100 years, isn’t that something? Today we celebrate the 100th birthday of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Montesano.
Evidently the early Methodists had a greater zeal for missionary work, for the United Methodist Church in Montesano will be celebrating their 150th anniversary in September this year.
We share this anniversary year with other significant events in this town. The first concrete paving in the state was completed in 1910 when Spruce Street (right out here bordering our property on the north) was paved from 1st Street to Academy. I trust the research of Pat Clemons on this. The brick paving of Main Street was also completed at this time—though pigs, cows, and chickens were still roaming freely in the streets. There were only a few automobiles to enjoy those smooth thoroughfares and hitching posts accommodated those traveling by horseback.
In this same year Montesano High School was designated an accredited four year high school. The cornerstone of our beautiful courthouse was laid in April 1910 with a large crowd present.
We have eagerly looked forward to this day of celebration and a time to honor all those folks, our saints, that prayed, sang and worshipped together in community in this place.
I quote from a small historical booklet titled, “Pioneering God’s Country” written by Thomas E. Jessett. A former Bishop of Olympia, the Rt. Rev. Stephen F. Bayne, Jr. writes in the foreword, “We are heirs of an extraordinary spirit, the spirit of pioneers. One catches vivid glimpses of men and women of great dimensions who having seen promises far off, were persuaded by them and embraced them. Spirits of lesser vision and of failing heart might well have turned back and many did. There were those who stayed and with almost unbelievable doggedness and faith invaded the wilderness, broke-to-harness the giant forces of the trees and the sea, built our towns and our churches and laid the immense foundations of the society of which it is good fortune to be stewards and builders. How empty it would be to simply celebrate them without catching fire ourselves from their devotion and faith.
A prominent figure in early missionary activity was the Rev. Dr. Reuben Dentin Nevius, known as “the giant of church builders.” This amazing man managed to build thirty-six churches in the forty years between 1873 and 1913. Can you imagine ministering in the huge territory of Oregon and Washington combined, gathering and serving congregations, building churches, traveling on horseback, horse and buggy or stagecoach over the roughest kind of roads in all kinds of weather, to bring the Gospel to farmers, ranchers, miners, trappers, timber workers, and their families? This tireless man became Rector of St. John’s church in Olympia in 1883 while still continuing his missionary trips to the surrounding counties. He made several trips down the Chehalis River and around Grays Harbor, along the way finding scattered members of Prayer Book Anglicans, gathering them into congregations bringing the sacraments and services of the church.
Dr. Reuben moved to Montesano in 1890, living here for a little more than a year. He reported to Convocation that a small congregation had been established at Elma with a site for a church, and in Montesano there was an active Women’s Guild with $500 raised to purchase two lots, with services being held in the old Methodist Church.
As confirmed by Diocesan records, St. Mark’s Church was established in 1909 and the original building was constructed in that year. All of you sitting in the pews are within the space of the original building. Don’t worry, though, the foundation was completely rebuilt and the roof over your heads is sound and waterproof.
The early church was served by numerous priests. The Rector of St. Andrews rode the train from Aberdeen to Montesano to conduct Sunday evening services. In the years between 1930-34, the Rector at Hoquiam, the Rev. Elmer Christie ministered to Montesano. Forty years later his son, the Rev. Robert Christie served as vicar to both St. Mark’s and St. Luke’s for 7 years. Many times when priests were not available, the services were led by licensed Lay Readers.
In 1942 a parish hall was added to the church building, made possible by a gift from the Diocese Church School Advent offerings in the amount of $520.20. This new addition financed by offerings from children around the Diocese was created to provide space primarily for children’s programs as well as social gatherings. It was named in honor of Joseph Calder and bears his name even today. He was a well known Montesano pioneer, co-founder of the Vidette and long-time member and administrator at St. Mark’s, another to remember in a long line of saints. Two other additions and remodels were accomplished in 1954 and 2005.
From the earliest beginnings of this faith community, women gathered regularly, creating a Women’s Guild, contributing twenty five cents in monthly dues. The meetings began, according to handwritten records, with prayer and scripture, commonly adjourning “to take up the social duties of the afternoon” (whatever that consisted of was not recorded) and always refreshments were served. This sounds like “Ladies Day Out”, doesn’t it?
As was the tradition of the times, men were the church leaders and women supported this leadership by teaching Sunday School, cleaning and preparing the church for worship, organizing fund raising projects such as—bazaars, teas, book reviews, card parties, bake sales, sewing and selling aprons, and the annual rummage sale and Pancake Day. Thumbing through tattered notebooks was the account of the women selling seventy eight-ounce bottles of vanilla earning a premium of sixty complete sets of steel silverware. Unfortunately, there was no mention of the selling price of those bottles of flavoring.
Slowly the leadership of the church changed as the first woman, Adeline Rambo, headed the Bishop’s Committee in 1954. Thirty-five years later I was the first woman trained as a Lay Reader and as you can see our entire worship team is now all female. We encourage the participation of men and we do have a male licensed preacher.
Actually, the Women’s Guild was a governing body before the church had a traditional Bishop’s Committee, which would have been composed entirely of men.
And wouldn’t you know, it was a woman who gave this church its name. In the Canonical Church Register, the first communicate listed is Myra K Bishop. Beside her name is noted that St. Mark’s, Montesano was named for St. Mark’s in Evanston, Illinois, from which had come the Bishop family.
Beginning in 1988 we began doing church differently, as we entered into a program that would be called later Total Common Ministry. As all baptized persons are given the responsibility for the ministry of the church, the traditional hierarchical structure is leveled and all gifts of the people are raised up and honored. Thankfully, we can say this worshipping community continues by the grace of God in spirit and joy.
This is but a thumbnail sketch of the past 100 years of history that we pay tribute to today. Many of our saints are named in church records and memorials, but how many more are unnamed yet just as importantly have contributed to the life of this Christian community.
We are the heirs of an extraordinary spirit, the spirit of pioneers. We cannot know the hardships they endured yet they came and they stayed. They read scripture, they prayed and sang, they loved one another and shared the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Now, if you are interested in learning the whole story of St. Mark’s, we have copies of a book titled, “The History of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church”, fresh from the printer, arriving by UPS truck at 4pm last Friday. After the service you are invited to take a look at this book of history as well as the display of pictures and memorabilia in Calder Hall. We are extremely grateful to the untold hours Jim Campbell devoted to this work, aided by Sarah Monroe who assisted with formatting.
We chose this date, April 25th, because it is the feast day of our patronal saint, Mark the Evangelist. Mark has been described as gospel writer, parable teller, prophet and messenger who continues to bring us the good news of Jesus. Mark’s gospel begins abruptly and ends abruptly. Listen again to his opening words, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.” That’s it, short and sweet. There is an urgency conveyed in his words. “Immediately” is one of his favorites, as it occurs more than 40 times in his Gospel. Either he was a Type A personality or he had an extremely short attention span, as we would now label ADD, attention deficit disorder. Throughout his gospel he jumps from one scene to another, leaving us struggling to keep up.
The symbol for Mark is the winged lion, perhaps depicting the strength of Jesus’ actions found in his stories. Or it may allude to the opening story of John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness. Another characteristic of St. Mark is revealed in the book of Acts. It seems that a dispute arose between Paul and Mark, yet later those differences were reconciled, so he may have been responsible for important peace making, also. It’s good to see both strength and compassion in our patron saint.
Mark recorded the story of Jesus’ power made known through healing a withered hand and leprosy-scarred body. He went about restoring sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Jesus welcomed and blessed little children and fed 5000 hungry folks, he calmed the storm and walked on water. He restored life to a young girl, he cast out demons and unclean spirits. He commended the generosity of the poor woman who gave all she had, two small copper coins, then offended the rich for giving so little. Jesus unbound, he unchained and set free the oppressed so that they might have life and freedom and he said, “Love God, love neighbor and love self.” Then Jesus died on the cross, broke free of the tomb and showed the way to life evermore. Now that’s a whole lot of good news, isn’t it? As Mark brings his story to an end he gives us words to live by, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”
Our Bishop told this story at the Clergy Conference this week. I have his permission to share it with you.
Greg and his wife frequently go out to a neighborhood bar and just visit with the other patrons. He goes in casual clothes; should he walk in with purple shirt and white clerical collar the place would empty out in a few minutes. He has often said that when strangers ask him what he does, he answers, “I’m in sales.”
Anyway, after a bit the conversation moved to religion and the bartender said he just couldn’t relate to preachers and pastors and stuff like that. Greg couldn’t resist the opportunity and pulled out his business card. It read, “The Rt. Rev. Gregory Rickel, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.” The bartender exclaimed, “Holy Sh--!” “Easter is coming up”, said Greg, “Come and visit us.” The bartender thought a moment, then said, “Where do I sit?” “You just tell the usher you’re with the Bishop’s family,” Greg answered. Days after Easter Greg saw the bartender again and asked him, “Well, what did you think?” The bartender said, “You know, I did what you said, I told the usher I was with the bishop’s family and he took me down the center aisle and it was like the parting of the Red Sea. The people moved aside and I sat down right up front. It was good. I would come again.”
Our bishop walks the talk. We’re to do the same, for the future of the church depends on us.