For more than one hundred and forty years the congregation of St. Mark’s has served the Gospel responding in faithful service to the boundless grace of God by proclaiming the gospel purely and administering the sacraments rightly among Christians in the Charlotte community. During the period of her existence, the congregation has grown and prospered along with the community she serves. This historical sketch is a part of the story of St. Mark’s, a pilgrim in God’s time.
The founding of any Christian congregation in a new area has its roots in an earlier period, and the founding of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church is no exception. There had been Lutherans in the Piedmont area of North Carolina since the 1740s when settlement began as German Lutherans settled alongside German Reformed and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who together made the long trek from Pennsylvania down through the Shenandoah Valley and the old trading paths to settle northeast and west of the Catawba River. Most of the German Lutheran colonists were descendants of Palatine Germans who settled in Pennsylvania after the hard times of the Thirty Years War in Germany and emigrated south into North Carolina starting in the 1740s.
German Lutheran settlers of the period mostly settled in what are now Gaston and Lincoln Counties to the west of Charlotte and what is now Cabarrus and Rowan Counties to the east of Charlotte, and for the most part the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians settled what is now Mecklenburg County.
Starting with Sugar Creek Presbyterian Church in 1757 the Scotch-Irish established seven other early Presbyterian congregations in rural areas around Charlotte, but the first church in the town of Charlotte was not established until town commissioners set aside a parcel of ground (now occupied by the First Presbyterian Church) to be used for a church and cemetery in 1815. The town’s first church building was erected on this site by the citizens in 1819 and dedicated as a town church in 1823. The Presbyterians used the building regularly and organized their church there in August 1832. Methodists had a full time minister in Charlotte in 1833 and erected their first house of worship on Seventh Street in 1834. Baptists formally organized what became the First Baptist Church in Charlotte in June 1833. Episcopalians erected their first church in 1834 and Roman Catholics in 1851.
When Mecklenburg County became a new county in the 1760s there was some competition between German Lutherans living in what is now western Cabarrus County and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from the Charlotte area as to where the new county seat for the new county would be, and the Scotch-Irish prevailed and the cross roads community of Charlottetown became the new county seat.
There was close cooperation between German Lutheran and German Reformed congregations in the area surrounding Charlotte and early Lutherans in Charlotte had a close relationship with Presbyterians, so it was very natural when Pastor G.D. Bernheim, Pastor of Old St. John’s Lutheran Church in Cabarrus County and head of the struggling Mt. Pleasant College, came to Charlotte the week of January 30, 1859 to solicit funds for the College that he met with a good reception. Charlotte was a small town of about 1300 people at the time, but the people were devout and strongly committed to the gospel. Pastor Bernheim in reporting the founding of St. Mark’s writes:
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. I made my home during my stay with Mr. Martin Isenhour, residing 3 miles south of Charlotte, and, on account of the muddy roads, I walked on the railroad cross ties to town every day.
Mr. James Carson of this city has the honor of first suggesting the founding of this Lutheran Church, and it occurred on this wise; 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.’
The next day I commenced canvassing the city for a Lutheran Church and proceeded remarkably well.
Pastor Bernheim reports that in short order he had about $600 to start the new enterprise, bartered for the old Episcopal Church building, located on Trade Street, opposite the United States Mint, (now the Federal Court House Building). Later on the trustees of the congregation changed their minds and purchased the old Methodist Church on the corner of Seventh and College Streets for $600; they, the Methodists, reserving the right to worship in it every two weeks, when not in use by the Lutherans, until their new church edifice on Tryon Street was finished.
A week after coming to Charlotte, on Sunday January 30, 1859 Pastor Bernheim preached in the Presbyterian Church having invited all Lutherans in the vicinity of Charlotte to that service. Pastor Bernheim continues:
We had a large congregation. Presbyterians and Lutherans worshipped together as suggested by the Presbyterians themselves who courteously offered us the use of their church for that Sunday.
On Monday evening January 31, 1859 pursuant to public announcement a meeting of Lutherans was held in the court house, and after an address and prayer our present Lutheran congregation was organized with 16 charter members.
On my return to Mt. Pleasant it became a matter of no small surprise that in so short a time of less than one week a Lutheran congregation was founded in Charlotte, a church edifice secured, and a call for a pastor extended. But I must say that the time was opportune for the undertaking, the exact moment had come, two years later the Civil War broke out, and who can tell whether even in ten or twenty years afterwards an enterprise would have met with success. The Lord prospered the undertaking from the beginning to the present time, although very many difficulties had to be overcome.
Shortly thereafter trustees were elected for the church property, the Lutheran Hymn book and Discipline were adopted and a call was extended to Rev. Alexander Phillippi from Wythe County, Virginia. Pastor Phillippi accepted his first call to St. Mark’s and worked very faithfully for more than a year with considerable success at St. Mark’s. 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 until the Army surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia, and 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.
The congregation was without a pastor for a short period, but a call was extended to Pastor Bernheim and in the beginning of 1861 Dr. Bernheim came again to Charlotte, this time to become Pastor of the congregation he had organized. The Rev. W.S. Bowman, a later Pastor of St. Mark’s writes of this time:
Now came years of confusion. The War was on to rage fiercer and fiercer for four years. Home religion was projected into the camp and field of blood. Fathers, husbands and sons went out to the firing line. Church movements were suppressed by the cause of patriotic sacrifice, and the strenuous endeavor of scanty substance of food, clothing and shelter. These four years of labor by Dr. Bernheim were years of severe trials, and it was all he could do to fan the embers into feeble flame. He shared in all the privations of the depleted flock, supporting himself with the labor of his hands. The War ended but the woes remained and were multiplied under the direful “reconstruction era”.
Pastor G.D. Bernheim has been called the Father of southern Lutheranism because of the many Lutheran congregations he helped found in the Carolinas during this period. Pastor Bernheim’s father, of a distinguished Berlin Jewish family, educated to be a Rabbi, converted to the Christian faith and became a Lutheran minister and brought his family to Pennsylvania. Paster Bernheim wrote many books including German Settlements and the Lutheran Church in the Carolinas(1872) and History of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and Ministerium of North Carolina. (1903)
4 Before this time the Lutheran Church in North Carolina was mostly in the rural areas and small towns of the Piedmont; but the founding of St. Mark’s, Charlotte marked a step forward for the Lutheran Church. In his 1903 history Dr. Bernheim wrote that, the establishing of the new congregations in these two important cities of our state (Wilmington,1858, and Charlotte, 1859) gave the Synod a prominence in the church at large and a spirit of progress which has been a blessing to it up to this time. (1903)
Lutherans from northwest Germany had been emigrating to the South through the ports of Wilmington and Charleston in considerable numbers from the 1820’s on and many had also settled in the Charlotte area augmenting the earliest influx of Lutheran settlers in the general area of 100 years before.
Pastor Nathan Aldrich accepted a call to St. Mark’s in 1865 and stayed as Pastor for nine years until 1874. During his ministry the church after a period of struggle became stronger and prospered and moved from Seventh and College Streets to a new church at 510 North Tryon Street.
Rev. A. L. Yount was supply pastor from 1874 until 1876 at which time the Rev. E.A. Wingard came to St. Mark’s and served until 1881. Pastor Wingard was a young man just graduated from the Theological Seminary. Frail physically, he labored faithfully; but finally because of ill health, he resigned. The congregation was served by a supply pastor, Rev. T.H. Strobecker, for a year before the Rev. T. Shannon Brown was called in 1882. Pastor Brown served the congregation for eight years, a period in which the church continued to grow and prosper; and it was decided that a new and more adequate building was needed for the growing congregation. Property was purchased at 416 N. Tryon Street, and the cornerstone for the new church building was laid on Reformation Sunday 1885. It was reported to be the most beautiful church in the North Carolina Synod at the time. This was a period of great prosperity and growth for Charlotte during which Charlotte emerged as a major city of the New South.
During the 1880s missionary work was inaugurated among the black population of North Carolina, and four black Lutheran congregations were organized served by four black Lutheran pastors. In 1889 these four congregations asked to be formed into a separate synod of their own, and Rev. Brown served on the Synodical Committee to organize the new Synod which was organized in 1889 as the Alpha Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Charlotte congregation of the Alpha Synod erected a small frame church building on Luther Street which is still standing. In later years the Alpha Synod united with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. 5 The Rev. W.S. Bowman, D.D. was pastor from 1890 to 1897. During his ministry the congregation grew in loyalty and devotion to the historic usages of Lutheranism. It was during 1896 that the Rev. Charles P. King of Wythe County, Virginia founded Elizabeth College for Women on a campus at what is now Presbyterian Hospital. After ill health forced Pastor Bowman’s retirement in 1897, Pastor King served as supply pastor to St. Mark’s during 1897 and 1898. He also supplied the Alpha Synod Congregation on Luther Street located not far from the college. Many students from Elizabeth College attended services at St. Mark’s.
In June 1898 the Rev. R. C. Holland, D.D. was called from St. Andrew’s in Charleston to serve as pastor, and he remained at St. Mark’s for the next ten years. Dr. Holland was always vitally interested in the youth of the church; and under his guidance the Children’s Mission Band, later known as the Light Brigade was organized on January 11, 1907 and the Ladies Aid Society was organized with 19 members. Dr. Holland was vitally interested in the home and foreign mission field, and the congregation supported this work. In 1904 Dr. Holland was called by the United Synod of the South to become President of the Home and Foreign Mission Board With the advance and growth of the work at home and abroad, Dr. Holland resigned October 1, 1908 to devote his entire time to the work as Superintendent of Missions in the United Synod of the Lutheran Church in the South with headquarters in Charlotte. Charlotte’s population in 1910 was 34,014, and it was the largest city in the Carolinas.
The Rev. Robert L. Patterson became pastor of St. Mark’s December 1, 1908 and he served the congregation until 1914. It was during his pastorate that the congregation celebrated its 50th Anniversary; and during the anniversary celebration the Ladies Aid Society presented to the congregation a brass pulpit said to be the finest pulpit in the city at the time. During the ministry of Dr. Patterson the Lutheran Brotherhood was organized and sponsored the 50th Anniversary celebration. It was during Pastor Patterson’s ministry that a Sunday School was organized in the eastern part of Charlotte, and sessions were held in a storeroom on Central Avenue. This formed the nucleus of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church which was organized in 1916 in which Rev. Patterson served as minister 1934-1936 and pastor Emeritus 1936-1944.