The year was 1834. Recorded in the pages of the Class Record Book of the Asbury Chapel, which is now known as Reisterstown United Methodist Church there is an account of 43 colored slaves asking for permission to hold class meetings. These meetings were held in a log cabin near the Reisterstown Cemetery which is next to the Reisterstown Library. This historical event marked the spiritual beginnings of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church on Bond Avenue in Reisterstown, Maryland.
Led by a white leader William Dean the slaves were Ruth Davis, Milly Glendenning, Emma Williams, Charles Sands, Greenbury Robinson, Lasarx Sands, Charles Brown, Sarah Bryant, Marty Davis, Rachael Bryant, Richard Diggs, Jemina Brown, Maria Lewis, Charles Robertson, Isaiah Davis, Louisa Seton, Jacob Davis, Eliza Murray, Emily Howard, Betsy Gordon, James Madden, Basil Roberts, Hannah Roberts, Hannah Robinson, Buster Robertson, Basil Robinson, Job Madden, Rachael Harden, Samuel Madden, Nelson Dett, Rachael Bunic, Maria Waller, Jeffre Fox, Eliza Waller, Lucy Tillman, Maria Burgess, Sarah Ann Smith, Hanson Johnson, Cesar Davis, Walter Howard, Eva Ann Bell, Sarah Mason, and Stephen Brown.
In time the log cabin was torn down and by 1850 worship services were held in the Old Side Methodist Church. Among the worshippers, were Job Madden, Amos Madden, Perry Taylor, Richard Riggs, and Allen Thompson. From there they moved to Uncle Charles Brown’s house, and later again due to the increasing number of converts, to a place known as the Old Fort House. A growing religious community among African-Americans had firmly taken root.
In 1867 George Kephart a direct descendent of the founder of Reisterstown deeded ½ acre of land to the Methodist Episcopal Church of Baltimore County to erect a school house for colored children and a cemetery to bury the dead. This school in 1872 became part of the Black Public School System of Baltimore County and was designated Reisterstown School for Colored Children number 22. The one room school without any indoor facilities in the beginning remained in operation until 1976 when the students were transferred to the Reisterstown Elementary school.
When the school became inactive it was used as a community center. It was also used for church suppers and gatherings. The building stood until 1997 when it was one of the oldest existing structure of its kind in Baltimore County. Sadly it was demolished that year to make room for a planned expansion of St. Luke’s Church. During their life time several members of the church attended the school and their experiences were included in a book by Louis Diggs called “Holding on to Their Heritage” (1997).
In 1880 the Reverend Lawrence Valentine received permission from George Kephart to build a church in front of the school facing Bond Avenue. Permission was granted to have religious services provided the Church did not interfere in the activities of the school. Money was raised through subscriptions to construct a 30 x 30 A Frame building in the Gothic style of the times. On July 18th a ceremony was held to lay the cornerstone containing a Bible, a hymnal, and a copy of the Methodist Discipline. Rev. Valentine delivered the sermon.
Upon construction the church was called St. Luke’s Methodist Episcopal Church, with Rev. Valentine as the first Pastor. The first recorded Steward was Amos Madden. The first sexton was William Johnson, and the first class leader was Richard Riggs. The trustees of the church were Amos Madden, Joe Madden, Perry Taylor, Josiah Davis, and Henry Johnson. The church was admitted to the Washington Conference of the Methodist Episcopal body and became part of a circuit that included Roof’s at Finksburg, Piney Grove at Boring, and White Rock at Sykesville. By 1896 the mortgage on the church was paid in full, and in the years to come eventually a parsonage was built and owned by the church.
Over the Years
In 1941 an Odd Fellows Hall which was built next to the church by Lodge number 1489 in 1898 was sold to the trustees of the church. The hall became a community and fellowship hall for the church. Many social and church related activities were held in the Hall. Over the years it was used for Movie Night, Scout meetings, and the second floor was rented out to Masonic Lodge #34. Presently there are plans to restore the Hall as a historical and cultural treasure through Maryland Historical Trust grant application process.
In 1974 St. Luke’s became part of the United Methodist Churches through a merger with the Methodist Episcopal Church. For awhile the church was part of a parish that included Piney Grove, and Glyndon United Methodist Church. Today these churches are no longer part of the parish but continue to support each other’s activities.
Today after 133 years St. Luke’s is proudly listed as a Maryland historic property and is included in the Reisterstown Historic District. This is a testimony to the faithfulness of God’s people. “To God be the glory. Great things he had done”.
St. Luke's to Renovate Historic Hall
Reprinted from the Community Times
July 3, 2013
Upon learning of the historic significance of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church’s community hall in Reisterstown, the congregation has scrapped plans to demolish the hall, originally built in 1898. The Rev. Gladman Kapfumvuti, who concludes his pastorate with St. Luke’s this week, said members of the church are now looking to highlight the long history of the church as well as the adjacent cemetery and community hall — a plan supported by incoming the Rev. Charles Stevenson.
Marilyn Benaderet, preservation services director at Preservation Maryland, said when she heard the congregation was planning on demolishing the community hall, she nearly jumped out of her seat. She said the site is a perfect example of the post-emancipation settlement pattern for African Americans.
After the Civil War, Benaderet said African American communities were built around three focal points — a church, a school and a benevolent society lodge. Though the school house was demolished in the ‘90s, Benaderet said the site is one of only two locations in Maryland that feature at least two of these pillars still standing.
“We don’t have these buildings remaining that totally illustrate this settlement pattern in such a clear way,” Benaderet said. “This is one of the best ways that this history can be interpreted.”
Kapfumvuti said the church’s plans to build a new community hall had to be put on hold to focus on the restoration of the existing hall.
“When I came in as a new pastor in 2009, I found the congregation and [previous] pastor had a plan to build a new sanctuary and a new fellowship hall, and it was going to cost around $3 million,” Kapfumvuti said. “I realized it was a gigantic project, so we as a congregation decided to build in phases.”
The revised plan consisted of the construction of bathrooms behind the sanctuary, which is currently underway. The second phase initially involved the destruction of the existing fellowship hall and the building of a modern multi-purpose center. When the decision was made to postpone the construction of the new hall, they decided to transform the renovated hall into their vision of the community center, open to the residents of the area. Kapfumvuti said the hall would be a place to provide food for the hungry and activities for senior citizens and young adults.
The congregation began to raise funds for the community center with a black tie gala in Westminster. County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, and Governor Martin O’Malley signed citations supporting the plans of the church.
Kapfumvuti said their plans changed several weeks ago, when they were contacted by Preservation Maryland, a private organization focused on preserving historic buildings in the area.
“We rescinded our decision to demolish the fellowship hall because some officials from the preservation society talked to us about the importance of preserving the existing building,” Kapfumvuti said. “It has historical significance in the area, particularly among the African American community.”
According to Kapfumvuti, the church was founded in 1834 by 43 slaves.
“The slaves who started this congregation worked very hard with their limited financial resources,” Kapfumvuti said. “They started with a request for land to bury their loved ones. After they got the land, they also wanted to use it to build a school for their children.”
Around 1850, they began worshiping in the one-room school house located directly behind the current location of the church. Among those buried at the St. Luke’s cemetery is Augustus Walley, a Buffalo Soldier of the United States Army who received a U.S. Medal of Honor for his participation in the American Indian Wars. The community hall was built by the Odd Fellows of Reisterstown in 1898 and was donated to the church in 1941.
Chris Larkin of the Community Cemetery Committee, which is in the process of restoring the Reisterstown Community Cemetery located next to the Reisterstown library, said they initially contacted St. Luke’s to inform them of the grant money available to them, but now plan to partner with them on future endeavors.
“When we started our cemetery committee, we were told through the old trustees that there were African Americans buried in our cemetery. When you have African Americans buried pre-Civil War, you qualify for certain grants,” Larkin said. “We were trying to find proof of this, so Linda [Percy of the Community Cemetery Committee] and I got into contact with St. Luke’s. They had no idea what they had available to them in terms of funds.”
The congregation is now in the process of applying for grants with Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Historical Trust’s African American Heritage Preservation Program.
They have applied for a $5,000 grant which will go toward repairing the roof of the hall, and are completing a grant for $100,000 to repair the siding and making the building accessible.
Kapfumvuti said one of the components of the grant process is displaying how the community will benefit from the historic renovation of the building. He said they plan to hold exhibitions, informing the community of the long history of the church, hall and cemetery. They have also extended a welcome to Buffalo Soldiers of Baltimore and offered them use of the hall after renovation is complete.
Crystal Mayora, chairwoman of the Capital Gains Committee of St. Luke’s Church, said they will soon shift from specific events to an ongoing fundraising situation. Larkin said he has reserved a table for the church at the Corn Roast Festival, which raises money for the Reisterstown Community Cemetery.
“A lot of people don’t realize what they have in their back yard. They don’t know about the history of St. Luke’s. They don’t know Augustus Walley is buried there. They don’t know that green building used to be an Odd Fellows hall,” Larkin said. “It was very irregular to have a hall specifically for African Americans to gather at that time. There were a lot of positive things going on in Reisterstown in regards to race that I think people just don’t know about.”