The town of East Greenwich was officially founded in 1677. The earliest settlers were primarily Quakers and Baptists. Through the 17th and 18th centuries, East Greenwich remained an agrarian community. A small port developed along the waterfront and support for limited merchant trading grew.
Following the Revolutionary War, there was not great tolerance for things British in New England, including the Anglican form of worship. However, Rhode Island was founded on the principle of religious tolerance, and four Episcopal churches were established in the state.
Some East Greenwich members of St. Paul's in Wickford and others, who had been attending services of the Catholic Congregational Society of East Greenwich, began to meet together for worship in the Kent County Courthouse under the leadership of the Reverend Sylvester Nash. He began traveling across the bay from Bristol to lead services in the Anglican tradition using the Book of Common Prayer.
In 1833 this group of prominent East Greenwich residents called the Rev. Nash to found and lead an Episcopal parish that would be named St. Luke's. By 1834 the church was incorporated, and had constructed a wooden structure at the corner of Pierce and Church Streets. By 1838 the parish had 42 members.
At about this same time, the Stonington Railroad had completed the installation of tracks through the center of the harbor district, providing rail service to New York and later to Boston. Over 34,000 tickets were sold at the Duke Street train station sold in 1876. The introduction of train service led to commercial growth in the town.
By 1875, the parish was growing. The old wooden church structure was sold and moved (without the Bishop's permission, incidentally). The cornerstone for the St. Luke's we continue to use today was laid on October 30, 1875 and the first service was held on Christmas Day in 1876.
The town grew through the mid 19th and early 20th century with the introduction of steam-powered textile mills that were staffed by an influx of immigrant labor. Many Irish Catholics and Lutheran Swedes settled in East Greenwich. The new residents worked in the textile mills, the farms, the docks of the harbor and the retail shops along Main Street.
Through the end of the 19th century, lay groups such as the Parochial Aid Society and the St. Luke's Guild formed to promote the work of the Church. This promoted further growth, and the leaders of the parish moved to construct a Parish House to provide space for the activities of these lay groups. That building (on the northeast corner of Pierce and Church Streets) was completed in 1896.
By 1900 the parish community included 135 families. Involvement of the laity also continued to grow. Youth groups like the St. Luke's Messenger Corps (for boys 7 to 14) and the Girl's Friendly Society were formed. The Altar Guild and the Parish Aid Society were founded and supported by the women of the parish. The women were active in supporting local missions including the Neighborhood Cottage in Scalloptown – an outreach to the poor living in shacks down by the waterfront. The men of the parish actively participated in the work of the church but with fewer organized groups. The choir formed in 1899.
From the late 1930's right through the 1960's, East Greenwich continued to change from an agrarian town with a small but active Main Street into a suburban town, serving the needs of professionals from the Providence metropolitan area and workers from the new Quonset Point Naval Air Station in nearby North Kingstown. In the post-war years, as young families moved into town, St. Luke's continued to grow. With space at a premium, Sunday school classes were being spread out all over town from the East Greenwich Free Library stacks to the Public Welfare building. Sunday morning services were full to overflowing
Plans for a new Parish Hall were drawn and construction began in 1961. The old parish house was sold, and in June of 1962, the new Parish Hall was opened. From the time it first became available, Church leaders recognized the value of the space, and developed rules for sharing the space with other community groups (a tradition that continues to this day).
The 1970's were a time of change for the church. Attendance fell off for a variety of reasons. While a general questioning of traditional values was occurring throughout the country, East Greenwich and St. Luke's were dealing with specific issues closer to home. The Quonset Naval Air Station was closed in 1973 and some of the older “established” members of the parish retired and moved south. Changes in liturgy, the introduction of the new Book of Common Prayer, and the debate over the ordination of women were all challenging strongly held traditions. But the 1970's and 1980's were also a time of renewal. In the Diocese of Rhode Island, the Cursillo movement was generating some new energy among the laity and the clergy. Lay involvement in the liturgy also increased through this time, including the use of Lay Readers to administer the chalice, read the lessons, and participate in the intercessions. In 1977, girls first entered the Acolyte Guild.
Through the 80's and 90's the size of the parish remained stable with approximately 1000 communicants. At the same time, East Greenwich developed into a desirable bedroom community with the highest per capita income in the state.
At the turn of the century, St. Luke's had developed into an active Christian Community supporting many small groups with various goals and missions. A significant building expansion increased space to accommodate both parish and community groups.
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