In 1839, Shreveport was an unruly river community. Commerce radiated from the riverfront of what is now downtown. The first Episcopal congregation gathered in an unfinished store on the Riverfront, and The Rt. Rev. Leonidas Polk, Bishop of Arkansas, Indian Territory, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, celebrated the Eucharist, even as he was threatened by rowdy dock workers who wanted no organized religion invading their territory. In the coming years, the parish of St. Mark’s was formed and chartered, with its first place of worship built at the corner of Market and Fannin Streets.
The Civil War left the little building in poor repair, and in 1905 the parish of St. Mark’s moved to their new building at the junction of Cotton Street and Texas Avenue. The people of St. Mark’s worshiped in this building almost 50 years before moving to their present location on Fairfield Avenue in 1954.
The Church of the Holy Cross, Episcopal
Believing the Church should continue to have a presence and ministry in the “inner city,” 126 people of St. Mark’s bought the building on Cotton Street and formed The Church of the Holy Cross in 1954.
As the downtown area continued to decline in population and commerce, the Episcopal Church has responded to a call to minister to those people who have made their homes in the neighborhood: homeless people, people living on the edge of poverty and indigent people with HIV-AIDS. Today our primary ministry is to our homeless neighbors, serving them in Holy Cross’ day shelter, Hope House. We continue to partner with other churches and individuals to serve the poorest of the poor in Shreveport and Bossier City.
Holy Cross is a Jubilee Ministry of the Episcopal Church. We are active in ministries of social justice, serving primarily the people who live in our neighborhood, both homeless and permanent residents.
The Episcopal Church and
the Anglican Communion
The Episcopal Church is made up of between two and three million worshipers in about 7500 congregations across the United States and a few related dioceses outside the United States. Having its roots in the Church of England, The Episcopal Church is an Anglican Church, distinguished by its standing in both Protestant and Catholic traditions, its belief that people be able to worship in their first language, its use of a Book of Common Prayer, and its reliance on Scripture, Tradition, and Reason in interpreting God’s Word. We take our place among churches of many national histories and experiences, sharing Communion and maintaining the Anglican tradition of unity in diversity.
The Book of Common Prayer
The Book of Common Prayer is unique to Anglicanism. This is the collection of rites that all worshipers in an Anglican church follow. “Common Prayer” describes our practice of praying corporately as we worship together. The first Prayer Book was written by Thomas Cranmer in 1549, during the Reformation of the Church in England. It has undergone revisions over time, but its original purpose has remained the same: To provide in one place the core of the instructions and rites for Anglican Christians to worship together and privately. Each Province in the Anglican Communion has its own Book of Common Prayer. The prayer book currently in use in the Episcopal Church was published in 1979.
The Three Legged Stool
- Scripture: While Christians universally acknowledge the Bible as the Word of God and completely sufficient to our reconciliation to God, what the Bible says must always speak to us in our own time and place.
- Tradition: The Church, as a worshiping body of faithful people, has for two thousand years amassed experience of God and of following Jesus. What theologians have said to us through the centuries about the Bible and about our identity as the Body of Christ is critical to our understanding within the context of our own lives. The traditions of the Church interpreting Scripture connect all generations of believers and give us a ground for our understanding.
- Reason: Episcopalians believe that every Christian must build an understanding and relationship with God’s Word, and to do that, God has given us intelligence and our own experience. Studying Scripture’s text and applying the knowledge of scholars, we then must find the intersection of understanding and faith with our own lives.
The Altar, windows, credence table, altar rail and pews, removed from the church of 1860, were incorporated into the Chapel of the present building. Embedded in the south wall of the Chapel is the cornerstone from the first St. Mark’s building.
Article: An Unconventional Church with an Unconventional Beginning
February 14, 2012, marked the 58th anniversary of the first service at Holy Cross. In honor of this occasion, Rector Mary Richard asked former Senior Warden Monty Walford to present a brief history of our church to the congregation during the sermon time. Here are some of the highlights of his talk:
Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, marks the 58th anniversary of the first service at Holy Cross. Note that I did not say The Church of the Holy Cross—but more about that later.
If you are like me, you get a special feeling when you come into this church. Its peaceful beauty comforts us and makes us feel at home, but how many of us know how this beauty came into being, and how close it came to disappearing forever? The church building is such an integral part of Holy Cross that as we discuss the history of the church we first need to know something of the history of the building. But to appreciate the history of the building, we need to look back even further—much further.
173 years ago, in 1839, Bishop Leonidas Polk stopped in Shreveport as he made the 5,000 mile journey across his diocese, which included Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, the Republic of Texas, and Indian Territory. At that time Shreveport was a wild and lawless river town with no Protestant churches. The owner of a combination general store, feed store and bar agreed to allow Bishop Polk to hold a service there, on condition that he put up a $500 deposit in case the service was attacked by ruffians. Bishop Polk didn’t have that kind of money, but the captain of the steamer that had brought the bishop to Shreveport, a devout Episcopalian, agreed to do so. Despite protests from a noisy mob, the service was held on March 24, 1939, on Texas Street between Spring and Common Streets, marking the beginning of what would become St. Mark’s Church. Twenty years later, on February 14, 1858, the St. Mark’s Vestry voted to build a church at Fannin and Market Streets. It was consecrated on April 10, 1861.
In 1900 St. Mark’s Vestry bought the property on Cotton Street for $8,500. The Rectory was built in 1902, and in 1905 the church you are sitting in was completed, at a cost of $30,500, including the pews and chandeliers. The windows, pews, altar, altar rail and credence table from the original church at Fannin and Market were moved here, and are in the Chapel.
My grandparents were married here in 1906—theirs was the ninth wedding celebrated in the new church—and I still get a special feeling when I’m at the altar, imagining them there in all their finery, with my aunts in attendance at what must have been a lovely, lavish wedding.
Over the years St. Mark’s began to outgrow the facility, which, along with the neighborhood, was becoming a bit rundown, and the Vestry voted to build a new church at Fairfield Avenue and Rutherford Street. Opinions on what to do with this building and property varied widely. Some wanted to sell it to another church, while others wanted to raze the building and sell the property to a commercial enterprise. Apparently, passions on both sides ran high, and the discussions that took place were quite heated.
While all this was going on, some members of St. Mark’s did not favor the move to what were then the suburbs, but wanted to continue the church’s presence in the downtown community. They began to organize with the purpose of creating a new Episcopal church in this building. In June 1953, they circulated a letter seeking commitment from members to continue with a new church, and in July a committee was formed to elect a Mission Council, in accordance with the canons of the diocese.
In January, 1954, the St. Mark’s Vestry agreed to sell the building to the newly-formed congregation for $55,250. Later, they realized that they had overlooked the valuable Skinner organ, so Holy Cross agreed to purchase it for $10,000, paying $6,000 down and $1,000 a year for four years. The sale was completed, and at the 1954 Diocesan Convention Holy Cross Mission was granted $450 to serve as start-up funds.
Now, use your imagination. Just before the first service on February 14, 1954, the building was completely empty except for the organ and the stained-glass windows. There were no pews, no pulpit, no lectern, no baptismal font or credence table or altar rail and no altar. St. John’s Episcopal Church in Minden had moved to a new building, and donated their old pews—which were too short, and painted white, but were gratefully accepted. The rector of St. John’s, the Rev. Milton Williams, agreed to hold Sunday afternoon services at Holy Cross until a rector could be named. Church members built a makeshift pulpit from lumber and covered it with donated green velvet from an old curtain. A temporary altar was also built, which ended up lasting thirteen years. Folding chairs were set up for that first service on February 14, and a joyful service it must have been.
Over the next few years generous members began to donate money and furnishings, and other churches in the diocese stepped up to help. In 1956 the congregation had grown, and the Holy Cross Mission became the Church of the Holy Cross.
Now, look around you and see what we have, and most importantly, what we do. It’s all due to the commitment and generosity of people who believed, and still believe, that Holy Cross has an important mission to serve the downtown community. There are many we can thank: original members June Kirkland and Liz Eglin and Rector Emeritus Father Paul. Yes, we are an unconventional church with an unconventional beginning—one we can be proud of, and one we must work together to keep strong and vibrant.