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Our History

Established in 1832, St. Luke's is one of the oldest churches in Jackson and the first Episcopal church to be founded in West Tennessee. The historic building we now use on the corner of Baltimore and Church street was erected in 1844. Once the building was completed, St. Luke's was consecrated on May 14, 1853. 

1832 - 1879

That there are Episcopal churches in West Tennessee owes much to one Mrs. Mary Hayes Willis Gloster, who emigrated to LaGrange, Tennessee from North Carolina. Frustrated at the lack of an Episcopal church anywhere nearby, this widow and grandmother took it upon herself to bring the church to her new home. At 52 years of age in 1832, Mary rode on horseback to Nashville to see Bishop Otey. It is said that she traveled with her infant grandchild in one hand and peach brandy in the other, as a gift for Bishop Otey. The peach brandy was in case Bishop Otey needed some extra convincing. The infant grandchild, she carried because she believed that no bandit would dare attack a woman with an infant.

Later that year five congregations were planted in West Tennessee. The first was Saint Luke’s, on July 23, 1832, followed by Immanuel, LaGrange; Christ Church, Brownsville; Calvary, Memphis and St. Paul’s in Randolph. On July 23, 1832 (a decade after Madison County, Tennessee was organized) a small group of persons “friendly” to the Episcopal faith gathered with The Rev. Thomas Wright at the Masonic Hall to establish Saint Luke’s Parish.
 

The Rev. John Chilton was our first rector, a charge he shared with the church in Brownsville. Saint Luke’s labored under many difficulties in the early years because of the lack of money and of members. In 1837, there were only six communicants and no rector.

In 1839, the parish was honored with a visit from the Right Rev. James H. Otey, Bishop of Tennessee, who held services in the Madison County Courthouse. The Rev. Thomas West became rector of Saint Luke’s in 1842. The Sunday School was organized in that year.

In 1845, a church building was finally erected at the present location, Church and Baltimore Streets (the lot was purchased for $450 in 1844). Although the church was only partially completed, Saint Luke’s hosted the Diocese of Tennessee's Diocesan Convention in July of 1846.

The original hand-pumped organ was installed in 1852, as was the church bell, which still calls the congregation to worship and tolls the death of parishioners at funerals, one strike for each year of the deceased person's life. Pews and the chancel completed the building and Bishop Otey consecrated Saint Luke’s on May 14, 1853. 

The unique brass altar cross and the brass alms basin in use today were presented to the church in 1867 by Tennessee Bishop, The Right Rev. Thomas T. Quintard. (The cross is a copy of one in a Westminster Abbey chapel.) The cross and alms basin were a gift of the British Duchess of Teck, who met the bishop while he was in England raising funds for the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee. The duchess suggested he give them to “one of his parishes.” Bishop Quintard chose Saint Luke’s.

The earliest known photo of St. Luke's, taken in 1857.

1880 - 1929

The original church building was enlarged and remodeled in 1883. The nave was extended, a vestibule and the bell tower were added, a new floor was laid and the church was furnished in black walnut, including the pews.

The first communion vessels were made in the 1880s from “love gifts” of silver and other valuables from members of the congregation. Personal treasures such as baby cups, tablespoons, cuff links, jewels and other heirlooms were donated. The gold and silver were melted down and made into the communion vessels, with the donated jewels as adornments. The communion vessels are still in use today.

The present reredos (the three-paneled screen above the altar) was acquired in 1885. Made of quartered oak, the carved screen encloses a triptych of paintings representing the resurrection of Christ. The Rev. Dr. Johannes A. Oertel, an Episcopal Priest and professor of art at both The University of the South and Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, an artist of fine repute, created the paintings. The woodcarving was done by the artist’s son. The reredos paintings were restored in 1941 by Pearl Sanders, a local artist, again in 1957, by Russian artist Sergei Bomgart, a friend and teacher of Mrs. Aileen Spence, a Saint Luke’s parishioner, in 1981 by Mr. Scandor Bodo of Nashville, Tennessee, who revealed details of the paintings that had not been seen in many years, and most recently, in 2003, as a result of the May 4 tornado. Though Oertel created religious art and carved pieces for Episcopal churches throughout the southeast, Saint Luke's reredos is thought to be the largest he made.

St. Thomas Episcopal Church was built at the corner of Hale and Cumberland Streets, for black Episcopalians in Jackson. The church was organized by the Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Martin, rector of Saint Luke’s from 1892-1900. It became a diocesan mission. Finally, in 1962, Saint Luke’s welcomed the return of African-American worshipers to its services, under the spiritual leadership of the Rev. Dr. Frank N. Butler. St. Thomas' building was deconsecrated in December, 1969, and the congregation merged with Saint Luke's.

 

St. Luke's around 1900.

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Photo by Kristina Byrd

1930 - 1989

In 1930, the Rev. Dr. William J. Loaring-Clark became rector of Saint Luke’s. Under his guidance, a financially faltering parish made great strides, both materially and spiritually. Extensive improvements were made to church property, including building a new parish house.

Dr. Loaring-Clark’s wife, Ada, was prominent in national church affairs as well as those of Saint Luke’s and the community. She was the first woman to serve on the National Council of the Episcopal Church and she organized the United Church Women in Jackson. In 1932 she also formed Saint Luke’s Order of the Daughters of the King. She was national president of that order at the time of her death in 1936.

The Rev. Dr. Frank N. (Woody) Butler became Rector of Saint Luke’s in 1954. He and his family occupied a new rectory at 19 Mimosa Drive, which was bought for their use. In 1962 after St. Thomas Episcopal Church was closed, Saint Luke’s, under Dr. Butler's leadership, welcomed the return of African-American worshipers to its services.

The Rev. Frank S. Cerveny was installed as Rector of Saint Luke’s in October of 1963, from the staff of Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City. He remained at Saint Luke’s until 1969. During his tenure, he provided the parish with spiritual enrichment and motivation for new programs, such as planning for the establishment of the Episcopal Day School in Jackson. Father Cerveny served as bishop of the Diocese of Florida from 1975-1992.

The Rev. Paul Shields Walker assumed the rectorship of the parish in March 1969. Under his leadership, the Episcopal Day School (EDS) was chartered in 1970. With 24 students enrolled, the first EDS classes in grades one through five met in the Sunday School classrooms of Saint Luke’s parish house from September, 1970, until January, 1971. Father Walker served as school chaplain, conducting daily morning services. EDS merged with Old Hickory Academy in 1989 to form the University School of Jackson, now located on McClellan Road in north Jackson.

The Rev. Alex Comfort was rector from 1983 to 1986, during which time a 9:00 a.m. Family Service was added. Fr. Comfort was our primary speaker at our 175th anniversary celebration and Saint Luke's was overjoyed to reconnect.

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St. Luke's in the early 1960's.

1990 - 2006

The Rev. Charles Filiatreau was called as Rector of Saint Luke’s from West Memphis, Arkansas in 1990. During Father Filiatreau’s tenure, the Parish Hall was greatly enlarged (1995) by purchase of the Dunlap property, the columbarium was built (1997), the parking lot across from the church was added (2001). The United Way Building, next door, was purchased in 2003, and is now the home of Area Relief Ministries. The Diocesan Convention was held at Saint Luke’s in 1997 and in 2003.

On May 4, 2003, Saint Luke's Church was hit by an F4 tornado, tearing the roof off the building and scattering bricks from the front of the building.

Following the May 2003 tornado, the Saint Luke's community worked countless hours to salvage materials from the nave, and to clean up the parish hall and prepare it for ongoing church services until the nave was rebuilt.

In 2004, Fr. Filiatreau retired as rector of Saint Luke's and from parish ministry in the Episcopal Church.

In August of 2004, the Rev. Susan K. Crawford began her tenure as interim rector of Saint Luke’s. Mother Susan was instrumental in the rebuilding of Saint Luke's, both spiritually as well as physically. Under her direction and through hard work from many parishioners, Saint Luke's began its hard work of recovery.

Finally, in September 2006, the new building was dedicated. Under the capable hand of Carter Hord of Hord Architects of Memphis, this historic building was both re-envisioned and restored. The building was reconstructed from the foundation using materials from the original building. Hord architects re-used much of the original brick from the church while replacing un-reinforced masonry with stronger materials.

The Memphis chapter of the American Institute of Architects awarded Hord Architects a merit award for architectural design in 2007.

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St. Luke's after the 2003 tornado.

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"That architect lived up to expectations because it was generally agreed that he did an exquisite job of restoring the church, especially the interior. The overall quality and authenticity of the reconstruction was such that it was a unique contribution to the state, in the sense that it was a pre-Civil War church that was brought back."

- Jude LeBlanc, an assistant professor of architecture at Georgia Tech University and principal with LeBlanc Crooks Architects.

Get in Touch

St. Luke's has Parish records dating back to the late 1800's. If you have an inquiry for genealogical purposes, feel free to reach out and we can try to help out the best we can. We have information on baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials.

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