As St. Mark’s celebrates its 160-year anniversary, I thought it would be a good time to look back on the founding of St. Mark’s and its first Pastor, The Reverend Alexander Phillippi.
On January 30, 1859 Pastor G.D. Bernheim, Pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Cabarrus County and head of the struggling Mt. Pleasant College, came to Charlotte to solicit funds for the College. Of his visit he said,
“I had no idea at the time of establishing a Lutheran Church here, it was business for our College that induced me to make the trip. Mr. James Carson of this city has the honor of first suggesting the founding of this Lutheran Church, when I approached him for a donation for our College he replied, ‘I will give you nothing for the College, but if you start a Lutheran Church in Charlotte, I will give $50 towards it.’
This suggestion struck me very forcibly and I reported it that night to my host Mr. Isenhour. He was surprised at Mr. Carson’s liberal offer and said:
‘I will give you $100 for the same purpose; do what you can when you go to town tomorrow and we may have at last a Lutheran Church in Charlotte, for which I have been anxiously waiting for the last 30 years, ever since I settled here.’
Pastor Bernheim eventually collected pledges for $600 which he used to purchase the “Old Methodist Church” on the corner of Seventh and College Streets. On Monday evening January 31, 1859, a meeting of Lutherans was held in the Mecklenburg County Court House and after an address and prayer, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church was founded with 16 charter members.
At the same time a call was extended to the Rev. Alexander Phillippi, DD who had just graduated from Gettysburg Theological Seminary. Pastor Phillippi accepted this call to St. Mark’s and worked very faithfully for more than a year with considerable success. With war clouds looming, he left for his home in Virginia in 1860 to be with his own people if war started. When war did break out, Pastor Phillippi served as a Chaplain in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. During the war he was captured twice and each time he escaped. Pastor Phillippi was the longest-serving Chaplain in the Army of Northern Virginia. He returned to Wythe County, Virginia, and organized several new Lutheran congregations there and was present at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of St. Mark’s in 1909. He served as President of Trinity College in Wytheville for 21 years.
He died in 1915; his grave is in the East End Cemetery in Wytheville, where he served at St. John Lutheran Church for 50 years.
In his obituary on the front page of the Pulaski Southwest Times of November 29, 1915 it was said, “Our city has lost one of its most popular and useful citizens, the Rev. Alexander Phillippi, who died at his home last night at 11 o’clock. … His first pastorate in the Lutheran church was at Charlotte, N.C., where he built the first Lutheran church ever erected in that city. … Thus ended a long and useful life. A man for whom all people had the greatest respect. Many people now on earth, and multitudes who have passed to the Great Beyond, will rise up and call him blessed”.
In less than a week Charlotte’s first Lutheran Church was founded, had its first building, and its first Pastor.
[Most of this article is based on a history written by Phillip E. Gerdes in 2000. For more of St. Mark’s history please see the Our History section on the St. Mark’s website.]