Pastor reviews some of the 'halo value'
By Kaye Hult
While St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, celebrated 130 years of worshipping in its historic sanctuary on Oct. 16, David Gortner, the rector, pondered about the "halo value" of the church over that time.
By that he meant the effect on the community that goes beyond specific church-related activities.
"What happens in this community simply because we're here?" he asked. "What are the ripple effects of this church being here?
"St. Luke's has influence in the community because of members, through their careers and social engagement, who are in this church because this is where their faith is expressed and rooted," he said.
"Unlike some other big box churches that have a more separatist, Christ-against-culture sensibility, thinking they have to build everything needed in society with a brand imprint on it, we're among the set of churches that believe we work with society," he said. "That's how the gospel meets the world, by rubbing elbows with others around us in the marketplace, schools, hospitals, industries."
David sees it as Christ transfiguring the culture, "when we participate directly with the love of Christ informing us, and trusting those we work with are also made in the image of God with gifts and insights to bring.
"We don't seek to be a separate city on a hill," he said, "but leaven in the dough. Yeast disappears in the dough but changes the dough, so it will rise."
David said that members believe St. Luke's is likely the oldest continuous-use building in more or less original form in Coeur d'Alene. First Presbyterian Church and St. Thomas Roman Catholic Church were built around the same time.
When the church was built on the corner of Wallace Ave. and 5th St., it was on the outer edge of town.
Officers at Fort Sherman in Coeur d'Alene were instrumental in founding the church. For several years before there was a church building, they held worship in officers' homes on fort grounds. They also held prayer services in the fort's chapel.
Circuit-riding bishops like Daniel Sylvester Tuttle and Ethelbert Talbot would stop at Fort Sherman from time to time during the 1880s and lead worship in the Fort Sherman Chapel.
Fred Sellick, a candidate for the priesthood, was sent to organize and build the church. It was officially chartered on Sept. 6, 1891. Building started quickly, and the congregation held its first service in the church on March 13, 1892, after only six months.
"In 1892, when we held the first service here, in this region, the first Silver Valley Mines strike happened. It became violent enough that owners called on Fort Sherman troops to intervene. The troops sent were heavily African Americans stationed here at that time. Other soldiers were engaged in border wars with Mexico.
"My question is: How did the Episcopal Church at that time engage with the heated questions of that day, with mines and increased diversity in the area?" David said, admitting, "I don't know. Our parish history is thin on such subjects. The written history focuses on names of priests, when they served and the changes to the building, but not so much on key lay people or involvements."
The parish house, a building now used for offices, was completed in 1912. It became the center of considerable social service work.
"Social services at the time consisted of providing food and clothing, and helping people in need," he said.
In the 1910s, the nave or sanctuary was enlarged. In the early 1950s, the parish hall was built. The youth group met in the basement. There are still graffiti-type decorations on the walls there.
David then lifted up church members whose work was influenced by their faith walk and who made a difference in Coeur d'Alene in recent decades.
One such couple is John and Phyllis Albee. John touched many through pastoral visits and building improvements. He was instrumental in procuring Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants for affordable housing in rural Idaho and helping St Vincent de Paul obtain and manage affordable housing.
Phyllis played a significant role in Panhandle Health for many years.
Former member Georgianne Jesson helped found Hospice of North Idaho and is on the board.
Wanda Quinn helped in community institutions like United Way, North Idaho College and local charter schools. Recently she has been exploring the health of Lake Coeur d'Alene.
"Her husband, Tim, is one of several area physicians, along with Jeff Wilson, who led the COVID unit at Kootenai Health," David said.
Deacon Bob Runkle, known as "Beacon Bob," teamed up with another member, Dave Peterson, to beef up the church's social engagement and social service.
"Bob won for St. Luke's recognition as a Center for Jubilee Ministry in the wider Episcopal Church," David said.
That designation documents for the wider church how St. Luke's touches people's lives through recovery groups, tutoring in an elementary school, job assistance, involvement with St. Vincent de Paul, food bank contributions, take-away meals and opening its building to become the home for Family Promise of North Idaho.
Other St. Luke's members are on the St Vincent de Paul staff or are counselors with other area organizations. Some lawyers do pro bono work.
Several have had significant public impact through teaching in public schools or in school district administration.
"That is just a small list of people making a difference in our region. Members are making a difference in our forests and lake, regional development, healthcare and elder care, scouting, professional networks like P.E.O and Rotary and in informal parenting networks," he mentioned.
"We're trying to document more clearly the full 'halo value'," David said. "The vestry will ask people in the next couple months about their involvement not just at St. Luke's but also in the wider community."
David, who became rector of St. Luke's in September 2018, reflected on what he has brought to the mix that is this church.
He learned that a prior rector, Bob Hasseries, served the church in the 1990s when Coeur d'Alene struggled with the presence of the Aryan Nations. He made sure St. Luke's was part of the solution. When Bill Wasserman stepped down from leading the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, St. Luke's became its meeting place.
"I come with an orientation of the gospel toward care and uplifting the poor, marginalized, despised and neglected. This also means holding up a mirror to the society that allows this to happen," David said.
He is willing to have challenging conversations that need to happen for change to occur.
In 2021 and this fall, St. Luke's joined with the Human Rights Education Institute and the Museum of North Idaho to hold a documentary and discussion group called "Finding Our Place in the Inland Northwest."
This series creates opportunities for thoughtful public discussions about some of the realities, challenges and opportunities of life in the Inland Northwest.
Small group discussions after viewing documentaries help participants think together and share their experiences and insights to find wisdom together.
The final discussion is at 6 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 8, at St. Luke's and will address: "Who is my neighbor?" The discussion is about citizenship and civil discourse in times of confrontation.
"I bring a spirit of vigorous engagement with the community," he said, "because I believe that's what it means to follow Jesus and bring the transforming love and truth of Christ."
David connects that with St. Luke's vision statement: "To share, celebrate, and embody Jesus Christ's overflowing, unconditional love in North Idaho."
He also lifted up St. Luke's mission statement: "To cultivate life-giving relationships in Christ with all, through deliberate discipleship, courageous conversations, purposeful partnerships and authentic action across North Idaho."
He finds St. Luke's a natural expression of what the Episcopal Church is and how it follows Christ.
For information, call 208-664-5533 or visit stlukescda.org or register for Dec. 8 at events.humanitix.com/finding-our-place-in-the-inland-northwest.