The present congregation of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of West Henrietta is a direct descendant of the one founded in 1880 by several farm families which had emigrated from Germany. Early services were held at a church on the corner of Brooks and East River Road and then a few years later at School #8, the current West Henrietta post office. The services, music, Christian education, etc., were held almost completely in German
Early Changes & Finding a Home
By 1900, the second and third generation of German-Americans were becoming active in both church and community life. They knew that coming generations and the community at large would only have English as their language and, after much debate, began St. Mark’s in September of 1901. The former congregation continued on for another year and then merged back into the new St. Mark’s. English services were mixed with German, which continued until 1923 when the last completely German service was held.
Within a few months, the new congregation had arranged to purchase the abandoned former Universalist church building on Erie Station. This building, the present sanctuary, was built in 1878, and had been used as a town hall and gathering place. It was dedicated as St. Mark’s church in February of 1902. That same year, the house directly to the East of the church was purchased as a parsonage. Both the church and former parsonage are listed by the Henrietta Historical Society.
During the early years, members would come to church by horse and carriage or bob sleigh which could be parked in the carriage sheds. The pastor would get to church early on Sunday to make sure the coal stove was lit, and hymns were sung without benefit of accompaniment. Harvest festivals were held in the fall of each year and enough produce was given to the pastor’s family to last them through the year, and supplement a modest salary.
After a few years, some of the carriage sheds were torn down and the wood used for an annex at the back of the church. This had some space for Sunday school meeting rooms, a small kitchen, and an office for the pastor. When School #8 became the firehouse and post office in 1926, the bell was given to St. Mark’s and it still rings out over West Henrietta. Also in 1926, the congregation ordered the stained glass windows which adorn the sanctuary today. During the 1930’s the annex was enlarged with wood from the remaining sheds, and a pump type pipe organ was purchased.
Heroes and Hometown
During the 1940’s, St. Mark’s members provided help for the war effort by making surgical bandages and raising victory gardens. Their pastor, Rev. Theodore Mikolon also served with the Army and received the Bronze Star. After the war and continuing into the 1950’s, the little village of West Henrietta started to become a Rochester suburb. In 1951, a new house in Henrietta sold for $5,000 and church members were coming from a ten mile radius to St. Mark’s, which was twice as far as they had come before.
By the end of the 1960’s the population boom in town was leading St. Mark’s in new directions of service. Young families in the area needed a safe and Christian pre-school experience for their three and four year old children, and so in 1969, St. Mark’s Lutheran Pre-School was begun. It has been joyfully and lovingly serving the Henrietta community ever since.
The expanding population and new uses for the church and annex meant that we were quickly running out of space. In the 1970’s the old annex was torn down, and a new addition was put onto the back of the sanctuary consisting of meeting rooms, a large kitchen, a place for the pre-school and a study for the pastor. Ninety year old Bertha (Dell) Gruschow daughter of the first congregation president turned the first shovel of dirt to start the construction. An outgrowth of this project was the establishment of a regular Friday evening fish fry dinner which, although started as a fundraiser, turned into a wonderful neighborhood outreach and fellowship opportunity.
This focus on the changes in the community continued through the next twenty years as more emphasis was placed on youth programs for members and friends, as well as additional worship services of both traditional and more contemporary formats. During this time, St. Mark also sponsored two pastoral candidates through their schooling.
Forward in Hope
During the past hundred years, St. Mark’s has seen many changes to the Henrietta community it serves. From a small farm hamlet, to a booming suburb, St. Mark’s has provided an anchor for people as they face the issues of their daily lives. With God’s help, we will continue to provide Christian support for the community and our members for many years to come.