Chanting, African drums, Spirituals, Caribbean influences, children's voices. St. Luke's engages all of the senses.
The loving, life giving, liberating Good News is proclaimed in order to encourage all members to undertake the work of justice, following in the way of love, sustained by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The Eucharist, from the Greek word for Thanksgiving meal, is received in simple bread and wine each Sunday. It is the Sacrament by which we are fed, and reminded to care for those who are physically and spiritually hungry.
The History of St. Luke’s was researched and documented by the Reverend George T. Swallow during his tenure as its rector 1966-1973. Clifford R. Bryan, Ph.D., (1912-1991) member of St. Luke’s, updated the written history of St. Luke’s through the 1990s.
According to Swallow (1968), The Negro church in New Orleans was established in 1855 by the Right Reverend Leonidas Polk, first bishop of Louisiana for the “provision for religious instruction of the colored race.” In 1855, he met with several “free people of color” in New Orleans to organize the church later named St. Thomas. The church was led by the Reverend Charles H. Williamson who was an English priest from Quebec, Canada. There was major disruption to the Episcopal Church and to African-American worship during the Civil War.
The next documented activities of the Negro Church occurred during the tenure of Louisiana’s second Bishop, Joseph Wilmer who acquired a church building at the corner of Calliope and Prytania Streets and set up a Negro Mission in 1877 named for S. Philip. The church was led by then Deacon Dr. Charles Henry Thompson who was later ordained to the priesthood at St. Philip’s in 1879. This original building was sold in 1885 to settle church indebtedness to the Protestant Episcopal Association. Membership declined and in January 1887 the church was reorganized during a meeting with the Bishop at the rector’s home on Baronne Street (where services were held). The reorganized church became known as St. Luke’s. The congregation purchased two lots and a house on Fourth Street at Carondelet Street. Construction for the new church building began in July 1888 and the first service in the new church building was held on Easter Sunday, April 21, 1889.
In 1919, the Diocese took over the Colored Industrial and Normal School, founded in 1902 by Frances A. Joseph Gaudet, which occupied 105 acres at the corner of Gentilly Boulevard and the Industrial Canal (Swallow, 1968). The school was renamed Gaudet School and the Reverend Taylor (rector of St. Luke’s) became the chaplain. The school remained in operation for thirty-three years. The land in Gentilly was sold by the Diocese in 1966. Proceeds from the sale were deposited into the Gaudet Trust which is still administered by Episcopal Community Services of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.
During the 1920’s, the Episcopal Diocese began lobbying for St. Luke’s to move its location from Fourth Street and Carondelet. This effort was energized again in 1940’s. In 1945, Bishop Jackson convinced members of St. Luke’s Council that moving the location of the church would increase its membership. Then rector, the Reverend John Beaufort Boyce opposed the move and was later forced to resign. Three-quarters of the congregation signed a petition protesting the removal of Fr. Boyce. Membership had grown from 17 persons when it was re-established as St. Luke’s to 248 communicants. The church applied for parish status in 1945 and it was granted in 1946 at General Convention.
Title of the church property on Carondolet Street was not transferred to the parish as would have been customary. In 1946, the church buildings and property were sold by the Diocese to a prominent member of the Christ Church Cathedral congregation for half their appraised value. The Diocese eventually purchased property at General Taylor and Clara Streets for St. Luke’s. The church built a rectory and parish hall in addition to the church building. In 1963, the buildings were severely damaged by fire. Major renovations after the fire included the installation of air-conditioning and an organ. The church was rededicated in 1965 during the tenure of the Reverend George Swallow.
St. Luke’s moved to its current site in 1976 into a building which previously housed the Holy Trinity Cathedral of the Greek Orthodox Church. The physical infrastructure now comprises the church building, a church hall/community center and a rectory. Proceeds from a gift to the church by long-time members Mabel Cola-Clark and John Clark were used to purchase the rectory, now called Clark House, which was dedicated in 2000. The building which houses the church hall, formally the community center which belonged to the diocese, was sold in 2002 to the parish. It is now called “Gaudet Hall”. In 2005, the church, rectory and community center sustained major damage after the landfall of hurricane Katrina.
In October 2007, the Rev. Richard Easterling began work as interim priest of our parish. Sadly, in 2008, the church’s sacristy was completely destroyed by a fire. This entire major infrastructure has been rebuilt and repaired. The rebuilding of St. Luke’s has been due in great part to the kindness and generosity of Episcopal Black Ministries and our Partner Parishes throughout the country.
Upon the arrival of The Reverend Canon William Barnwell in November 2012, St Luke's began a new chapter in its Regrowth, Revitalization and Outreach. Assisted by The Reverend Canon Barnwell's sure leadership, St Luke's continues to strive for that elusive standard that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described as the "Beloved Community." In January 2014, St. Luke's proposed three resolutions to the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana 178th Convention. These resolutions passed and included, that the 178th Convention of the Diocese of Louisiana: Recognize St. Luke's Episcopal Church in New Orleans as the First largely African American parish in The Diocese of Louisiana henceforth known as Historic St. Luke's New Orleans.
With thanks to the tenure of many supply priests and interim priests over the last decade, St. Luke’s is embracing a future where its lively worship, the national Blessed Frances Joseph-Gaudet Shrine, and its open doors welcome people from every walk of life. The current Priest-in-Charge is Mother Jane-Allison Wiggin.
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