St. Luke’s Episcopal pastor finds hope, cherished treasures in aftermath of devastating church fire

BATON ROUGE, La. – Standing in front of what remains of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Father Bryan Owen is full of hope.

St. Luke’s was destroyed during a massive fire overnight on Saturday that took Baton Rouge firefighters almost two hours to get under control. 

In the days since the fire, Father Bryan, as he is called by parishioners, said things have been chaotic with nonstop phone calls, text messages and meetings. Still, he feels a sense of peace. 

“I have to say, I’m standing outside looking at the remains of the building on this beautiful day, and it’s nice, a cool breeze is blowing and I feel remarkably calm, to be honest,” Owen told UWK.

Father Bryan has been at St. Luke’s for 11 years. He was asleep with his phone on “do not disturb” so he didn’t hear any of the phone calls, texts or people stopping by his house to tell him about the fire. It took the FBI to finally wake him up around 4:30 a.m.

“I was getting text messages and phone calls that I couldn’t hear, and even had parishioners come to the door and we didn’t hear that,” Father Bryan recalled. “Finally, one of our parishioners who’s an FBI agent, got the attention of the dog and I mean, [our dog] was going ballistic.”

“I was like, ‘What is going on?’ I got up and he told me what was happening at the front door of my house. We live real close and he told me ‘St. Luke’s is on fire. It’s a total loss’, and I could smell the fire.” 

Firefighters who arrived at the scene, risked their lives and did everything they could to contain the fire, according to Father Bryan. Despite their valiant efforts, he says St. Luke’s lost many irreplaceable items like the stained glass windows, the Risen Jesus Christus Rex Cross, the cross on the steeple and the hand-knitted kneeler covers made by parishioners.

Despite losing so much, Father Bryan said they’re thankful for the treasures they’ve recovered like the vestments kept in a room that did not burn, processional crosses the acolytes carry to lead people into the church for worship and a beautiful petit point stole that his mother made for him in honor of his ordination to the priesthood 20 years ago.

  • Father Bryan Owen of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge.
  • A processional cross was recovered in the aftermath of a fire at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge.
  • St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge destroyed by massive fire in February 2024.
  • Father Bryan Owen wears the petit point stole his mother handmade for him as a gift for his ordination into preisthood 20 years ago.

St. Luke’s columbarium, which serves as a cemetery built inside of the church to house the cremains of loved ones, was also protected and intact. It is fireproof and waterproof and designed to withstand disasters.

“I know that this is gonna be a long, difficult, challenging journey, but I also know that we’re gonna be okay. We’re gonna make it through this. The St. Luke’s Church and School community is remarkably faithful, dedicated and resilient.”

About 400 people attended last Sunday’s worship service held in St. Luke’s middle school gym and the first since the fire. It was double the size of their regular post-Covid attendance and typically what they might see around a larger service like Easter Sunday. The bishop and other clergy from the diocese attended as well as people Father Bryan said they “haven’t seen in ages” and many newcomers.

Father Bryan said he is thankful and deeply touched by the outpouring of support he’s received from St. Luke’s congregation, the Baton Rouge community and also from other churches.

“It’s been very humbling the way that people have reached out to us, not just from other Episcopal churches, but I’ve had pastors from the Methodist, Lutheran, Unitarian, Baptist churches have reached out to say, ‘Hey, if you need space to worship, you’ve got our sanctuary if you need it,” he said. “It’s a wonderful testimony that a shared faith in Jesus really does trump everything when there’s a crisis.”

“We do plan to rebuild, but we’re a long way off from making any concrete plans. We’re looking at this as an opportunity to discern what a new sacred space should be like. What was designed in the early 60s, maybe it doesn’t need to be the same, maybe there are some things we need to do differently,” Father Brian said. “We’re gonna take our time with that process, we’re not in a rush, this is gonna take several years anyway.”

Fortunately, St. Luke’s school was not affected by the fire. Students in the pre-K to 8th grade return to class on Wednesday for the first time since the blaze. Father Bryan and administrators will begin helping the teachers and the kids process what has happened.

Father Bryan welcomes anyone who wishes to attend St. Luke’s to come worship, even while they’re in a temporary space.  

“Even though they can’t come into a beautiful church building, they will be surrounded by a beautiful church family and that’s the most important part.”

Despite the long road ahead, Father Bryan remains optimistic about the church’s future.

“We have been burned and bent out of shape, but we haven’t been broken.” 

Anyone interested in supporting the rebuilding can make a donation via St. Luke’s official website and get updates about rebuilding and worship services.

Download the Unfiltered with Kiran app from the Apple App Store and Google Play to stay updated on the latest news across the Capital area. 

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