The History of St. Luke’s of Summerville
Summerville is a town that dates back to around 1800. It began as a summer resort for rice plantation owners and their families, who feared malaria in Charleston and built homes in this town full of pine trees. Over time, there were many who established permanent residences there, and the town was established in 1849. In 1889, at a world Tuberculosis congress in Paris, specialists in respiratory disease named Summerville as one of the two best resort areas in the world for the cure of lung and throat disorders.
About that same time, a group of nine pastors and their families from Charleston started a new Sunday School in the town school house in Summerville to provide a place to study and worship away from their home churches in Charleston. It was meant to be a “preaching station” for Sunday School with occasional monthly and semi-monthly preaching. This preaching station became the foundation of “Summerville Lutheran Church.” The first meeting for organizing a congregation was held on May 29, 1892.
To vote and to hold office in the church organization as it was constituted by the founders, one had to pay an annual fee of $8. In August of 1892, J. J. Borger (President); Edward G. Voigt (Secretary and Treasurer); and Claus H. Meyer and H. J. W. Groverman, (Vestry Members) as well as H. F. Behlmer met with the Berkeley County Clerk of Court. The name, location, and purpose were met, and said corporation had been duly organized according to the Laws of South Carolina under the name of “St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Summerville.” This was dated August 13, 1892 and signed by B. S. Porcher Smith. A lot for $500 was purchased from Judge Pressley.
The Charter was accepted by the congregation on August 25, 1892, which has been celebrated ever since as the birthday of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. Pastor William Albert Christian Mueller delivered an address in German. Dr. Louis Mueller offered a touching prayer in English and Dr. Robert Christian Holland delivered an address in English. Hymns were sung during the intermission, and after the service, the members were entertained at the home of President J. J. Borger.
The members of the church, although few in number, were very active and energetic and soon made plans for a building in which to worship. Arrangements were made to borrow money with which to build a church. In January 1893, the laying of the cornerstone of the church took place. The original membership was composed mainly of members of the Lutheran churches of Charleston who had moved to Summerville. A meeting of the congregation was held on May 1, 1893, for the purpose of adopting a Constitution, Rules, and Bylaws for the government of said corporation and for authorizing a loan on the Real Estate, not exceeding $1000. On May 14,1893, a service of Dedication took place. Reverend Robert Christian Holland, D.D. of St. Andrew’s Church in Charleston preached the sermon. He was assisted by Reverend Dr. Louis Mueller and Reverend William A. C. Mueller, past and current pastors of St. Matthew’s Church in Charleston.
St. Luke’s became constitutionally affiliated with the South Carolina Synod on October 21, 1915. They would become part of the United Lutheran Church in America when it formed in 1918 in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The mortgage was paid in full on July 15, 1915. About this same time, a new tin roof was placed on the church. Reverend Bernard Repass pastored St. Luke’s along with St. Barnabas Church in Charleston, and the Lutheran Church in Mount Pleasant from 1913-1916. St. Luke’s first full time pastor was Reverend Walter Allen Reiser, who began to serve on June 1, 1917.
A special service of dedication was held on September 19, 1920 for ten fine art stained glass windows that you can see now in the chapel. Nine of these were memorials. The windows were purchased from and installed by F. J. Cooledge & Sons of Atlanta, Georgia. One cost $1,365. The others ranged from $175 to $40. The sermon was preached by Reverend Andrew Jackson Bowers, who was pastor of the congregation at the time. His text was taken from Mark 11:17: “My house shall be called a house of prayer.”
Since the early days of St. Luke’s history, the Ladies’ Aid Society was organized to assist in caring for the church. Mrs. Annie Voigt was the first president. She was followed by Caroline Cordes, who served for 25 years, and then Mrs. H. H. Jessen, Sr, who would continue as president until 1950. In addition to the Ladies’ Aid Society, the ladies at St. Luke’s also organized a Women’s Missionary Society, whose primary interest centered in a study of and support for home and foreign missions in 1920. Years later, The Ladies’ Aid Society and Women’s Missionary Scoiety would merge into one and became the Lutheran Church Women. Today, the women at St. Luke’s continue to be involved in various service projects and ministries at the church. They are known as the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and they have 3 different women’s circles (The Evelyn Segelken Circle, the Grace Circle, and the Tuesday Evening Circle), who all meet once a month.
In addition to the women’s groups at St. Luke’s, in 1915 The Luther League was organized for the youth and young married couples. They participated in various service projects around the church including The March of Dimes and The Heart Fund. They also made palm crosses for Palm Sunday and a cross for Easter Sunday. At first, leaguers met in their homes until W. F. Jordan volunteered the use of the hall over this grocery store on Central Avenue.
During the summer of 1920, the congregation was supplied by Mr. Paul M. Counts, a theological student. At that time, St. Luke’s small congregation, consisting of 60 members, was asked to contribute to for Newberry (a Lutheran college for young men) and Summerland (a Lutheran college for young women). At first it was felt that a mistake had been made, but when informed that the figure was correct, the few members not only raised the sum but exceeded it! Of the amount, the Sunday School contributed $700, and the Ladies’ Aid gave $300. The Ladies’ Aid Society also sponsored Sauerbraten Suppers. Funds from these suppers were used to purchase paraments and vestments. They were a church of cheerful givers, and over the generations, they would continue to give toward establishing a Fund for Newberry College and for the sake of education.
The Brotherhood of St. Luke’s was organized in October of 1921 during the pastorate of Rev. George W. Nelson. For several years, the third Sunday of October was known as Brotherhood Sunday, and two members conducted the service with an all-male choir. During the serious illneses of Pastor Nelson, the brotherhood kept the church open, as two members each Sunday conducted the service. To this day, the men of St. Luke’s, who gather regularly for Monday Bible Study and Wednesday Breakfasts, continue to give their all to the church. They care for the elderly members and also take time to drive those in the congregation who cannot make it to church, to work, and to doctors’ visits.
In May of 1922, a parsonage was purchased on the corner of Main and 2nd South Street for $4,500. By that time, the membership at St. Luke’s had grown from 60 to 89. The Ladies’ Aid Society and The Lutheran Brotherhood were both strong arms in the financial support of the congregation, helping to pay off their indebtedness. The Brotherhood sponsored shows and carnivals, and money raised was given to help with payments for the parsonage. By 1928, Luke’s first Sunday School building was erected, measuring 1200 square feet, and the cost was $1,200. A library was added in 1929, which was a memorial to Fred N. Kornahrens given by Mrs. Ida A. W. Meier. In the same year, the congregation subscribed $843 to the Endowment Fund of Newberry College.
Over the yeras, the Lutheran Brotherhood not only contributed to the costs of the parsonage, but they also particiated to a large extent in paying for a Moller pipe organ in 1931, which was purchased and installed at a cost of $2,400. Chimes were added in 1941 as a gift from Mrs. C. J. Wagner. And on September 27, 1936, a rededication service was held, as various gifts were given to the church, including pews, pew screens, and an altar by Mrs. C. J. Wagner; a brass lectern in honor of Fredericke Bischoff; a pulpit in memory of Mr. Henrich Weber, Sr., and a brass altar missal stand in honor of Mrs. Julia B. Bischoff. The sheet rocking and painting were donated by Mr. and Mrs. Gus Mandi; two hymn boards were given by Mr. Dick Fechtmann, and a new carpet purchased for $625 by the congregation was also dedicated to the glory of God. The families of the church all pitched in and gave what they had so that St. Luke’s could flourish.
They also prayed for and upheld one another when times were tough in May to September of 1939, when their weekly Sunday School classes were interrupted in response to the Polio epidemic. Yet even in that time of fear, hope was still on the horizon! On May 7, 1939, the Alston property was purchased for $2,000, which would become the location for a new $16000 parsonage to be built for their pastors. In 1940, a Holland furnace was furnace was installed in the church to keep everyone warm throughout the cold months.
As the church continued to grow in number, a major addition to the campus was begun in 1952, when a new Parish Hall was erected to replace the original Sunday School building that had been built in 1928. (That original Sunday School building had been partially wrecked by a hurricane in 1940, and other property that the church aquired from Dr. Alston had been converted into classrooms.) Mrs. E. F. A. Wieters donated memorial windows in the auditorium of the new Parish Hall, which continue to brighten the lives of preschoolers who play and learn beside them in our Children’s Center to this day. At the dedication service, a copy of Pastor J. Kenneth Webb’s sermon from October 19, 1952 was placed into the cornerstone of this new building. The mortgage, which was $55,000 including furnishings, was fully paid off and burned on November 9, 1957. By that time, there were 150 members.
And the believers at St. Luke’s continued to grow in number. By June of 1963, the property adjacent to the church was purchased for a much needed parking lot. 1970, St. Luke’s Baptized membership had grown to 460, and the Confirmed in good standing membership was 312. During 1971-1972, plans were drawn, and construction begun on a Fellowship Hall built by Lucas & Stubbs Architect Firm. In September 1971, the groundbreaking ceremonies were held, and by the end of the year, the foundation and concrete floors had been completed. The new building was finished in 1972, and Pastor Teddy Parker Dominick noted, “1972 marks the 80th year that St. Luke’s has held high her cross in the Summerville community. It has indeed been a remarkable year. God has blessed us in many ways. He has provided consecrated leadership in all phases of our congregational life. He has led us through a building program that is enabling us to serve Him in a more efficient manner. He has inspired and motivated us to a deeper and richer life of service in His kingdom.”
Indeed, service in God’s kingdom is exactly what the people of St. Luke’s would continue to do! This congregation, which originally began in a school house, continued to be a place where education was of high value. In 1973, a Kindergarten program was started with one class each for four and five year old children. Six years later, classes for three year old children were added. A Mother’s Day Out program for three days a week was also organized in 1977. The Full Day Care Center, known today as St. Luke’s Children’s Center, was established in 1982. It is now housed in the Parish Building and Education Building on St. Luke’s campus, and the school continues to be highly popular in the Summerville community.
Historically, the congregation of St. Luke’s was known in the community not only for their heart for education, but for their open arms to those in need. As a church that began as German immigrants back in the 1800s, they also wanted to help other immigrants. After the Vietnam War in 1975, when President Gerald Ford and Congress authorized the evacuation and resettlement of approximately 140,000 refugees from South Vietnam and Cambodia as they fled torture from the North Vietnamese, St. Luke’s stepped up and sponsored a Vietnamese family, providing housing and other assistance when they arrived in Charleston on October 7, 1975. The church would take on this same opportunity again years later when a family of refugees from Iraq arrived on January 19, 2017 and then again when a family of refugees from Afghanistan arrived on October 22, 2021.
In mid-1983, a building committee was appointed to study the congregation’s need for a larger sanctuary, as they continued to rapidly grow in size to over 900 dedicated Christians, eager to serve the Lord. A capital fund drive was held, raising almost $400,000 in cash and pledges over a three year period. An architect was hired, plans drawn, and ground was broken for the new sanctuary on Sunday, February 8, 1987. Construction began the next morning. The new sanctuary was designed by Michael Kohn, who was a member of Zion Lutheran Church in Lexington, SC. The style is a contemporary carpenter gothic, and it includes a free-standing altar with a communion rail as well as a suspended wooden cross above it. The sanctuary has a 450 seating capacity as well as a 90-foot bell tower. There are 13 stained glass windows, which were custom designed by Jim Piercey Studios of Orlando, Florida. The 9 windows in the Nave reflect the life of Christ according to Luke writing the Gospel. The altar window is the ascending Christ. Below the window is carved a matching reredos, depicting the disciples looking up at the ascending Christ in the window above. Three peak windows in the Narthex reflect the life of the church according to Luke’s Acts. The 4th is a reflection of the Reformation. The original 1931 Moller organ was moved into the new worship space. This new sanctuary was dedicated to the glory of God on December 13, 1987, and the service was led by Pastor Leon A. Rawl and Associate Pastor Barry J. Harte, along with South Carolina Synod Bishops Herman W. Cauble and Bishop James S. Aull.
In 1989, Hurricane Hugo caused damage to the Fellowship Hall, destroying the nursery and part of the roof. The Hall became a site for the Red Cross. Donations of food, money, clothing, and other supplies came in from many states. Several months later, as they recalled the Golden Rule, some members journeyed to the Virgin Islands to help with much needed repairs, just as others had once helped them.
The 1990s saw continued growth at St. Luke’s with great new ministries for the community. In a letter to the congregation, Pastor Leon Rawl wrote, “As a rapidly growing church, we desperately need to provide more space for children and adults for Sunday School classes. Presently we are using EVERY available space on Sunday mornings. We have classes meeting in the kitchen, in the foyer, even in our secretary’s office. In fact, after the 8:30 service on Sunday mornings, your pastors can’t even get into their offices without having to walk through a Sunday School class!” It was obvious that a new Education Building was greatly needed.
The new Education building was dedicated for use in January 1993. After its completion, it became the primary home for several outreach ministries of St. Luke’s.
One such ministry began in January of 1996, and it was called “The ARK,” (Adult Respite Care). The ARK was a program to provide support services to families struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia, and other forms of memory loss. Over the years, this much-needed ministry has grown and expanded to a new building in Summerville and has become a model for programs such as this throughout the state. In August of 1999, The ARK held it’s very first 5K Race for the ARK and continues to hold it to this day on the final weekend of August (close to the August 25th birthday of St. Luke’s congregation). The race begins and ends West 2nd South Street, and winds through historic downtown Summerville. The ARK also began other fundraising efforts, including a second race in the winter time, also held at St. Luke’s, called the Ugly Sweater Dash. Through people’s generous donations, the ARK continues to bless the lives of people in our church and community.
Another popular ministry that St. Luke’s was known for in the community was Turner Ministries, begun by the Benson Family. This ministry served as a regular support group and source of education, hospital visits, and an annual memorial service for families who had suffered miscarriages, stillbirths, and the loss of infants to SIDS and other causes. In addition to this important ministry, St. Luke’s Congrgation members were often out and about serving in the community as they helped to prepare and serve meals with Meals on Wheels of Summerville, or they collected baskets of food each Sunday for Dorchester Interfaith Outreach Ministrries. St. Luke’s worked together with Habitat for Humanity on it’s first house in the Summerville area in the Fall of 1994 and continues to build homes on Faith Build Fridays even now.
Not only that, but continuing in St. Luke’s passion for education, the Wilmarth Scholarship Fund was established in the 1990’s by Marjorie Jessen Wilmarth, a school teacher in Dorchester District 2, who was a graduate of Summerville High School and Newberry College. Mrs. Wilmarth’s Scholarship was created to fund education for Lutheran students. Since its inception, it has awarded 80 scholarships to members of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church to assist with the ever-increasing costs of higher education. Congregation members continue to give toward this fund yearly to help students every year.
Marjorie is only one of many faithful women at St. Luke’s who have gone above and beyond in their leadership and service to St. Luke’s Lutheran Church and community. And women at St. Luke’s are even celebrated as leaders in the pulpit and at the altar! In 2003, St. Luke’s called their very first female Associate Pastor, the Reverend Susan J. Briner, and she became the Senior Pastor in 2007.
St. Luke’s has always experienced the surprise of God’s grace in their midst. On Palm Sunday in 2012, a parishioner donated $40,000 to the Organ Fund. The following Wednesday, a phone call was made, and a Schantz organ was found in Macon, Georgia. The organ was installed over the summer without having to borrow a cent. A beautiful organ recital was rendered by our Director of Music, Jason Bazzle, and the new organ was dedicated at our 120th Anniversary celebration on August 26, 2012.
In the summer of 2018, St. Luke’s built a Blessing Box that matches the design of their campus, and set it up in the church yard to provide canned goods and packaged foods to people in need in the town. This blessing box stands in addition to the Human Needs Network and the Benefits Bank, which St. Luke’s started some years prior to provide financial assistance to families who are unable to pay their electric bills. In their help of those who are hurting in the world, St. Luke’s considers that we are helping Christ.
During the Covid 19 Pandemic of 2020, St. Luke’s was blessed with the opportunity to purchase an Allen organ console that not only offered more varieties of sounds and gave us a better functioning console, but married with our existing pipes perfectly.
On May 9, 2021, a deconsecration service was held over the the building that had served as St. Luke’s Fellowship Hall for 49 years. Then on July 21, 2021 the Fellowship Hall was torn down to make room for a new Family Life Center. The congregation watched with grief for the many years of ministry that our Fellowship Hall represented to our congregation, but also with hope-filled wonder, looking forward to the generations of disciples whose faith will be formed on this holy ground. In August 29, 2021, they broke ground on a new Family Life Center, asking God’s blessing upon that holy space. And on November 20, 2022, the congregation processed after worship out into the church yard and with prayers and songs dedicated Family Life Center to the glory of God.
To read more about the dreams that led us to our most recent building project, check out Dreams for The Future
To learn more about the history of St. Luke’s in Summerville, SC, check out Celebrating 125 Years of Fellowship
Full-Time Pastors who have served St. Luke’s
Walter Allen Reiser, 1917-18
*George W. Nelson, 1921-26
Paul G. McCullough, 1927-28 and 1963-64
Voigt R. Cromer, 1929-1930
Waldemear H. Lefstead, 1931-50
J. Kenneth Webb, 1950-58
Dermon A. Sox Sr., 1959-63
T. Parker Dominick Jr., 1965-74
Hartmut Fege, 1975-82
Leon A. Rawl, 1983-94
Barry J. Harte, 1986-90
James P. Blalock, 1993-2006
Susan J. Briner, 2003-2012
Kara J. Stewart, 2008-2009
Stephen N. Troisi, 2009-2012
Andrea L. Rice, 2014 to present
Nathan J. Rice, 2014 to present
* During the years 1919-1920, St. Luke’s was under the guidance of Rev. Andrew Jackson Bowers and Mr. P. M. Counts, who was a Theological student from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.
St. Luke’s has also served as an internship site for more than 30 seminary students.