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History of St. Luke's


A History of St. Luke's:
Redacted in 2023 from An Anecdotal History of St. Luke’s Church – Stephenville, Texas by Joe R. Christopher, © 2005, 2011"


St. Luke's was officially recognized as a mission in 1943, but Episcopal services here were happening as early as 1888. Prior to becoming a mission, Episcopalians here relied on a network of priests in the area to maintain services and community. From the 1920's to the 1940's, a community was maintained under various priests and a committed group of churchwomen. The first Canterbury club was organized in 1924. This means that even before St. Luke's became a mission it was intricately connected to Tarleton State University, now a branch of Texas A&M University.

In the early 1940's, the church arranged to meet in a local club, with its first meeting on November 12th, 1940. This meeting included 14 Tarleton Students. In 1943, the Stephenville Episcopalians petitioned to become a mission and were accepted at the Diocese of Dallas convention.

The first priest sent to the mission, newly ordained (as of 1942), was Fr. Harold H. Warren, who lived in Hamilton and served four churches in the area. The first Episcopal visitation to St. Luke's occurred late in 1943.

Our Buildings:

The next priest was Fr. Menter B. Terrill. While Fr. Terrill was vicar at Stephenville, the congregation purchased an Army Chapel from Camp Bowie in Brownwood, which was closing. The building was cut into four pieces and the roof removed to be brought to where it stands as St. Luke’s, on the corner of McIlhaney and Vanderbilt. The church was consecrated during an Episcopal visit on 30 April 1948.

The parish hall/Canterbury House was built in 1953 (now just the smaller side of the parish hall); and the rectory was purchased in 1955.

Becoming an Episcopal Parish:

St. Luke’s mission became a parish in 1963, and six priests have been rectors here since that time: Fr. James Garrard (1961-67), Fr. Martin Le Brecht (1968-1970); Fr. Warner Washington (1971-78), Fr. Marion “Sam” McClain (1978-2009), the Rev. Curtis “Curt” Norman (2011-2016), and the Rev. Bradley C. Dyche (2018-present). The Sunday School was constructed in 1962; the parish hall got its larger “half” and the office complex were both built in 1995. St. Luke’s Garden was developed in 2004, being blessed for use on Palm Sunday. The Memorial Garden hosts a labyrinth and a communal cemetery for loved ones who have been cremated. Ashes are interred in linen bags. The space has also hosted several weddings and is home to some steadfast goldfish.

Many programs have come and gone at St. Luke's. There was an ECW, an EYC, an annual Tasting Tea, and rummage sales. Two events have been longstanding, though through discernment were ended during the Covid-19 Pandemic: The Mexican Supper on Election Day (from 1955-2019) and a Seder on Palm Sunday.

Under the guidance of Father Sam McClain, St. Luke’s was financially generous in outreach (26% of income in 2004 and for several years all money raised by the Mexican Suppers). During this time, the church established its food pantry, giving food without “strings.”

Some interesting years:

During the tenure of Fr. McClain, the Diocese split. Fr. McClain had kept St. Luke’s mainly out of the furors in the years leading up to the split, but eventually the time for a decision
approached. After several discussion meetings, the parish was polled on the matter of the division, with a ballot indicating three possible choices—(1) the Southern Cone, (2) the Episcopal Church, and (3) Don’t Care. Then, the parish met at a final meeting for the result of its polling and to hear the Vestry’s decision on the matter. The Vestry had been following Bishop Iker’s rules about reaching the decision, and Bishop Iker drove to Stephenville to hear that decision. The result of the parish poll was something like 83 voting to remain with the Episcopal Church, 17 didn’t care, and 5 wanted to join the Southern Cone. Every member of the Vestry said that St. Luke’s should remain with TEC (that is, the vote was unanimous).

Joe Christopher writes, “Throughout the ordeal, Fr. Sam was absolutely steadfast in keeping the parish focused on the spiritual purposes of the church. This is one of the reasons why St. Luke’s remained relatively unfragmented. He was unwavering in protecting the parish from the political inertia that was building in the diocese—inertia that had virtually nothing to do with the church’s true spiritual mission.”

A History of Women Priests at St. Luke's:

St. Luke's was admittedly slow to accept women in ordination. The Rev. Dr. Suzi Robertson was the first woman to celebrate mass at St. Luke’s. That was on 23 August 2009. She and her husband were living on her farm near Stephenville. When her mother died, she asked to be Celebrant at the funeral. Amazing as it seems, Bishop Iker approved her actions—with two provisos: Fr. McClain was to be listed as the celebrant, and her name could not appear in the newspapers. The Register of Church Services at St. Luke’s says:

c: Sam McClain o: Suzi Robertson

The next rector, called from Santa Fe but with a background in the Dallas area, was the Rev. Curt Norman. His first service was in March 2011. An important action during his tenure was the beginning of the organization of the Episcopal Campus Ministry officially on the Tarleton campus after a latent period. Fr. Curt helped cultivate a connection to the ELCA through a Common Mission joint service during the week. Fr. Curt also recruited Deacon Dana Wilson to serve at St. Luke's. It should be noted that Deacon Wilson helped implement an Education for Ministry program that continues to serve as a spiritual bedrock for our community. Fr. Curt resigned in 2016.

Since 2018:

On Easter Day in 2018, The Rev. Bradley Dyche officially became the Rector of St. Luke's. Sadly, some in the Church left even before his arrival. In 2021, the Rector and Vestry engaged in a mutual ministry review and reconciliation process with the aid of the diocese formerly known as The Episcopal Church in North Texas. We are now a part of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, a part of the Northern Region of the Diocese. In many ways the leadership feels like we are now a church plant, a new start, following a few years of upheaval and the Pandemic. We are a smaller congregation now but are finding ways to continue to be moved by the Spirit. We hope you know that there is nothing that you can do to separate you from the love of God.

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