James Lark was born in Savannah, Georgia, the only child of Lela and James Lark. He was orphaned at six years of age and lived with relatives. He was baptized in the local Baptist church at age 16. With the help of relatives and friends, he graduated from Quaker Institute for College Youth in Pennsylvania in 1916. He taught high school in Jacksonville, Florida and married Rowena Winters, also a teacher, in 1918. In 1927, they moved to Quakertown, Pennsylvania and began attending Rocky Ridge Mennonite Church. They purchased a farm next to the church property and Rowena continued teaching. The Larks organized local summer camps and Bible schools for children in the area. In 1935 they moved to Brentwood, Maryland and James organized youth activities for the local Mennonite Church.
In 1944 the Chicago Mennonite Mission invited them to serve as directors of education. James taught Bible, history and practical skills (gardening, electronics repair, etc.). Rowena taught music and courses in hygiene and health. They became a team in ministry. James was ordained as a Bishop by the Illinois Conference in 1946 and founded the Dearborn Mennonite Church (later renamed the Bethel Mennonite Church). The Larks purchased 10 acres in Hopkins Park, Illinois as a summer retreat and learning center for urban children. They named it Camp Rehoboth (cf. Gen 26.22) and the St. Ann Congregation emerged from the work at this camp.
Over the next few years, the James and Rowena were in great demand by many churches. They began Mennonite summer Bible Schools and camps in Saginaw, Michigan, East St. Louis, Illinois, Fresno and Los Angeles, California. Eventually, in 1960 they moved to Fresno and bought land and a building to start a new church. After a decade in Fresno, Bishop James and Rowena Lark moved to Los Angeles where they provided pastoral leadership for the Calvary Mennonite Church.
After Rowena passed away in 1970, at age 78, James moved to Wichita, Kansas to be nearer to some of his children. There he started his final church venture: Zion Mennonite. His vision expanded as his years advanced. The church in Wichita had a community garden, a small clinic, social center for the aged, recreation areas and programs for infants and young children. He called this a venture in “wholistic ministry.” In 1978, at the age of 90, James passed away peacefully in his sleep.
Surely the Lord would say of James and Rowena Lark, “Well done thou good and faithful servants.”
The Living Mirror: Archaeology of Our Faith