WAY BACK IN 1898…
St. Mark English Evangelical Lutheran Church began its journey when 45 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 in Trenton, New Jersey, 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.
ST. MARK AT CHESTNUT & EMORY AVENUES
The cornerstone of the new church at the corner of Chestnut & Emory Avenues in Trenton was laid October 1, 1899, and the building completed for occupancy April 26, 1900. Philadelphia-based stained glass maker Henry Willet (1899-1983) of the Willet Company (now Willet Hauser in Minnesota) created the stained glass in the altar area and over the church’s front door. The total cost of this building, including land and equipment, was $13,950. A sexton’s residence and a parsonage were also acquired.
THE MOVE TO HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, NEW JERSEY
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 & 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 also required the hiring of a church secretary.
In the early 1970’s the parking lot was expanded through the purchase and demolition of a house adjacent to the church property on White Horse Avenue.
In 1981, St. Mark joined and enthusiastically participated in the urban ministry of the Trenton Lutheran Cluster (TLC). 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. Since joining the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 1988, St. Mark joined the TLC’s successor, the Mercer Lutheran Coalition.
BUILDING IMPROVEMENT PROJECT OF THE 1990’S
In the early 1990’s, the congregation developed a plan to completely upgrade the infrastructure of the church building to make it handicapped accessible. St. Mark hired an architect to determine what repairs were needed along with the improvements to be presented to the congregation for approval. Upgrades included: waterproofing the basement, regrading and new pumps to address basement flooding, complete electrical rewiring, and plumbing upgrades that included handicap-accessible restrooms. To make the building completely handicap-accessible from the parking lot was a high priority and included the installation of an elevator. The chancel area was redesigned, re-carpeted, and chairs replaced the choir pews. Congregants would receive the sacraments without having to climb any stairs as the altar rail was reconfigured to the floor. The church office was redesigned into three offices for the pastor, parish secretary, and a small conference room. New closets were built into the music room for the handbells and robes. The kitchen was moved, expanded, and furnished with new appliances so special gatherings could be held in the new fellowship hall, now located “upstairs” next to the sanctuary. Members also expressed the wish to hold calling hours for their departed loved ones in the fellowship hall prior to the funeral service. The extensive project took place during 1999 and 2000. The resulting mortgage was paid off in August 2016.
STAINED GLASS RESTORATION
After over 100 years, the three stained-glass windows on either side of and over the altar that were brought from the original church building in Trenton, were restored in 2022. The round stained-glass window in the front of the building (over the doors on the front porch) and the painted glass windows at the front of the church and sides of the sanctuary were restored in 2018.
A FAMILY OF FAITH
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.
OUR MISSION STATEMENT
A family of faith, rooted in Word and Sacrament proclaiming the redeeming love of Jesus Christ through worship, nurture, and service.
Since 1898, 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 (2014-2022)
The St. Mark congregation also includes these members who have been called to the Rostered Ministry.
Ordained to Word and Sacrament:
The Rev. Dr. Harry L. Saul
The Rev. George W. Freyberger
The Rev. Barbara Bain
The Rev. Daniel W. Brettell
The Rev. Jack R. Whritenaur
Ordained to Word and Service:
Deacon Carol Kasabach
One of the highlights in our history in Trenton 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. They returned several times to worship and share their experiences with us. In addition, missionaries that 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).
During its long history, St. Mark has reached out and worked with, among others: various scouting organizations, Luther Towers, Mercerville Nursing and Convalescent Home, Moorestown Lutheran Home, Mercer ARC, 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, and Narcotics Anonymous to do their healing and developmental work. The YMCA provided child care and classes at St. Mark for many years.
St. Mark continues to serve our community through numerous initiatives including support of HomeFront, Children’s Home Society of New Jersey, St. Bartholomew Lutheran Church in Trenton, and various self-help groups that meet in our building.
When Advent Lutheran Church in Trenton closed its doors in 2009, its ministry continued here. Through the generous legacy fund from Advent, St. Mark established the Advent Community Garden in 2014. Large trees were removed from unused church property behind the parking lot at St. Mark. ISLES, a Trenton-based community development organization with expertise in community gardens provided advice and workshops. The garden was first planted in 2015. Not only are we providing good, healthy food to local programs like HomeFront and St. Bartholomew’s food pantry, but we are also building relationships within our community and learning more about each other and God’s plan for us. There have been many hands involved and it has turned into a passion. [read more about our current Community Service projects]
NOTE: This historical narrative of St. Mark Lutheran Church was originally written in 1998 by members Gertrude Kraft and Steve Reenstra as the church prepared to celebrate 90 years of service and worship. In 2022 it was updated by Steve Reenstra, Carol Kasabach, and Judy Oiler.