On April 15, 1890, twenty-five persons met at the Women’s Christian Temperance Union hall in Conshohocken borough and formally organized St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church at the encouragement of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Pennsylvania. In November, the Rev. J.F. Shearer was called as the first full-time pastor.
In September 1891, the congregation purchased the current lot. The new church edifice was dedicated in October 1893. It is telling that some of the charter members mortgaged their own homes in order to provide sufficient funds for the building of the church.The congregation was engaged energetically in discerning and living out its mission with a Sunday school, women’s society, and the men’s Brotherhood (1912). In 1918, the Easter Egg Industry was begun, originally to raise funds for a new pipe organ. But the Industry continues yet today to supplement financial giving to the church, and involves many individuals from beyond the congregation as well.
The Era of Stability
In the years between 1925 and 1991, St. Mark’s was served by three primary pastors (McCarney, Hartman, and Rea). This era of stability was characterized by a larger and very active membership, and a full slate of congregational programs and ministries for persons of all ages. Christian education and fellowship within the congregation were major emphases. In 1953, a large Parish Education building was erected in order to house the larger numbers or persons and activities. In 1959, the nave was entirely renovated, including the installation of new stained glass windows which grace the interior of the worship space today.
Current members who were at St. Mark’s during those years comment that the focus of the congregation’s energy and the pastor’s time was the internal life of the congregation because of the large critical mass of members.
The Era of Challenge
The decade between 1991 and 2001 was a very challenging time for the congregation. The culture of society had changed sufficiently that the number of persons attending worship regularly and of children participating in Christian education began to decline significantly. The congregation was served by a series of short-term pastorates. In the latter years of the decade, it became apparent that the incumbent pastor was experiencing significant problems in his personal life that affected his performance as pastor. Worship attendance dropped even further. The congregation endured divisions and tensions. After substantial conversation with the Bishop’s Office of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, the congregation voted in 2000 to terminate the pastor’s tenure. In almost every aspect, the congregation had descended to a low point, and its future and sustainability was gravely in question.
Nevertheless, all the while, the ministry of the congregation continued, particularly among youth and children. Competent lay leadership rose to the occasion during the pastoral crisis to lead the congregation through the process of deciding on termination of the pastor. A very gifted interim pastor was assigned to help the congregation heal its immediate past and envision a new future.
The Era of Redevelopment
With the guidance and encouragement of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, in 2002 St. Mark’s was designated as a congregation in redevelopment”. This involved the assignment by the synod, and call by the congregation, of the Rev, Richard Olson, specially trained to lead a congregation through the process of re-envisioning its vision and mission, reorienting its direction towards health and growth, strengthening its ministries, and developing new leaders. A predominant emphasis in this new era was study of the Word in small Bible study groups, including one offered specifically to young adults under 40.
Already the previous era. ministries for the purpose of reaching out to the community and seeking to meet the needs of members of the community because a vital center in the life of the congregation. The Vacation Bible School was revived and strengthened. A partnership with the Colonial Neighborhood Council was solidified. St. Mark’s became an active participant in the Aid for Friends organization to provide home cooked meals and other assistance to homebound persons in the community. Through the congregation’s involvement in AFF, members “adopted” a young college student in the neighborhood and have essentially been his sole source of financial support for his education.
Upon the retirement of Pastor Olson in 2011, the congregation has entered another transition period of continuing the redevelopment process, remembering and embracing its history, evaluating its current context, and looking outward to discern where the Lord of the Church may be leading it in mission in the future.
In June of 2013 St. Mark’s extend a call to the Rev. Bryan Penman. Bryan is a “first call” pastor and St. Mark’s will be the first congregation that he will pastor. In July of 2013 Bryan was ordained into the ministry of Word and Sacrament and began his ministry with us. Pastor Bryan is excited to be part of the long history of St. Mark’s and looks forward to the way the Spirit will guide this community to proclaim the gospel for the next 100 years.