St. Mark celebrates 125 years of service in DuluthTucked away in the Central Hillside, St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church is not among the most well-known or highly attended churches in Duluth. However, it is perhaps one of the more historical places of worship in the Twin Ports.
Tucked away in the Central Hillside, St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church is not among the most well-known or highly attended churches in Duluth.
However, it is perhaps one of the more historical places of worship in the Twin Ports. St. Mark has served a small, predominantly African-American congregation for 125 years — 100 of them at its current location at Fifth Street and Fifth Avenue East.
“We’ve been a faithful few all these years,” said Catherine Scott, who has been active in the church for 40 years. “It’s just such a nice church with nice people. It’s small and friendly.”
Scott, who lives two blocks up the avenue from St. Mark, said she’s one of about 10 or 15 people who attend service every Sunday morning. As many as 50 worship at the church at least occasionally.
But church members are expecting a big community turnout next weekend when the church holds festivities to celebrate its 125 years in Duluth. A gospel workshop, a luncheon and a Sunday worship service with a special guest speaker are all planned for the weekend.
The weekend’s main event is a luncheon Saturday at Clyde Iron Works, featuring the Rev. John Bryant, senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, among other speakers.
“It’s kind of like our pope coming to Duluth,” said Natasha Garner, a St. Mark member and the vice chair of the anniversary committee. “It’s a pretty big deal.”
Duluth Mayor Don Ness will read a proclamation at the luncheon, a video history of the church will be shown and other speakers with connections to the church will offer remarks.
The weekend actually starts the evening before, when the gospel workshop will be held at the church. Community members are invited, and are welcome to sing at the luncheon the next day.
A worship service will be held Sunday as usual, but with a guest speaker. The Rev. Dr. Alphonse Reff will preside. Reff is a former St. Mark pastor, and currently serves as the presiding elder of the Minneapolis-St. Paul AME district.
St. Mark members say the 125th anniversary is special for the church and the city. “We’ve always had a good relationship with the people of Duluth,” Scott said.
Claudie Washington, president of the Duluth chapter of the NAACP, has been going to St. Mark since 1980. Besides attending the service, he has another connection to St. Mark: The church is a lifetime-paid member of the NAACP.
After three African-American circus workers were lynched in Duluth in June 1920, the NAACP Duluth chapter was founded. Most of the early organizational meetings were held at St. Mark, Washington said.
“We have always just been a small community, but we are also interconnected in so many ways,” he said.
St. Mark dates back to 1887, when it was founded on the corner of Fourth Street and Fourth Avenue West by a group of several Duluth families.
The church moved to its current location at 530 N. Fifth Ave. East in 1900, where services were held in the basement of a brick-and-stone edifice.
The Rev. John Brewer, feeling that the members had exhausted their resources at the original location, made a plea for the community’s help through the Duluth Herald in 1910. His appeal was successful, and a new building was completed at the site in 1913. Brewer later credited the Herald with doing more for the black race than any other institution at the time.
The new building, which is also turning 100 this year, features large stained glass windows, a domed ceiling and inclined seating arrangements with a capacity of 300 people. The church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
African-American churches date back to the early history of the United States. They started popping up on the East Coast soon after the Revolutionary War and became more common during the 19th century. Although founded to combat segregation and discrimination, black churches remain important culturally, Washington said.
He pointed to research that indicates that Christianity began in Africa, not Europe, as was long believed. Recent DNA research also indicates that most civilization can be traced back to Africa.
“When you look at history, so much was told wrong, or it wasn’t told at all,” Washington said. “I think we have so much more to learn.”