The impressive spire and clock tower of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church has been greeting those who make their way through Downtown Racine since the late 1800s.
Yet, the history of the English Gothic Revival style church at the corner of Main and Seventh streets actually dates back to 1842, when an Episcopal parish was first formed in Racine.
Prior to that, several young deacons had been holding services in schoolrooms and courthouses within a 50-mile circuit around the Root River for about three years, following the New York diocese having identified the Wisconsin territory as the location for a church. And, soon after the parish was formed, its first church building was erected on the east side of Main Street, across from Monument Square.
That building was destroyed by fire in January of 1866, but it wasn’t long before the parish began building a replacement, having laid the cornerstone of the new church within six months of the fire. The first service was held in the new St. Luke’s building on Sept. 8, 1867, and 150 years later services are still being held in that church, with its black walnut pews and beautiful stained glass windows, which were added in 1966.
Among St. Luke’s early members were prominent city residents such as Dr. John Meachem, who — along with others — founded St. Luke’s Hospital in 1872. The parish’s early impact on the city also included its role in the founding of Racine College, now the DeKoven Center. And, another early parishioner, Mrs. Emerline Taylor, established the Taylor Home, which served as an orphan asylum, according to church records.
More recently, St. Luke’s community outreach is most visible in its Hospitality Center, which opened at the church in 2011 and provides service to the homeless and near homeless people of Racine. This ministry is open to all people, without regard to social status, religious or financial standing and is described by the church as “truly a place to come and enjoy hospitality without agenda or ulterior motives.”
Such outreach ministry is one of the things St. Luke’s member Hazel Dickfoss says she appreciates most about her church.
“I love that our church’s doors are always open,” said Dickfoss, who joined the parish in 1961. “There are so many people that need help and have no place to go.”
Small but mighty
St. Luke’s also supports the work of Racine Vocational Ministry — a faith-based, nonprofit job placement organization that addresses the whole person — by providing RVM with office space in its building at a reduced cost.
And, while the parish today is smaller than some, with an average Sunday service attendance of about 50, it still manages “to do so much,” Dickfoss said, pointing out the church’s involvement in community meals, international mission work and more.
“We’ve learned, that it is not the size of the congregation that matters,” she said. “It is how much outreach you are doing.”
Dickfoss — who was initially drawn to St. Luke’s because it was a “sister church” to the one she had grown up with in England — said she also appreciates how much more relaxed the atmosphere of the Episcopal Church is today, than it was when she first came to the U.S. more than 50 years ago.
“Now there is no wrong way to do things in church,” she said. “And everyone is so open and welcoming. I like that.”
St. Luke’s parish, which today is led by the Rev. Bob Lambert, is also a very caring group of people, who are there for each other, Dickfoss said.
“When my husband was very ill, for a long time, they helped hold me together,” she said. “They were the support that I needed.”
For more about St. Luke’s Church and its ministries, go to www.stlukesracine.com.