Saint Luke's Parish History
Saint Luke's was established in 1855 and Episcopalians have been worshipping in the familiar stone building at the corner of Ring's End Road and the Boston Post Road in Darien since 1857.
A Church Was Born
The first Episcopal service in Darien was at the Union Chapel on the Boston Post Road next to Saint John's Catholic Church on December 10, 1854. The Reverend W. H. C. Robertson, an Episcopal priest from Stamford, conducted the service and later became the first rector of Saint Luke's Parish. Saint Luke's Parish was formally organized the following August at the home of Ira Scofield which still stands across Ring's End Road from the present church. There were 43 communicants at the time -- among these were several families whose descendants still attend Saint Luke's or whose names are familiar to present residents through street signs, ponds and other local landmarks.
Rev. Robertson resigned in 1859 and was followed by The Reverend G. D. Johnson who served as rector until 1863. When he resigned, The Reverend Louis French was called to the rectorship and served for almost 50 years. All during the tenure of Rev. Dr. French and the two rectors that followed him, Saint Luke's continued in the steady pace of a peaceful country church with a core of devoted members -- year-round and summer residents alike -- to give the parish stability. The rural atmosphere continued under the tenures of the next three rectors until World War II and its aftermath when things began to change dramatically both in Darien and at Saint Luke's.
Forces of Change
After the death of Rev. Dr. French, two rectors, Rev. Dr. Hiram Van Kirk and Rev. Dr. Howard M. Dumbell, followed in quick succession. Saint Luke's sixth rector, The Rev. Dr. Floyd Swallow Leach, was called in 1925. During Dr. Leach's tenure the grounds were improved and the Sunday School reorganized. One of his first acts was to initiate publication of Saint Luke's Tidings; which continues until present time as an important vehicle for communication within the parish. During Rev. Dr. Leach's tenure, however, Darien and the parish began to change. What may have been a good "fit" between rector and parishioners in the pre-World War II period became less so as the town developed into a commuting suburb of New York City. Rev. Dr. Leach offered his resignation in 1949 which paved the way for a new and exciting rector, Rev. T. Chester Baxter, who took advantage of the opportunity for growth afforded the church by the population explosion in Darien in the 1950s.
Explosion of Growth
Two things worked to make the Rev. Baxter's tenure a time of immense growth at Saint Luke's: the increased population in Darien due to young families leaving the New York City for the suburbs and the dynamic personality of Rev. Baxter. He had been a businessman before entering the ministry which helped him relate to the community dominated by businessmen and attract capable people for the tasks at hand, nor was he a stranger to finances and organizational techniques.
As church attendance grew, two regular services were held each Sunday at 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Work was done to accommodate a larger choir and church school grew to an enrollment of 1200 and had to be divided into two sessions. By 1952 it became clear that a major building program was needed to handle the large influx of parishioners and their children. The building currently known as the Education Building was constructed and the church itself was expanded and turned around with the entrance away from the Post Road and the altar switched to the opposite end of the building.
By 1958 the congregation had grown so large that a chapel of Saint Luke's was started which later became Saint Paul's Church. In 1961 Saint Paul's was designated a mission of the Diocese of Connecticut and by the end of 1963 it became an independent parish with 100 families and a brand new church on Mansfield Avenue.
Rev. Baxter resigned from Saint Luke's in 1960 and Rev. Robert Back became the eighth rector. He was a young, energetic, dynamic preacher who continued where Rev. Baxter left off. Rev. Back's first project was a new capital improvement program to liquidate the mortgage and remodel Franklin House. When this was completed, the parish hall had space for a church library and the nursery we now know as Christopher's Room. The present narthex was enlarged and a cloister was built joining the church to the parish house. Part of the parish hall was warmed by wood paneling, new flooring and carpeting -- which is today the center of some of Saint Luke's most important activities. As part of the finishing touches on the newly expanded church, additional stained glass windows were installed in the church and narthex. The other physical change was the building of the Columbarium adjoining the church.
Saint Luke's Reaches Out
Saint Luke's responded to the demands of the growing town and its many families and opened a weekday nursery school in February 1966. The school was the first in Darien to be accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Saint Luke's formed Person-to-Person in 1968 in response to the assassination of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a way to use resources to help those in need and help others learn about the impact of poverty and injustice. A program of assistance was developed with an emphasis on direct person to person contact between Darien volunteers and those with needs in Darien and neighboring towns. By 1979, over 60 families a month were being supplied with short-term food assistance. Several other projects initiated by Person-to-Person during Rev. Back's tenure included the Christmas Dove program to supply Christmas food to those in need and scholarship assistance. A campership program providing a camping experience for children was funded each year.
These activities, begun under Rev. Back, continued to grow under his successor, The Rev. Walter Taylor. Whether through volunteering at Person-to-Person or many of the other opportunities at Saint Luke's, Rev. Back's tenure was noted for the growth in lay participation in Saint Luke's activities.
The Rev. Walter H. Taylor became rector in December 1977 and described his role as that of "an enabler of people so that they could be involved." With this approach he built and expanded upon the growth in lay participation that Rev. Back had started. Rev. Taylor made education a top priority and instituted he Discovery Hours that take place between the two main Sunday morning services. Over the years, the programs have encompassed everything from comparative religion to nuclear disarmament; poverty in New York City to starvation in Angola and Somalia. Sessions on the Bible, problems of raising children and stress of everyday life have been other topics addressed by speakers. Out of these sessions have come parish programs to deal with the nuclear threat, AIDS and the problems of the poor and homeless in neighboring towns.
Rev. Taylor also encouraged the expansion of Person-to-Person by increasing its activities in neighboring towns and becoming more of a community and ecumenical effort involving several parishes.
In October 1991, a new intensive program of Christian Education -- Disciples of Christ in Community (DOCC) -- was started at Saint Luke's. Designed to strengthen parishes and their sense of community, this program includes presentations on topics important in the Christian faith followed by small group discussions led by trained lay leaders. DOCC continues to be utilized at Saint Luke's today.
The Youth Servant projects also took hold during this time. Projects in New Orleans and Lewiston, ME, happened in 1992 and 1993, respectively, with costs paid for through fund-raising efforts by the youth groups.
When Rev. Taylor left Saint Luke's in March 1992 his basic message had been "love one another." -- not only in relationships among parishioners, but to the relationships with less fortunate neighbors in nearby communities and the larger world. He had a gift for encouraging outreach activities and involving increasing numbers of parishioners in projects that best suited their interests and talents.
The Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski became the 10th rector of Saint Luke's in May 1993. A skilled administrator, Kowalski launched a successful campaign to renovate the church and initiated new programs that attracted back many former parishioners who had moved to other communities. During Kowalski's tenure much was accomplished. The physical plant was updated, the church was repainted, the education building and Parish Hall were renovated, the old rectory was remodeled into an office building and Franklin House became the Person-to-Person headquarters.
For the spiritual growth of the church, lay training in Stephen Ministry and the Healing Ministry were instituted. Truly transformational outreach began with "Outreach Weekend", a partnership with the Haitian church Ephiphanie Eglise Epsicopale in Stamford, youth servant trips to Navojoland, response to the Bosnian conflict
As Rev. Kowalski left the parish in March 2002, he commented that Darien was a wonderful place to live with active people who had lived all over the world but that he feared it could become too insular. Thus he felt outreach projects and a diverse staff were very important to the parish and the community as a whole.
Preparing For The Future
The Rev. David R. Anderson was elected Saint Luke's 11th rector in March 2003. David previously served as an Associate Rector at Saint Luke's from 1989-1992 and many remembered not only his preaching and pastoral care during those years, but also his role in building the youth group from 20 to over 100 participants. He re-arrived in July 2003 bringing new energy and enthusiasm to Saint Luke's. He quickly revitalized the youth program by hiring a new youth minister and added a new contemporary service called "Come As You Are" on Sunday evenings.
As part of Saint Luke's 150th year celebration, David engaged the parish in a period of discernment in order to determine a vision for the parish as a whole. With that vision established -- To Grow Personally in Faith, To Build an Accepting and Transforming Community and To Work Alongside Our Neighbors -- the parish then went to work on a capital campaign "Forward In Faith" in order to help bring this vision to life. Through the Forward In Faith campaign, the two new clergy houses were built, Franklin House was renovated to allow Person-to-Person use of the entire building and a $1 million outreach fund was established. Plans also include the construction of a new Youth & Community Center, renovation of the Education Building and renovation of the church's undercroft for use by music ministries.
Most of the above history was excerpted from "Generations of Faith: A History of Saint Luke's Parish 1855-2005" by Joan V. Davis.
Saint Luke's Parish, 1864 Post Road, Darien CT 06820, 203-655-1456