On May 6, 1878, Bishop Henry Niles Pierce, then the Diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Arkansas, penned in his diary “My first confirmation in Hope is, this little handful of churchmen here has secured a lot and have several hundred dollars raised towards building a church. Work is to begin forthwith.”
A year previously on June 12, 1877, the Bishop had appointed a committee of three men to secure subscriptions for a church to be built on lot 3 block 22 that is presently the northeast corner of City Hall under the leadership of Dr. A. M. Barnes, the group saw the culmination of their efforts two years later when on April 20, 1879, Bishop Pierce celebrated Holy Communion the first service ever held in Saint Mark’s Church in Hope. It was not until the following year; however, that the congregation was organized as a parish and a vestry was elected. The date was September 7, 1880.
From these beginnings, St. Mark’s survived a tumultuous infancy including the destruction of its buildings in 1882 during a storm and internal tensions hinted at by Bishop Pierce in his diary.
An entry dated Sunday, March 15, 1885, reads, “At 4:00 p.m. in St. Mark’s Church in Hope, Mr. Costello said evening prayer and I preached a sermon about Christ driven away by contentiousness. A sermon much needed there.
Stability apparently came, however, for in 1887, at the Diocesan Annual meeting, St. Mark’s was added to the list of parishes and missions indicating that the congregation was admitted into the Diocesan Union at that time.
The next several years proved to be a period of expansion and development. In 1893, boasting a vested choir, a building with no indebtedness, and a membership of 78 baptized persons. The Church of St. Mark’s the Evangelist was consecrated by Bishop Pierce and a host of clergymen at 10:00 a.m. on April 25. Appropriately designated as St. Mark’s day.
Ten years later reports to the Annual meeting showed that St. Mark’s with the necessary consent of the proper ecclesiastical authority purchased a new church site with rectory and sold their cramped and debilitated property to Bishop Fitzgerald, Roman Catholic Bishop of Little Rock, for the sum of $1,000. That transaction carried out on July 7, 1902. The congregation used an improvised chapel in the Lamar Hotel which was later the Balo Hotel until construction could be completed on a new church. The design was a gothic etiface with a Norman tower costing $3,500. The Church was completed but not the tower. An informative yearbook printed in 1918 for use of the St. Mark’s members noted that the late Captain J. T. West, who was a most faithful churchman and enthusiastic worker, was one of the prime movers in securing and building the Church. Captain West was also a banker. His bank of Hope later became a First National Bank. He owned sawmills and many other endeavors in the Hope community. He was a retired Mississippi steamboat captain; hence the name of Captain West.
On May 10, 1904, the cornerstone was laid by the masons and the building was at last completed in the spring of 1905 but was not consecrated until March 28, 1909 by Bishop William Montgomery Brown.
Two projects undertaken in the years following the consecration of the present Church indicated the dedication and vitality of the parishioners. One from which the present members still benefit was the building and installation of a pipe organ in 1915. This was made possible by the faithful and tireless labor of the members of the St. Mark’s Guild who completely paid for the organ within two years from the day of its installation.
The other project consisted of establishing a library in the sanctuary of the Church. Since there was no public library in Hope at the time, the Reverend Robert W. Emerson, with the cooperation of the Church Periodical Club, collected a variety of books, magazines and papers on all subjects between 1915 and 1918. The Church made them available to, and I quote, “any reliable person in the city who would notify the librarian, Mrs. Albert L. Black, of their desire to avail themselves of this opportunity.”
Church records are sketchy from this point on, but in 1966, records indicate that after a parish hall was constructed adjacent to the Church and other various major improvements made to the grounds and facilities, the current statistics of membership read, “14 families, 64 baptized persons, 52 confirmed persons, and a total membership of 67 souls.”
Today, even though the congregation may be slightly smaller than reported in 1966, St. Mark’s is still an active and important church in the Hope area. When you first see St. Mark’s, you immediately think of a back lot at MGM. It is a quintessential country church in so many people’s minds. However, don’t be fooled, it is far more than a prop; it is still an active religious community with the intention of continuing to be an important part of downtown Hope.
In addition to supporting such causes as Hope in Action, etc., one of the primary projects that St. Mark’s is currently working is the building of a column burial. The centerpiece will be a large domed gazebo of cypress. In this lovely centerpiece with a garden setting, the remains of members of St. Mark’s will have their ashes interred. Thus, reviving the age-old practice of parishioners being buried in the churchyard itself rather than removed to a cemetery elsewhere.
A Message From Rev. David L. Porterfield
At first glance, St. Mark’s is a quaint little church that happens to be located in downtown Hope, Arkansas. The church was built in 1904 and is much the same today as it was when it was first built. But St. Mark’s is not only about the sticks and stones, it is about the people that are there, past and present.
Though we are small, we are a progressive, open-minded Episcopal congregation. We strive to seek Christ in every person around us, and to respect the dignity of every human being.
Episcopalians base their beliefs on the Bible, reason, and our traditions. We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that it contains all things necessary for our salvation. We also believe that God has given us the gift of reason in order to read and understand those scriptures and apply them to our modern lives. Episcopalians do not turn off their brains when they come to church.
Finally, our tradition, as inherited from our Anglican roots, helps shape our identity. It can be seen in our Prayer Book, in our corporate worship style, and in our theology.
At St. Mark’s, all people are welcome to attend Sunday services and all are invited to partake in the Eucharist. We are a place where you can connect with God.
If you have questions about St. Mark’s, please contact us; we would love to hear from you.