By Mary Robbins, Archivist
In our last article we told of events during the first one hundred years of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Marianna. We told about three church sanctuaries: one of inferior limestone built in 1850 and used until 1859, the second a Gothic style frame building consecrated in May of 1863 only to succumb to fire on September 27, 1864, and the third church, a smaller copy of the second church, finished in the spring of 1879.
The Venerable Mr. Valentine G. Lowery began his service as the rector of St. Luke’s on November 7, 1937. On March 2, 1941 Mr. and Mrs. Lowery and others living near the church were awakened by the crackling sound of burning timbers and looked to see flames bulging out the windows of the third church. It is believed that the fire, on this cold morning, was caused by a malfunction of the heating system. The building and its contents were a total loss. Gone were the 24 beautiful stained glass windows, the hand-carved baptismal font, and the pipe organ. However the bell in the belfry was rescued and is still used today in the tower of the fourth church. (Pix #4 of series: The front door to the basement church where services were held until the fourth church could be finished after World War II.)
The construction of the fourth church was slowed due to World War II. The cherished old bell was hanging in the basement chapel that was being used for services when the official announcement of D-Day reached Marianna at 4:00 a.m. on June 6, 1944. In accordance with a prior agreement of the townspeople, St. Luke’s bell rang out the message and in a short time the church was filled with worshipers. One parishioner, who was struggling to control her own tears of joy, was amused when she noticed another lady who in her haste had put on her dress wrong side out, shoulder pads and all! (Pix #5 of series: St. Luke’s fourth church building circa ????? This date depends on which picture I can send or bring to you.)
The fourth house of worship was finally finished and dedicated on Easter morning, April 6, 1947, by The Right Reverend Frank A. Juhan. It is of Cordova grey brick and conforms to the Gothic lines of its predecessor, even though it is slightly larger. It is built in the same location as the three previous buildings. Notable features include 27 stained glass windows placed by parishioners in memory of or in thanksgiving for loved ones. They were designed by the Payne-Spiers Studios in Patterson, New Jersey, thus having symmetry of design and color not often seen in church buildings. As a “thank you” gift to the community, St. Luke’s Church purchased the circular window placed high in the west wall “to commemorate assistance given in the construction of the church by persons outside the church.”
In 1998 an additional stained glass transom window was placed over the north entrance door in memory of Bettie Russ Dickerson Dekle. The inspiration for the window came from a parlor window in the Russ House, home to members of this prominent St. Luke’s family for 100 years. This window as well as three small windows in the north doors of the church and a transom window over the sacristy door were built by local stained glass artisans, Ashley and Yoshiko Hill. Maria Therrien Johnson, local artist and St. Luke’s parishioner, was involved with designing the small windows and the transom window over the sacristy door.
The magnificent A. David Moore tracker pipe organ, a gift from Mrs. Robert L. (Violet) McLendon, has been treasured by St. Luke’s parishioners since 1982. The organ was built in North Pomfret, Vermont. The casework is oiled butternut. The keydesk and bench are cherry and the frontal pipes hammered lead alloy. Ann Fisk’s hand carvings on the front of the case incorporate Florida animals of land and sea. The keyboards, made by Byron Cole, are from white pine taken from collected wooden organ pipes over a century old.
Many of Marianna’s early settlers are buried around the church in the churchyard (cemetery.) The first graves in the churchyard were those of the young children of Thomas and Martha Jane White buried in 1845 and 1849. Caroline Frances Myrick Gorrie and John Myrick Gorrie, the wife and son of Dr. John Gorrie, inventor of artificial ice and thus the father of refrigeration and air conditioning, are buried in St. Luke’s churchyard in the Myrick plot. Littleton Myrick, burned to death inside St. Luke’s on Sept. 27, 1864, rests there, too. John Milton, Florida’s Confederate Governor, was buried in St. Luke’s churchyard in April 1865. (The Milton family moved the governor’s parents and first wife from Jefferson County, Georgia to St. Luke’s in 1927.) U.S. Senator William Hall Milton is also at rest in St. Luke’s Churchyard. Caroline Lee Hentz, a nationally known novelist, and her husband, Nickolas Marcellus Hentz, were laid to rest there in 1856. The couple established several schools across the southeastern United States before retiring to Marianna, the home of their sons, Charles and Thaddeus Hentz.
It is the parishioners and clergy who make the history of a church, not the building, and to quote Parson Bill Breyfogle, “St. Luke’s has been a small group of friends and neighbors who have been proud, devoted, faithful, and determined. Proud to be bearers of the Episcopal faith, devoted to promulgating that faith in this area of His vineyard, faithful in good times and bad, and determined to show forth the Christian Faith…” for 175 years. (Pix #6:
The circular “friendship” window is high in the west wall.) The circular “friendship” window that was placed high on the west wall of the church, in thanksgiving for help from the community in rebuilding St. Luke’s fourth building, shows outstretched hands clasped over a golden cross. The image is perhaps also symbolic of St. Luke’s community outreach today.
In 2005 St. Luke’s parishioners instituted a well attended Sunday afternoon fine arts series that brings outstanding internationally known performers to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church four times a year for the enjoyment of the entire community.
The St. Luke’s “Food Pantry” is open every Tuesday and provided food for 1,221 families (2,592 people) in 2012. “Sunday Meals from St. Luke’s” delivers home cooked meals to shut-ins in the community every Sunday.
St. Luke’s has been involved in a prison ministry for many years. In 2012 the Prison Visitation & Support ministry’s monthly visits served 534 men and women. The Rev. Norman Bray also celebrated Holy Eucharist with prisoners once a month. Parishioners gave monthly support to the rector’s discretionary fund, thus providing emergency help to non-parishioners.
The St. Luke’s Kiva Ministry helps small businesses in remote areas of the planet that do not have access to traditional banking. Kiva, organized in 2005, is a non-profit organization with a mission to alleviate poverty by connecting online lenders to entrepreneurs around the globe. Money is loaned, repaid, and loaned again. St. Luke’s parishioners have been a part of Kiva for two years.
Through the local chapter of the Society of St. Andrew and America’s Second Harvest of the Big Bend, a member of the Florida Association of Food Banks, St. Luke’s parishioners helped glean 28,000 pounds of cantaloupes, watermelons, squash, tomatoes, and broccoli this past year. In 2012 alone 36,825 pounds of satsumas were hand gleaned before Second Harvest was able to hire professional pickers with semitrailers to retrieve 180,000 pounds of additional fruit to benefit people across the state of Florida. The satsumas would have been used as cow feed or would have just gone to waste without the efforts of Second Harvest, the volunteer gleaners and the farmers in the program.
In 1987 The Right Reverend Charles F. Duvall, Bishop of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, said, “It is obvious that the Church is not the building, for the building has failed and fallen and the Church has not.” He was correct of course. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, one of the oldest churches in Florida, is a testament to the fact that a Church is its people, not a building. The community is invited to join with the parishioners of St. Luke’s to take part in the many activities that are being planned to mark 175 years as a church in Jackson County, Florida. For additional information please see www.stlukesmarianna.org.