Old St. Luke's-San Lucas buildings renewed for outreach in Chelsea

Everything old becoming new again was the refrain of the day as Bishop Alan M. Gates joined the congregation and community of St. Luke's-San Lucas Church in Chelsea on Feb. 21 to celebrate the completion of major building renovations, and to rededicate the refreshed parish hall in memory of the diocese's late bishop, the Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE, who championed the $1.2-million diocesan-funded project.

In his sermon, Gates recalled the stories of hands-on compassion, acceptance and healing in the Gospel of Luke.  He challenged the congregation to continue living up to its church's name. 

"Tell the world in word and deed how it is that you are San Lucas," he said.  He commended the Chelsea rededication Tracy J. Sukraw The Rev. Edgar Gutierrez-Duarte, Vicar, with Bishop Alan M. Gates and former rector, the Rev. Richard Loring, at the rededication ceremony. congregation for its Christian service to others through its food pantry, community meal program, thrift shop and diverse worshiping community. 

"So here we are today with joyous and grateful hearts blessing these renovated facilities," he said.  "And now, wear them out again in service to others and in the name of St. Luke, so one fine day you can fix them up all over again," he said.

Lively music led by the church's youth choir and band marked the morning's bilingual Spanish-English service.

Then it was on to the renovated parish hall, where the church's weekly Saturday community meal was in progress, as was the food pantry and thrift shop--all now housed in reconfigured and expanded space made more attractive and accessible to the people it serves.

Baby carriages stacked with food pantry provisions and winter coats lined the hall, where families and other guests were squeezed in around brightly decorated tables for the midday meal.  Everyone looked on as the vicar, the Rev. Edgar Gutierrez-Duarte, and Gates conducted a brief rededication ceremony and unveiled a new plaque, reading:

"This Parish House Remodeled 2014 A.D. to the Glory of God and in loving memory of the Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE." The new plaque mirrors one nearby commemorating the hall's original construction 100 years ago.

Monica Elias and Shaina Omo, young adult leaders at St. Luke's-San Lucas, led tours of the Chelsea rededication pantry Tracy J. Sukraw The Rev. Canon Edie Dolnikowski gets a tour of the new food pantry, led by volunteers Shaina Omo and Monica Elias. refurbished facilities.  Both sing in the choir and volunteer at the food pantry.  They pointed out how the new space makes it possible for clients to choose what they need from neatly stocked shelves.  Prior to the renovations, clients received pre-bagged food handed out from a table in a cramped hall.

The pantry serves 800 families a month, they said.  "It's eye-opening, the number of people who come to our community to get food," Elias said.

St. Luke's-San Lucas Church is a site for the diocesan-supported B-SAFE summer program for children, and year-round, since Gutierrez-Duarte arrived in 2007, the church had been operating its outreach ministries, alongside regular church and Sunday school activities, in an outgrown configuration of aging buildings that were well-loved but worse for wear.

"Our physical structure was failing, whereas our outreach and our worship life were thriving," Gutierrez-Duarte said in an interview late last year as the renovations were wrapping up.

St. Luke's-San Lucas is a mission supported by the diocese.  The Diocesan Council voted in March 2013 to designate a $1.2-million grant for the renovations from the proceeds from the sale of closed churches.

During the seven months of building work, the thrift shop temporarily closed, but the meal and food pantry continued to operate--with volunteers sorting and distributing 3,000 pounds of food a week from the pews of the church's sanctuary. 

The new parish hall and kitchen re-opened at Thanksgiving time.

--Tracy J. Sukraw

Read more about the Chelsea renovation project here.