By Lauren Williams
7:47 PM PST, November 30, 2012
When its parishioners first began meeting, St. Mark Presbyterian Church lacked a house of worship.
The 60 or so congregants moved eight times in the span of two years, starting out at what is now the Oasis Senior Center. They worshiped in the Little Theater at Corona del Mar High School for a month, later taking refuge in the campus shop-class space, where the church organ shared space with driver's-education cars.
All that moving around led some to dub the nomadic faithful the peripatetic Presbyterians.
Each time a new location was selected, a member would direct lost worshipers from the last temporary space to the new one.
"It was a very fluid situation," said interim Pastor Curtis Webster "almost week to week, in terms of where they were going to meet next."
On Dec. 2, 1962, the peripatetic Presbyterians became permanent Presbyterians, meeting at the Sea Byrd Restaurant in Newport Dunes, having a regular pastor and ordained deacons and elders for the first time. The day coincided with Advent, when Christians plan ahead for the Christmas season.
"It really kind of fell when the process was completed," Webster said. "Symbolically, it just lines up beautifully. None of us can take credit for it. Maybe it's a God thing. I don't know."
At 9:30 a.m. Sunday, St. Mark Presbyterian Church will celebrate its 50th anniversary at 2200 San Joaquin Hills Road in Newport Beach. The service will include a visit from all but one of the living pastors who led the church during its half-century history.
"It's not just former leaders; it's the architects of St. Mark coming together," Webster said. "It's a chance to see them all together, in the same place and same time."
The service, which will be held in anticipation of Christmas, will be a time for reflection.
"For us, we're both looking forward and backward at the same time," Webster said.
Dick and Mary Allen have attended St. Mark since 1976, when they arrived from Chicago.
"Fifty years sure go fast," he said.
St. Mark grew from 117 members in December 1962 to 530 today.
"The church has grown both spiritually and physically under great leadership and a willingness to open the church to all," Dick Allen said.
The church book club is one of the projects that sprung up, established 22 years ago, Mary Allen said.
The group is still active after two decades, meeting at 7 every Thursday morning, and includes members and non-members alike.
The church prides itself on openness. Its motto is, "St. Mark is an inclusive community with open arms and open minds."
Dick Allen said there's another reason he returns every week.
"When you go to church on a Sunday morning you want to be inspired," he said. "And quite honestly that's been a big part of why we've been coming back to St. Mark."