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St. Mark's Episcopal takes the stage in Abilene Community Theatre's Black Box

The Abilene Reporter-News logo The Abilene Reporter-News 7/5/2020 Brian Bethel, Abilene Reporter-News
a man wearing a suit and tie: Mary Glover, often seen on Abilene theater stages, is rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church. She is returning to the theater stage, though in a different way as she leads her congregation to its new home at Abilene Community Theatre. © Greg Jaklewicz/Reporter-News Mary Glover, often seen on Abilene theater stages, is rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church. She is returning to the theater stage, though in a different way as she leads her congregation to its new home at Abilene Community Theatre.

If all the world's a stage, then a church that first met in a theater and is moving back to one is a sort of real life double feature.

And while the congregation of St. Mark's Episcopal Church will miss their home of 60 years, their decision to sell their property at 3141 Vogel St. and move to Abilene Community Theatre's Black Box Theatre came at just the right time for two congregations.

a house that has a sign on the side of a building: The campus of St. Mark's Episcopal Church includes the original sanctuary, left, and one built in 1980. The congregation recently returned to the original building, opened in 1960. The last service at the Vogel Street site is Sunday. July 1 2020 © Greg Jaklewicz/Reporter-News The campus of St. Mark's Episcopal Church includes the original sanctuary, left, and one built in 1980. The congregation recently returned to the original building, opened in 1960. The last service at the Vogel Street site is Sunday. July 1 2020

"It's been strange and odd for everybody to have to grasp, of course," the Rev. Mary Glover said.

But Glover, who has been at the church since 2011, said she had a banner made reading "St. Mark's Episcopal Church: Not a place, but a people."

Therein lies the essence of the church's next role in the city's spiritual stage.

 "I think that the church as a whole is going through a gigantic transformation in the world and especially in this country," Glover said.

'Good and faithful' group

Like many churches, St. Mark's went through a period of growth and then saw declining members, starting in the 1990s, Glover said.

The congregation of around 30 has for the past two years been meeting in the church's parish hall, which was the original sanctuary.

"Most Episcopal churches are at under 100 people anyway, and we're well under that," she said.

That group of  "good and faithful folk" lends well to a smaller setting on a Sunday morning, Glover said.

"(We can) be with each other and to worship and not have the worry of maintaining two buildings that were just way beyond what we needed," she said.

Glover, who herself has done plenty of community theater, knew that ACT's Black Box was a place in which she would be comfortable.

But it's also a great location for the small congregation, she said.

"The shape of it is just a big, square room, and that's basically what we've been worshiping in," she said. "We've been worshiping in our parish hall for about two years, with a kind of haphazard setup of tables, chairs, and the altar. So I think it will feel right to our people."

a large room: The St. Mark's Episcopal Church sanctuary opened in 1980 stands empty. Services were moved back to the original sanctuary. On the far wall are sculptures by former Abilene artist Sarabeth Clevenger of Cherubim and Seraphim angels. © Greg Jaklewicz/Reporter-News The St. Mark's Episcopal Church sanctuary opened in 1980 stands empty. Services were moved back to the original sanctuary. On the far wall are sculptures by former Abilene artist Sarabeth Clevenger of Cherubim and Seraphim angels.

Swift change

After a few years of trying to figure out what to do, the church decided to sell, and "almost immediately, we had an interested buyer," she said. 

The time for change manifested "about the same time that we got shut down for the pandemic," Glover said.

"So the whole time we've been separate from each other, we've been in the process of moving ourselves out and finding new places," she said.

That was buyer was Transformation Church, a plant of New Hope Church, which had been meeting Sunday morning at the Cinemark Theater in northeast Abilene.

"We'll have one more service in our Parish Hall on July 5, and then on July 12, our Sunday services will move," Glover said. 

The next ACT

a red fire hydrant sitting on the side of a building: Abilene Community Theatre transformed a former Rose Park art museum into a black box theater. It also will be home, on Sundays, to St. Mark's Episcopal Church. © Greg Jaklewicz/Reporter-News Abilene Community Theatre transformed a former Rose Park art museum into a black box theater. It also will be home, on Sundays, to St. Mark's Episcopal Church.

The church will rent the ACT theater space for Sundays, then "stay out of their way," she joked, when it comes time to put on a show.

It's a model that's worked before.

An Episcopal church in Arlington, St. Alban's, has had its home in a theater for 10 years, she said. 

"They've just gotten used to working within the space of whatever show was going on," Glover said. "Sometimes, the altar will be on a table that's part of a set. Sometimes, they have a regular setup. But that was sort of the inspiration behind thinking that way."

Recently in Abilene, the former University Baptist Church congregation relocated to the Abilene Convention Center as Radiant Life Church, then moved to the former Westwood Theatre.

Ironically, before it became ACT’s Black Box Theatre, the building was home to Abilene Fine Arts Museum, which located downtown almost 30 years ago.

The St. Mark's move is a new opportunity, Glover said, to offer something a touch more casual, a place to meet that those who don't want to walk into a church building or might feel might out of place in a traditional setting will find welcoming.

A little help ...

a vase sitting on a table: A bottle of hand sanitizer is placed behind a rustic cross on the altar at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Vogel Street. A Bible rests beside it, while a candle flickers on a nearby table. The last service at the sanctuary opened in 1960 is Sunday. © Greg Jaklewicz/Reporter-News A bottle of hand sanitizer is placed behind a rustic cross on the altar at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Vogel Street. A Bible rests beside it, while a candle flickers on a nearby table. The last service at the sanctuary opened in 1960 is Sunday.

One of the church's most popular ministries, the Baby Room, which gives away diapers, baby wipes, formula, car seat carriers and more to families in need, will resume its work at Grace Lutheran Church.

"They've always donated to it, but now we're in their in their buildings. So I think it'll probably be more of a joint ministry over time, which is really neat," Glover said.

More collaboration between churches is becoming the norm,she said, and something welcome.

"In the big picture of religion and culture, the move is to try to get us all back together under one proverbial roof, if not one literal roof," she said.

Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for the Abilene Reporter-News.  If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: St. Mark's Episcopal takes the stage in Abilene Community Theatre's Black Box

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