The History of St. Luke's of the Mountains
A Storied Past
In 1923, the renowned artist Seymour Thomas gazed at a vacant stretch of land in the Crescenta Valley and envisioned a stone church, one that would look like the diverse and rocky hillside community from which it would be built. His vision became a painting, and the painting became a plan, as men, women, and children gathered to collect the stones that would become St. Luke’s of the Mountains.
Just a few years later, the doors swung open to welcome everyone. As the village of La Crescenta grew and thrived during the early decades of the twentieth century, so did the church that became its most iconic spiritual home. In 1931, St. Luke’s was admitted as a parish church of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. By 1949, its congregation had outgrown its modest walls to require a larger space to worship and a parish hall where the community could meet to share a meal or a song. Again, Seymour Thomas painted a vision. Again, the call went out for stones. And again, the people, more people, gathered to collect them.
By the 1950s, St. Luke’s—the village church— acquired the old county fire station #19 adjacent to the church that, years later, would become The Fire House youth center. And throughout the next thirty years, as the community, the nation, and the world struggled through one of the most tumultuous periods in history, the doors of St. Luke’s remained open to everyone seeking a spiritual home where they might contemplate how God’s constant love would take new forms in a changing world. And the people continued to come.
The New Millennium
Two Histories, One Church!
The new millennium ushered in dark times for the church when, in 2003, Gene Robinson was elected the first openly gay Bishop of the Episcopal Church. At St. Luke’s, a priest with narrow views on how to love—and who to love—had taken the pulpit. Those who did not think like him, or worship like him, were not welcome. The doors began to shut. St. Luke’s no longer looked like the community it served. Soon, the priest, and a few he convinced to follow him, claimed illegitimate ownership of the church’s land, and severed ties with the rest of the Episcopal community.
It would take the Episcopal Diocese six years to reclaim St. Luke’s as a spiritual home open to everyone on a journey of faith. But justice prevailed. In November of 2009, St. Luke’s became a mission of the Diocese and The Reverend Bryan Jones became its new vicar, committing the church to be a “welcoming, inclusive, open congregation whose worship and style resonated with the people of the community.”
Once again, the church began to grow.
Ten miles to the east of St. Luke’s, another church, another congregation, fought another battle for spiritual life. Church of the Ascension, formed in 1914 and believed to be the first church in the Sunland-Tujunga area, had been struggling for years to keep its doors open. In the 1950s, Ascension had been a thriving parish of 300.
But by the early 2000s, it had dwindled down to less than 80. Time and change and the shifting demographics of its community had rendered it increasingly difficult for Ascension to sustain itself as a separate congregation. They would need to leave the church they had come to know as home—a building whose very walls had become consecrated by the loving memories of weddings and funerals and baptisms that had nurtured their growth as a spiritual community. With sadness, the people of Ascension, a largely Latinx, bilingual, bicultural family of Christians, embarked on a search for another home and a larger family to join.
The doors of St. Luke’s were already open; their new family already waiting to welcome them home.
In the spring of 2012, Reverend Jorge Pallares and the parishioners of Ascension joined the St Luke’s community, becoming the core of its Spanish-language noon service. Since then, they have worked, struggled, and grown with the rest of the St Luke’s family to renew the identity of the congregation and the face it shows to the world outside.
Of course, speaking and listening across different languages and cultures can be difficult. But the common language is love, the aspirational language of community. United in common purpose, we have come to understand the differences and challenges that might divide the two services of the St. Luke’s family. But just as important, we have also gained a profound appreciation of those similarities that promise to bring us together. Everyone, regardless of language, has a place at the table, whether it is to share a meal during times of fellowship, or to share the burden of decision-making as elected representatives on the Bishop’s Committee.
Now, as St Luke’s deepens the bonds of its own community of worshipers, we also work together to deepen our connections to the community beyond church walls: In 2010 we opened the Fire House youth center where kids of any church—or no church at all—could gather in a safe place. And in 2018, the old church parsonage became a Gooden Center home where women in recovery could put their lives back together within the secure and serene environment of St. Luke’s sacred grounds. Just as Seymour Thomas had been inspired by the hope of building a church that reflected its diverse and rocky surroundings nearly a century ago, today, St. Luke’s is poised to meet the challenges of the next hundred years looking even more like the community from which it is built.