Thomas McIntosh and his wife, Lela, joined St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church in 1972, when they moved to Dunwoody and saw a sign two blocks from their home that said “future site of St. Luke’s.”
“This road was not paved; it was gravel,” Lela McIntosh said about Mount Vernon Highway, where the church is located. “They were meeting in Dunwoody Elementary, which is now the Dunwoody Library.”
The congregation, which organized in 1969, soon will celebrate its 45th anniversary. Now hundreds of people attend the church and its accredited preschool. Its grounds include a chapel, a music wing, a library, an education building, a columbarium with a fountain and 200 niches, and a facility for conducting local ministry.
Interim Pastor Steven Vance said he feels like he fits right in with the congregation because of its dedication to community outreach.
“What pulled me to this church was its openness, its willingness to engage in community ministry, and they have a wonderful staff,” Vance said. “This is what I would consider in the spectrum of churches a fairly stable, progressive church in an affluent community, and it can speak the truth of the Gospels to so many aspects of this community.”
The church’s second senior pastor, Chris Price, brought with him an outreach program in which members could get involved in a mission building houses for people in Mexico, according to Thomas McIntosh. He said that during the first trip to Mexico in 1992, a man watching their group’s construction work felt so moved that he wrote a poem, calling the missionaries “ants of the pasture.”
That was his first exposure to mission work, Thomas McIntosh said, adding that it all clicked for him. “This is what it’s all about; we need to be out there in the world,” he said. “Acts of outreach to those less fortunate are to me a natural response of gratitude for the many blessings given to me and my family.”
Lela McIntosh said her first trip to Mexico showed her the extent of poverty they were working to combat. She said the youth group members would play soccer in the street with the Mexican kids, using a “dead ball.”
“What you have to realize is when you drive up to the site, they’ve got the floorboard there,” Lela McIntosh said, describing the blocks and foundation for a house. She said the family was living behind the blocks in a cardboard and tin construction.
“There was a child sleeping in a sling or a hammock when we arrived,” she said. “It’s just unreal how they were living before we got there.”
St. Luke’s continued the mission to Mexico until about two years ago, when it simply became too dangerous, Thomas McIntosh said. St. Luke’s has increased its outreach locally and nationally, working with Habitat for Humanity and in programs like Family Promise, an ecumenical outreach program for families with children.
David King said he is proud to be part of a church that he considers vital to connecting Dunwoody with the world. His daughter joined the Peace Corps and King’s wife teaches at St. Luke’s Little Saints. “We are very active with Family Promise, hosting homeless children and their parents as guests to live in our church five weeks a year,” he said.
Saint Luke’s Director of Children’s Ministries Catherine Anne Thomas said she and her family were attracted by the church’s beautiful rose window as they drove down Mount Vernon Road one evening in 1990. “We are passionate about serving others, both within our walls and around the world,” she said.
Summer trips send students from elementary school to college out into the world to help others and shape personal faith journeys, Thomas said. “But best of all, our church family stands in solid support of one another,” she added.
Evidence of that family support shines from the light behind a wooden cross inside St. Luke’s. In 2013, Thomas McIntosh, a retired electrical engineer, handcrafted a cross with electrical backlighting.
The idea, he said, was to create a memorial for Jim Tysinger, a retired state senator and a member of the Sunday School. The glowing backlight on the cross mirrors the mission of St. Luke’s “to be a beacon,” Vance said.
Vance said a beacon, such as a lighthouse, gives people guidance in life, and the imagery has to do with ships avoiding wrecking on the coral. “And there’s a lot of coral out there,” he said.
Life is full of tough things, Vance said. “People lose jobs, family. They lose hope. But as a person of faith believes, we’re not out there all by ourselves. We have a community of loving people who will reach out and love us and care for us, and we have hope of eternal grace.”