St. Luke Baptist Church was established as a Baptist Mission on February 10, 1937 in New York City. Throughout its illustrious history, St. Luke Church body has been under the leadership of three pastors: Rev. Adolphus Smith (1937-1938); Rev. Walter L. Harding (1938-1991); and Rev. Dr. J.G. McCann (1992-present).
THE EARLY YEARS 1937—1962
On February 10, 1937, Dr. Wilson M. Morris, Pastor of the St. John Baptist Church in Harlem, along with Reverends Adolphus Smith, William Anderson, Harold W. Thompson, Walter L. Harding and twelve disciples of St. John collectively organized a new church. Having been released from St. John with the appropriate letters, the leaders and disciples began meeting in a room at 12 West 99th Street in New York. Brother Thurmond Harrison suggested the church be named after Luke, the physician. Once organized and charted, the St. Luke Mission elected Rev. Adolphus Smith as the pastor. Rev. Smith served for one year, after which time he became pastor of the St. Paul Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. One year after its establishment, St. Luke Baptist Mission called Rev. Walter L. Harding to serve as probationary pastor for six months. Beginning February 13, 1938, Rev. Harding assumed leadership of the ministry and was well received to the point of the congregation amending his leadership agreement after only six weeks. On March 31, 1938 at St. John Baptist Church, Rev. Dr. Wilson Morris installed Rev. Harding as St. Luke Mission’s second shepherd. Under Pastor Harding’s leadership, the church became formally recognized as a Missionary Baptist Church on June 4, 1938. St. Luke purchased its first home, a renovated three story building located at 35 West 99th Street and the congregation grew to 300 disciples.
At the 1941 Annual National Baptist Convention Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, the St. Luke Baptist Church joined the National Baptist Convention. While this new designation was an important accomplishment for St. Luke, shortly thereafter, the Church would face the challenge of WWII’s “Eminent Domain,” a policy granting the government the ability to confiscate privately owned property for its own purposes. Large tracts of land were confiscated in New York City, including the Church’s 35 West 99th Street location. Pastor Harding, however, convinced the congregation to purchase a new home at 103 Morningside Avenue in New York City (previously the home of the Southern Baptist Church). On Sunday, November 15, 1953, the congregation of St. Luke Baptist Church marched into its new home and worshipped. The Church continued to grow and experience God’s blessings. In 1955, however, a fire of unknown origin partially destroyed the Morningside building. In spite of the setback, the faithful disciples raised the necessary funds to restore the church. In the same year, St. Luke became a charter member of the United Missionary Baptist Association.
PLANTING AND HARVESTING 1963—1991
Throughout his tenure as the shepherd of the St. Luke Baptist Church, Rev. Harding would guide the church through its relocation from 12 West 99th Street, to 35 West 99th Street, to 103 Morningside Avenue. He provided guidance, stability and leadership in the midst of the turbulent Civil Rights Movement, riotous outbreaks, and the assassinations of national and local leaders. Pastor Harding remained on the cutting edge of Christian Ministry and community outreach. In 1983, Reverend Harding installed as Chairman of the St. Luke Baptist Church Diaconate Ministry, Deacon Gilbert Stone, Harlem resident and long-serving church leader. Rev. Harding’s decision created the foundation for a strong diaconate ministry, which would further enhance the church. Having served as the pastor of the St. Luke Baptist Church for 53 years, the towering Preacher of the Gospel with the "booming" voice, the community leader with unwavering faith and belief in the Word of God, closed his eyes and “walked into Jerusalem just like John.” For the first time in more than half a century the St. Luke Baptist Church was without a pastor.
A CENTURY ENDS AND ANOTHER BEGINS
Following Rev. Harding’s transition from labor to reward, the pastoral search committee began the process of identifying the next shepherd of the Church. On December 30th, 1992, St. Luke called Rev. J.G. McCann, Sr. of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Brooklyn as the succeeding pastor. Pastor McCann was later installed as Pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church by his own Pastor, The Rev. Dr. Shellie Sampson (Pastor of the Thessalonia Worship Center in the Bronx, NY) on the second Sunday of March 1993. Pastor McCann is a native of the Bronx, New York. He is a graduate of Bronx Community and Lehman Colleges. He is also a triple graduate of Drew University, Madison, New Jersey (M. Div., S.T. M. & D. Min.). He serves as a recruiter and adjunct professor of his alma mater. The St. Luke Baptist Church was blessed by God with divine increase in discipleship. As the church began to grow spiritually and exponentially, more worship services were added to the ministry. Dr. McCann was led by the Holy Spirit to commence the “New Disciples Class” which plays an integral role in the success of the entire ministry. He initiated the One Year Holy Bible in the year of 2001, which helps to foster a biblically literate church discipleship. Dr. McCann believes strongly in the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting. Thus, a 6:00-7:00 A.M.Wednesday morning prayer group was established: God Answers Prayer (GAP), as well as a one-hour, hour-of-power, mid-day service: Worship on Wednesday (WOW). St. Luke Bible Institute was initiated by Pastor McCann in the year of 2004, offering deep theological study to disciples of St. Luke and abroad. Under his leadership, another significant moment in St. Luke’s history was the change of street name. On February 1, 2005, after months of concerted effort and Divine intervention, the street in front of the Church, 103 Morningside Avenue, was renamed Reverend Walter L. Harding Place in honor of the 53 years Rev. Harding served as the shepherd of the St. Luke Baptist Church. Under the leadership of Pastor McCann, St. Luke became members of the American Baptist Churches, Metro Area.
At the dawn of a new millennium, St. Luke experienced rapid growth in new disciples. It became evident that a much larger house of worship was needed. St. Luke purchased the vacant apartment building adjacent to the Church at a cost of 1 million dollars. The Church began an earnest search for the appropriate building contractor to bring to fruition the vision of the House. After much prayer, the St. Luke Baptist Church accepted a plan that would triple the sanctuary capacity, provide for a chapel, banquet space and, and administrative spaces. As the contractors prepared to demolish the existing building, interim spaces had to be identified as sites for St. Luke to conduct Sunday Services, WOW Services, weddings, homegoings and baptisms. Fervent prayer continued and on the first Sunday of September in 2014, at 6:00AM the congregation of St. Luke Baptist Church marched across the street to Public School 125, entered the auditorium and worshipped. At the same time, Church of the Master opened its doors so that WOW Services could continue without interruption.
Once again, grace blessed the St. Luke Baptist Church, and a lease for an interim worship center (with administrative spaces) was signed. In April 2015, the St. Luke Baptist Church transitioned to 1916 Park Avenue where Sunday Services are now held, baptisms conducted, classes taught and homegoings have taken place. As the new House of Worship for the St. Luke Baptist Church rises at 103 Rev. Walter L. Harding Place, in a few months, the Vision will come to fruition and the congregation will praise the Lord as they march into their new Sanctuary and worship.