Starting from scratch
A small group of neighbors — 90 or so — came together in northern Delaware in the early 1940’s with a plan to start a Lutheran congregation in the Bellefonte area. With no building, an agreement was reached with Brandywine Hundred Fire Company and its second-floor social hall became the fledgling congregation’s temporary home. The first service was held on Jan. 11, 1942.
This was an alarming situation at times — when emergencies arose, sirens went off and the fire trucks got rolling from the bays below. The preacher would be drowned out, pause for a while and start up again when the alarm bells stopped.
It was not optimal by any means, but the little congregation took root. They invited friends and neighbors to worship with them, they worked to nurture this new family of faith and the little church began to grow.
After a few years, meetings were held to determine whether the church could establish its own building. The money just wasn’t there.
Newell Bigelow’s historic account describes how things changed.
Local contractor Fred Krapf Sr. offered to build a church on the Duncan Road property the small congregation had purchased — following the example of another contractor, who was helping a Maryland congregation build its church. He offered to provide skilled labor if church volunteers would help with the rest of the project. And they did. Ground was broken on May 7, 1950. Men, women and children worked, worked and worked some more — all playing their part in labor, supplies, hot lunches and assorted other supports.
The building finally was completed and the first service was held on Christmas Eve, 1951. There was no heat in the building yet, but people kept their coats on and savored the great work God had accomplished through them. It was a joyous and hopeful time.
The congregation grew and thrived and loved the little church, built with their own sweat equity with no mortgage to fret about.
From the fire hall into the fire
Trouble came, though, in May of 1969, when a horrible fire swept through the church, devouring much of the structure inside.
Many stood along Philadelphia Pike and watched the horror.
“An eerie moaning sound — caused by the heat of the fire forcing air through the pipes of our organ — filled the air,” Terry Biesinger Olsen, a charter member, wrote in a history for the 70th anniversary celebration in 2012. “We stood with many other members of the church, all with tears rolling down our faces.”
The little church was badly wounded, and the loss affected the greater community, too. Gifts were made, help was offered. The beautiful Madonna statue in our narthex — crafted by sculptor Charles Parks — was donated anonymously after the fire. And one St. Mark’s member, Albert Torp, created the cross that now hangs over our altar from pews that were salvaged from the scorched sanctuary.
Major repairs and renovations were accomplished to reopen the church and other projects have followed. The narthex was expanded in 2003. Recent renovations have included new windows, upgraded nursery facilities and significant upgrades in our kitchen.
- The Rev. W. Robert Miller, 1942-48
- The Rev. Joseph Inslee, 1949-52
- The Rev. W. Russell Zimmerman, 1953-65
- The Rev. George P. Mocko, assistant pastor 1962-65, senior pastor 1965-78
- The Rev. Robert Buckwalter, assistant pastor 1966-71
- The Rev. Robert M. Holum, assistant pastor, 1973-76
- The Rev. Jane O’Hara Shields, assistant pastor, 1976-79
- The Rev. Carl R. Sachtleben, 1979-1991
- The Rev. Fred N. Melton, 1992-2015
- The Rev. Scott Maxwell, 2016-present