At the turn of the last century the French Quarter was in crisis. Buildings crumbled and the area struggled with poverty and crime. When many said the Quarter was dying, the Methodist Church decided to move into the neighborhood. In 1909 St. Mark’s Hall opened as a place to live out God’s love. Methodist deaconesses provided a wide range of services to area residents, which included immigrants from Italy and nearly two dozen other countries. St. Mark’s also was a staging ground for street preaching in Italian and English.
St. Mark's Community Center
When the work grew, the Methodist church doubled down on its investment by building the current three-story Community Center in 1923. It included the first indoor swimming pool in the city of New Orleans and an indoor gym with a half track suspended above it. The building also housed a chapel and plenty of space for classrooms and a medical and dental clinic.
In the face of segregation, the deaconesses of the center provided services to all: whites, blacks and colored people. St. Mark’s was one of the few places in New Orleans where people of different races could meet together because we stood by our belief that God’s love is for all.
When New Orleans public schools integrated in 1960, Pam Foreman, daughter of our Pastor Andy Foreman, was one of the few white students to remain when little Ruby Bridges integrated William Frantz Elementary. White protesters surrounded the school and cursed Peggy and Andy every day. The family received death threats and was forced to leave their parsonage and stay in the homes of Methodist ministers. St. Mark’s was picketed and vandalized. Still, we stood by our belief that God’s love is for all.
Upstairs Lounge Fire
When the UpStairs Lounge fire claimed the lives of 32 people in 1974, no other church would open its doors for a large, public memorial. The UpStairs Lounge was a gay bar, and most of the victims were LGBTQ. St. Mark’s hosted the service because we stood by our belief that God’s love is for all.
When the church noticed the large number of hungry people in the French Quarter and Treme in 2002, a member started cooking meals for a small group after each service. We expanded the kitchen and now serve more than 175 people every Sunday. It’s what Matthew 25:35 calls us to do.
More than a hundred years of showing God’s love for all people. And we’re not going to stop.
For more information, read:
Ellen Blue, St. Mark’s and the Social Gospel
Robert Fiesler, Tinderbox