The present-day St. Marks Lutheran Church in Winnipeg traces its roots to the 19th century when settlers began immigrating to Western Canada. The congregation began its long history on October 4, 1890 when forty Swedish immigrants met in the dining room of the Svea Hotel in Winnipeg to organize the Swedish Lutheran Zion Church.
By 1891, the fledgling Zion congregation had built a 1,500 square foot wood-frame construction church on Henry Avenue opposite Laura Street for a total cost of $2,000. The first permanent pastor, Rev Svante Udden was installed the following year.
By 1902, the church had been moved to the corner of Logan Ave and Fountain Street. It was enlarged and improved at that time and a parsonage was also built. Although the building was badly damaged by fire twice, worship continued. Services were conducted exclusively in Swedish until 1927 when English services were introduced as an incentive for the Canadian-born youth of the congregation to be active in the church.
A new wave of Swedish Lutheran immigrants in the 1920s and 30s spelled rapid growth for the congregation. One of these groups settled in Meadows, Manitoba, about 40 kilometers northwest of Winnipeg and regularly traveled into the city by train to attend Sunday worship. They joined the congregation in 1932 and their families are still active, committed members today.
By 1940, the area surrounding the church was no longer residential. Members had moved to other parts of the city and attendance was poor, especially at the Swedish services. In 1944, the old parsonage was sold and the church mortgage paid off but attendance continued to decline and the congregation’s financial situation deteriorated. In 1948, the Home Mission Board stipulated that it would continue its support only if the congregation were to eliminate ‘Swedish’ from its name, sell its property and relocate to a residential area.
On June 15, 1949, the name of the church was officially changed to St Marks Evangelical Lutheran Church and the final service of Zion Church was held on January 1, 1950. The cost of the Mission Board’s ultimatum, the name change and the sale of the building had been high. Members left, attendance dropped further and money had to be borrowed to finance a new building.
Between 1950 and 1953, the congregation worshipped in the chapel of St John’s College while possible new locations were researched. It was finally decided to locate the church at the corner of Cambridge Street and Corydon Ave in River Heights, its current location. Construction at the new location was carried out in two stages. First came the parish hall which was dedicated on January 1, 1953.
The new location proved a boon to membership and attendance. The Sunday School, which had been closed while the congregation was homeless, was re-opened and response from the neighbourhood was strong. On June 3, 1955, the congregation celebrated the completion of a new sanctuary.
In 1958, the congregation became financially self-sufficient and a new parsonage at 812 Ash St was purchased. The Lutheran merger of 1962 resulted in St Marks becoming part of the Lutheran Church of America. With the formation of the LCA, came a dedicated effort to involve all lay members in congregational life with laypersons allowed to be congregational presidents and women able to serve as council members for the first time. All confirmed members in good standing were able to vote and hold office. At this time, lay readers and acolytes were introduced to assist in worship services and lay teachers taught the three-year catechetical program and several adult study groups. The new era also saw St Mark’s first seminary intern called in 1963.
Extensive renovations to the parish hall in 1982 and to the sanctuary in 1990 (the congregation’s 100th anniversary) allowed St Marks to continue to grow in service to God. But once again, St Mark’s needed to upgrade the congregation’s space to ensure that the vision of serving neighbours near and far became a reality.
In 2006, the congregation embarked on a capital campaign to finance an enhanced congregational home. The campaign resulted in sufficient funds to renovate the current sanctuary and basement starting in June 2008. Phase II of the project was dedicated early in 2012. It featured a new kitchen and office space and an expanded parish hall including accessible washrooms. Approximate total cost of the renovation / expansion was $1.8 million. Mortgage debt incurred by the project was retired in April, 2021.
The Circular Stained Glass Window
One of the most arresting features of St Marks Lutheran Church is the circular stained glass window situated at the north end of the sanctuary behind the altar. The window was designed in 1989 by Michael J Boreskie of the North American Church Planning Resource Center in Winnipeg.
The design for the stained glass takes its meaning from this “view” of the world around the cross:
The design represents a symbolic world. The green glass is symbolic of the earth and the blue of the heavens. The clear glass is symbolic of the world created by humans. The rectangular lead lines in the clear glass are symbolic of the way in which humans try to bring order to life while the flowing lines in the clear glass represent life’s refusal to be corralled. The gold glass is symbolic of Christ’s resurrection and a reminder that the story of salvation did not end with the cross.