The Early Years
The rich history of Saint Mark United Methodist Church parallels in many respects the modern history of the City of Atlanta, and the story of the church’s growth is intertwined with that of the city’s expansion and welcoming to all people.
In 1872 the First Methodist Church, located at Walton and Forsyth, opened a mission in a house located on the east side of Peachtree Street just north of what is now Eighth Street. This area, beyond the city limits, was called “Tight Squeeze.” Notorious since the Civil War as a haven for cutthroats and thieves, the stretch of Peachtree between present-day Eighth and Twelfth Streets originally looped around a thirty-foot ravine that ran east from present-day Crescent Avenue down toward Piedmont Avenue. It got its name from the saying that it was a “tight squeeze getting through there with your life.”
This first mission was called “Peachtree Street Mission” or the “City Mission.” A frame church was erected and the mission relocated to Merritts Avenue, which runs between Peachtree and Courtland Streets. Several dates have been given for the move, but 1875 seems to be widely accepted. The new church was called the Sixth Methodist Church (1875-86) and later renamed the Merritts Avenue Methodist Church (1886-98). Bishop Warren A. Candler , then a junior preacher (and later became a bishop in the Methodist church as well as President of Emory College, now Emory University), was its first pastor.
The history of the current building really begins in the year 1900, when the Board of Trustees of Merritts Avenue Methodist Church began its search for new property. By 1901 with a membership of 319 the congregation had outgrown its Merritts Avenue location. The congregation sold its property and used the proceeds to buy a new lot at Peachtree and 5th Streets. The site chosen for the new church was located in the midst of fine residences. For more details about the church’s architecture and design click here.
In January of 1902, the congregation officially changed its name to Saint Mark M.E. Church, South. On October 22 of the same year the cornerstone was laid for the new building on Peachtree. The original building consisted of the main sanctuary and the rooms behind and below this area. The church grew rapidly, particularly after World War I, when it became clear that larger facilities were needed for the growing Sunday school program. The congregation raised funds to acquire the piece of property and frame house next door, owned by David Woodward, and was able to close on the purchase in 1922. The next phase of Saint Mark’s building development came in 1946, with a building renovation and construction program that resulted in the construction of the Frances Winship Walters Chapel and a new educational unit in 1948. The 1950’s witnessed the final addition to the current structure with the extended educational building. In 2008 the culmination of a 15-year Sanctuary renovation master plan was realized with the repairing and repointing of the exterior granite walls, the repainting of the interior walls and the addition of faux-wood painting of the beams. The result is an even warmer, more intimate holy space for the praise and worship of God.
The 1990’s and the turn of the Millennium saw renewed life at Saint Mark. During that time the congregation grew to over 1,700 members due to their decision to invite the local LGBT community to join them in worship. This was an especially miraculous renewal considering that in the early 1990s the church was on the verge of closing. For this reason that renewal is referred to as “The Miracle on Peachtree.” To read Candace Chellew’s article about that time, entitled “The Courage to Welcome: The Blessings and Battles of Gays and Lesbians in the Church,” click here. The decision to invite the LGBT community to join us has thrust Saint Mark into the forefront of the movement for full inclusion of Gays and Lesbians in the church and so on March 13, 2011, a Saint Mark Church Conference voted overwhelmingly to affiliate with Reconciling Ministries Network and adopted this Welcome Statement:
As a United Methodist Church we are proud to be a congregation with open hearts, open minds, and open doors. We strive to be a congregation that embodies God’s absolute love and hospitality, proclaiming Jesus as our savior and as our model of the ultimate embodiment of God’s love. We believe that all persons are of sacred worth and dignity as part of God’s good creation. Saint Mark United Methodist Church welcomes all persons into the full life and ministry of our congregation, regardless of race, culture, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, family or socioeconomic status, physical or mental ability, or faith history.
As history proves the city grew to, and well beyond, Saint Mark. Today the church is surrounded by high rises, hotels, and apartment buildings, but the church remains to serve in the name of Christ both the intown communities as well as all of metropolitan Atlanta… and the world.