When Reverend Richard Davies sits in the pews of Old St. Luke’s Church in Scott Township, he can feel the history.
Davies said he can feel the weight of the church’s significance, and has a strong desire to share its importance with others.
“I’m incurably connected to it,” he said. “It’s infectious.”
Davies has been the pastor of Old St. Luke’s for nearly 30 years. He first became involved in the late 1970s, when a group came together to restore the church after it sat empty for 45 years.
In 1983 he became the Reverend, and said he thinks it would be difficult to find a better place for either worship or history. He’s not the only one who thinks so.
Bob Carlson, one of the volunteers who helps run the church, said he shares Davies’s connection with the site.
“As board members, I think we’re all influenced to varying degrees to keep this going,” Carlson said. “It’s a more historical place than most in the area.”
Old St. Luke’s is the first Episcopal church to be built in the area—the current structure was built in 1852—and it's one of the oldest churches in the Pittsburgh area, Carlson said.
There are many historical features of the church, including a pipe organ built and purchased from England in 1823, and the Old St. Luke's Cemetery, which is the resting place of several notable individuals from Western Pennsylvania.
However, the church itself is a marker of local history, being located at the site of the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791. Davies said Old St. Luke’s was General John Neville’s home church, and it is believed that Neville hid in the building during part of the Rebellion.
It wasn’t always easy to teach that history, Davies said, and it’s still not always easy to make the public aware of the church’s historical significance.
Davies has written a book, and several articles about the church. Those documents, as well as historic photos, are available in the church's online archives.
The church has not had an active congregation since 1930, but a group of dedicated volunteers maintains the building, and leads tours of the grounds when the site is open to the public.
In the past, the church has worked with the Chartiers Valley School District to help students put on plays detailing the events of the Whiskey Rebellion on the grounds.
But many of the current volunteers are in their 60s or older, and it's tough for all volunteer organizations to find help these days, Davies said. As a consecrated Episcopal church, there must be a priest in charge, but even Davies is a volunteer.
“You have to ask, ‘Can you be creative and do something in the community?’ I’ve looked for that within my own ministry,” Davies said. “The challenge here is, what can I do to draw people in? The key is that history. I have to be creative in teaching the history.”
The church’s main source of income is rentals for wedding ceremonies, and it is not rented for any other purpose. As a structure that puts religion and worship first, it holds several services a year, some in conjunction with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon.
Services are held on Easter at sunrise, at Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Worship is not taken lightly, and it's not taken for granted, Carlson said. With the church’s history, it helps keep Old St. Luke’s strong.
“I’m sure there are more contemporary churches that wish they had this history to draw on,” Carlson said. “For us, it’s a gem to have this history.”
Old St. Luke’s is open to the public every Sunday from Memorial Day through Labor Day from 1:30 to 4 p.m. More information about the church can be found on the Old St. Luke’s website.