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St. Luke's United Methodist church

St. Luke's Church
St. Luke's Church

Photograph taken by Hirsh

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St. Luke's Church - Front Facade
St. Luke's Church - Front Facade

Photograph taken by Hirsh

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St. Luke's Church
St. Luke's Church

Photograph taken by Hirsh

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St. Luke's - Audio
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St. Luke's Church is on the National Register of Historic Places - appropriate recognition for this beautiful building that remains much like it was when built in 1824. Located about 25 minutes from Old Town, this charming church illustrates Georgian and Greek Revival building styles for architecture buffs, and simple, elegant beauty for all those who appreciate artistry in design.  This attractive church also tells a story of its time - a time when different worshippers entered through different doors, or sat in different sections lf a House of God,  There's also a cemetery and a graveyard you can visit to walk through time tracing planter families back over 200 years.  Although used interchangeably, "cemetery" and "graveyard" are not the same,  Both are burial places, but graveyard is the older of the two terms and describes a burial ground adjoining a church.  It dates back to the 7th century.  St. Luke's is a perfect example of a true graveyard, and an enlightening example of religious custom in the antebellum South. 

Welcome to St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. This handsome white church, built in the early 1800’s, was originally an Episcopal church.  It is among the oldest surviving frame churches in South Carolina. And it’s roots go back even earlier...

In the early 1700’s, Anglican settlers in a vast area of southeastern South Carolina, including all of what is now Beaufort County, worshipped at the Parish Church of St. Helena in the town of Beaufort, about a half hour’s drive north of here.  At the time, attending services required an arduous trip overland and across the Broad River.  As the number of planter families living south of Beaufort grew, so did complaints about the difficulty of traveling all the way to St. Helena’s to worship every Sunday.  In response, a new parish – St. Luke’s – was carved out of St. Helena Parish.

 

A small chapel was built in 1786 about a half-mile south of here on Bull Hill plantation.  After providing services for about 30 years, the original St. Luke’s parish church fell into disrepair and is thought to have burned down. Its replacement, the church you see before you, was built in 1824 on land donated by John Guerard, a wealthy planter.

If you were a Lowcountry planter in the 1800’s, you were most likely Episcopalian, and church was central to your life.  If you lived here, between Bluffton and Beaufort, St. Luke’s Parish Church was where you worshiped. One look at the pews during Sunday services would tell an observer of your era all about the social hierarchy of your congregation. The wealthiest and most influential planters and their families sat in the front pews, closest to the pulpit. Less prosperous families would be behind them, with the poorest parishioners all the way in the back. If you were a house slave allowed to attend services with your owner’s family, you entered by the side doors –not the front door– and climbed the nearly vertical steps to the slave gallery above the back of the church.

By the mid-1800’s, the population was increasing in and around the growing village of Bluffton, as many planters and their families spent April through October in the village to escape the summer’s heat and mosquito-borne diseases.  To accommodate this population shift, parish leaders built a new church downtown at the end of Calhoun Street, overlooking the May River. This was the Church of the Cross, which still stands today. 

After the Church of the Cross was completed in 1857, records show that formal services were no longer held at St. Luke’s.  The next decade brought the upheaval of the Civil War, and most planters fled the area. By the late 1860’s, St. Luke’s was rarely used. 

In 1875, Episcopal leaders decided to sell St. Luke’s Church to a newly formed congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  The price?  Two hundred dollars.  Since then, Methodist services have been held here continuously for more than 100 years. St. Luke’s United Methodist Church remains an active and thriving church that is very proud of its history and its important cultural and religious contribution to Bluffton and the Lowcountry.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the church you see now is much the same as it was in 1824.  It is architecturally significant, showing the transition between the Georgian style typical of early South Carolina Episcopal churches and a developing Greek Revival style. The two entrances on either side of the simple but well-proportioned portico are surmounted by fanlights, as are the windows along the sides of the church.  

The main pews are enclosed with doors providing access from the side aisles. Sit in the pews and you will feel how they were designed to keep parishioners upright and alert during services. Up the steep and narrow stairway in back, the balcony that was once the slave gallery remains. Today, the balcony has comfortable chairs for those willing to make the climb.  Behind the church, on both sides, is a graveyard with over 400 headstones, some dating back to the early 1800’s.  St. Luke’s Church welcomes you to view the cemetery if you wish.  Please be respectful if you choose to explore it.