It's like two families living together," Ron Neustadt said about the partnership between St. Mark Lutheran Church and St. George's Episcopal Church in Belleville, Ill. "The only problem is that every now and then you have someone knocking on the door saying, 'Are you done in there yet?'" But that's only if the Lutheran or the Episcopal worship service runs long.
Neustadt, now retired, was pastor of St. Mark when it and St. George's decided in 1982 to live and worship together under one roof. For the last 30 years the two congregations have been "a model of Christian love," said Dale Coleman, current rector of St. George's.
Coleman and Brian Robison, who has been the pastor of St. Mark since August 2011, believe this is the longest-running Lutheran-Episcopal relationship in the country, although that's not official.
How it began
The story began in 1974 when the president of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod's Concordia Seminary in St. Louis disobeyed instructions to terminate the employment of multiple professors. Zion Lutheran Church, Belleville, was told to leave the Missouri Synod after showing its support for the president and teachers. Forty of those members eventually started St. Mark (1978), which joined the ELCA when it was formed in 1988.
Without a place to worship, Neustadt's flock began holding worship in the Belleville Philharmonic Hall. The office and Sunday school classes were held in a rented house until the landlord decided to sell.
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