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Published: Monday, 9/21/2009

St. Mark celebrating 125 years

Five members of St. Mark have chosen the ministry, including, from left, Jaci Tiell, Larry Oberdorf Jr., Cindy Ritter, and Cindy Getzinger. Five members of St. Mark have chosen the ministry, including, from left, Jaci Tiell, Larry Oberdorf Jr., Cindy Ritter, and Cindy Getzinger.
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As St. Mark Lutheran Church gets ready to celebrate its 125th anniversary, the East Toledo congregation is focusing not just on its buildings and long history, but on the people and the future of the church.

“It's the people of St. Mark who give me strength, who make me feel comfortable here,” said Jean Oberkiser, who has been attending St. Mark for 70 years.

She first attended services at St. Mark when she was 9 years old, she said, and was confirmed and married in the sanctuary. Her three children were baptized, confirmed, and married at St. Mark.

Ms. Oberkiser and other members of the parish are proud to point out that five of their members are either ministers or seminarians in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Jaci Tiel, Larry Oberdorf, Jr., and “the three Cindys” — Cindy Ritter, the Rev. Cindy Getzinger, and Cindy Hansen — have all chosen to pursue ordination.

“If you're a Cindy in this church, watch out!” Ms. Ritter said with a laugh.

They all credit the Rev. Beth Giller, St. Mark's pastor, for providing encouragement and support to attend seminary.

“I do try to encourage people and determine what their gifts are. But it's not just me, the whole church supports them,” Ms. Giller said.

St. Mark is one of the few Lutheran churches that pays tuition for all its seminarians, she said.

Ms. Getzinger, now the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church on South Avenue in Toledo, said she had been sensing a call to ministry, but was in need of a boost.

“Pastor Beth encouraged me and she kind of confirmed that God was calling me,” she said.

Ms. Giller, who came to St. Mark as an intern in 1985, returned as associate pastor in 1995 and became the church's senior pastor in 2000.

Originally from Warren, Ohio, she is a graduate of the University of Virginia and received a master's of divinity degree from Duke Divinity School.

After seminary, Ms. Giller worked for three years at a Columbus treatment center for alcoholics and drug addicts, saying she had been fighting the call to parish ministry.

Rev. Beth Giller Rev. Beth Giller
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But Ms. Giller eventually served parishes in Fremont and Columbus before finding a home at the East Toledo church. One of her goals, she said, is “to prove that denominational Christianity is not dead.”

St. Mark, which has an average Sunday attendance of around 300, has vibrant Sunday School, choir, and drama programs.

Like many historic urban churches, the congregation's demographics have changed over the years. For most of its history, St. Mark was a neighborhood church with many people walking to the services. In the 1950s, the church had more than 2,500 members and every service was packed, Ms. Oberkiser recalled.

Today, most people commute from the suburbs. But the church is still committed to being a good neighbor and staying in its urban location, Ms. Giller said. That commitment is evident in the $300,000 the church spent a few years ago to fully restore its exquisite stained-glass windows.

St. Mark was founded on Jan. 20, 1884, and the cornerstone for its first sanctuary was laid in July of that year.

The congregation built its present church at Woodville and Elmore streets in 1917 at a cost of $65,000. Made of Sandusky limestone, the church has a sanctuary that seats 850 and a spire reaching 121 feet above ground.

An educational wing was added in 1950.

St. Mark Lutheran Church, 611 Woodville Rd., will celebrate its 125th anniversary with a blended service — traditional and praise — at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 27. A German dinner will follow at noon and tours and memory gallery will be offered.

Information: 419-691-3597.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.

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