top of page

From Faith to Faith: A History of St. Luke's

     The story of St. Luke’s Church, Blue Ridge, can be summed up in four words: “From faith to faith,” faith here being the faithfulness of God. One act has followed another over a span of five decades. The only response from those who saw and experienced it can be, Soli Deo Gloria.

Humble Beginnings

     The first service of what became St. Luke’s Church was held on Whitsunday (Pentecost), June 7, 1987. On that Sunday, Victor Morgan read Morning Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer and preached in the community room of the Blue Ridge City Hall. The building which now houses the youth department of First Baptist Church is located at the corner of East First and Church Street. A brass ensemble from Fannin County High School accompanied the hymns.  Members of the ensemble were Scott Chancey, Tim Higdon, Vince Mull and Hank Zachary.


      Those who signed the register that day included: Preble and Isabel Staver; Judy (Mrs. George) Rose; Rudy Burghult; Art and Ardel Perryman and daughter Jana Perryman; Mike, Sophia, Jason and Dylan Copello; and June Groche.

     Prior to the service, an altar was created by draping a linen tablecloth belonging to Mrs. Staver over the judge’s bench (the community room was also used as a courtroom). On it was placed a wooden cross and candlesticks donated by Frank and Flo Henderson, founders of a Lutheran congregation which had previously met in the city hall. Lessons were read from a lectern borrowed from the First Baptist Church.


How Mr. Morgan came to be in Blue Ridge and his part in the startup of the new congregation is an important part of the story. Here is what he remembers:


“I recently had finished theological training and was awaiting ordination. While visiting my mother who had relocated from Jackson, Mississippi, to the Wehutty community in Western North Carolina, I accompanied her to Blue Ridge where she attended an aerobic dance class one day a week. While she was exercising, I went into the Depot Deli, located in the Blue Ridge train station, for a cup of coffee. From the proprietor, Ardel Perryman, I learned that there was a group of Episcopalians in the area who were interested in services. I suggested a meeting be set up to discuss possibilities.


“I, of course, attended this meeting, and among those I met were Preble and Isabel Staver who would go on to be the ‘founding father and mother’ of the new congregation. Following this initial meeting, a date was chosen for an inaugural service and a location. To get the word out, I placed ads in the two local newspapers and placed flyers on the windows of downtown shops.”


     Following the first service, Mrs. Perryman suggested the new congregation be dedicated to St. Luke the Physician because of his association with healing. Healing was foremost in Mrs. Perryman’s thinking because she and her husband had lost a child prior to their move to Blue  Ridge from Ocala, Fla.  As no one had any other suggestion, Mrs. Perryman’s recommendation was adopted.

orig organ.jpg

The week after the first service, Mr. Morgan discovered an early 20th-century reed organ in the musical instrument section of Radio Shack in Murphy, North Carolina. The instrument had been stored in a barn and still had hay behind the back panel. To make it serviceable, several men of the church patched its cracking leather bellows with duct tape. A few weeks later, a vacuum cleaner blower was attached by way of a hose to help provide sufficient wind pressure. Because of the sound the blower created, it was placed in a pine box and lowered each Sunday out a window to the ground by means of a rope.


Mr. Morgan recalls two visitors saying when the power was turned on and air came into the organ, they wanted to shout, Eureka! The remark stemmed from a television commercial popular at the time for Eureka vacuum cleaners.


In 1988 the reed organ was replaced by a Hammond electric church organ donated by a visitor from Naples, Fla. In 1995, the instrument was relocated 

to the new church at 7 Ewing St., where it continued to be used until December 1999 when it was replaced by Johannus digital organ. In 2020, the Johannus was replaced by a three-manual Makin instrument manufactured in England and donated by A.D. Frazier in memory of his recently deceased wife, Clair Wofford Frazier. The original reed organ is now housed at the Rector’s residence.  

     A few weeks after regular services had begun, the fledgling congregation received a boost when Willa Mae (Mrs. David, Sr.) Haight, a prominent Blue Ridge resident and member of the First Baptist Church, donated two lots at the corner of Jones and Ewing Streets. According to Mrs. Haight, the lots were designated in her late husband’s will (he died 1968) for “any church of the Protestant faith.” As Mr. Haight was an Anglican from Canada, it was appropriate that a church in that tradition received the land.


    At the back of the property donated by Mrs. Haight are graves of early settlers to the area. The earliest belongs to John Witzel, who died in 1904. A massive stone wall encloses the Witzel section. Two other family sections are located outside the wall.


      In 1990, a pavilion was built on the property. Until the church was built in 1995, the open-air facility was used for outdoor services and recreational events. The structure is no more; however, a concrete pad marks the spot where it stood.

Dreaming and Building Years

     As the 1980s drew to a close, money continued to be raised to erect a building on the donated property. A boost came when G. Ward Foote donated a number of lots on Lake Hartwell. Gradually, the lots were sold with the proceeds being placed in the building fund. Additional monies were raised through the sale of donated aluminum cans, a cookbook, and bread sales at local festivals.


     In 1994, the Rt. Rev. William W. Millsaps, former chaplain of the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, and the Rt. Rev. Edward P. Whatley, Jr., presided at a groundbreaking ceremony for the church. T. Michael Little of Cohutta, Ga., served as the architect, and St. Luke’s member William T. Mundy oversaw the construction of the two-story building. The first service in the new church was held on Easter Day 1995. Because the attendance at the service exceeded the capacity of the newly installed pews, additional chairs had to be brought in from the Blue Ridge City Hall.


More Progress and Outreach

     Having a building seemed like a dream come true for those who had prayed, given, worked, and waited; but new dreams began to emerge. When property to the right of the church went on the market in 2000, Pat (Mrs. Jere) McConnell championed securing the two lots on which was located a ranch-style house. In 2001 Senior Warden William “Bill” Henning called a parish meeting at which, after much discussion, the decision was made to proceed with the purchase. Following renovation, the Rector’s office was moved to the ranch house.


      In the late 90s and throughout the first decades of the 2000s, new initiatives began, including yearly Vacation Bible Schools and free Friday night dinners for those on limited incomes or who lacked social contact. Barbara (Mrs. George) Cary was instrumental in developing this latter program. To promote fellowship among members, Diane (Mrs. Ronald O.) Wikander organized ‘Six-Plus-Two’ dinners, which were held in members' homes. 


      During these years, two men from St. Luke’s trained for the priesthood and were ordained. They were Eric Ballinger and Ronald O. Wikander. Mr. Ballinger was a young attorney in Canton, Georgia, while Mr. Wikander was a fire protection engineer at Lockheed Martin in Marietta.


     Following his ordination as deacon February 16, 2002, and a presbyter (priest) February 22, 2003, the Rev. Mr. Wikander served as assisting clergy at St. Luke’s until his retirement December 31, 2021. His focus, both in active ministry and now in retirement, is community outreach.

     St. Luke’s has been blessed with a dedicated and active women’s group. Mrs. Jere McConnell spearheaded its formation in the mid-‘90s, while Teresa (Mrs. Roger) Wankel currently serves as the group’s leader.  Since 2007, an annual Christmas bazaar has been held. Money raised from this event, along with money raised at other fundraisers, goes mainly to community outreach. Ruth (Mrs. Roger) Johnson directed a yearly yard sale for over 20 years. In 2023, it was decided to discontinue the yard sale.

Expanding the church

     With the arrival of a new millennium came a growing consensus that the 1995 building be enlarged. Those in charge of the planning for the 1995 building had actually envisioned an expansion by including a knockout space for a door in the basement’s concrete wall under the altar end.  


      In 2008, a building committee headed by T. Ruben Jones was formed. Committee members included: Gwen Skelton, Joe Brandon, Thomas Kimmel and Roger Johnson. Initial meetings were often contentious as the size and cost of the expansion were debated; nevertheless, slow progress was made.


      In 2008, Atlanta architect Bruce Griffith was chosen. Under the tenure of Senior Warden Robert “Bob” Morgan and his successor Robert “Bob” Jennus the decision to go forward was made. Mr. Jennus, oversaw the project, being on site almost every day during construction. Prior to the expansion, Mr. Morgan, on a number of occasions, said jocularly that he hoped the Lord would call him home before he had to go through another building project. God did not, and the expansion moved forward with amazing smoothness. Mr. Morgan attributed the way the many hurdles were met and overcome to God’s hand in the project. Also, it was apparent that God had raised up Mr. Jennus for this hour, as he possessed both building knowledge and great people skills.


      The cost of the expansion was borne by the sacrificial giving of many members and friends of St. Luke’s. Mr. Jones gave the South Transept and elevator, while members of the congregation subscribed additional pews and stained glass windows.


Pews were constructed by the Rainsville Pew Company in Rainsville, Alabama, the same company that had supplied the pews for the 1995 building. Stained glass windows were designed and executed by the same artist, the late Barbara Lynch, responsible for the windows in the 1995 building. She worked for A & O Church Furniture in Greensboro, North Carolina.


      The new enlarged church was dedicated September 18, 2011, at a choral evensong. Joining St. Luke’s clergy in the procession were the Rev. Carol Wade, minister at Faith Presbyterian Church, and the Rev. Cheryl Kester-Schmidt, pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church.  The Rt. Rev. William W. Millsaps officiated, and the Rev. Mr. Morgan was the preacher at the service.  


      In 2009, vestryman Richard Misinco proposed and secured funding from the Vestry to build a pavilion adjacent to the Parish House. Since its construction, it has been the site of low country boils, outdoor services and a number of other events.  


      In 2004, a needlepoint guild was formed under the leadership of Lowell Jacks, one of the South’s foremost authorities on the art. Mr. Jacks drew most of the designs by hand on canvases which were assigned to different members of the guild. Over the 13-year life of the guild, 23 people worked on kneelers for altar, choir and nave seating. In addition, backs, seats and kneelers were hand stitched for chairs in the side chapel.

Turning 30

          As the church approached its 30th anniversary, new initiatives continued. In 2017, under the leadership of then Senior Warden James L. Yacavone III, a Strategic Plan was formulated. After being refined by the Vestry, the plan was adopted under the leadership of Senior Warden Dr. Alvin Cash. The formation of a number of committees charged with overseeing various aspects of parish life, including education, safety, outreach, and music was accomplished. It continues to be reviewed and updated each year.  

The Challenge of Covid

     In early 2020, Covid 19 brought new challenges. A statewide shutdown limiting public assemblies, including church services, brought about outdoors services. With the technical assistance of Junior Warden James Noblett, worshippers were able to remain in their vehicles and listen over their radios. The innovation garnered attention from The Atlanta Journal Constitution. For three weeks in a row, Mr. Morgan was interviewed over the telephone and quoted in the religion page.


      In December 2022, Eileen Kerr, who had served as organist for over 30 years, died. Fortunately, during the Covid pandemic, God had provided Diana Burden to assist with the music program. Prior to the shutdown, Mrs. Burden had been the choir director at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church. In 2023, Randy Wilbur began assisting with the music program bringing knowledge, talent, enthusiasm, and a host of visiting musicians.


      In 2023, organist Steven Cagle began playing two or three services a month.  In early, 2024, organist George Atwell joined the music team, which included the St. Luke’s singers.  


      As the Covid crisis passed, the St. Luke’s Men’s Group under the leadership of Neil McDonald spearheaded a project to renovate the Parish House. Members of the Women of St. Luke’s assisted with the project. In 2023 the newly refurbished conference room was named in memory of longtime member Robert “Hoot” Skelton.

Assisting Clergy at St. Luke's

The Rev. Kenneth Tucker (1990s)

*Deaconess Earnestine Sizemore (1990s)

The Rev. Eric Ballenger

The Rev. Ronald Wikander

*The Rev. Robert Burgreen

The Rev. William A. “Tony” McConnell, Deacon



*Russell Langham

William A. “Tony” McConnell

*Juanita Lebkuecher

James “Jim” Noblett

Dr. Alvin Cash


Senior Wardens

*Preble Staver

*William T. Mundy

*William Henning

*Robert E. “Bob” Lee, Esq.

*Robert “Hoot” Skelton

Alfred Joseph Brandon III

Robert “Bob” Morgan

*Robert “Bob” Jennus

*James Yacavone, Esq.

Dr. Alvin “Al” Cash

James “Jim” Noblett


Junior Wardens

*James “Tick” Johnson

*William Henning

*Robert “Hoot” Skelton

*Thomas Kimmel

Neal McDonald

James “Jim” Noblett

Jennifer Higdon



bottom of page