St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and Greater St. Luke Baptist Church share more than a name.
The predominantly white St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Goodwood Boulevard and the predominantly black Greater St. Luke Baptist Church on North 23rd Street share "a partnership of the heart," said Greater St. Luke member Tonya Robertson, whose friendship with the Rev. Bryan Owen, rector at St. Luke's Episcopal, helped forge a relationship between the churches.
“Through our example, we hope that other faith communities will reach out and help change our community two congregations or two friends at a time," said Robertson, also a secretary at Greater St. Luke and the executive director of the Young Leaders' Academy of Baton Rouge. "(Our churches) share a name and a heartbeat to make a positive difference in the world around us, and I'm excited, encouraged and empowered by all the good that has come and will come from our partnership of the heart.”
The churches will partner in an evensong service at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, at St. Luke Episcopal, 8833 Goodwood Blvd. The service will bring together the churches' leaders, choirs and congregations for an evening of music, hymns, prayers, Scripture readings and fellowship.
"For me and the congregation I serve, this is a wonderful opportunity to come together as brothers and sisters in Christ to worship and deepen relationships," said Owen, who has been the rector of St. Luke's Episcopal since 2013. "There's also a desire to see how the Holy Spirit may be calling us to work together to serve the needy and make a difference in our community in Christ's name. The possibilities for shared mission and ministry are exciting."
Owen said the evensong goes back to the Middle Ages. Evensong, he said, has been a name used for vespers (from the Latin "vesperis" meaning "evening").
"It's a beautiful way to worship at the close of the day," he said.
"Really, it's a praise song to God for how good he has been to us," Robertson said.
Robertson said the choirs will sing some hymns familiar to both congregations such as "Amazing Grace," "Precious Lord" and "Near the Cross."
"When they sent a list of songs that we could do together, all the songs on there we knew," Robertson said. "We may sing them differently. We may put our own spin."
Owen said the path to a relationship between St. Luke's Episcopal and Greater St. Luke really started between St. Luke's Episcopal School and Robertson's Young Leaders' Academy. Robertson said the school has hosted Young Leaders Academy summer camps for 11 years. The academy helps to nurture the development of leadership abilities of young African-American males.
"It's been an easy friendship because of the easy friendship that Bryan and I have," Robertson said. "Their church and their school have been absolutely wonderful."
Robertson said the churches have worked together on several community projects, most notably during the 2016 flood.
"That's when it really came together, trying to reach the needs of the people in the community who had been impacted by that flood," Robertson said. "That was really unifying, and that was just awesome."
The churches worshipped earlier this summer when Greater St. Luke invited St. Luke's Episcopal to its 94th church anniversary service.
Owen, 49, said his church reciprocated by inviting Greater St. Luke Baptist to St. Luke's Episcopal for a worship service and reception.
”The members of our respective St. Luke's congregations are looking forward to deepening our friendships in Christ as we gather for evensong worship and fellowship. I am particularly excited by the possibilities for spiritual renewal and mission that may emerge as we work together to serve God and our community," Owen said.
Robertson, 47, said the evensong shows a sign of unity badly needed during these times.
"Honestly, when people say we're more alike than we're different, we really are. But we concentrate on the differences," she said. "If we're going to say we're all God's children, we really must try to be brothers and sisters."
People just have to make the effort to get to know each other, Robertson said.
"That requires time," she said. "We have to make those investments. I see these two churches as putting in the work that's going to build and sustain relationships. This is the start of something wonderful."
Another day, another blessing
“Don’t give up.” Every now and then, we need to hear that, even as believers.
Some storms will come. The enemy doesn’t want us happy, healthy and serving God and others. Don’t give up. Keep pressing every moment of every day.
Remember what the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:13-14: "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press ontoward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Tyler Perry recently spoke at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston. Perry faced a lot of obstacles, including molestation, as a child growing up in New Orleans and even into the start of his career, but he never gave up, never stopped dreaming, never stopped believing in God.
I was blessed by his encouraging word: “I’m telling you that right now: Don’t give up. That is God pushing you. … I’ve never stopped, and I’m so glad because there were so many people’s lives that were tied up into my destiny. Had I not done what I was supposed to do, I don’t know where their lives would be. There are people whose lives are tied up in your destiny. You’ve got to go. You’ve got to do it, not just for you but for them.”
Life can hit at us pretty hard, but don’t give up. Remember your life isn’t all about you. So many other people — your children, grandchildren, parents, friends, spouses — love you and can’t imagine life without you. So many people are depending on you for encouragement, support and love. Show them Jesus. That’s another reason you can’t give up. If we can press, God will give up the push to make it through any and all situations. There’ll be some joy on this side, but one day a prize waiting on the other side.