St. Mark’s was organized as an independent parish in 1865 by a group of devout Black Episcopalians who found themselves without a place to worship at the end of the Civil War. Permission was given them by the city to use the Orphan’s Chapel on Vanderhorst Street. The services of the Rev. Joseph B. Seabrook and The Rev. J. Mercer Green, both associated with Grace Church, were obtained on an alternating basis.
After practicing hymns and service music, the first service was held on Easter, 1865. Immediately after this service an organizational meeting was held and the following were elected to manage the affairs of the congregation: S. L. Bennett, Chairman, J. N. Gregg. Secretary, R.E. DeReef, Treasurer, B.K. Kinloch, J. Wheaton, R Holloway, S. O’Hear, and J. B. Mushington, aided by Mrs. Lydia Frost.
At the suggestion of Mr. J.B. Mushington, Sr., the name “Saint Mark’s” was adopted at a meeting of the congregation on June 25, 1865. In August W.E. Marshall and J.M.F. DeReef were added to the committee. By that time ninety-five persons had subscribed to give financial support to the church.
The Rev. Mr. Seabrook was elected the first Rector on September 24, 1865. On all Saints Day, 1865, a statement of the organization as a parish was sent to the Rt. Rev. Thomas F. Davis, Bishop of the Diocese of S.C., and to the local newspapers. Circumstances required moves, first, to the school at Meeting and Mary Streets and second, to a Chapel of St. Luke’s church at the corner of Chapel and Elizabeth Streets. The first Confirmations were held there in January 1866 by Bishop Davis.
Based on an Act of the Legislature passed in February of 1863, the Vestry and Wardens of St. Mark’s applied for incorporation as a legal entity with the “Rights, Power and Privileges of a Congregation according to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church in this State.” This charter was duly registered in Charleston on October 24, 1866.
The congregation continued to grow and the Chapel proved to be much too small, inadequate and unsafe, so a lot was purchased in 1870 at the present site of Thomas and Warren Street for the sum of about $5,000. Plans were developed for the erection of a building.
Building With New Leadership
The congregation accepted the design by Louis J. Barbot of a temple form, which had been used by seven other churches in Charleston. St. Mark’s may have been one of the last of that style built in America. In the city it is the only one built of wood. The people subscribed an additional amount to begin construction with the cornerstone being laid on October 26, 1877. There was an interruption due to the death of Mr. Seabrook who had used these words to describe the congregation: “earnest, active, kind, polite and worthy.” At this time questions arose as to whether it would be possible to finish the construction.
At the urging of the Rt. Rev. William B. W. Howe, The Rev. Anthony Toomer Porter, Rector of the Church of the Holy Communion, accepted the additional role as Rector of St. Mark’s on May 26, 1878. Within five months he had gotten enough financial support to complete the building. The Dedication and Consecration by Bishop Howe took place on November 7, 1878. Mr. William H. Birnie of the Vestry read the Instrument of Donation; Dr. Porter read the Sentence of Dedication and the Rev. Ellison Capers, Rector of Trinity Church, Greenville, and later Bishop of South Carolina, preached the sermon.
In early 1882 an organ was purchased for $1,675 and a vested choir was introduced. The extended front pews were made for this choir. The baptismal font and lectern were given by Friends of Old Trinity Church of New York City. The work expanded and Dr. Porter called upon his assistants to carry on the ministry by giving them more and more responsibility. Two of them were C.I. LaRoche and Dr. Porter’s son, Theodore A. Porter.
The First Black Clergyman
On May 7, 1871 a 21 year old had been confirmed at St. Mark’s by Bishop Davis. Thaddeus Saltus was touched by the life of the congregation and after receiving formal education and training for the ministry under the direction of Bishop Howe he was ordained Deacon in 1881. He thus became the first Black person to be ordained in the Diocese of South Carolina. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1883 The Rev. Mr. Saltus was doing most of the work in the congregation for Dr. Porter since the latter deemed that the purposes for which he had been called had been accomplished.
On January 18, 1883, Mr. Saltus married Martha Frost with Bishop Howe and Dr. Porter officiating. The congregation numbered over two hundred at this time and looked forward to his becoming the first Black Rector. Sadly, Mr. Saltus’ life and ministry were cut short at age 34 by tuberculosis. He was buried on June 20, 1884 in brotherly Cemetery by Dr. Porter, who once again had to assume responsibility for St. Mark’s.
The hurricane of 1885 gave him a new task: replacing the roof, repairing major portions of the building, and obtaining a new organ. At this time it was decided to enlarge and extend the chapel and to add a robing room. During 1885 the Rev. Hutchins C. Bishop served as the Assistant Minister with parish responsibilities. Dr. Porter turned his salary back to the church because of the pressing needs. No sooner had St. Mark’s begun normal operation when it was severely damaged by the earthquake of 1886. The congregation accepted Dr. Porter’s invitation to worship in St. Timothy’s Chapel at Holy Communion Church Institute (later to be called the Porter Academy).
The First Black Rector
After becoming Dr. Porter’s Assistant Minister at St. Mark’s in the spring of 1887, the Rev. John Henry Mingo Pollard began an active ministry in the Diocese of South Carolina. With Dr. Porter’s rapidly failing health The Rev. Mr. Pollard was called to be Rector in June 1888. He inherited a communicant list of 350 which ranked second in numbers in the diocese and fifth in the list of contributions for church work. In his ten years as Rector Mr. Pollard served well and faithfully, ministering also to Calvary Church for an extended period of time and being deeply involved in starting the missions of St. Stephen’s in Charleston, Epiphany in Summerville and St. Andrew’s Mission. From 1875 to 1885 St. Mark’s had sought unsuccessfully to become a participant in the Annual Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina. Neither the influence of the Bishop nor the clergy could overcome the prejudice of the time. On January 31, 1898 Mr. Pollard resigned to become Archdeacon in the Diocese of North Carolina.
A New Liturgical Emphasis
Under a succession of clergy St. Mark’s experienced the influence of the growing liturgical movement. On November 1, 1898 The Rev. Edward N. Hollings came to St. Mark’s from the mission in Summerville. Liturgical vestments became the norm under his ministry which lasted until February 28, 1906. He was followed by The Rev. Charles Ignatius Smith who served until 1909. St. Mark’s was without a rector for a year and services were held by The Rev. Walter Mitchell of the Porter Military Academy and The Rev. Jesse Lykes of Calvary Church. The Rev. H.A. St. Aubyn Parris served briefly as rector from January 15, 1910 until his resignation on November 15, 1911.
The congregation was again without a rector for a year until Christmas 1912 when The Rev. Frederick A. Garrett took over the direction of the congregation. At this time the present altar was erected in memory of Bishop Howe and dedicated on the Feast of Corpus Christi. Marble steps were added in memory of Mrs. Susan Thorne and the canopy over the tabernacle and the cross was installed in memory of Mr. J. B. DeCoster. Crucifixes and Sanctus Bells were added to enhance the move to more elaborate ritual. From 1912 until 1915 the place of Black Episcopalians in the diocese was debated hotly even in the newspapers. Once again St. Mark’s and other Black congregations were denied full participation in Diocesan Convention. Fr. Garrett left in May of 1916 and was followed by The Rev. Charles S. Sedgwick who had a brief pastorate until May of 1918.
Dedication In Hard Times
St. Mark’s was carried through some very difficult and trying social and economic times by the dedication of the Rev. Charles A. Harrison. During a ministry that lasted from November 17, 1918 until his retirement on June 15, 1934 he worked hard to keep a struggling congregation alive in the face of competition from other denominations which gave more support to their Black congregations. In spite of his best efforts the membership began a decline in numbers that has continued to the present. As a sign of his commitment he stayed on for nearly two more years until his successor, the Rev. Kenneth deP. Hughes, was elected rector. Fr. Hughes assumed his duties on January 5, 1936 and went to work to renovate the church, increase its membership, and rebuild the pipe organ. All indebtedness was paid by the time of his resignation on December 27, 1939 for a church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During his pastorate the Rev. William Davis Turner was ordained to the Diaconate by The Rt. Rev. Albert S. Thomas.
Fr. Hughes was followed by the Rev. Matthew W. Davis during whose tenure there was a celebration of the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the founding of St. Mark’s. Stations of the Cross and private confessions were introduced at this time. After he left in 1942, the Rev. John R. Lewis continued these traditions until his sudden death on December 4, 1946.
Strong Lay Leadership
During 1947 St. Mark’s was again without a rector; however, the affairs of the parish were ably handled by the lay leaders. Although the church had always had able lay leaders, it was during the later years of the Great Depression and World War II that the congregation was served by men such as, H.L. Bell, A.W. Hoursey. W.P. Hamilton, H.A. DeCosta, Sr., E.J. Mazyck, W. H. Drayton, G.W. Hurlong, W.S. Montgomery, L.I. O’Neill, A.M. Wilkins, R.F. LaRoche and A.B. Harrison, Fr. Harrison’s son. One result of the post-war resurgence was the construction and dedication of a new Parish Hall on Jasper Street.
No account of St. Mark’s would be complete without mentioning organists who have served faithfully through the years: Mr. John Mushington, Miss Natalie Mikell, Miss Ella “Nixie” Spencer, Miss Inez Spencer, who served for thirty-two years, Earline Frazier Wong and Mrs. Elizabeth Rumpel who served from 1977 until 2001.
Organizations of St.Mark's
Various organizations have exerted a strong influence in the life of St. Mark’s, especially the Sunday School. Above all, the women of St. Mark’s have played important roles: the Sewing Circle, the Lend-A-Hand Guild, the Busy Bee Association, the Parish House Auxiliary and the Altar Guild of St. Catherine. These were led ably by such women as Elizabeth Nell, Emmeline Purvis, Ethyl Mazyck, Anna Cole, Emily Lesesne, Louise Bell, Susie Butler, and Corinne Guenveur. The Men’s club and the St. Stephen’s Guild of Acolytes have also been Important to the success and life of the church.
In this post-war period St. Mark’s was serviced by The Rev. Turner W. Morris, The Rev. St. Julian Simpkins and The Rev. Edward E. Johnson. As the social and economic climate in Charleston changed in the 1960’s it became more and more difficult to carry on the strong programs of the past. That coupled with declining membership brought about the sale of the Jasper Street Parish Hall. Single homes on either side of the church were purchased and one served as a place for meetings and fellowship.
A New Era
In 1965 St. Mark’s Church formally became a part of the Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina under the leadership of The Rt. Rev. Gray Temple. One hundred years after its founding and ninety years after its first petition the full life of the Episcopal Church was open to St. Mark’s. One immediate result was the organization of the Episcopal Church Women of St. Mark’s which has been a key element ever since. The Reverends Earl Wicks, John Richards, Edwin M. Walker, Carl Wright, George van Schalwyk and Daniel Messier have served as rectors since 1965. In 1985 the church underwent a program of restoration with the building being placed on the Register of Historic Buildings in the city. A new Parish Hall with office and an air conditioning system was made possible by the sale of the Warren Street property. A major bequest was made to St. Mark’s from the estate of Armistead and Vangie Harrison, which made possible the expansion of the Trust Fund.
A Hurricane Named "Hugo"
The celebration of the one hundred twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of St. Mark’s might not have had the same significance as it does if it were not for a hurricane named “Hugo” that tore off the roof, ruined the organ, and otherwise destroyed the interior. Thanks to nearly complete insurance coverage St. Mark’s has not only been able to restore but also improve. Where there was tin on the roof there is now copper, where there had been an antiquated wiring system there is now a new system of lights and light fixtures. Two bathrooms have been added. The back door on the north side is now open. The old plaster has been replaced with stronger sheet rock wallboard. Pews and furniture have been refinished. New carpet, kneelers and book racks have made the pews more functional. The stained glass window of St. Mark over the altar has been recreated from a photograph in brilliant new colors. Of all that is new nothing stands out like the new Allen Digital Computer Organ which was bought on faith that the congregation could raise the money not covered by insurance.
In the year of an anniversary and a consecration the house of worship called St. Mark’s Church presents to the neighborhood the image of a stable element, the original temple form which has been standing since its first dedication in 1878. Inside now one gets the impression of a typical late Victorian Gothic church. The ten stained glass windows on the side walls capture significant moments in the life story of Jesus. It remains for all who enter a place to recall Jesus” words, “My house shall be a house of prayer.”
The Story Continues...
Rising as a phoenix out of the ashes of Hurricane Hugo, the congregation of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church once more demonstrated its determination, faith, and strong constitution. Upon the departure of Father Edwin Walker in 1990, the church acquired the services of Father Carl Wright of Baltimore who graced us in 1992 with a high order of Mass in the tradition which the early worshippers enjoyed. He also graced us with his youth, vitality, and musical talent. Following Father Carl's departure to serve as an army chaplain in 1993, we greeted Father George van Schalkwyk from South Africa in 1994. Father George remained with us until 1999. Finally, in 2001, we welcomed Father Daniel Messier as our new Rector. Father Dan continues to serve the congregation with his wonderful spiritual guidance, sense of humor, and business acumen.
Despite the struggles of a small congregation, St. Mark’s continues to carry on the traditions of its founders. With the spirit of those founders and the fortitude that has been handed down to us by them, we will continue to be faithful agents of our Lord, serving our church and our community.