In the face of a significantly diminished congregation and a building that would require $10 million to stabilize, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Brooklyn closed recently, with its final service on June 22. (St. Luke’s Academy, a non-religious based preschool housed in the building will close as of August 31.) Plans are already underway to maintain a ministry presence in the Clinton Hill community while providing remaining St. Luke’s worshippers with the opportunity to be welcomed at other Lutheran churches in neighboring communities.
Bishop Robert Rimbo stated, "The decision to close a congregation is never an easy one. St. Luke’s has been under synod administration since 2006 when its congregation became unable to financially sustain the church. Because our synod believed it was important to maintain a ministry presence in Clinton Hill, the closure of St. Luke’s was delayed for nearly a decade while several attempts were made to try to revitalize the ministry, none of which succeeded. By 2012, membership and worship attendance had drastically diminished, making it impractical for the congregation to fulfill the purposes for which it was organized; and the condition of the buildings continued to deteriorate, making it necessary for the synod to protect the property from further waste and deterioration."
Since the year 2000, the Metropolitan New York Synod provided St. Luke’s with financial support in excess of $1,000,000, much of which was spent on emergency building repairs. In addition, the ELCA has contributed partnership grant monies totaling over $175,000 for the purpose of seeking the means to revitalize the church.
Seeking a new and innovative ministry
In October 2012, representatives from the ELCA and the Metropolitan New York Synod held a formal ministry review at St. Luke’s. The recommendations from the review team included the discontinuation of partnership grant support from the ELCA and the synod, the formation of a mission planning team to determine what type of new and innovative ministry might be possible on this site, and a full assessment of the repair and restoration work necessary to continue ministry in this location.
The review team also recommended that the remaining members of the congregation be allowed to continue as a worshipping community and that St. Luke’s Academy continue as well, until the mission planning team, along with the appointed trustees, completed their work. At its January 2013 meeting, the Synod Council voted to accept the recommendations of the ministry review team.
Synod vice president Maria del Toro explained, "Given the extremely poor condition of both the church and the education buildings, it was important to do a full assessment of repair and restoration costs before our synod could consider engaging a mission developer to start a new ministry at this site. Our synod contracted with a highly respected building conservator and a structural engineering firm to do this assessment. The results of their work indicate that the cost to repair/restore both buildings is approximately $10 million. Given the magnitude of required repairs, our concern for the safety of both the members of St. Luke’s as well as the faculty and children of St. Luke’s Academy and members of the larger community, and the fact that the congregation had so diminished that it could no longer fulfill the purposes of a congregation, it was concluded that both the congregation and St. Luke’s Academy needed to close." At a meeting on March 27, the trustees and Pastor Lamont Wells, Director for Evangelical Mission, met with the leaders at St. Luke's to inform them of this decision.
From grief to repurpose
"Our synod remains committed to maintaining a ministry presence in Clinton Hill. What type of ministry that will be, and where and how that will happen, is yet to be determined," said Bishop Rimbo. "We are actively looking into several possibilities. In keeping with our synod's strategic plan to try and repurpose, where practical, the properties of congregations that have closed, our synod is in conversation regarding various possible scenarios for the St. Luke’s site. To do this will likely take several months. This, of course, does not preclude the possibility that the property may ultimately be sold if repurposing the property is not practical.
"Recognizing that the decision to close is particularly painful for the current members, we ask all to pray for the members of St. Luke’s as they journey through these final days. The grieving for the closing of St. Luke’s extends beyond the current members, to all those who once called St. Luke’s their church home.
"And so we hope that both current and former members, as well as many who live in the community, will be able to celebrate that for almost 145 years the people of St. Luke’s faithfully served God and the Clinton Hill neighborhood. Just as we as individuals have life cycles, so do congregations. But, praise God, we are a resurrection church! Although St. Luke’s will close its doors, the people of St. Luke’s will move on to join other congregations and help bring new life and energy to those ministries. God has plans for each and every one of us and we must remain faithful to our calling. The ministry at the physical place called St. Luke’s Lutheran Church is coming to an end, but because we are a resurrection church, it is an ending that should--and can be--filled with hope," he concluded.