St. Mark’s fight for survival in this last year has been filled with hard work and determination – never with fear. For people on Wilton Avenue moments of uncertainty – not knowing what is next for this community – are washed away by commitment to do what it takes to succeed.
By Helen Booth
Low attendence numbers, minimal givings, limited programing – that was reality at St. Mark’s, London in October 2017, when a town hall meeting was held at the church to set the tone for its future.
A year later, it is still not known what their future holds, but at that meeting parishioners did not discuss about giving up and simply staying the course. The parish as a whole made the decision to pray like it all depends on God and work like it all depends on them. And we went to work.
Our goal: a youth centered church
The goal is to become a place for the youth in our community – a welcoming and accepting place. A family and youth centred church, where children are welcome and youth are accepted for who they are. A place families can come to worship and to share in community.
Probably the simplest and most effective thing we did was reaching out for help from Church House. St. Mark’s has received unbelievable support and guidance from many people within the diocese in many forms – from answering questions to presenting topics at our church.
We take every chance possible to learn, to gain knowledge and to network. When the diocese offers workshops such as wardens’ and treasurers’ workshop – we attend. In addition to the information we learned, we soon realized our situation is not unique and we are not alone. We have had members travel to Quebec for a stewardship conference, also last October – and the information and knowledge that was gained was valuable.
Fundraising: the number of people, not the dollars raised
St. Mark’s has a treasurer who is not afraid to say, “We cannot afford to do that”. And it has wardens who freely discuss the financial situation. Our church is looked after by volunteers from cleaning and yard maintenance to building repairs. We are mindful of Bishop Linda’s criteria: Pay your apportionment, your clergy and your bills while maintaining a balanced budget.
When it comes to fundraising, we do not concentrate on the dollars raised rather the number of people we reach and on developing connections.
Our first event, held on December 10 last year – The Legendary Patsy Cline Show Starring Amberley Beatty – was to show our parishioners we can do this. Now when an event is suggested, we do not ask “can we do it”, rather “how well can we do it.”
After a year of various events we are starting to see our guests forming connections with us. We are asked about our next event; we hear how enjoyable the evening was, and we are getting to be known by name. St. Mark’s is blessed with many friends and families who donate their time and talents to help make all of our events fantastic.
We have numerous family friendly events throughout the year: movie nights, concerts and Halloween parties. We host one wine and cheese night for the adults each year. We are now hosting Vacation Bible School in August each year.
We have a youth group (11 to 16), as well as a young adult group (16 to 22). Both groups are driven by the interests and needs of the members. When we moved to one service at 9:30AM all of the kids stopped coming to service so we started the youth group to stay connected. And from the youth group the young adult group formed.
In 1908 we started as a mission church of St. Matthew’s in a store front on the South East corner of Dundas and Hale. In 1910 we moved across the street to a newly built church on the North West corner. In 1964 the church relocated to the current location.
So we understand a building is just that − a building. St. Mark’s is a great church because of the people who gather together to worship and serve God not because of the building or property.
Grants and gifts
We have been rewarded one of the diocesan Jubilee Grants for our technology program – The Bridge to Building Youth & Seniors Relationships. We are matching young high school students with seniors in our area. The youth are teaching the seniors about today’s technology, and as the program runs its course, the seniors will be teaching the youth topics that are of interest to both: woodworking, sewing or painting.
Currently we are working with the local board of education to arrange for students to earn their community hours while helping us deliver the program. In addition to the funding, we have received gifts in valuable equipment and service from families and friends.
Back in April 2018, we received a grant from East London Optimist to deliver a program we designed to our youth and their family called “Money and Food Smarts”. We started our own food cupboard to help support our youth and families.
Most recently, we received a gift from the diocesan golf tournament to purchase supplies for the young adult group. We are also using the money for games and different activities which will help us to become a place the youth want to spend time in. It will be members of the young adult group who will be helping with game selections.
And this just in: St. Mark’s has been selected by Group Ministry Resources to host a FunShop Training Day. There are 275 FunShop events across Canada and the US, only three in Ontario! The big day for St. Mark’s is May 4, 2019.
Building relationship with other churches
We have opened our community building to our neighbour − Trinity United Church − to better serve our community. Our worship space and church celebrations are shared with Tabernacle of God Worship Ministry. We are just starting to work with the Egerton Baptist Church and their youth ministry. We are now involved with Argyle Community Association, Basic Needs Argyle and Churches Together London.
Do we know what our future holds or where we will be? No, but we do know we will end up exactly where God wants us to be. And in the meantime, we will keep on keeping on.
Helen Booth is a parishioner of St. Mark’s, London.