Trinity merges with St. Mark’s EpiscopalWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Two different worship styles with one mission will fuse Jan. 15 at the first joint service of Trinity and St. Mark’s Episcopal churches.
St. Mark’s had its last services Jan. 6 and Jan. 8 with about 500 in attendance. The church is closing its doors after 123 years largely due to financial hardship. However, parishioners remain optimistic and focused on helping the community.
“Buildings come and go, ministers come and go, congregations come and go, but the work doesn’t,” said Bob Meeker, a 15-year member of St. Mark’s vestry, or leadership council.
The vestry realized it had to do something when faced with a shrinking endowment and high upkeep costs of an old building. However, it didn’t want to shut down or relocate to an area that took the church away from its mission of helping the urban area. The vestry approached Trinity in the spring and meetings began in June.
“We’ve been very transparent all the way along,” Meeker said of the process, adding that there hasn’t been any protest or discord between St. Mark’s congregation of 80 and Trinity’s of 180.
When she was approached, Rev. Elizabeth Hoster, who has been with Trinity for four years, was excited about the prospect of merging the two churches, she said.
“We’re blending families here and anyone who’s ever blended families knows there’s a lot of excitement, but it does take a lot of planning and it really requires flexibility,” she said.
Part of that planning has been figuring out how to merge two worship styles together. Both parishes have strong musical backgrounds, Hoster said. However, St. Mark’s is more traditional in nature, while, “[Trinity] could be doing a third-century Russian chant one minute and an African song the next.”
Ultimately, what brings the congregations together is their common goal of community outreach.
“The two churches have very, very similar missions. They’re both very inclusive and progressive and very welcoming, especially to those who maybe feel sometimes they haven’t been welcomed in other churches,” Hoster said.
The two churches’ first outreach together will be serving lunch at St. Paul’s Community Center after Sunday’s worship.
St. Mark’s actually started out as part of Trinity’s Sunday school program and held its first services in 1889 while Trinity was first chartered in 1842.
“They were digging up the black swamp and starting Trinity all at the same time,” Hoster said.
“They kind of spawned us and we are coming home again,” Meeker said.
Because of the two congregations’ common past, “coming home” is a major theme for the merger. The next three weeks will be spent focusing on getting to know each other, Hoster said. Trinity is also incorporating several pieces of St. Mark’s into its church, including the altar and baptismal font, in addition to naming the chapel after St. Mark’s.
About 15 urns from St. Mark’s were transported to Trinity this week and placed in temporary niches in the columbarium, or vault.
Trinity plans to bring St. Mark’s columbarium over as well and will move the ashes back.
“It’s an emotional time if one of your family members was represented,” Meeker said. A ceremony was also held to commemorate the occasion.
St. Mark’s is for sale at $199,000 and has had about five prospective buyers so far, Meeker said. The building, appraised at $1.7 million, is “cheaper than a suburban house,” he added.
Keeping up the building has proved expensive, he said.
Trinity, also an old building, watches its utility bills and cut back on costs about four years ago, Hoster said.
Several full-time staff went to three-quarters time while Hoster took a pay cut. “We just had to shave back and what we did not want to shave back was our outreach,” she said.
With the changing economy, mergers like St. Mark’s and Trinity’s could become the norm, she said. However, change isn’t anything new for the church.
“Every 500 years, there’s some big change in the church. The first was the fall of the Roman Empire, the second was when the Eastern church and the Western church split, then the Reformation, and oh my gosh, here we are at another one of those 500 year points,” she said.
Rev. Kelly O’Connell, formerly the rector at St. Mark’s, will continue to minister, Meeker said. O’Connell was not available for comment at press time.
Trinity is at 316 Adams St. in Downtown Toledo. Worship is at 10:30 a.m. Sundays and an 8:30 a.m. service will be added Feb. 5.