St. Luke’s is the oldest Episcopal Church in Montclair. During the early 19th century, English settlers, working in local mills in the area which eventually became Montclair, arranged for religious services and Sunday School instruction in accordance with the Church of England. These services were first conducted in a schoolhouse that had been built in 1825 for children of the mill workers. In 1846, an Episcopal Church, named St. Luke’s was built on local property at a cost of $3,500. This frame structure was damaged by fire in 1854 and by 1858 had been restored to what was described as a “comfortable and respectable House of Worship.”
On Easter Monday in April 1860, the present parish was formally constituted and incorporated as “The Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of St. Luke’s Church.” Two wardens and five vestrymen were elected at that time, and St. Luke’s was admitted to the union of the Protestant Episcopal Church at the convention of May 1860. The Rev. Henry Marsh was the first Rector of the newly established church in that same year, when the village where St. Luke’s was located underwent a name change from West Bloomfield to Montclair. In less than five years, the restored church was outgrown. However, a gift of two acres on what is now St. Luke’s Place, off Bloomfield Avenue, was given to the parish by Robert Hening in 1860. The cornerstone for the new church was laid on May 15, 1865, but work had to be suspended until 1869 owing to building expenses of $10,000. The Rev. James Maxwell had been Rector for two years when he celebrated the first service in the church on Easter Sunday in April 1870.
During the Civil War, St. Luke’s began a history of establishing missions by conducting services in nearby Cedar Grove. To accommodate parishioners who had moved to Upper Montclair, St. James Church was created in 1888. Other missions were later established at St. John’s and Trinity in Montclair and St. Peter’s in Essex Fells.
By 1884, the congregation had outgrown the facilities. At a meeting of the Vestry in September of 1885, William Fellows offered the present site of St. Luke’s at Union Street and South Fullerton Avenue. The cornerstone for this building was laid on June 13, 1889 by the Rt. Rev. Thomas A. Starkey, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Newark, assisted by Mr. Carter. The first service in our present St. Luke’s Church, designed by R.H. Robertson, was held on the first Sunday in Advent, November 30, 1890.
The first Parish House was begun in 1883 to provide assembly space for the church school and was connected to the church by a covered cloister. The Tudor style rectory was constructed on the grounds in 1907. The present Parish House was opened in 1923. The interior of the Church was redesigned by Hobart Upjohn that same year and the roof was literally raised so as to transform the structure from the Victorian Gothic to the pure Gothic, pillared style that we see today. Several Tiffany windows were also added. The “new” church was dedicated on November 24, 1929.
Prior to World War I, St. Luke’s developed (as every town congregation would with Sunday worship) a large and excellent choir, education for children and women’s and men’s groups meeting regularly. However, consistent with the development of Montclair as a modern, progressive community, St. Luke’s entered the 1920’s with new emphasis on diversity and social justice. In 1919 pew rents were abolished in favor of the tithe and pledge. In that same year, we established Trinity Mission, assisting the African-American population of Montclair in buying and rehabbing a former armory on Willow Street for the new Church and offering continuing financial support. Stemming from the war effort, the women of the parish continued their work as a Red Cross annex and began the practice of sharing food baskets with those in need at holiday time.
In the 1930’s and 40’s, internal growth occurred with women’s study groups, a Junior Branch and Young People’s Fellowship. A Food Pantry was begun as well. By 1950, with the Cold War raging, ministry at St. Luke’s concentrated on housing the homeless as we took in war refugees, providing housing, tutoring and employment opportunities for Lithuanian, German and Hungarian families.
By the 1970’s, the people of God at St. Luke’s were moving forward with both inward stability and outward growth. The women began the Second Time Around Shop which continues to provide affordable clothing and household items to the wider community; great music programs were provided by the growing choir; liturgical change began with Prayer Book drafts. In the late 1980’s, along with the food pantry, a noonday feeding program began; this continues today as a parish ministry of hospitality as Toni’s Kitchen, using both parish and community volunteers.
Today, St. Luke’s Faith Community is grounded in commitment to celebrating a unique mix of people through caring, education and ministry. The wide spectrum of the human family is represented on Sunday mornings at the Holy Table. We offer Christian Formation through our progressive programs such as the Second Saturday Series; we minister to the wider community through such events as our highly acclaimed lunch program at Toni’s Kitchen and our thriving and busy thrift store, the Second Time Around Shop.
St. Luke’s is a congregation that honors its roots, grows in its faith commitment, and celebrates the richness of diversity of those on the faith journey. You are invited to be a participant as we make church history together!