My fears are finally at rest. St. Luke’s of the Mountains church has stabilized at last.
For three years now the ultimate fate of this beautiful icon of the Crescenta Valley has been, in my mind anyway, under a cloud. Would it be sold? Rented to another church? Bulldozed for a mini-mall?
We all know the story of the breakaway congregation at St. Luke’s leaving the Episcopal Church in 2006, and the resulting court fight over the property. I’ll not take sides here. I saw it from a purely secular viewpoint – that of a property dispute – rather than the theological dispute that was at the forefront of the rift in the local religious community. I just wanted this settled, one way or the other. (As I told someone recently, “I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I sure care about the arena they’re fighting in!”)
I was relieved when, last month, the courts finally settled the matter. It was returned to the Episcopal Church, which it had been part of for 80 years before the breakup. Our community could finally look forward to a stable St. Luke’s.
A group of community leaders who share a love for the architecture and culture represented at St. Luke’s recently came together to meet with the Episcopal leadership about their recently returned church. Our mission was twofold: to impress upon them the attachment La Crescenta has for St. Luke’s, and also to welcome them into our community.
I had no idea how this meeting would go, so after welcoming them back to St. Luke’s, I divulged my fears for the stability of St. Luke’s. I was put at ease when Bishop Jon Bruno, head of the Los Angeles Diocese, told us of his past involvement at St. Luke’s. In 1972, Bruno, raised a Catholic, was welcomed into the Episcopal faith at St. Luke’s by Rev. Boone Sadler. He continued his involvement at St. Luke’s by preparing for the priesthood under the tutelage of St. Luke’s own Alice Walker, wife of Judge Herbert Walker of the Sirhan Sirhan trial, and a leader in her own right in the Diocese. Obviously Bruno had a long history with, and deep affection for, St. Luke’s.
I relaxed even more when we were introduced to St. Luke’s new minister, Rev. Bryan Jones, who had been hand-picked by Bruno for this position. His wife is Rev. Amy Pringle who heads the Episcopal Church in La Cañada, and they live over in Sunland. They’re locals!
We discussed their transition back into St. Luke’s. Obviously, their first challenge would be to establish a congregation, and they were in the process of contacting the former parishioners who had left St. Luke’s after the breakup three years ago. After that they need to attract new members, pull together a lay leadership team, recruit musicians, and organize small faith-sharing groups for adults, a Sunday school and a youth ministry. They have an assistant minister, Rev. Kirby Smith, who has a background in administration and finance to help with rebuilding the office side of the church.
The community group suggested that St. Luke’s integrate themselves back into the community by offering their considerable meeting space for local groups, and to renew some of their past community services like the Rosemont Middle School early morning drop-in program. Restarting the traditional ringing of the beautiful chimes was also suggested. The St. Luke’s team welcomed our suggestions for community involvement and pledged to follow up on them in the near future.
While Rev. Jones wraps up his previous assignment at another church, St. Luke’s will be on an abbreviated schedule, with an 8 a.m. Eucharist. Soon they will transition back into a regular 10 a.m. service.
For my own part, I’ll continue to celebrate the history and art of this treasure of the valley, as I did with the breakaway faction for the last three years, and the Episcopalians under Rev. Ron Jackson before that. What I’ll work toward in the future is some meaningful state or federal historic status that would provide assurance of stability no matter who St. Luke’s belongs to. In my heart it belongs to La Crescenta.
Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.