Many teens have known the loss of friends during high school.
But not 10 in a year. And usually not to gang violence.
Rev. A. Renee' Jackson, the first ordained female pastor at St. Mark Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Joliet, said that happened to her at age 15.
And it propelled her into ministry.
Jackson started preaching at her church. By 17, she was leading a Bible study at her school, Jackson said.
“That has been my life’s work,” Jackson said. “To alleviate the gang problems and other societal ills that plague our communities.”
It’s been a significant year for St. Mark’s. In addition to welcoming Jackson in July, St. Mark celebrated its 100th anniversary in November at the Dream Palace Banquet Hall in Lynwood.
Then in February 2010, Jackson will celebrate 20 years in the ministry in February 2020. Jackson said she had attended seminary at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
Jackson feels these milestones give the church an opportunity for growth and she is excited about the possibilities.
“I’m interested in working with the community, being a resource for the community,” Jackson said. “We’re looking at being a beacon of light in serving in whatever capacities are necessary and in partnering with area ministries and organizations.”
Developing a vision
Jackson has spent the last few months familiarizing herself with the Joliet area, its particular needs, the challenges in meeting them and then trying to discern where St. Mark can be most effective.
For instance, at previous churches in Tennessee and in Arkansas, Jackson developed mentoring programs for young people, especially those enmeshed in gang culture, in order to “encourage and empower and equip them,” Jackson said.
“I’ve actually spent my life working with the gang culture,” Jackson said. “That was the topic for my doctoral dissertation and my master’s thesis, on how to remedy the gang problem and the value of life. It’s definitely one of the challenges many of us face in society.”
She also wants to grow the church, both spiritually and numerically. Jackson said about 50 people attend worship services on Sunday. Ten years ago, St. Mark averaged 125 people a week and had a membership list of 474, according to a 2010 Herald-News story.
But Jackson is not discouraged and that is partly due to the attitude of St. Mark’s members.
“I think they are very open to change,” Jackson said. “I think they are excited about my vitality and not being a novice so as to speak wisdom, as well as my education background.”
Here is a brief history of St. Mark Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, first published in The Herald-News in 2010 when the church celebrated its 90th anniversary.
1919: Thirteen people meet in the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Ingram to form St. Mark Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. First pastor was Reverend James H. Hudson; the first bishop was Bishop Bray. For several years, various members hosted the church services.
1922 to 1935: Members purchased the present lot at 348 S. Joliet Street and construct the church’s first and second units. Many trips were made back and forth to Chicago for loan payments.
1955 to 1957: During construction of the new church, services are held in Eliza Kelly School until the fall, when the first unit is done. Building is complete two years later.
1958: St. Mark’s becomes part of the Michigan-Indiana Annual Conference and hosts the first district conference of the Gary District.
1970: The mortgage is burned; a parsonage, carpeting, air conditioner and pews are purchased; and a “Feed the Hungry” outreach program is initiated.
1986 to 1993: The church purchases and pays off a new parsonage, two furnaces and new front doors. New carpet and flooring is laid, the sanctuary and basement is painted, a new roof is acquired and a new ceiling is installed in the lower level.
1999 to 2010.: The parking lot is blacktopped; the kitchen and both bathrooms are remodeled; and the doors leading into the sanctuary are replaced with beautiful new glass doors.