Bryn Mawr 100: St. Luke United Methodist Church

The church "has something for everyone," its pastor says.

was founded the year of America's 100th birthday, when local Methodist worshipers decided to build a church closer to the railroad for convenience's sake.

In the past few years, the small, 100-member church has played a large role in the Main Line Children's Festival, and its pastor and congregants have been involved in activism to end gun violence and racism.

But at the same time, "Our main focus is on the spiritual needs of our congregation," Reverend David Tatgenhorst said.

St. Luke offers something for everyone, Tatgenhorst said—from children's programs to college programs, a women's group, and LIFE groups that "support people and give them a chance to think about their faith." There are LIFE groups—which stands for Living In Faith Everyday—that focus on parents, college students, men and women, and even an "Exercising Our Faith" yoga and Bible study group.

St. Luke United Methodist's church building was dedicated in 1879, and its parsonage was built in 1891. For its first eight years, St. Luke shared its pastor with Radnor Methodist Church. A new church sanctuary replaced the old building in 1962.

In general, the Methodist Church is fairly well-known for being involved in the communities it serves. At St. Luke, though, there was certainly an uptick in involvement when Tatgenhorst became pastor there 15 years ago.

Tatgenhorst has always had a heart for combating racism, he said, and one of the stipulations of becoming pastor at St. Luke was that he would be allowed to continue living in West Philadelphia, and St. Luke would begin paying particular attention to opportunities for city-suburban partnerships.

Now, St. Luke's ties to Philadelphia are extensive.

"We have connections with churches and groups in the city of Philadelphia that are really strong, where we have a partnership to help people with needs in the city. It's kind of hard to describe, but it means a lot to people here and in the city of Philadelphia," Tatgenhorst said.

Racism is a topic Tatgenhorst has preached a lot about over the years, he said, and it's also one of the reasons he became involved in the movement against gun violence. 

"When you start to realize the impact of racism on society, you realize we're not paying attention to the 3,000 people killed each year in Philadelphia [by guns]—and part of it has to do with missing the [significance of that statistic]. Somehow, we seem to think the city's different than the suburbs, but there's not really that big a line between the two."

In the past three years, Tatgenhorst and members of St. Luke, along with members of and , have protested at gun shops to push gun sellers to stop selling to straw purchasers: people who buy guns in bulk and resell them on the street illegally. They've also met directly with gun store owners and asked them to follow a code of conduct that ensures they won't be selling to straw purchasers.

Tatgenhorst and several others even got arrested for protesting in front of Colosimo's Gun Shop at 9th and Spring Garden.

"We were found not guilty at our trial because we explained why we were doing this," he said. "Six months later, the store was closed down by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives because what we were doing brought more attention to what was happening there. [The bureau] looked into it more and saw [the store owners] were selling to straw purchasers, and they took away [the owner's] license to sell handguns."

The church also participates in community events like the Main Line Children's Festival. Coming up on its eighth year, the festival brings together nationally known singers, art, fun and games, and for the first five years, the event met in the St. Luke parking lot.

"Everybody thinks their church is a warm, welcoming church, but this one is particularly so," Tatgenhorst said. "… part of its uniqueness is it has a way of being available to anybody who comes."

Many thanks to Bobbie McElroy of the Lower Merion Historical Society, who compiled historical information that this article draws on.

Editor's Note: This is the sixteenth in a . Check back with Bryn Mawr-Gladwyne Patch for more profiles leading up to the Sept. 10 celebration.


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