30 things about St Lukes
As a church we’ve borrowed or inherited or invented many approaches to worship – and they often turn up in the same service. We love the ancient, the modern and the post-modern. You might find some C17th liturgy next to a South African chant. Or a previously redundant hymn next to a music video. We are Church of England in London in the 21st Century and, like you, we have no idea what it means.
We have two services on Sunday morning, and an evening service on the first, second and fourth Sunday. (Of the month, not the year). At 9.15am there is a short, meditative communion service, with no talk or hymns, no notices or collection. At 11am our main service, including a crèche and activities for children, features our choir and the eucharist. It finishes as the smell of freshly brewed coffee drifts across the church and the fairly traded products of the Traidcraft stall are on sale.
Jimmy Nail once came to our vicarage for a few days to make a film for the big screen about rock music. (Didn’t break any box office records.
St Luke’s was established on the corner of Penn Road and Hillmarton Road in 1860. 2010 was our 150th birthday. Parts of our building were bombed in World War II and have been rebuilt. Other features began life in different churches – our organ, refurbished in 2011, was originally the organ at St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. For 150 years local people have gathered here – we’re just the current crop.
We have a mixed congregation averaging 180 or so (in numbers, not age). We have nurses, administrators, gardeners, social workers, engineers, teachers, musicians, shop assistants, photographers, care workers, artists, people who are mainly raising families, people who are mainly retired and people who mainly look forward to being retired. We have had a lot of kids in the recent past… but fewer lately as families find it more difficult to be able to afford to stay in our area. (One of the things we think about is how we can help with affordable housing.)
You can find out more about the kind of folk who call this church a home in The Gospel According To Everyone a little book edited by our Associate Vicar Martin Wroe. The books feature stories of people in our community which we’ve used in our services. They’re all saints because none of them realise it.
St Luke’s has a long connection with St Mary Magdalene Academy, about a mile away on Liverpool Road. Lots of young people from the church have attended the school and several of our members are governors.
At the ‘sharp end’ of the church, on the chancel under the window, you’ll see a beautiful triptych commissioned from the artist Paul Martin. It features heaven at the end of time, where all kinds of saints – ordinary people like us – are in heaven with Jesus Christ. Churches often had portable pictures like these – to help people think visually about their faith. Some of the saints are painting or listening to music, some are wearing badges, spectacles – even Converse All Stars. If it was painted today the saints would have headphone wires dangling from their ears, they’d be lost in the shining screen of their iPhones.
A relatively unknown Robbie Williams recorded an early demo of a song in our church. It was called Angels.
Sam Murphy with Jean & Norman Willson look after the gardens at St Luke’s, which is one of the reasons we have so many weddings here. Our clergy are asked to lead lots of weddings. And funerals.
At 7pm on the first Sunday of the month we have Choral Evensong. At the same time on the second Sunday we host ‘Soul Space’ (currently on pause), exploring spiritual themes in a chill-out room atmosphere. At 7pm on the third Sunday, we host ‘Listen to the Silence’, a reflective service rooted in the liturgies of the Iona Community with an emphasis on peace, justice and healing. And other Sunday evenings, nothing is happening – which might be just what you need.
There is no 12.
We are a church where people who want to get involved can. People lead services, write and say prayers, take on the sermon-slot, make coffee, run the Sunday Clubs, manage the sound system, engage with local groups like London Citizens, do the gardening, organise the fayres, volunteer for the Winter Night-shelter… you get the idea.
In the first three months of the year, the coldest, the Church is open on Saturday nights to offer homeless people supper, a bed and breakfast. This is part of a project by churches in Islington (Caris Islington) which host a night-shelter all week round from January to March. (We have about thirty volunteers who help run this and we're always looking for similar initiatives we could try and support.)
On the third Sunday of the month we have lunch together after the morning service. People who had to move away from the parish, often make a point of showing up on the third Sunday as the conversation is good and it’s free food.
There are nearly 200 people on the Electoral Roll (that’s the number of people who sign up to say they’ve joined) which has doubled in recent years. (This may be because it’s free.) People on the Electoral Roll get to vote for people to be on the Parochial Church Council (PCC), which is the group that works with our Associate Vicar Martin, our PCC Chair Joy and the Church Wardens – Susie and Dean – to keep St Luke’s on the road during our interregnum.
If you’re standing in the chancel and look up – right up above your head – you’ll see the golden branches of a tree spreading across forty panels embedded in the ceiling. A Bible verse runs along either side, taken from Revelation, where the writer has an ecstatic vision of a holy city with a river running through and trees alongside: ‘The leaves of the trees,’ she writes, ‘Are for the healing of the nations…’
People from St Luke’s worked with the artist Rob Pepper to create this huge piece of community art. Springing from the branches are thousands of greeny-grey leaves – but what you can’t see from the ground is that every leaf has a name written on it. The name of someone who has been part of St Luke’s, the name of someone loved and lost, the name of someone venerated because of their lives – from Dorothy Day to Martin Luther King, from Mary Davies to Garry Rutter. One day we will put up scaffolding again and add more names.
There is no 19.
Although your neck may be aching as you look up into the roof, if you focus carefully on the centre of the tree, where are all the branches meet, you see three blue shapes. These are hares, chasing each other around and never catching up. Look closely and you’ll see each hare has two ears but there only three ears between them. This is a picture from before Christianity, later adopted as a sign of the trinity – one in three (geddit?)
At the top of North Road (turn left out of the tube, coming down Cally Road, turn left again on Hillmarton), you’ll find a sixties building now called The Gower School – a nursery for pre-school children. For many years this was the St Francis Church Centre, a sister church to St Luke’s, an initiative in the 1980’s to establish a Christian presence on the local estate. It was opened by Bishop Trevor Huddlestone. Nowadays we rent the premises to the school and use the funds to help St Luke’s own initiatives in the parish.
Every week the morning service includes ‘communion’ – where people are invited to share bread and wine and wonder if God is in the house. You don’t need special qualifications to participate. It’s for everyone without exception. (If we were asked to name our ‘core values’ that would be one of them.)
On Thursday mornings you can often find Judi and a few others meeting in the Church for a short service of prayer. It is called the Daily Office and lasts about 20 minutes.
It costs about £2,500 a week to run St Luke’s – we have an annual budget of more than £130,000. The biggest item of expenditure is the ‘quota’ – the figure we pay the central body of the Church of England. In return we get a vicar and the vicar gets a vicarage. They also help us with other things, like raising funds to keep the building up. Contrary to popular impression, the Church of England is virtually broke. We can usually pay our bills because the people who are part of St Luke’s are generous. (And we rent out our spare spaces.)
The playwright and composer Justin Butcher is our Music Director and Choirmaster, working in partnership with our Associate Music Director, the singer-songwriter Rick Leigh. If you want to get married – or buried – these are the people to help you name those tunes.
On weekdays you’ll often find a theatre group rehearsing a play in the main church space… or an orchestra or a dance troupe. We like to keep the place busy and it helps pay the bills. If you’re interested in hiring space at St Luke’s please get in touch with Tina.
Most Tuesdays the Helen O’Grady Children’s Drama Academy meets in the church.
Not so long ago we re-faced the Tower of St Luke’s, which was falling down. Not only does it look quite good now but as an added bonus you won’t get hit on the head by falling masonry when you pass by. It cost more than half a million quid but fortunately we won the lottery. (We used to have a Lottery Syndicate at St Luke’s which along with a few million other lottery players, funds The Lottery Heritage Fund. They gave us 90% of the money for the job.)
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At St Luke’s we always try to be open. Even when we’re closed.
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