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St. Luke’s celebrates 125 years of history in Auburn

Church is hosting a street fair Saturday
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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The stained glass at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Auburn provides a window to its 125-year history, which will be celebrated Saturday. Sunlight shines through the image of a lamb high above at the front of the church, where it has been since its inception, illuminating the nave featuring about a dozen more carefully crafted glass featuring different religious symbols – most of which are a half-century old or more. As part of the anniversary celebration, a new stained-glass window featuring the church’s name will be unveiled in the parish hall. It is made of broken glass, some coming from a window shattered by a rock a couple years earlier, said Beth McMurtrie, a 30-year member at St. Luke’s. It’s a fitting addition, given the perseverance the congregation has displayed over the years – especially since an Episcopal church closes its doors at the rate of one per month nationwide, she said. On Saturday, the public is welcome to attend the celebration at the church, 124 Orange St., that features a street fair from 4-8 p.m. with carnival games, music and more. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children 12 and younger. Admission includes all games, tours and dinner. “I love antiquity, so it’s exciting to me just because its so old and has basically stayed in its same form,” McMurtrie said. “It still looks like a church that was built during the gold rush times.” If anyone can attest to that, it’s Lynette Weeks. At 84 years old, she said she’s the longest tenured member of the church, having attended it for all but a few years of her life. In fact, her grandfather, W.B. Lardner, owned the property where the church has remained since it was constructed in 1891 – four years after St. Luke’s Parish was formed. At that time, building costs added up to a whopping $3,300, according to church records. Asked what the church has meant to her life, Weeks said, “It’s been everything.” “I was married there, my sisters and brothers were married there … (the family has had) funerals there too,” said Weeks, who grew up with 10 brothers and sisters. “So it’s just been a cycle of our lives, that little church, and because my grandfather was so active in it and started it, it meant quite a bit to me.” Acting priest Dan Williamson said the congregation is the most closely knit he has ever seen. “St. Luke’s is without a doubt the sweetest community I have ever been a associated with. The people are very caring, gentle with one another, and it’s also a community of deep faith,” said Williamson, who served as rector of St. John’s in Roseville for nearly 16 years. “It’s smaller than other churches that I’ve had over the years, but the community is tighter.” McMurtrie said the church currently faces some challenges. Although membership is not declining, it is not growing much, either, she said. Gold Country Preschool, which rents out its basement, has just four children attending compared to 12 last year, McMurtrie said. She hopes Saturday’s celebration will help expose the church to more people. A great source of income for the church is the Victorian Attic Thrift Shop, the original 1887 rectory adjacent to the church, she said. All proceeds from Saturday’s celebration will go toward its restoration. Although Williamson has spent just two years at St. Luke’s, it holds a special place in his heart. Even if the town it’s in carries the same name as his favorite college football team’s rival. “I truly, honestly love it, love the congregation,” the Roseville resident said. “I really love Auburn, which is kind of ironic in a way since I’m a University of Alabama grad.”