The roots of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Decatur date back to 1839 when the first missionaries of the Evangelical Society came to the Decatur area. But it would be many years before evidence of established “classes” — sometime after the Civil War.
A number of loosely organized “classes” — or “societies” as they were also called at the time — was formally organized in 1870 as one “society” (or church) and the first building was erected in 1873 on South Winchester Street and dedicated as the Ebenezer Church of the Evangelical Association. At some point, it was changed to First Evangelical Church. A brick structure, which still stands today, was erected and dedicated in 1917.
In 1946, the Evangelical Society and the United Brethren in Christ denominations merged to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Since the city’s United Brethren church also had the “first” designation, each church agreed to choose a new name. The church on South Winchester became the Bethany E.U.B. Church. In 1954 an addition was completed which included classrooms, a modern kitchen, restrooms and a new heating plant.
But continued growth in Sunday numbers soon caused church leaders to look for a new location with more convenient parking.
Meanwhile, the other E.U.B. church in Decatur was experiencing similar growing pains. Trinity E.U.B.’s history dated to 1885 when small meetings began to be held at Kover’s Hall at the corner of Madison and First. The group grew quickly. Just one year later, they chose a site for their permanent building at what was then the west edge of Decatur. The land cost the group $225. They built a wooden structure at the corner of Ninth and Madison streets.
The First United Brethren in Christ Church sent a missionary to Africa in 1891. Ella Schenck served faithfully there but was killed in a native uprising on May 3, 1898 near Rotufunk, Sierre Leone, at the age of 31. She was to be married that same day. The stained-glass window in the lobby area of the church is a depiction of Ms. Schenck. This artwork was created as part of the new brick building erected in 1924 and was transferred to the new structure upon its completion.
The church had experienced significant growth over the years, despite what was recorded as “very difficult” times after the Panic of 1894 and during the Great Depression. After World War II, particularly in the 1950s, significant growth caused church leaders to look for a new location as the congregation had outgrown the facilities and was landlocked by residential homes. Parking was also a growing problem.
So it was only natural that the two sister congregations of the E.U.B. church explore a merger. These discussion began in 1955. Several options were explored, but it was not until 1962 until a formal report was produced and a merger proposed. A poll was taken of the members of the two churches on Sunday, May 6, 1962, which passed in favor. Hence, on June 17, 1962, the two congregations became the Decatur E.U.B. Church.
Committees were already in place to explore the variety of details in finding and obtaining a new location, building a new building. Because neither building could accommodate the average worship attendance of 416, services and Sunday school classes continued to be held at each location.
The building committee soon identified what they felt was the best choice for the site of the new church: on US 224 at Decatur’s west edge. The land was purchase in February, 1963.
Moving day was April 9, 1967. On that morning, a “farewell service” began at each of the two churches. The crosses and candles from the altars were carried from the sanctuaries; a caravan of cars began. As the cars from Bethany came up 10th Street, cars from the Trinity building were intermingled so that they arrived at the new building as one congregation. This procession required a great deal of coordination with the city and state police to make its way through town.
During this time, there had been discussions of yet another merger, this one national in scope between the E.U.B. and the Methodist denominations. That merger came to fruition in 1968, at which time the Decatur E.U.B. congregation voted to adopt “St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.”
Other significant dates in the church’s recent history include the addition of the educational wing (the L-shaped portion south from the kitchen and then east to include the lounge) in 1977. In 1987, Mr. Harry Heuer, from whom the original land had been purchased in 1963, made the adjacent 25-acres of woods available to the church; the purchase was completed and the woods was formally dedicated to Christian service on July 10, 1988.
In 1995, the church celebrated its 125th anniversary.