Survey says: Growth is top priority

Stylized compass

The St. Mark’s Compass Team, tasked with developing a strategic plan for the church, continues to study the data gathered in the recent congregational survey.

Analysis of the data continues—moving toward a full and more formal report that will summarize findings in five areas: fellowship and caring, faith and faith development, outreach, flexibility and atmosphere. Many challenges and aspirations have been identified.

The top priority identified by the 70 respondents, according to Compass Team convener Nancy Wilkerson, was to “develop and implement a strategy to attract new members and incorporate them into the life of the church.”

Many suggestions were shared on the “other priorities” page. Here are a few samples:

* Do more to meet the needs of young families
* Establish prayer circles, praying for members who have difficult situations arise
* Help us connect with each other across boundaries (service times/styles, age, marital status, etc.)
* Develop a program of service projects serving our neighborhood community
* Improve our website (Editor’s note: We’re already working on that! Keep the suggestions coming!)

Much more information is coming, so please stay tuned.

Coming soon:

* Discussion sessions will be scheduled to address questions, seek more information and further explain the goals of this process.
* Congregational leaders (Council members, committee chairs, ministry leaders) will gather with Jim LaDoux of Vibrant Faith at a retreat in mid-April to review the reports, discuss priorities and begin to shape St. Mark’s strategy.
* A full and formal report will be prepared and provided to the congregation.

A new chapter for Gail Rodger

Gail Rodger, director of faith formation

“To everything there is a season,” the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, and our Director of Faith Formation, Gail Rodger, has announced plans to retire, effective April 30.

Gail has been part of the St. Mark’s staff for nine years, accepting the part-time position after more than 20 years as a music teacher and choirmaster in South Jersey.

“I felt God had drawn me to St. Mark’s,” she said. “My heart’s desire has been to help people grow — myself included — through studying God’s Word, discussion and talking to one another. So many Christians go to church and don’t think about how real God is and that he wants a relationship with them. That relationship grows through spending time with him and through our contact with our brothers and sisters.”

She loves the spirit of generosity and service she sees at St. Mark’s.

“Many at St. Mark’s put their lifeblood into service here,” she said, “in Sunday School, at Sojourners’ Place, with Lutheran Community Services, Family Promise and so many other efforts.”

Through the past decade, Gail has coordinated ministries including Sunday School, the adult forum, special services such as Candlemas, fun events such as “Trunk or Treat,” community service in Edgemoor and women’s ministries, including the quarterly brunch, and St. Mark’s partnership in Vacation Bible School at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant.

“Gail’s leadership as our Faith Formation Director has greatly impacted countless lives for the sake of Jesus Christ and her involvement in the community has connected us to our neighbors like never before,” said Pastor Scott Maxwell. “I am grateful for Gail’s willingness to share her gifts in ministry with our congregation. I will deeply miss her and her laughter, but I look forward to a continued relationship as she will still be a part of St. Mark’s. Thank you, Gail!”

The Human Resources Team will work with the Leadership Council to discern next steps, Pastor Scott said.

Gail said any successor “can expect a lot of freedom to dream together here and can expect a lot of support from the pastor and congregation.”

She hopes to spend more time with her family, especially her brother, Donald, who is seriously ill. She also plans to travel, do some writing and remain in fellowship with St. Mark’s.

“Thank you all for allowing me to serve God and you in this way for these nine years,” she said. “It will be hard to let go of a lot of things, but I’m excited to turn the page to the next chapter.”

Compass Team analyzing survey data, preparing formal reports

Stylized compass

The St. Mark’s Compass Team, tasked with developing a strategic plan for the church, has a lot of information in hand now, thanks to the 69 people who completed the recent congregational survey by the deadline. A total of 130 surveys were distributed. If you did not receive a survey, please call the church office at (302) 764-7488 to request one. We want everyone’s ideas on how to shape a great future for St. Mark’s.

As those of you who responded to the survey know, there is much to review and a careful analysis is underway.

Nancy Wilkerson, convener of the team, invested many hours assembling the responses, sorting them by relevant categories, attaching numeric scores to priorities and perceptions within the congregation and typing out individual comments.

“We’ll be working on this for a number of weeks,” she said.

Respondents’ statements about the church are divided into seven themes including: fellowship, faith, faith formation and education, outreach, flexibility, leadership, and overall satisfaction.

“We’re evaluating responses in a respectful, positive way,” said Mike Patterson, another Compass Team member. “They’re valuable and we appreciate everyone doing it.”

Surveys of area community groups and leaders are continuing and smaller focus groups will be convened for further discussion to help us clarify our mission.

“How do our greatest gifts help to meet the greatest needs?” Pastor Scott Maxwell said.

Here are a few bits of information about those who responded to the report:

    * 62 percent of respondents have attended St. Mark’s for more than 20 years, 16 percent for 11-20 years, 12 percent for 6-10 years, 10 percent for 1-5 years.
    * 68 percent of respondents are married.
    * 36 percent are between 65-75 years old, 28 percent between 41-64, 26 percent over 75.
    * 52 percent of respondents attend the 9 a.m. service, 23 percent the 11 a.m., 22 percent attend both.

Next steps:

    * Results of the congregational survey will be distributed when the reports and analysis are complete.
    * After release of the results, discussion sessions will be scheduled to address questions, seek more information and further explain the goals of this process.
    * Congregational leaders (Council members, committee chairs, ministry leaders) will gather at a retreat in April to review the reports, discuss priorities and begin to shape the St. Mark’s strategy.

Please continue to pray for this team as this work continues, asking God for wisdom, discernment and strength for the task.

In addition to Pastor Scott, Nancy and Mike, team members include Nichole Bishop, Peg Bradley, Beth Miller and Dwight Novotny.

St. Mark’s Strong: Annual meeting points to change, partnerships and great potential

Council President Kitty Dombroski

Change is in the air at St. Mark’s, Kitty Dombroski said in her opening remarks at the congregation’s annual business meeting, held Jan. 27.

That can be great. And that can be dicey.

“Most of us don’t like change,” she said. “And let’s face it, change is really hard. It’s disruptive and unsettling.”

It is inevitable, though, and also essential for growth. Because of all of that, Kitty chose the “Love Chapter” — the 13th chapter of First Corinthians — as the focus of her devotional.

While it’s always nice to receive love, she said, it’s not always easy to be the person giving love. That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth, which had many different opinions and challenges.

Love is the force that holds people together through all kinds of challenge – including periods of change. To punctuate this message, she wore a unique garment, a dress with a hem that bore the word “LOVE” all the way around it. It was a present from a special friend, she said, and she chose to wear it to St. Mark’s, “because St. Mark’s is where the love is.”Kitty Dombroski's 'Love' dress

“God is love,” she said. “Let’s remember that today, tomorrow, next week, throughout this year, working together in ministry to serve God. God is love. We should be, too.”

The unexpected loss of longtime, beloved music director Liz Lauber, who died in March 2018, has prompted some of the coming change as St. Mark’s seeks seek new leadership in that essential ministry. Gratitude was expressed to Nicole Matos and John Lasher, who stepped up to lead the entire music ministry after Liz’s death.

Other changes include:

* A new team at St. Mark’s — the Compass Team — which is working to develop a new strategic plan for the church
* A major new Mission Endowment, established by a gift of the late Ginny Franta, which will support new initiatives at the church
* Continuing renovations to the church building
* A new partnership with Family Promise of Northern New Castle County, which provides shelter to families in need of housing

Sixty-eight people attended the meeting, authorizing the endowment and its committee members, approving a 2019 budget of $336,000, and electing three members to the Leadership Council.

Kitty Dombroski is the new president of Council. The three newly elected members include Peg Bradley (for a second term), Faith Patterson and Nancy Wilkerson. All terms are three years.

The church also expressed gratitude to Lois Broeker, who has served the church on Council as president for the past six years and many years before that as a member of Council.Lois Broeker

Pastor Scott Maxwell reported on St. Mark’s extensive reach into the community — to include his own extensive outreach — and noted that he and Candy have had more than 150 dinners at their home since their arrival about two years ago. The St. Mark’s “Caring Hearts” team has been extremely helpful in assisting those with various needs in the congregation and more than 50 people have participated already in the new partnership with Family Promise of Northern New Castle County.

“I believe in the church,” he said, “and I believe that as we partner with others we will become stronger.”

St. Mark’s has teamed up with many area congregations during the past year, he said, including joint services and an annual picnic with our neighbors at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, with whom we also partner for Vacation Bible School. Church members also are active in service to Edgemoor Gardens and more than 130 people throughout the community have participated in the St. Mark’s-led Covenant Bible Study and Discipleship Fast Track studies in 2018.

Pastor Scott Maxwell
Pastor Scott Maxwell
“I have great hope for the church,” he said. “I’m excited about the church. It has so much promise. We can seek out relationships first and how to build those with integrity, honesty and authenticity. If we can move and live into this type of partnership the church’s future is bright and beautiful. And that web of God’s love will spread over not only Wilmington, but Delaware and the country and the world and we’ll be stronger and stronger for that.”

Reports also were received from Karen Hansell, financial secretary; Tim Bishop, treasurer; and Allen Kirk, for the audit committee. St. Mark’s is in good financial stead, they said, ending 2018 with a small surplus.

Annual meetingJanice Smith reported on efforts of the Music Ministry Discovery Team, which has spent months working to discern next steps for St. Mark’s in its music ministry. Congregants were surveyed, individual interviews and conversations also produced important input for the committee. A search team has been formed to develop a job description and begin the process of finding a new director of Worship & Music Arts Ministries. That team is co-chaired by Janice and Kitty Dombroski.

Karen Hansell reported on renovations to the building and said we are close to meeting our $63,000 goal. If more money is received, more work can be done! Already, significant upgrades have been made to the kitchen, to the Great Room (new windows) and to the parking lot.

The $350,000 Mission Endowment Fund was introduced and established with a five-member oversight committee. The committee will accept grant applications and recommend to Council which applications should be approved. An annual distribution of 4 percent of the fund balance will be available for grants. In determining distributions, the committee will consider the mission imprint in the community, long-term sustainability of the congregation and the vibrancy of ministries within the congregation.

Finally, Karen Hansell reported on the Christmas Bazaar, which was held for the last time in December. The bazaar has had a 16-year run, supported by scores of hard-working volunteers, who helped to build relationships in and through the church and community. Their work also raised significant support for St. Mark’s. More than $18,000 was raised through the 2018 bazaar, bringing its 16-year total to more than $215,000.

Compass Team gathering information for strategic plan

Stylized compass

The St. Mark’s Compass Team, which is working to develop a strategic plan to guide our ministry and life together, wants to send a big “thank you” to all who have participated in the Compass Team Survey.

The deadline to complete the survey is Sunday, Feb. 3, so — depending on when you read this — you may still have time to submit your survey if you haven’t done that yet. Please weigh in! The survey will give the team essential information about the St. Mark’s family and provide a profile that we have not had in this amount of detail.

Why does it matter? We’re called to be good stewards of the resources God has given us — the human resources, the financial resources, the time and talents and all of the goodness He has given us. That doesn’t happen by default. Good stewardship requires careful thought and a good plan.

To expedite our work, the team is working with Vibrant Faith Coach Jim LaDoux, who has worked with many other congregations in similar efforts. He will visit St. Mark’s on Sunday, April 14, speaking in both worship services and also during the Adult Forum at 10 a.m. Jim LaDoux

In addition to analyzing responses to the survey, the team is in an information-gathering phase now — collecting data about our community, drawing from Census reports and other research and official government planning documents. This is the first of four phases of the team’s work and will include meetings with church committees and interviews with many in the St. Mark’s family and the greater community to expand our understanding of the needs and goals we have.

The second phase is a period of discernment, which includes a leadership retreat, planned during the weekend of April 13-14. In the third phase, the team will design a strategic plan, with tasks, timelines and accountability measures for key objectives. During this time the plan will be submitted to Council for review and approval. The fourth phase is used to develop systems that will support the plan and ensure that its objectives are reflected in staff and ministry goals and are informing our decisions and actions.

Our website — — and newsletter (The Lion) will carry periodic updates on our process and progress. We plan to share the results of the survey with you and also will post other data to let you know what we’re learning. We would love it if you would follow these reports and keep in touch with us throughout this process, which we believe will continue at a formal level through December. Going forward, the plan will be a living document, with continuing growth and refinement.

We need and welcome your prayers for this effort. We believe this work will provide healthy interaction, new insights and a clear, responsible roadmap for our future.

Please contact any team member if you have questions or wish to offer suggestions or email us at The better our information and collaboration, the better our plan.

The Compass Team includes: Nancy Wilkerson (convener), Nichole Bishop, Peg Bradley, Pastor Scott Maxwell, Beth Miller, Dwight Novotny and Mike Patterson.

We meet monthly, with our next meeting on Feb. 17. Much more to come!

St. Mark’s serves families, makes new friends in new partnership with Family Promise

Hector hugs his child

St. Mark’s partners with Family Promise of Northern New Castle County again from January 27 to February 3, our second week of “hosting” families at the Hospitality Center.

Our first week of service — Christmas Week 2018 — was a great introduction to this ministry, which serves families who are in transition and in need of housing. Scores of volunteers participated — preparing and serving meals, planning activities, providing overnight security and bringing special gifts and other essentials for this holiday week.

We made many new friends and one of them — Hector (seen in the photograph above) — was featured in Family Promise’s recent report on the things accomplished during 2018. His story, which was also covered by several local news outlets, was shared this way in Family Promise’s report:

“Hector had a full-time job and was supporting his four kids. But when his job was cut to just 25 hours, he couldn’t make ends meet. He had to give up his apartment, and his family bounced between houses of friends and family members — eventually ending up in a motel. The day before our new Hospitality Center opened in November, Hector had just enough money to pay for one more night in the motel. For a family like his — one headed by a single father — it was difficult to find resources, and he faced the grim choice of living in his car or splitting up from his kids. Supporters like you gave Hector a third option: our new Hospitality Center. He was able to keep his family together while receiving shelter, food, and hospitality. He shared his story on WDEL and Community Issues with Omar Rashada, and just this week, he moved back into permanent housing!”

What a glorious testimony to God’s provision — and what amazing timing for Hector and his family.

The Family Promise Hospitality Center, which opened in November 2018, shares space at The Jesus House and Retreat Center on Milltown Road. It has capacity for up to six families with children — about 20 people in all — giving them a way to stay together while they pursue new housing.

Each congregation that partners with Family Promise provides seven days of “hosting” services, which include meals, washing linens, activities for the kids (as desired by residents) and other things as needed. Our commitment is for four weeks each year.

There are many ways to participate. Connect with our coordinators, Barb Gilbert and Pam Waters, if you’d like to join us!

And if you’d like to help with supplies, here is a list of needed items which can be dropped off at the Family Promise Day Center at 2104 St. James Church Rd., Wilmington DE 19808 or stored in a (yet-to-be-established) Family Promise Ministry storage area at St. Mark’s: twin comforters, twin sheet sets, new bed pillows, towel sets (bath, hand, wash), dish sets, flatware sets, plastic drinking cups, sets of glass drinking glasses.

Thank you for caring for families such as Hector’s! Working with Family Promise and the many other congregations and groups who support this work, we can do so much more. Hope to see you at the Hospitality Center!

Photo: Courtesy of Family Promise of Northern New Castle County

Lutheran Community Services seeks help to address food emergency

Lutheran Community Services is asking for help as the potential for a food emergency increases during the lengthy government shutdown.

In a recent email to supporters, LCS said the shutdown threatens to upset the safety net for many low-income households. More than 2,500 low-income households come to one of LCS’ 15 food distributions for nutritious food each month. Many also rely on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, formerly known as Food Stamps, to obtain food. February’s SNAP benefits are being paid early, on January 20, but after that no further benefits will be provided as long as the shutdown continues.

If SNAP benefits cannot be funded, LCS expects a dramatic increase in the need for food assistance as LCS becomes a primary source of food for those in need. As one pantry client expressed it, “there will be a line down the street and around the corner!” LCS estimates needing to buy up to three times the amount of food normally purchased to meet the emergency. This would include providing more food to existing clients and meeting the needs of new ones. Even if the shutdown is resolved, LCS expects a surge in February because of the early distribution of that month’s SNAP benefits.

In order to get ahead of this situation, LCS is asking for financial help. Please visit the LCS website — — for more information on how you can help or call (302) 654-8886.

Also on the LCS website is information about how to organize a food drive as well as a grocery list of the food most often needed, including:

Ravioli, spaghetti, meatballs in sauce
Beef stew
Corned beef hash
Ham and other canned meats
Canned fruit
Canned vegetables – spinach, yams, carrots etc.
Macaroni and cheese
Cereal, grits, cereal bars, oatmeal
Peanut butter
Fruit juice
Dry or evaporated milk
Baking mixes for pancakes, waffles

‘Compass Team’ starts work on strategic plan


A new team at St. Mark’s has started work on a strategic plan for our congregation, which has served the north Wilmington area for more than 75 years.

The team is working with Pastor Scott Maxwell and Jim LaDoux of the Vibrant Faith initiative to evaluate the church’s mission and provide detailed information to church leaders as we all plan for our future and our impact in the community.

The work starts with a fact-finding phase, an assessment of the church and its community context. Your voice and views will be essential and valuable during this process. Much more information on this fact-finding effort will be coming soon.

The team chose “Compass Team” as its name, reflecting the desire to pursue our True North – Jesus.

“The goal of the Compass Team is to work with the people of St Mark’s to discern God’s plan for our future and reflect it in strategic goals and actions that we hope the entire congregation can get excited about,” said Nancy Wilkerson, team convener. “Obviously, we can’t be successful without you. Over the coming weeks we will be reaching out to everyone at St Mark’s through surveys, focus groups and other activities to help us in the data-gathering phase of the process. Look for more information on this phase of the process in mid-January.”

The team chose Isaiah 6:8 as a guiding Scripture: “Then I heard the Lord asking, ‘Whom should I send as a messenger to this people?’ I said, ‘Here I am. Send me.’”

Also on the team are Nichole Bishop, Peg Bradley, Dwight Novotny, Mike Patterson and Beth Miller.

St. Mark’s joins forces with Family Promise

New doors are opening – literally – for the St. Mark’s family in its partnership with Family Promise of Northern New Castle County, which recently announced its  new Hospitality Center for families in need of temporary housing. And our first week of service is special indeed – Christmas Week! We will serve from December 23-30.

Barb Gilbert
Barb Gilbert

“What an opportunity for us to be Jesus’ hands and feet, opening our hearts and giving of our time and ourselves by providing meals, hospitality and support to those who need it most,” said Barb Gilbert, who with Pam Waters is coordinating the St. Mark’s team.

The Hospitality Center includes two ranch houses on the grounds of the Jesus House on Milltown Road. The Center will accommodate six families, up to 20 individuals. Continue reading “St. Mark’s joins forces with Family Promise”

New tree in memory of Liz Lauber

Group gathered around newly planted tree

St. Mark’s lost a beloved member and servant in 2018 — Liz Lauber, who served our congregation with her music and gifts for more than 50 years.

Many of us — including many children — were taught and encouraged by Liz. On Sunday, Nov. 4, many youth from our Sunday School classes had a hand in planting a new tree in her honor and memory.

Liz Lauber
Liz Lauber

Barb Gilbert led a brief ceremony between the morning worship services, including Scripture, prayer and a series of readings by children and adults who had written expressions of gratitude for Liz.

“Thank you for letting me sing a solo,” one young girl read. “It was lots of fun. Thank you for having me sing ‘Away in the Manger,’ even when I was scared. We miss you so so so so so much.”

Tree plantingAn adult friend said: “We love and miss your energetic spirit and hope music fills all of your days now. You are missed and can never be replaced.”

Another adult said “Our hearts are full of so many cherished memories. Your spirit will always be with us at St. Mark’s.”

After the ceremony, Tim Gilbert, Faith Patterson and Tim Bishop helped the youth plant the small evergreen that now stands just outside our building’s main entrance.A girl reads during the tree planting ceremony

Along with the tree, they also planted a small time capsule, filled with written tributes, and placed two cross-shaped pavers created and decorated by St. Mark’s children earlier this year.

“We ask for your blessing upon this tree and upon us. May it serve as a sign of hope and a reminder of Mrs. Lauber and her dedication to You, the children and to the music program at St. Mark’s. As we watch it grow in the years ahead, may it inspire us to grow in Your service as we remember our dear servant, Mrs. Lauber. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.” — Barb Gilbert