St. Mark’s was founded in 1904, and has stood at the corner of Vermont Avenue and 36th Place in Los Angeles for 115 years.
When St. Mark's began, its members were mostly European-American, reflecting Lutheran immigrants from northern European countries.
But in the 1940s, the congregation noticed that its neighborhood was changing. Council minutes from 1948 show the congregation’s deep conversation around its growing multi-ethnic context. Soon the congregation made a decision to become a “church for all nations.” Around the time of Brown vs. Board of Education, a sign was placed outside the church building in the heart of Los Angeles saying “All Races Welcome.”
Soon, the first African-American families joined the church. By April 1968, St. Mark’s was featured in the Lutheran Magazine as a “church for all races in Los Angeles,” with a mixture of African-American members, European-American members, and Japanese-American pastor from Hawaii. From the 1970s to the 1990s, St. Mark’s welcomed immigrants from Central America and the Caribbean, beginning a thriving Spanish-language ministry alongside its English-language ministry. In 1992, in the aftermath of the civil unrest in Los Angeles, St. Mark's helped to found New City Parish, a coalition of churches in Los Angeles, Inglewood, and Compton collaborating for holistic urban ministries.
In the 2000s, the neighborhood began changing again in a new way. The University of Southern California, located across the street from St. Mark’s, doubled its student body population, and soon the neighborhood around St. Mark’s was filled with new apartment buildings marketed to college students. During this change, we advocated for the most vulnerable, especially those at risk of displacement, working closely with our partners at UNIDAD (United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement), while also welcoming students and USC community members into the struggle for justice, fairness, and equality with us.
Today, St. Mark’s, still located on one of the busiest thoroughfares in Los Angeles, is a mix of African-American, Afro-Caribbean, Central American, and European-American families, with a growing number of young adult students from USC and local community colleges. We organize alongside USC students as well as workers at USC, many of whom park in our parking lot on a daily basis. We strive to be the beloved community in a constantly-changing neighborhood.
St. Mark’s continues to grow as a place of inclusive and intersectional community. In 2014, we publicly proclaimed "Black Lives Matter," a proclamation that continues to this day as we continue the struggle for racial justice in our time. In this same decade, young adults at St. Mark’s began a congregational conversation around public LGBTQ welcome and inclusion, and, after a time of self-study, discernment, and powerful support from elders, in September 2018 a statement of LGBTQ inclusion was enthusiastically approved by the congregation. In June 2019, a rainbow flag was posted outside the congregation, facing the busy city street.
The marathon continues.
We strive to make God’s love alive in what we do:
in sharing the Word and Sacraments,
in serving and caring,
for each other and for all those around us,
whoever they might be.
We are a multicultural church, a “church for all nations.” In 1948, amid changes in our neighborhood and our nation, our congregation voted to be a “church for all nations,” welcoming all races at a time when that was not a given. From that time forth, the congregation integrated, and in the decades since we have welcomed every new “nation” that has moved into our neighborhood, learning from one another and inclusively celebrating one another. We are still learning from one another and growing in mutual understanding together. St. Marks Lutheran Church welcomes people of all ages, all races, all ethnic backgrounds, all gender identities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations, all physical and mental abilities, all immigration statuses and all socioeconomic levels. You are welcome here. We are a church for all nations.
We are a church for all of God’s children. Following Jesus’ example, we are called to accompany all of God's children, whether through programs for young people growing into adulthood; visitation of the sick and the shut-in; affirming those who have been rejected for their race, immigration status, gender identity, or sexual orientation, and accompaniment with people of all ages who are excluded, hungry, homeless, lonely, sick, or vulnerable. We are a church for all of God's children.
We share what God has given us. Like those who gathered manna in the wilderness, we, too, receive gifts from God, gifts of food, culture, time, talents, money, things, passions. With the manna-gatherers in the wilderness, we understand that all of life is a gift, and so we share the gifts we receive with one another and with all those around us. We share what God has given us.
We gather in circles. When we gather for holy communion, we gather most often in a circle, a sign of our equality before God and with one another. All are welcomed just as they are. We also believe that, following the example of our Lord, we are called to act whenever the circle of equality is broken, that all might be restored to the circle of equality. We gather in circles.
We are small but mighty. Like the little boy whose lunchbox opened to serve five thousand people, we believe that God can do a lot with a little. And so we are unafraid to take risks, to set high goals, to do big things, to raise our collective voice to advocate for justice. We are small but mighty.
For over a century, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church has been a church with a vision.
We are a multicultural congregation that has been a symbol of hope and a beacon of light in a changing community. Our congregation has survived and thrived as a result of courageous acts of justice in civil and human rights, Christian education and development of our youth and children, and the willingness to bridge cultural gaps.
We are here to serve God by showing love and acceptance to all cultures and socio-economic levels through the preaching of the Word and sharing of the Sacraments. In doing so, we have enjoyed the blessings of God as a multi-church: multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-generational, multi-class, multi-abled, multi-expression, even multi-denominational, rooted in the Lutheran tradition but inclusive of multi-denominational influences and outreach.
May that vision continue to bind us together and strengthen us as we continue into our second hundred years!