My brother emailed me a few weeks ago to let me know that the church where we grew up, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania had closed. He thought the building was sold or given to an Ethiopian congregation that had been renting space there. The closing of the church feels like the loss of a close friend.
I was eight years old when our family moved from northeast Philadelphia to Ridley Park in 1965. We attended that church on Sundays because my aunt and grandmother lived in the adjacent apartment building, and that was their church. That’s how I became Lutheran.
When we first began worshiping there, the congregation met in a fairly small building that had a preschool and kindergarten wing on one side. I only have one memory from that older sanctuary. It’s from an Easter Sunday morning worship service. The pastor’s son, a few years older than me, was singing with the choir. He had a solo verse in a piece called, “In Joseph’s Lovely Garden.” He had a wonderful voice and sang well, but felt faint and passed out after his solo.
The congregation built a new sanctuary that I think was dedicated in 1968. My brother remembers going there with my dad to do things during construction, but I have no memories of that. The new sanctuary had two rows of 22 pews with a red-carpeted aisle between them. I know the exact number because I dusted them all many times when I worked there as a janitor while in high school. I have two vivid memories of the dedication worship service. From the loft the organ and piano played “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.” It was the first time I had ever heard that piece, and it too my breath away. The robed choir processed up and around the nave several times during the first hymn before ascending to the loft.
Our family always sat in the third pew from the front on the left hand side in front of the pulpit. My mom and dad never left us three kids there alone when they went up for Holy Communion. They went separately so the other could stay with us. A wise strategy. I didn’t find church all that exciting. The cross in the front consisted of many stained glass stones. We sat there and tried to count them all many, many times.
We never missed Sunday worship unless one of us was sick. I heard a lot of sermons from age eight until I graduated from high school. There is only one thing I remember from all my pastor’s sermons. He would preach about those who were on a “rolley-coaster to hell.” I’m not sure what that was, but I sure didn’t want to be on ride!
After high school, I went to college and then to work in New Jersey, only worshiping there when I was visiting my parents. Both mom and dad had their funerals there in 2005 and 2019 respectively. Over time, pastors came and went and the church went into a slow decline until her final service on May 9, 2021.
Over it’s seventy years, the church educated so many children on Sundays and during the week. It spawned four pastors that I know of, including my brother and I. It served it’s community in many ways.
If you grew up in the church, then you know there is something about the church you grew up in that makes it different than any other. When I grew up and moved away, it was hard to find a new place to worship. No other church ever really measured up.