St. Luke’s Episcopal Church was incorporated in 1834. Until 1852, however, it was only a mission, served by clergy from parishes in the nearby Villages of Mayville, Fredonia, and Ellicottville.
The tenure of our past rectors was as follows:
|1852-1870||The Rev. Levi W. Norton|
|1871-1874||The Rev. James H. Robinson|
|1875-1876||The Rev. William H. Morrison|
|1877-1880||The Rev. E. Spruille Burford|
|1881-1885||The Rev. Theodore M. Bishop|
|1885-1901||The Rev. A. Sidney Dealey|
|1901-1909||The Rev. John T. Kerrin|
|1909-1917||The Rev. Laird W. Snell|
|1917-1929||The Rev. Reginald N. Wilcox|
|1929-1951||The Rev. Lewis E. Ward|
|1951-1976||The Rev. George F. O’Pray|
|1976-1998||The Rev. Richard Fenn|
|2000-2012||The Rev. Eric Williams|
Under the leadership of the Rev. Norton, St. Luke’s erected its first two church buildings. The first, begun in 1854, was destroyed by fire in 1862 and replaced by an identical edifice in 1863. Also during Mr. Norton’s tenure, the number of parish families increased from 30 to 80, communicants from 12 to 260 and Sunday School children from 30 to 55.
During the tenure of the Rev. Dealy, the present church building and neighboring rectory were built, the gift of Mrs. Mary Prendergast in memory of her daughter, Catherine. He also established a vested men’s and boys’ choir that continued until the middle 1930’s.
Under the Rev. Kerrin’s leadership, the Women’s Auxiliary was formed. Also in this period a Lenten sewing group of young women called St. Faith’s was founded, which continues today as the Bishop Overs Guild. The latter group renamed itself to honor the memory of Walter H. Overs, Bishop of Liberia from 1919 to 1925, who at one time resided in Jamestown.
The Rev. Snell particularly focused on religious education and reorganized the Sunday School using the Christian Nurture series of lessons. To ensure further church training after confirmation, he organized an Altar Guild of high school girls under adult supervision. Later he similarly established an Acolytes’ Guild for boys.
The Rev. Wilcox also emphasized education of youth, and he himself was an outstanding teacher. He initiated the idea of bringing the children into the church for Morning Prayer or a Children’s Eucharist before the teaching session. For the adults, he substituted the Eucharist for Morning Prayer as the principal service every Sunday. The Rev. Mr. Wilcox was considered “high church” in his day, but many of the liturgical practices bitterly opposed by his congregation are standard practice today. At the time, however, the congregation shrank in size, debt accumulated, and Rev. Wilcox resigned in early 1929.
The Rev. Lewis Ward succeeded Fr. Wilcox and was able to mount a vigorous financial campaign to pay debts and begin building repairs before the stock market crashed later that year. He especially was remembered for his ability to reach people in frequent parish calls. He found donors to replace all three of the sanctuary’s stained glass windows. But the Great Depression exerted much pressure on the parish, the congregation shrank, the physical properties deteriorated and the principal amounts of the few endowments were dissipated.
Twenty-two years later the next rector, the Rev. George O’Pray, again undertook major fundraising to finance extensive renovations of the main church, chapel and undercroft. The latter was completely modernized to accommodate multiple Sunday School classrooms. In addition, the Crossman Street rectory was bequeathed to St. Luke’s, so the old rectory on the church property was renovated to accommodate offices and additional classrooms. Fr. O’Pray also inspired the creation of the Kate Ashwell Trust and other endowment funds that have since enabled the parish to accomplish great things. During his time as rector, the Rev. O’Pray trained nine deacons as curates; each was ordained to the priesthood at St. Luke’s and served us for a few years before moving on to assignments as rectors. The beautiful Ashwell organ also was given to the parish early in the Rev. O’Pray’s tenure. He served for many years as head of the Chautauqua Deanery and actively participated in diocesan affairs.
The Rev. Richard Fenn was the next rector to serve St. Luke’s. He continued as head of the Chautauqua Deanery, and trained eight more Deacons and Curates who were then ordained at St. Luke’s. In addition to effectively serving the parish, he actively participated in community affairs, especially those related to education, ecumenical relations and outreach to the needy. Under his leadership, the parish founded the Safe House for runaway and “throwaway” children and helped establish St. Susan’s Soup Kitchen. The parish also led in sponsoring a missionary family to Honduras for three years. He retired following an effective 22-year ministry, including oversight of major building renovations that returned the church property once again to first-class condition.
In 2000, the Rev. Eric Williams came to St. Luke’s as Rector with his wife, the Rev. Susan Anslow Williams, as Associate Rector. During their 12 years of service, attention to the church buildings and grounds included installation of an elevator to make the church more accessible and a sound system to make it easier for parishioners to participate in worship services. The curate’s house was sold, since it was no longer needed. The position of bookkeeper was eliminated, with those tasks now performed by volunteers. Laity was empowered to take on more leadership roles and adult education programs flourished. A youth minister was hired in an effort to support growth of the youth program. Three women from St. Luke’s were ordained as priest or deacon. Technology was upgraded and social networking came into play. Videotaping of the 10 a.m. Sunday service was begun for later broadcast on local cable television. A series of strategic plans were created using the Natural Church Development process. The George F. O’Pray Legacy Society was created, providing a vehicle to support the long-term financial needs of the church. Both the Rector and the Associate Rector were musically talented, and that passion enhanced worship services, youth programs and other activities within the church.