St. Luke’s Anglican Church is an historical jewel in Red Deer. More than that, it is a living community of Christians.
I have admired the building from many angles, while biking and walking in downtown Red Deer.
Until this week, however — to my considerable embarrassment — I had never been inside the church.
It’s remarkable on many levels, simultaneously cozy and awe-inspiring.
St. Luke’s is the oldest active church in Red Deer.
It was built in Gothic Revival style, which features a steeply pitched gable roof and a boxy, battlement-style tower.
It was constructed from sandstone, quarried from the banks of the Red Deer River, and beautiful Canadian fir wood.
St. Luke’s also features stunning stained-glass windows, the most important of which was created to honour a courageous minister.
Rev. William Fanning-Harris was the third permanent pastor at St. Luke’s. He resigned to become a chaplain in the First World War.
He was mortally wounded by shrapnel while performing a funeral service for a slain soldier in 1916 and died the following year.
He was the first Canadian chaplain killed in the war.
His courage and commitment to greater causes, both human and spiritual, were widely shared in early Red Deer: 134 parishioners of St. Luke’s served in the First World War and 22 died.
Fanning-Harris, like his two clerical predecessors, was a remarkable man.
The first was Rev. Joshua Hinchliffe.
He was the driving force behind the creation of St. Luke’s, having taken some architectural training in his native Britain.
St. Luke’s cornerstone was laid in 1899 on donated land and the church was completed, in stages, by 1906, at an estimated cost of $3,600.
The parish was created 14 years earlier, with services held in local homes and, occasionally, in the waiting room of the Canadian Pacific Railway station.
In 1978, St. Luke’s Church was designated a provincial historic resource.
Last year, its congregation was honoured by the City of Red Deer for historical preservation.
Next week, St. Luke’s will host the 10th annual Heritage Recognition Awards, which celebrate historical preservation in the city and Red Deer County.
Five historical assets and one historian have been nominated this year: City Hall Park, the Green Block/Artistry in Gold building, the Red Deer Children’s Library; Hairmasters/Vickie Stoddart; the Innisfail Rail Project and the late John Tobias.
The ceremony will be held on Friday at 11:30 a.m.
Refreshments will be provided by the St. Luke’s Ladies Group.
If you want to see what the inside of that beautiful sandstone and glass structure looks like, next Friday is your chance to do so.
If you want to see what makes small parishes like St. Luke’s endure and thrive for more than a century, you will have to look inside the hearts of the parsons, the congregations and the ladies’ groups.
They are the ones who not only keep costly, high-maintenance old structures standing, their efforts give them life.
More than a century ago, when St. Luke’s was first built, the pastor’s work was non-stop and the pay was typically less than $500 a year.
That sum, Anglican Bishop William Pinkham declared, was “less than what Winnipeg scavengers” earned.
It’s doubtful that the workload for ministers like St. Luke’s Rector Noel Wygiera has diminished much in the past century, and their pay is barely more than a living wage.
No true Christian gets involved in a church for a soft life or financial riches.
The rewards come in ways that are harder to measure.
St. Luke, the apostle for whom Red Deer’s church was named, grew up in the Roman Empire.
He was an artist, historian and physician living in what is now Syria.
He is recognized as the patron saint of artists.
The artistry of preserving historical artifacts, and — more importantly — helping to build enduring communities of faith, goes to the likes of Pastor Wygiera, the St. Luke’s Ladies Group and the entire congregation.
St. Luke’s Anglican Church is at 4929 54th St.
Joe McLaughlin is the retired managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate and a rookie member of Red Deer’s Heritage Preservation Committee. Special thanks for this week’s column go to Michael Dawe, a local historian and secular saint. His writings provided most of the historical facts cited here.