Episcopalians have worshipped in Ypsilanti for nearly two centuries. In the late 1820s missionaries preached to the area’s first settlers and Rev. Silas C. Freeman and Andrew Cornish founded St. James’s Church in 1830. The congregation held services in homes and the village hotel and was one of the six founding parishes of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan.
Despite its pioneering spirit, St. James’s soon faltered, and on February 13, 1837, the church reorganized as St. Luke’s. The new congregation acquired property on North Huron Street and began building a wooden structure for worship a year later. St. Luke’s grew quickly and soon boasted eighty communicants. With growth came the need for a larger, more permanent structure. In June 1858 the present sanctuary was consecrated. Designed by the Detroit firm of Anderson and Jordan, it cost $15,000 to build.
From its inception, St. Luke’s has stood for social justice and equality. African Americans have worshipped in the church since before the Civil War, and women have long been a vital core of the congregation. In 1863 female members organized a Parish Aid Society which funded missions well into the twentieth century .
For over a century the church has enjoyed a close relationship with Eastern Michigan University. Native American leader Andrew Blackbird worshipped at St. Luke’s when a student. In the 1880s university president John Mayhelm Barry Sill ministered to the congregation, donating the communion table that is still used to this day.
World War II brought new members and missions to St. Luke’s as the Willow Run Plant remade Ypsilanti into an industrial center. As the congregation grew, the church added the Church House in 1928 and the Parish House in 1955 which provided classrooms, kitchen, and theater. The current organ was installed in the 1940s, as were the stained glass windows, one of which commemorated the sacrifices of the congregation’s veterans.
The unrest of the 1960s and Ypsilanti’s deindustrialization presented new challenges for the congregation, but St. Luke’s has remained a vital house of worship. The church now welcomes an increasingly diverse population and, in 2001, appointed its first female rector. The mission work of the church has also expanded and now includes the EMU Campus Ministry and Ypsilanti Youth Theatre.
Sincere thanks to those that have written the more detailed portions of St. Luke’s History, including:
- Valerie Kabat, primary author
- Tom Dodd
- Luther B. Moore, Where the Saints Have Trod
- Marcia McCrary
- Gerry Pety
- Jasper Pennington
- And at least one unknown historian