CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA: St. Mark's strengthening its identity as a center of Jubilee Ministry

October 19, 2012

The development of Jubilee Ministry as the guiding concept of mission at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, in Lewistown, Pa., was the direct result of two significant circumstances.

In 1972, Hurricane Agnes brought massive flooding and destruction to the Lewistown area. Then, as a consequence of the flooding, one major industry shut down its operation altogether, and another was forced to dramatically reduce its work force. Additionally many homes in the downtown area were either severely damaged or destroyed. People in the area were left reeling, many were unemployed and others had lost all that they had.

The people of St. Mark’s joined with others in the community to try to do all they could to provide relief and support for those in greatest need. In 1976 St. Mark’s called a new rector to replace the rector of many years who was leaving to accept a new call.

The Rev. Peter Greenfield presented a vision that challenged the people of St. Mark’s to change the focus of their mission from “in reach” to outreach.  The people responded to that challenge by engaging in the work of a Center for Jubilee Ministry, even though the term had not yet been coined or the concept formalized.

Under his leadership, with the support and help of several parishioners, Fr. Greenfield launched a series of programs to help those in the community who were struggling. A community garden provided folks with fresh produce. Meals on Wheels set up its operation in St. Mark’s kitchen. Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, a community food bank, was opened in the undercroft of the church.

The parish initiated community work weeks to provide labor and materials to assist with badly needed home repairs and painting for those in the community who could not manage to do the work themselves. Ecumenical relationships and partnerships were formed with other denominations to provide political, social and spiritual advocacy for individuals and organizations needing sponsorship.

A strong youth program was established that provided an outlet for young people seeking a place to belong. And many, many visits to comfort and encourage and restore people in despair throughout the county were undertaken. St. Mark’s truly announced “a year of favor from the Lord” in both word and deed.

Not long after, the idea of establishing a specific new ministry in The Episcopal Church, based on the concept of Jubilee (the renewal of a strong commitment to a season of sharing God’s blessing, compassion and goodness, from a sense Christian purpose and justice) was initiated.

At that time, The Rt. Rev. Charlie F. McNutt, Bishop of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, believed that St. Mark’s, Lewistown embodied this kind of ministry. At Bishop McNutt’s urging, St. Mark’s applied to be recognized as a Jubilee Center for outreach Ministry and was the very first Parish in the U.S. to receive this designation. The then-Presiding Bishop, Rt. Rev. John Allin, came to St. Mark’s personally to present the certificate.

In the late 80's, under the leadership of a new rector, St Mark’s recommitted to the concept of ministry by establishing a Jubilee Chapel. The Window in the Chapel speaks the Jubilee Message to all who enter.

Today the concept of Jubilee is still the guiding principle for ministry at St. Mark’s. In fact, the parish recently received a grant of $20,000 from the diocese to reclaim and strengthen its identity as a center for Jubilee Ministry in light of changing circumstances.

As economies and demographics shift in Central Pennsylvania, so does the emphasis of the Center.  Today the Center orients its activity around five major areas:

  1. Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard has become the principal food pantry in Mifflin County (open four days per week).
  2. The parish extends a spirit of intentional hospitality in its Breaking Bread Together community dinners that provide not only opportunity for a balanced meal table served by volunteers but also much needed fellowship for over 100 individuals and families in the immediate area.
  3. Parishioners’ Outreach provides emergency assistance to persons in economic crisis (rent, fuel, electricity, and other critical services).
  4. Environmental Stewardship advocates for “green thinking” on a practical level by providing educational opportunities for the wider community on how to care for and preserve our physical environment in everyday ways.
  5. Folks of a Certain Age is the Center’s newest program designed to address issues confronting people 55 years and older from a faith based perspective, as the median age of the area increases rapidly.

St. Mark’s Jubilee Ministry Center continues to forge partnerships with local agencies and other churches. Many of the volunteers that staff the various programs come not only from St. Mark’s but also from local congregations.  Financial and in-kind support comes from religious groups throughout the area on a regular basis.  

The Jubilee Ministry Center at St. Mark’s thereby provides a kind of “hub” where many individual efforts intersect to create a genuine sense of the Lord’s Year of Jubilee.