The first Protestant Episcopal Church in the San Gabriel Valley was the Church of Our Saviour, established as a mission in 1868 in the community of San Gabriel. Twelve years after its founding, this church called the Rev. Archibald G.L. Trew from Anaheim to be its rector. When Dr. Trew asked the Bishop of California what the boundaries of his parish were, he was told it encompassed the entire valley! Filled with a strong missionary spirit, Dr. Trew soon began meeting with groups of Episcopalians in his far-flung parish and organizing them into separate congregations. Through his efforts All Saints’ Mission, Pasadena was established in February 1883, and Ascension Mission, Sierra Madre was established in September 1885.
In the autumn of 1890, Dr. Trew extended his efforts to Monrovia and Duarte. On October 12, 1890, he conducted the first Episcopal service in Monrovia. The Congregational Church, located on the northwest corner of Canyon and Lime Avenue in Monrovia, was made available for the occasion. Following the service of Evening Prayer, Dr. Trew presided at the organizational meeting for a new mission. Since the following Saturday was St. Luke’s Day, the organizers decided to call the new mission St. Luke’s Mission. On October 19, 1890, Dr. Trew conducted a service and meeting in Duarte and All Saints’ Mission was established there.
The first regular service of the new St. Luke’s Mission was conducted on Sunday, January 11, 1891. By that time a room had been rented in the Spence Block, located on the northwest corner of Myrtle and Palm Avenues, and the room equipped with rostrum, pulpit, and comfortable chairs. St. Luke’s Mission had been combined with All Saints’ Mission, Duarte, and Ascension Mission, Sierra Madre into an independent charge under the leadership of the Rev. Milton C. Dotten. Mr. Dotten conducted services at all three locations on Sunday, making his rounds by horse and buggy. St. Luke’s was formally admitted to the Diocese of California as a mission on April 30, 1891.
The first decade for St. Luke’s Mission was a difficult one. The economy of Southern California was depressed in the aftermath of the collapse of the great land boom of the 1880s, and financial support for the mission was not always readily available. Membership was small initially, and growth was hampered by the lack of population increase in Monrovia. Despite these difficulties, the little congregation considered the purchase of a permanent location as early as 1897, and a building fund to accomplish this goal was started. By the end of the first decade, however, the struggle for survival proved too great. Regular services ended with the resignation of the Rev. Nelson Saunders in May 1901.
Prior to this time, a Women’s Guild had been organized under the leadership of Miss Sarah Ann Cook. Miss Cook, an early resident of Monrovia, was vitally interested in the life of her church. Inspired by her devotion, Episcopal activities in Monrovia did not cease even if regular services did. She was instrumental in raising $200 in 1905 for the purchase of a lot on Myrtle Avenue.
Two years later, in February of 1907, sufficient interest in the mission had been rekindled to support a re-organizational meeting. Officers were elected, funds were subscribed, and plans for a church building were obtained from an architect. At about the same time, the Rev. and Mrs. Henry Quimby arrived in Monrovia for Mrs. Quimby’s health. Learning that there had once been an Episcopal mission in Monrovia and that local Episcopalians had reorganized and were planning to build a permanent home, Mr. Quimby asked for and received from Bishop Johnson permission to resume services. Construction was begun on the church building in June 1907, and regular services were being held in a temporary location by August of the same year. By the following December, the church was sufficiently completed to hold Christmas services in it.
Mr. Quimby had been formally installed as vicar by February of 1908. The next five years were marked by expansion and growth. A parish house was completed in 1909, and by 1910 the former mission became self-supporting. Parish status was granted by the Diocese of Los Angeles on May 18, 1910.
In 1913 Mr. Quimby resigned, and with his resignation began another difficult period. A number of rectors followed in quick succession. Amid this time of transition, however, the congregation was able to pay off its indebtedness. The church building was consecrated by Bishop Johnson on November 11, 1917, ten years after its construction. Yet by 1921 it seemed that St. Luke’s plight was a hopeless one. Desiring to make one last effort to keep the parish alive, the vestry called the Rev. George E. Swan. Dr. Swan was a vital, dedicated churchman who had great vision and leadership ability. Under his direction St. Luke’s grew once again until the original church building was no longer adequate.
In anticipation of expansion, the site at 208 S. Myrtle Avenue was sold in 1923 and the church and parish house were moved to four lots at the corner of Wildrose and California Avenues. By 1925 plans had been drawn up by the noted architect Carleton M. Winslow, and groundbreaking ceremonies took place on November 22. The building was in a modified Romanesque style and designed to accommodate future expansion. Sister churches of Monrovia joined the congregation of St. Luke’s on May 30, 1926, when the new building was joyously dedicated in impressive ceremonies presided over by Bishop Stevens.
A year later, Dr. Swan was forced to submit his resignation. The efforts of the previous six years had impaired his health and made it difficult for him to fulfill his responsibilities. A sorrowing congregation expressed its farewell, and the vestry, in gratitude for all he had done, honored him by naming him Rector Emeritus. He died in 1933 and was buried from the church he had served so well.
During the tenure of Dr. Swan’s successor, the Rev. J. Alvin Shirley, St. Luke’s realized its dream of a pipe organ to lead congregational singing and to enhance the worship service. Dr. Swan had been a trained musician who realized the value of a pipe organ as an aid to worship. As early as 1924 an organ fund was established for the eventual purchase of an instrument. Culminating with funds given by Mrs. William D. Woolwine in memory of her husband and her son, Louis, a three-manual instrument built by E.W. Spencer of Pasadena was installed in 1929. Two years later, the wife and children of Junius Arthur Maddock gave a chime of eleven bells from the Meneely Foundry in his memory. These bells have been a source of pleasure for generations of Monrovians as they have rung out from the high church tower.
During the Great Depression, St. Luke’s was ably led by the Rev. Canon Ernest B. Smith. A Canadian by birth, Canon Smith came to Monrovia from Bellingham, Washington, and served as rector from 1932 to 1942. He was followed by the Rev. George W. Barrett. Mr. Barrett, who later became a noted theologian and bishop, guided the parish during the difficult times of World War II. He was instrumental in spearheading a drive to eliminate the indebtedness of the church inherited from Depression days. The drive culminated in 1944 with the burning of the mortgage. An honored guest on that occasion was Dr. Swan’s widow, Marion.
At the time of Mr. Barrett’s resignation in the fall of 1947, funds had been pledged and plans drawn for a new facility to replace the old parish house. Construction actually began during the tenure of Mr. Barrett’s successor, the Rev. J. Ogden Hoffman, Jr. Another accomplishment during Mr. Hoffman’s rectorship was the establishment of the Transfiguration Mission in Arcadia. St. Luke’s had earlier established Grace Mission in Glendora under the rectorship of Mr. Quimby. It is fitting that St. Luke’s, born from the missionary efforts of Dr. Trew, has been able to further that same missionary effort. The talented organist/choirmaster secured by Mr. Hoffman, Marcia Hannah, established a noted Boy Choir in the Anglican tradition.
The arrival of the Rev. Morton T. Kelsey in October of 1950 marked the beginning of another period of expansion and growth. The new parish house begun in the fall of 1950 was completed in January 1951 and was named Swan Hall to honor the enduring memory of Dr. and Mrs. Swan. Two years later the church school had grown to such an extent that an annex to Swan Hall was necessary. By 1955 it was obvious that the continued growth of St. Luke’s made a major addition to the church plant a necessity. An expansion fund program was inaugurated in that year, and pledges to the fund enabled the parish to break ground for a new parish hall on June 9, 1957. This building, containing offices, classrooms, and meeting rooms, was dedicated the following year and continues to serve the needs of the parish.
Mr. Kelsey was especially gifted in the areas of administration, counseling, and preaching. As St. Luke’s began to minister to the psychological needs of its parishioners as well as to their spiritual ones, its reputation as a center for spiritual and emotional healing spread throughout the San Gabriel Valley. Trained professionals provided services in a clinic which was an outgrowth of the healing ministry of the parish. Continued expansion of the church school made an entirely new structure for educational purposes necessary. At the same time, a chapel was constructed on the north side of the existing church to provide additional seating for increased Sunday attendance. Both structures were dedicated in 1965.
By 1967 the original pipe organ in the church, which had served with additions and modifications for nearly forty years, needed major renovation. Due to the generosity of the Curtis Newman family, funds were made available which permitted the installation of an entirely new instrument. The contract was awarded to Balcom & Vaughan Pipe Organs of Seattle, Washington, and the completed organ was dedicated in September of 1968. Alterations to the organ by Manuel Rosales & Associates in 1983 and 1984 enhanced its tonal quality, and the addition of a new organ console in 1984 as a gift to the parish from Dr. and Mrs. James Bowers has ensured that the organ will serve with distinction for many years to come.
During the course of his ministry at St. Luke’s, Mr. Kelsey attracted nationwide attention through his lectures, healing missions, and published books. In 1969 the University of Notre Dame extended an invitation to him to teach for an academic year in their School of Education. Mr. Kelsey requested a leave of absence, and the vestry, well aware of the opportunity such an experience would provide, granted his request. During his absence, the Rev. J. Dean Foley, associate rector, served as acting rector of the parish. Mr. Kelsey returned the following year but soon afterward announced his intention of resigning as rector, effective on the twentieth anniversary of his coming to St. Luke’s. His resignation was accepted with extreme regret, and he too was accorded the honor of being named Rector Emeritus.
After twenty years of stability under Mr. Kelsey, a period of transition inevitably began. Two priests, the Rev. J. Dean Foley and the Rev. John P. Bingham, and two priests-in-charge, the Rev. Esmond Ferris and the Rev. John Yoder led the parish for the next nine years. Changing patterns in church attendance nationally were reflected in decreased attendance at St. Luke’s. It was a difficult time of readjustment for the parish; old familiar forms of worship were replaced by new trial services at the same time that changing spiritual leadership brought about a sense of impermanence.
This period of transition ended in 1979 with the calling of the Rev. Everett D. Simson, formerly Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Los Angeles, With a firm commitment to a parish ministry, Mr. Simson was able to reassure a congregation needing a sense of permanence and continuity. This confidence was borne out by the successful 1981 campaign to raise funds for the renovation of the church sanctuary, which had not been modified structurally since its dedication in 1926. The services of John Andre Gougeon, an innovative church architect, were retained for the project. Sensitive to the character of the original architecture, Mr. Gougeon was able to provide the church with a design that responded to the needs of contemporary liturgy and worship and at the same time enhanced and complemented the original architecture of the building. The renovated sanctuary was rededicated by Bishop Rusack of the Diocese of Los Angeles on October 17, 1982, in a ceremony as joyous as the original dedication fifty six years earlier.
In June of 1983 a memorial to Agnes Sanford, author, and internationally known spiritual leader, was dedicated. Mrs. Sanford was a long time resident of Monrovia and a member of St. Luke’s Parish. The north transept of the church was modified to permit the addition of an enclosed garden and fountain in tribute to her memory.
In 1985, as the seventh anniversary of his installation as rector of St. Luke’s approached, Mr. Simson requested a sabbatical so that he and his wife, Mimi, could participate in a study tour of the Holy Land. During the time the Simsons were gone, St. Luke’s was served by a delightful English priest from Liverpool, the Rev. Peter Cavanagh. Mr. Cavanagh established many warm relationships during his stay, and his time at St. Luke’s was to have wonderful consequences for the choir.
No mention of St. Luke’s choir would be complete without also mentioning the music support group established by Dr. Wunsch, the Friends of Music. Founded in the mid-1980s, the purpose of the group was to attract funding that would enable the music program at St. Luke’s to present concerts as well as special services throughout the church year not funded by the regular church budget. The Friends have also supported the music program by hosting wonderful receptions following the concerts and special services. Their support continues to greatly enrich the life of the parish to this day.
The year 1986 was also full of milestones. In July, Bishop Rusack died suddenly and was buried from St. John’s, Los Angeles. The following month Gladys Krenz, a member of St. Luke’s for some fifty years, died. In September, our familiar parish newsletter, “Soundings”, began publication under the editorship of Ray Seldomridge. And to round out the year, Kay Bruwelheide, who served the parish as secretary for many years, retired in December.
In May of 1986 the beautiful wood carving that serves as the focal point of the chapel, “The Ascending Christ”, was dedicated by Bishop John Krumm. The carving was created by Dr. James Bowers, a long-time member of the parish who turned to wood carving after he retired from the practice of dentistry. Also in May was the dedication of the Memorial Garden, an area set aside as a final resting place for those wishing to have their ashes interred in a church setting.
The following year, 1987, St. Luke’s organist/choirmaster, Dr. William Wunsch, requested a sabbatical so that he could study the music and liturgy of the Anglican Church on-site in England. His base of operation in England was in Liverpool with Mr. Cavanagh, and he spent much of his time studying at the Liverpool Cathedral. Out of this association came the idea of a St. Luke’s Choir tour of England. The idea was enthusiastically received upon Mr. Wunsch’s return, and fund-raising activities and planning began immediately. The goal was for a two-week visit during the summer of 1988.
On July 14, 1988, an excited choir and director realized the fruits of their labors as they left Los Angeles bound for London. For nearly three weeks the choir was privileged to visit our Anglican roots and sing in chapels, cathedrals, and parish churches in Cambridge, Wells, York, Leeds, Liverpool, and St. Alban’s while the regular choirs in those locations were on their summer holiday. It was a most memorable experience for everyone who participated.
Another time of transition began for St. Luke’s in the fall of 1988, as Virginia Speer announced her intention to retire as administrative assistant at St. Luke’s. Virginia began her service to St. Luke’s first as an office volunteer shortly after the arrival of the Rev. Morton Kelsey in 1950, and then as a member of the staff. For thirty-eight years Virginia was an indomitable presence in the church office and the one constant in the midst of change. Letters of testimony to her wise counsel were sent by former priests as her retirement dinner drew near, and nearly two hundred guests gathered on January 13, 1989, to express their appreciation for all she had done for St. Luke’s. Virginia and her husband, Cliff, were given a substantial cash gift so that they could realize their dream of a tour of New England while the fall colors were in full glory.
Just two weeks later Mr. Simson, too, announced his intention of retiring as rector. The parish began a four-month process of saying goodbye to Mr. Simson that culminated with a gala celebration of his ministry on May 28. The Simsons were also presented with a cash gift so that they could visit Egypt, an unrealized goal of Mr. Simson’s sabbatical. The Rev. Elizabeth Hooper, who had been with the parish as curate, was appointed priest-in-charge. She served until she received a call to St. Columba’s, Camarillo, in March of 1990.
The year 1990 was a year of transition as well. The Rev. David C. Walker succeeded Elizabeth Hooper as priest-in-charge and served until September. Dr. Wunsch resigned in June, much to the sorrow of the choir, many of whom had sung under his direction during the entire eleven years of his tenure. His devotion to Anglican ideals, choral excellence, and music as the handmaiden of worship were exemplary in the extreme.
Mr. Walker’s choice of an interim organist was Dana Marsh, a talented singer, and musician in the Anglican tradition. While he was serving as interim, the vestry issued a call to the Rev. Lorne E. Weaver of St. George’s, Laguna Hills. Mr. Weaver accepted the call as rector of St. Luke’s effective September 30, 1990. He was installed as rector on November 4, 1990, in a joyous service that filled the sanctuary to capacity. Shortly after his arrival, Mr. Weaver appointed Dana Marsh music director. For the next six years, Dana Marsh was to take the Anglican tradition begun by Dr. Wunsch, mold it with his own special talents, and carry it to even greater heights. The Friends of Music continued to grow during this period, and the music program expanded in its offerings until its reputation had spread throughout Southern California.
The following year, 1991, St. Luke’s celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of its admission to the Diocese of California as part of the patronal festival. The centennial committee provided an informative display in Guild Hall consisting of historic photographs and written information on the history of the parish as part of the centennial celebration.
The Los Angeles Riots of 1992 challenged the parish and brought about an interface with a local black congregation, The Family Church. Shared services and activities were valuable avenues of understanding for both congregations during the months following the riots.
St. Luke’s, in its long history, has raised up a number of candidates for the priesthood. In 1992, Mitties de Champlain and Donald Armstrong of the parish joined Stephen Leonetti and Hugo Norro in that procession of postulants for holy orders.
The closing months of 1992 were overshadowed by the illness of Lorne Weaver, who found it necessary to resign as rector the following March. During Mr. Weaver’s illness, the Rev. Susan Purnell served the parish. She was succeeded in March by the Rev. Richard Yale of the Church of Our Saviour in San Gabriel, who was to serve as an interim priest for the next year and a half.
The 1993 Search Committee concluded its lengthy work with a recommendation to the vestry to call the Rev. Gary London as rector. He accepted the call, and was formally installed as the fifteenth rector of St. Luke’s on October 30, 1994.
Father London’s first full year as rector of the parish was celebrated at the annual meeting of the parish in January of 1996. There were several notable accomplishments during the year 1995. The “Tiny Pettingill Chapel” was created in the basement of the Parish Hall by renovating an infrequently used children’s chapel. The chapel honors Jeannette “Tiny” Pettingill, a member of the parish for nearly fifty years who is known for her healing and intercessory prayer life. The renovated chapel is enhanced by a carving created by Dr. Bowers, brass rubbings donated by Jack and Lyn Walsh, and simulated stained glass windows installed by David Garrett and Kenneth Chavis. In response to a long-standing need, a sound system was installed in the church. While the acoustics of the sanctuary are extremely friendly to the organ and the choir, they are problematic for the spoken word, making it difficult to hear clearly during the service. The sound system, with modifications, continues to meet the need for understanding and clarity. And the Anglican Choir of St. Luke’s, under the capable direction of Dana Marsh, received a prestigious grant, released its first compact disc, and appeared on public television.
Additional milestones were reached in 1996. Mitties de Champlain and Donald Armstrong were advanced to the priesthood at All Saints’ Pasadena in January. The chancel of the church was re-arranged to its present configuration with the altar moved forward and the choir in a more traditional collegiate orientation. J.S. Bach’s Lenten Cantata was presented in special recognition of Elizabeth “Bess” Bowers, known as the “angel” of the organ for her ongoing gifts for its maintenance.
Publication of the “Quarterly Quorum” began with David Bowen as its capable editor. The children’s library was opened in September. But there were other milestones as well. Dana Marsh, whose talent and dedication had guided the choir to a high plateau of excellence, found it necessary to submit his resignation. Rhett Judice was appointed as interim organist, and a search committee began the difficult task of finding a successor to Dana Marsh.
The next organist/choirmaster of St. Luke’s was Edward Murray, who was already known to the parish from his participation in the music program. Mr. Murray began his duties in April 1997. Rhett Judice graciously stayed on as interim until Mr. Murray had fulfilled the Easter season responsibilities at his previous position. Another accomplishment of the year 1997 was the completion of the adult library, located in the former large classroom in the parish hall. St. Luke’s hosted the Deanery V Celebration in May of 1997, with a large congregation at the service. Members of the Page family and their friends contributed the beautiful stained glass cross in the narthex as a memorial in 1997. And the Friends of Music resumed their activities after a brief hiatus, and a busy season was planned following the tradition established by Dana Marsh. 1997 also saw the beginning of plans to renovate the sacristy.
Renovation of the sacristy had originally been part of the plan for renovating the sanctuary in 1982. Unfortunately, the sacristy renovation was not possible at that time. The dream was carefully nurtured by members of the altar guild, however, and the goal was presented again at the annual meeting of 1998. The project was approved by the parish and a pledge drive was begun immediately, enabling the beginning of construction.
The year 1998 was another year of transitions. Suzanne Long, a member of the parish since 1962 and parish secretary since 1989, passed away in January. In tribute to her faithful service to the parish, the newly renovated sacristy was named for her at the time of its dedication. St. Luke’s Economy Shop closed its doors on August 29 after over forty years of service to the community. The task of keeping the shop open on a regular basis finally became more than the small band of faithful volunteers could manage. Louise Winkler should be mentioned as one volunteer who was there at the beginning of the shop as well as at the end, although other volunteers gave many, many years of service also. Elizabeth “Bess” Bowers passed away on September 21. She had been a member of the parish for seventy-one years–a record not likely to be broken. Music was a special love of hers, and the many contributions she and her husband, James, made to the musical life of the parish are mentioned elsewhere in this history. And finally, Virginia Speer passed away in November. She had been a member of the parish since 1942. These three ladies who personified St. Luke’s for so long will ever be missed by those who were privileged to know them.
The year 1999 marked the return of one of St. Luke’s own, as the Rev. Donald A. Armstrong accepted Father London’s invitation to join the parish as associate rector in April. He has added much to the life of the parish with his own special gifts. Edward Murray submitted his resignation in May, and Dr. Karen Reinhard replaced him as organist/choirmaster. The exploration of the life and work of C.S. Lewis, begun in 1998 in observance of the centennial of his birth, continued in 1999 under the enthusiastic guidance of Father London.
The first year of the Twenty-first Century has brought more change and renewal. Patrick Hawkins became organist/choirmaster in March, succeeding Dr. Reinhard, and the renovation of a number of the stained glass windows in the sanctuary was begun in July and completed in September. Generous donations from members of the parish made the renovation possible and assured the safety of the windows for many years to come.
We stand on the threshold of a new century with gratitude for the lives of those who began St. Luke’s, for those who have nurtured it during the years and given so much for our common life, and for those who remained steadfast in times of adversity as well as times of blessing. Our challenge is to match the vision and faithfulness of past generations with a firm commitment to the future and a faith that knows all will be well–all will finally be well.