NOTE: This historical narrative of St. Mark Lutheran Church was written in 1998 by members Gertrude Kraft and Steve Reenstra as the church prepared to celebrate 90 years of service and worship.
St. Mark English Evangelical Lutheran Church began its journey when forty-five charter members first congregated in Christ’s name on September 9, 1898. Services were held in Wagner’s Hall at the corner of Mott and Hudson Streets, where they continued to worship until phenomenal growth of both church and Sunday School required the search for a suitably located lot upon which to erect a church edifice.
The corner-stone of the new church at the corner of Chestnut and Emory Streets was laid October 1, 1899, and the building completed for occupancy April 26, 1900. The total cost of this building, including land and equipment, was $13,950. A sexton’s residence and a parsonage were also acquired.
The increasing limitation of our geographical parish was evident in St. Mark for more than two decades when in 1953, despite problems and doubts in many minds, the family of St. Mark united and decided with courage, vision, and faith to relocate its ministry to a more fruitful field. A synodical survey of the White Horse area disclosed a promising field, with many Lutherans and unchurched people. The Board of American Missions of the United Lutheran Church in America approved this area for St. Mark’s occupancy.
The land at the corner of White Horse and Orchard Avenues, on which our present church stands, was purchased, ground-breaking services held on June 21, 1953, and the Service of Corner-Stone Laying held on September 20th of the same year. Contents of the old cornerstone were placed in the new one.
On September 6, 1953, St. Mark’s family worshiped for the last time at Chestnut and Emory Avenues, which was sold to Immaculate Conception Catholic Church for use as a parish house. Worship services were held in the Hamilton Theatre from September 13, 1953 until March 14, 1954 when our new church was dedicated.
The cost of our present church, including land, construction and furnishings was $148,500. In the words of Pastor Paul T. Warfield, the mortgage-burning service just five years later on December 6, 1959 was “a clear indication of a dedicated, sacrificial concern… for a worthy stewardship of all which God has entrusted to us.”
In 1959, St. Mark again found its physical facilities inadequate. With a church membership of 481 and a church school enrollment of 320, plans were made to erect a new Church School educational building costing $150,000. Ground-breaking services were held on May 1, 1960, and the Dedication Service for Paul T. Warfield Parish House was December 4, 1960. Attached to the church, this new building provided adequate facilities for the Sunday School, the Luther League, Boy Scouts, and the Church Office, while affording the church a new opportunity to expand its total program of Christian Education. Soon growth in St. Mark’s ministry required the hiring of a church secretary, a position member Gertrude Kraft faithfully served in for over 25 years.
On May 5, 1985, the congregation made an extraordinary and miraculous climb in faith. On this Miracle Sunday, offerings when added to a few advance gifts and memorials totaled over $60,000 designated for Synod mission work and a complete refurbishing of our early 1900’s vintage Pilcher organ. That miracle continues to live today in the lives of those helped through the Synod’s mission work, and in our music and ministry.
It is evident that the church’s history is not just dates and numbers. St. Mark is not a building, but it is a place where we can realize our full potential and grow in grace. St. Mark is not an organization, but an organism… living, and breathing the Holy Spirit. St. Mark’s history is its people, each individual a special story in terms of commitment, talent, and needs. St. Mark is a family sensitive to God’s mandate, a ministry reflecting God’s call to reach out and care for the humblest.
St. Mark has had three members enter the ministry. The first was The Reverend Dr. Harry L. Saul (deceased). The second was The Reverend George W. Freyberger, who organized his first church on May 5, 1963 in Dover Township, N.J., is currently the Pastor at Calvary Lutheran in Cranford, NJ, and whom we were blessed to have had officiate at our 90th anniversary celebration on February 5, 1989. The Reverend Barbara Bain was ordained at St. Mark in November 1987.
One of the highlights in our history at Chestnut and Emory Avenues, was the Commissioning Service on September 23, 1951, of The Reverend Samuel Schmitthenner and wife, Ruth as missionaries to India, where they served for over twenty years. Over the years, they returned a number of times to our parish to worship and share their experiences with us. In addition to the Schmitthenners, missionaries St. Mark has partially supported include: The Reverend and Mrs. Thomas Stennett (Chile); Dr. and Mrs. Franklin L. Keller (Liberia); The Reverend Robert Rains (Indian Mission, Montana); and the Reverend and Mrs. Gordon Schultz (Indonesia).
In “our own background,” St. Mark has reached out and worked with, among others: various scouting organizations; the Camp Fire Girls; Luther Towers; Mercerville Nursing and Convalescent Home; Moorestown Lutheran Home; the Mercer County Center for Retarded Children; Army trainees of the 2nd Training Battalion at Ft. Dix; and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. Each week, our facilities are used by Al-Anon, Alcoholics Anonymous, Co-Dependents Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and the YMCA to do their healing and developmental work.
In 1981, St. Mark joined, and enthusiastically participated in the urban ministry of the Trenton Lutheran Cluster (TLC). Since joining the new Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988, St. Mark has also endorsed and joined the TLC’s successor, the Mercer Lutheran Coalition.
Fifteen pastors have shepherded this family of faith. They include:
The Rev. W. Morgan Cross (1898-1902)
The Rev. I. Walton Bobst (1902-1914)
The Rev. Arthur M. Spotts (1914-1916)
The Rev. Grayson Z. Stup (1916-1922)
The Rev. William H. Reimer (1922-1924)
The Rev. George P. Goll (1924-1930)
The Rev. Paul T. Warfield (1930-1970)
The Rev. Robert R. Strohl (1971-1975)
The Rev. Arthur W. Ebischbach (1975-1979)
The Rev. David C. Dahline (1979-1981)
The Rev. Marillyn J. Schultz-Rothermel (1982-1988)
The Rev. Michael C. Schultz-Rothermel (1982-1988)
The Rev. Jesse G. Houck, III (1989-2007)
The Rev. Linda J. Thurston (2008-2013)
The Rev. Ian A. Hill (2014-present)