Wednesday, June 19, 2019
A visit to St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery
Photos and interview by Stacie Joy
I’d been to St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery on 10th Street and Second Avenue before — for poetry readings, the St. Francis Day blessing of the animals, and a community event or two. However, I'd never seen the full scope of the historic space.
The Rev. Anne Sawyer, who started as the church's 14th Rector in June 2017, met me in her attic office. She provided a tour of the grounds and rectory to share more details about her work and the work the church is doing for the community ... as well as discuss its history and what she sees as its place in the East Village now and in the future.
Can you speak a bit about the background of the historic St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery?
St. Mark’s is an Episcopal Church and one of the oldest sites of continuous worship in New York, dating back to 1660. Over the past century, our church has also been used for dance, music, poetry and theatre by many notable artists.
Today, it remains the home for Danspace, The Poetry Project and The New York Theatre Ballet, in addition to a vibrant and passionate congregation that worships on Sunday mornings and gathers at various times during the week. St. Mark’s is an important architectural landmark in New York City.
You came to this church with your wife (the Rev. Susan Anderson-Smith) about two years ago from Arizona, where you focused a lot of your energy on working with children and families, especially those in economically challenged areas. Do you have local plans for similar programming?
In the Episcopal Church, clergy and congregations engage in a process of discernment with respect to ordained leadership and congregational ministry. I was drawn to St. Mark’s for many reasons, including its commitment to social justice and expressed desire to live into those beliefs through action in our community.
While I have spent years working with children and families, ministries within a church should always reflect the people of faith who gather and where the Spirit leads us to serve. To date, the areas of ministry include: Sunday school for children, racial justice, reparations, and support and recovery from incarceration; gun safety and anti-gun violence; efforts to support Puerto Rico in recovery from natural disaster; farmworkers rights and safety; and support for community members in recovery from addictions.
Why did you accept the call to helm this particular church and can you speak more about what St. Mark’s Church offers to the community?
I was giving prayerful thought to a possible change in ministry when I learned about St. Mark’s, and thought, this could be fun!
A call to ministry is always more than a job. Rather, it’s a response to where we believe God is leading us, and where we meant to be. It is my prayer that everyone at St. Mark’s feels the same. Together, we seek to understand the world in which we live, and discern how best to live and respond.
The people of St. Mark’s offer God’s love and acceptance, a caring community, fabulous music, questions to ponder, and an opportunity to grow in relationship with each other and with God.
Is there a typical parishioner at the church? How do you see the church’s place in the East Village?
The people who gather for worship at St. Mark’s on Sunday morning share much in common, yet they are a diverse community. We vary in age, skin color, gender, sexual identity, and financial means. We tend to be well educated, savvy about politics, passionate about justice, a bit subversive, faithful, soulful in music, with and without partners, and/or children, and generous. Some parishioners have lived in the East Village for decades and can tell stories; other members wake early to travel.
We are an inclusive community that reflects the East Village in the heart and soul through worship, music, dance, poetry, and historical preservation.
Can you speak a bit about the new clock faces — you mentioned a lightning strike, and a fallen face. Also, the church recently lost an angel off the steeple. What are the plans for replacing it, if any?
I do not know the exact history of the clocks, other than after a lightning strike in the '90s they stopped working, and over time, the temporary clocks installed after the great fire in July 1978 began to weather and slip. We now have beautiful clocks that tell accurate time thanks to our neighbors, and the Saint Mark’s Historic Landmark Fund.
As for the inside of St. Mark’s (and the angel), we could use your help to restore beauty to this grand, historic landmark in the heart of our neighborhood. A half million [dollars] is needed to stop water from creating damage inside. Then, plaster, paint and carpet would create a clean, simple and fresh sanctuary for another century of arts and to glorify God. Talk about making an impact!
[Part of the old clock]
[The missing angel on the steeple]
What’s next for St. Mark’s?
The next chapter of the vibrant history of St. Mark’s is being written now by people like you. Come join us on Sundays at 11 a.m. You are most welcome. We will be celebrating our annual Pride Disco Mass on Sunday, June 30! And after that? The next chapter...