St. Luke’s Episcopal Church finally has a new home, more than six years after it stopped using its old one, a stone church that was built in 1898 in downtown Mechanicville.
The new church on McBride Road in Halfmoon is about a mile from the city, in a once-rural area now turning suburban. The Rev. Frederick Leach, vicar of St. Luke’s, said he hopes those new housing developments will provide new members for his congregation.
The Mechanicville church’s former rector, the Rev. Roger Bower, had thought it unsafe and recommended its demolition. However, other church leaders such as George Owad, a member of the vestry, preferred to sell it intact. It was sold three years ago to Jaimen McMillan, who runs the Spacial Dynamics Institute at the former public school next door. This year, McMillan has put a new roof on the church and refurbished the stone work. He is hoping to turn it into a community arts center.
Bower left in 2003, and the congregation had interim pastors until Leach was appointed by the Episcopal Diocese of Albany five years ago. Leach, now 69, had been rector of Trinity Church in Lansingburgh for the preceding 13 years.
Leach ate a cinnamon roll and coffee breakfast at his desk Thursday, next to a pile of boxes. The congregation is still moving in. Books still in the attic will be shelved in the church’s library, said Barbara Owad, George’s wife.
Leach credited the Owads as the driving force behind the new church.
“They were tireless, just tireless workers,” he said.
Leach said the move has been made more difficult for him by the hospitalization and rehabilitation of his 67-year-old wife Diane, who fell and broke her pelvis last week.
A wooden table in the library was built from pews in the old church. In the sanctuary, artifacts from the old church include the wooden altar and the woodwork and painting behind it, a brass Celtic cross, and the marble baptismal font.
The church has been open for two Sundays. On the first one, Leach said, about 80 people showed up at the two morning services. The next week, there were about 60, closer to the normal congregation count — which he hopes will grow.
The congregation had been meeting in the gym of the Mechanicville Community Center when Leach first came on board, but he soon moved it to the Roman Catholic Assumption Church on William Street. The Catholics also gave the congregation office space.
Now the new church, on which construction started in the summer of 2007, has attached offices, a classroom that can be divided in two by a sliding door and a nursery. It is a wood building with vinyl siding and asphalt shingles on the roof and steeple.
One day, in a decade or so, they plan to build on the eight acres they own there a new, larger church, and maybe a rectory, too, and turn the present building into a church hall.
Leach said an Albany architect and expert on church buildings inspected the old Mechanicville church and found it to be structurally sound, although there were leaks and other problems, some of which were repaired under Leach. The first church on that Main Street site in Mechanicville was built in 1830.
But Leach and the Owads do not regret the move because the old church, they said, was unaffordable for the small congregation. It had too many issues, ranging from the lack of handicap accessibility to a lack of parking, they said, along with high heating costs. “That decision [to move] had already been made” before he got there, Leach said.
Dean Akin tuned the piano Thursday, and Barbara Owad asked him if it was a problem that the heat got turned down when no one was there. Not at all, Akin said: Too much heat is not good for the instrument.
While the church has had gifts of money from people like the Owads and has borrowed money from the diocese, it was the sale of the old church for $225,000 and the sale of 17 acres of church-owned land near Saratoga Lake that gave them the money to build.
The town has given them two years to pave the entrance roadway and parking lot, Leach said. Steve Watts, Halfmoon director of planning, confirmed that the town is letting the church open before the required paving is done.
Holy Communion is celebrated on Sundays at 8 and 9:30 a.m., with the sermon at the latter service. Sunday school (through eighth grade) is at 9:15 a.m.
The Episcopal Church has been divided by doctrinal disputes, especially regarding the ordination of sexually active gay clergy. Leach said the Albany diocese is conservative and opposes such ordinations, and he agrees with that stance but does not make a big issue of it and ministers to all people.