and work with a vast global network of partners to help people encounter God in the Bible which transforms their lives and communities."
Within that mission, ABS is attempting to translate the Bible into every language, with nearly 1,000 language translations accomplished so far and a goal for an additional 1,800 languages.
That role was crucial when the World Meeting of Families was in Philadelphia for Pope Francis’ recent visit as ABS distributed 500,000 free copies of a six-language edition of the Gospel of St. Luke and published a book featuring Pope Francis discussing Scripture in-depth with both Jewish and Protestant dialogue partners.
"We were very active during the Pope's visit, which is why we didn't do our ribbon cutting when we got here in August," Morin said.
The decision to sell the Broadway-located New York City headquarters, its home for 199 years, came down to what Peterson calls stewardship.
"We relinquished a facility requiring costly building updates so that we could unlock the significant market value of our mid-Manhattan address and reinvest in mission-focused ministry," he said.
Philly was more affordable and, in Peterson's words "provides an opportunity for the ministry to interact with tourists as they visit Philadelphia, as well as space for future expansion."
Along with being housed on the property's eighth and ninth floors, the ABS holds 30,000 square feet on the first floor and another 15,000 square feet below that for public space that will include a Bible Discovery Center on a rare Scriptures depository, and a library projected to open in 2017.
"We have our work cut out for us," Morin said.
Those names sound familiar
If the names of the American Bible Society's founders sound familiar, that's because — in Morin's words — they were the "hardcore founders of this nation."
While founder and Jersey native Joseph Coerten Hornblower was chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, Philly-born Boudinot was a delegate to the Continental Congress and served as President of Congress from 1782 to 1783.
John Jay was the first chief justice of the United States (1789–95). John Quincy Adams was the second president of the United States and Francis Scott Key wrote our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."