Church Provides Nontraditional Services

By Destini Lattimore
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO — Church bells ring every 15 minutes from the bell tower at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. During the Easter season, the church bells and purple decorations provide an important aspect of worship.

Members of the congregation gathered to prepare the church for a tradition practiced on the first day of Holy Week, Palm Sunday. Each member of the congregation wore a palm cross made by members of the congregation to acknowledge the first day of the sacred week.

“Our church is rich in pomp and circumstance,” church historian Janice Kroeter said. “We are a church full of tradition.”

The Rev. Hannah Hooker learns to make palm crosses with members of her congregation. Hooker has led the congregation for less than a year. (photo by Destini Lattimore)

The church services at St. Mark’s began in 1894. The Rev. C.H. Lockwood organized the congregation and started a mission in 1895. Rev. Hannah Hooker, a North Little Rock native, came to St. Mark’s in July 2016 after completing seminary in Virginia. She grew up Episcopalian.

“My dad was Episcopalian and so was his mother,” Hooker said.

When assigned to the St. Mark’s congregation, however, Hooker was only supposed to work as a curate, an assistant to the current priest.

“To everyone’s shock and surprise, the rector ended up leaving right after I got here. I was supposed to be an intern and now I’m the only priest here,” Hooker said.

Hooker said the most challenging thing she’s faced as priest at St. Mark’s was being placed into a congregation with such a long history.

However, the young priest said the most rewarding part of her time at the congregation has been the moments she’s been able to share with the members. Hooker acknowledged the time they were spending making palm crosses as one of those invaluable moments.

“Things like this are rewarding,” Hooker said. “I love gathering with my folks and just being a part of the church.”

A few characteristics set St. Mark’s Episcopal Church apart from many other congregations and denominations. A branch of the Catholic church, Episcopalian churches have some similarities to the Catholic faith. Yet key differences exist in the way they view communion and the leaders in the church.

The church doubles as a day school. During the week, children attend classes at St. Mark’s. On Wednesdays, Hooker holds chapel with the children. Another important feature of the church is its community service. Every Saturday, teams of church members take turns cooking and serving meals to anyone who is hungry.

“We are very giving,” Children’s Minister Rose Mary Latanich said. “Our church is very community-oriented.”

One of the most important features that differentiate the Episcopalian faith from other faiths is their views on the LGBTQ community and same-sex marriages.

“If you want a place that is accepting, where you can feel the word of God and the presence of Christ in the worship, then St. Mark’s is the place,” said St. Mark’s member Lyse Cater, who has been a member since 1961. “No matter your race, creed or whatever, you will be welcomed here.”

In the early 2000s, the Episcopal church published a service to use for the same-sex blessings, to which they were referred at the time since same-sex marriages were not legal yet. Once the marriages were made legal, the priests were authorized to perform same-sex unions, as well.

“It’s been tricky because not too many churches do them and it’s even trickier in a place like Jonesboro,” Hooker said.

Because the decision to perform these unions is sometimes on a church-by-church basis, St. Mark’s has received a reputation as the only congregation who performs the unions.

There is also another catch to the unions. Priests are supposed to marry same-sex couples within their congregation. So, those who wish to be married must be members of the congregation first.

“We encourage weddings to be done with your church family,” Hooker said. “I am technically only approved to perform ceremonies for members of my church.”

She makes exceptions for people who are willing to do premarital counseling with her.

“We try to be as helpful as we can to people who don’t have anywhere else to go,” she said.

As far as membership, Hooker said she wants the LGBTQ community to know they can find a church home at St. Mark’s.

“Give us a shot. Come on by. We would love to worship with you,” she said.

Members of the congregation gather together to prepare a meal for anyone in need. The church provides free meals every Saturday to the public. (photo by Destini Lattimore)

St. Mark’s member, Donald Mankin said he has always felt the love and acceptance of those around him. Mankin became a member of the congregation in 2012.

“Everybody has been very friendly. Everybody seems to get along. Everybody’s welcome. We don’t look down on people,” Mankin said.

St. Mark’s holds services every Sunday at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. and Wednesday at 6:15 p.m.