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 [sic] Territory, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, celebrated the Eucharist. [Note: In an effort to address the systemic racism found in our society and the Church, it is important to point out that Bishop Polk was a slaver, secessionist, and Confederate general. His legacy is one that, while important to the founding of The Episcopal Church west of the Mississippi River, is deeply shameful. His words, “The world is trying hard to persuade us that a slaveholding people cannot be a people of high moral and intellectual culture. Never was there a grosser error than this,” strike our heart with shame. While Bishop Polk was in no way responsible for the founding of this parish, his legacy haunts us still. For more information see the Sewanee Slavery Project.] 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 for almost 50 years before moving to their present location on Fairfield Avenue in 1954.
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, we have 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.
Thanks to a number of causes, the downtown area is beginning to be redeveloped. Our neighborhood is changing. In 2019 a new park was opened across the street from the church, much of the blight from the late 20th century is being demolished or refurbished, and Holy Cross remains committed to serving our community.
The Episcopal Church was founded following the American Revolution. Previously, Episcopalians had been members of the Church of England, but once England was no longer the authority in these lands, a new province of the Anglican Communion needed to be formed. While the colonies had been under the authority of the Bishop of London, it became necessary for bishops to exist in the new world. The Right Reverend Samuel Seabury was the first bishop of The Episcopal Church. With the war having just been fought, the English bishops were not inclined to ordain Seabury a bishop. So he traveled to Scotland, where they were more than happy to do that which England did not approve. The Scottish bishops ordained Seabury on the condition that the new American prayer book contain the Scottish form of the Eucharistic prayers. This form remains in our prayer book today in all but one of the prayers and is based on the older West Syrian form. For this reason, our pattern of worship is slightly different from Anglicans around the world, except in Scotland. This fact of history is alluded to in our flag and shield, which contain the cross of St. George (England) and the cross of St. Andrew (Scotland). Following Bishop Seabury, Bishop William White was later ordained by English Bishops, communion with Canterbury was established, and the Anglican Communion was born.
In the wake of colonialism and decolonialism, national churches around the former British Empire began to form their own provinces of the Anglican Communion. The Church of Uganda, The Church of Kenya, The Church of Nigeria, The Church of Australia, The Church of New Zealand, The Anglican Church of Canada, and many others formed as "autocephalous" provinces meaning that while we all share a common connection, each province is independently governed by their own canon law and Book of Common Prayer. In this respect, the structure of the Anglican Communion is almost identical to that of The Orthodox Church. You might even notice many Episcopalians with Greek last names as Greek immigrants often became Episcopalian when there was no Orthodox Church in their communities. We share with the Orthodox disbelief in Papal authority, hence their tendency to join the Anglicans rather than the Romans.
But unlike the Orthodox, there is a much wider disparity in our teachings among the varied provinces. And this has caused a great deal of grief, heartbreak and schism in recent years as The Episcopal Church moved to ordain women, marry LGBT couples, and ordain LGBT people. While we firmly disagree with our siblings in Christ on these issues, we nonetheless hold them in our prayers, and perhaps one day they will see the truth of God's love for all people.
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 English Reformation. 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 Anglicans 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 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.
Many couples have been married in this chapel, and it is still used on a regular basis for smaller more intimate services. Pictured here is from the service of Thanksgiving for the Adoption of a Child (adopted from Holy Cross Child Placement!).
February 14, 2012, marked the 58th anniversary of the first service at Holy Cross Episcopal Church. In honor of this occasion, Rector Emerita 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.