St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Raleigh – A Brief History

The history of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church consists of six major phases, associated in each case with the tenure of the people who have served as vicars and rectors of the congregation.

Early 1960’s — 1969 – leadership of vicars the Rev. George Hampshire and the Rev. Grafton Cockrell

Major Events: Initial planning, first service, recognition as a mission, acquisition of property, construction of first building

St Mark’s began in the early 1960’s as part of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina’s response to the rapid population growth of Raleigh after World War II. The congregation that would become St Mark’s held its first service at Enloe High School in May of 1963, with an attendance of 89 people. By the spring of 1964, the congregation of now over 120 people was granted official mission status by the Diocese of North Carolina. The congregation soon received a gift of five acres of land on what was then the eastward fringe of Raleigh in Wilders Grove and broke ground for its first building on October 23, 1966. When this building (now our Education Building) was dedicated in June 1967, the congregation had grown to nearly 200 people.

From the beginning, the group who founded St. Mark’s sought to be distinctive in the style and substance of parish life. The parish embraced the process of liturgical revision then going on in the Episcopal Church and placed the Eucharist at the center of its worship life. It also chose to have an informal group of singers to help lead worship rather than a vested choir. It committed itself to gender equality by welcoming women as lay leaders and declining to organize specifically gender-based groups like the Episcopal Churchwomen.

1969-1986 – tenure of the Rev. Keith J. Reeve as vicar and rector

Major Events: Congregational growth and spiritual development, adoption of official Purpose Statement, construction of first dedicated worship space, conferral of parish status by the Diocese of NC, development of small group programs such as Family Clusters (13 weeks) and Mini Communities (active during sabbatical), adoption of lectionary-based and experiment with intergenerational Sunday School, planning and construction of new (and current) worship space

The Rev. Keith Reeve came to St Mark’s as our vicar in 1969 after serving as the Assistant Rector of a parish in Fayetteville, NC. Under Keith’s leadership, the congregation continued to grow, leading to the construction of a building specifically for worship (no longer standing) that was dedicated in the fall of 1973, and to conferral of parish status in 1975. Community development was a recurrent theme of congregational life, with parish-wide retreats at Kerr Lake and other sites leading to the adoption of the congregation’s official Purpose Statement (see above) and to practices like the use of home-made bread for the Eucharist and the fashioning of banners and vestments by the congregation. The Family Clusters presented creative, intergenerational Sunday School during Lent, 1976. We trained leaders and organized the congregation into Mini-Communities to support each other during Keith’s sabbatical leave in 1977. Members of the congregation also began to take leadership roles in community organizations like Passage Home and Meals on Wheels. In 1980 after a presentation by Duke Divinity School professor John Westerhoff, groups of lay people under the direction of a lay person trained by Westerhoff were in charge of a lectionary-based, intergenerational approach to Christian education. The Commissions of Worship and Christian Education became one planning unit. Congregational growth led to the construction of our current worship space, dedicated in the spring of 1986. This building was designed to embody the theological principles that underlie the Book of Common Prayer of 1979 and to support the community in its corporate life, centered on the Eucharist. The Rev. Charles Fulton, then head of the Episcopal Church’s Church Building Fund, used this church for his nationally viewed film and said of this building that it is the finest example of contemporary church architecture that he has found.

1986-1989 – transition, the Rev. Richard Morris, interim rector

Major Events: Worship in our new building, development of new hangings and vestments, PAC groups

Richard was a retired priest from Ohio. Richard had special gifts in the liturgical arts, which he used to help us learn about worship in our new building. He designed a number of hangings for our Centrum and vestments for our clergy which are still in use by the congregation. Parish Area Care groups, with every parishioner assigned according to place of residence, were organized by lay people to care for each other and to gather for social events.

1989-1997 – tenure of the Rev. Jane Gurry as rector

Major Events: Development of a model for mutual ministry based on the Baptismal Covenant, development of the Memorial Garden and the Covenant Garden, installation of Thomas Sayre’s award-winning series of cross images in the Concourse

In 1989, the Rev. Jane Gurry became the second rector of St Mark’s, having served as rector of a parish in Ohio. Jane holds the distinction of being the first woman to be ordained to the priesthood after going through the process of discernment in the Diocese of North Carolina after many years as a Director of Christian Education. Under Jane’s leadership the congregation moved fully into the new building and began to address newly-recognized needs for the development of parish life. Among these was the development of the Memorial Garden with space for internment of ashes and for the names of members of the parish buried elsewhere. In the early 90’s the Covenant Garden, a space left to grow naturally and used for quiet meditation, was set aside and has been tended by Lay Weeders. Jane also provided leadership for development of Christian education programs, including the then-new Journey to Adulthood for youth, an extensive Journey in Faith program for those preparing for confirmation and reception, and annual week-night Lenten programs which one year inspired our resident artist Thomas Sayre to create the large cross images that now adorn our Concourse.

1997-1999 – transition, the Rev. Anne Hallmark, interim rector

The Rev. Anne Hallmark came to us as a professional interim rector, having had special training in helping congregations make the transition from one rector to another. Anne is remembered for her sermons, delivered without notes from the front of the platform, which were unfailingly helpful and often ended with an assignment for the week ahead. Anne helped the congregation prepare for the arrival of our next rector.

1999- 2016 – tenure of the Rev. Lorraine Ljunggren as rector

Major Events: Construction of the Community Life Center, adoption by the Vestry of an official statement of the congregation’s commitment to “diversity, acceptance, and inclusivity,” the Rev. Jim Melnyk’s time as Assistant Rector, adoption of the Godly Play curriculum for our Sunday children’s program, development of new community outreach activities such as the ministry at the Wilburn Elementary School and the New Hope Community Garden supported by the organization of the New Hope Road Alliance of congregations, shared use of our worship space with Yahnevh Jewish Renewal Community,

In 1999, the Rev. Lorraine Ljunggren became the third rector of St Mark’s, coming from a parish in Marion, NC where she served as rector. Shortly after her arrival, the parish began to consider space needs, a process that led to the construction of the Community Life Center (CLC) and the eventual removal of the building that had served as the worship space from 1973 until 1986 and then as a Parish Hall. In 2002, Lorraine’s husband the Rev. Jim Melnyk joined the parish staff as Assistant Rector, a post he held for several years before leaving to become the Rector of St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Smithfield, NC. Among the highlights of Lorraine’s time as our rector were the development of a more diverse congregation and participation in outreach activities such as hosting the Raleigh area’s alternative prom and participation in Durham’s Pride Parade. St Mark’s tradition of social engagement continued under Lorraine’s leadership with mission trips to Mexico and Mississippi, the development of new ministries at the Wilburn Elementary School near the church and the formation of the New Hope Road Alliance with several other congregations whose facilities are along New Hope Road. St Mark’s has also opened our worship space to other religious groups, including our current hosting of Yavneh, a Jewish Renewal Community, which conducts services in our Centrum on Fridays, Saturdays, and Jewish High Holy Days.

2016 – the present

Lorraine retired from the active ministry at the end of May 2016. St Mark’s is now once more a congregation in transition, looking forward to what the future may hold in terms of leadership.