Who We Are

Vision & Mission

As a “believe out loud congregation,” St. Luke’s welcomes all people to share in the Episcopal Church’s mission to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Jesus Christ.

As a cathedral, St. Luke’s is the seat of the bishop and the chief mission church of the Diocese and people of Maine.

With its first service held on Christmas Day in 1868, St. Luke’s continues almost 150 years of reaching out to the city and people of Portland.

The Cathedral Church of St. Luke is proud to be part of the 2.5 million member Episcopal Church USA and the 75 million member world-wide Anglican Communion.

What is St. Luke’s? 

St. Luke’s is a cathedral – a place of worship, prayer, spiritual formation, and care that serves and transforms the city of Portland and the Diocese of Maine. It is a center of learning and compassion and growth, a beacon of hope and light and place of gathering that welcomes all people and then sends them out to be and build the Kingdom of God. It a place firmly grounded in the past, active in the present, and on the cutting edge of the future, with a spirituality formed in ancient practices and a theology

It a place firmly grounded in the past, active in the present, and on the cutting edge of the future, with a spirituality formed in ancient practices and a theology of modern faith.

It is also a church, a community of people who come together for comfort and spiritual growth, for times of joy and times of sorrow, and for healing and for hope.

It is a thin place – a place where people can experience the holy in the sacraments in one another, where they discover who they are and whose they are, and where through the grace of Jesus Christ they can experience forgiveness, reconciliation and new life.

We who call St. Luke’s home believe in this place. We believe that people can find God and be empowered by God in this place.

We believe this can happen to you and invite you to join us on the next step of your spiritual journey.

What is a ‘cathedral”?

A cathedral (from the Greek word kathedrikos, Latinized as cathedra, meaning “seat” or  “throne”) is typically the official headquarters of a bishop. It is the focus of collective activities and fellowship, service, and administration in a diocese, which in turn is a geographically defined aggregation of parishes in the same Christian denomination. In this case, that would be the Dioceses of Maine, part of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. The bishop of Maine is the Chief Executive, spiritual leader and principle minister of this diocese.

The Cathedral Church of St. Luke is also a local parish community in Portland Maine and has been since 1851. It is possessed of a robust sense of ministry to the city, county, and state in which it resides. St. Luke’s congregation supports many groups and organizations that minister to the spiritual and physical needs of Portland’s and Maine’s diverse populations. We strive to embody the essential Spirit of reconciliation, love, and service that are at the core of Jesus Christ’s message to the world.

This edifice is the oldest continuously operating official purpose- built cathedral in the Episcopal Church.

What is the Episcopal Church?

The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion, an international community of provinces, dioceses, and parishes whose origins are directly related to those of the ancient Church of England. It is a Protestant denomination in the Catholic tradition, meaning that it emphasizes the truth and relevance of Holy Scripture over any sort of dogma, while lovingly preserving ritual and traditions developed over the past 2000 years.

The Church of England was created in the early 16th century as part of a vigorous effort made by the King’s government to preserve English independence in the face of what then appeared to be irresistible expansionism on the part of the vast central and southern European realms of the Emporer Charles V. The Roman Catholic Church had, frankly, become his pawn. The Hapsburg dominions were vast, but England was small and weak, and it was ultimately felt that there was no choice but to separate all of the kingdom’s affairs from those of the continent, including those of Rome and the Vatican. This spirit of independence has characterized English- based cultures ever since, including that of the entire Anglican Communion today.

Over the centuries, the Church of England has endured many schisms and internal conflicts and has thus produced a wide variety of offshoots, from Puritan-based Congregationalists, Quakers, and Methodists to evangelical fundamentalists, pentecostal charismatics, and the Salvation Army. At the same time, the Episcopal Church has experienced success in education, mission, and relief around the world, including the establishment of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai in Japan and the Episcopal Church of Haiti.

Modern Episcopalianism is characterized by conscientiously applied rational faith and tolerates a wide variety of opinions on matters theological and social.  This Cathedral community’s own stated mission is to restore all peoples to unity with God, and with one another, in Christ Jesus.

The Episcopal Church in Maine & a brief history of this cathedral

From the beginning of European settlement in northern New England, religion and society then were absolutely dominated by the Congregational Church until the mid- eighteenth century. Even so, in 1760, the first Episcopal parish was at last established in Maine by the Church of England’s Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, in what is now the town of Dresden. A few years later, in 1764, St. Paul’s Parish was founded in British colonial entrepot of Falmouth in Casco Bay at the southern terminus of Casco Bay. These early Maine Episcopalians were originally welcomed as a vibrant, vital part of the community; however, as tensions mounted toward rebellion in the mid- 1770’2 and anger grew against the British and their interests, members of St. Paul’s more and more found themselves persecuted, even though many, if not most, were themselves, American patriots.  St. Paul’s large wooden parish church building on Middle Street was destroyed in the general catastrophe of 18 October (paradoxically St. Luke’s Day) 19775, when a detachment of the British Royal Navy’s North American Squadron attacked Falmouth. Many parishioners subsequently fled, never to return. After the War for Independence, the remaining two Episcopal parishes in Maine slowly grew in spite of a decades- long struggle for survival against competition from Unitarians, Shakers, and Methodists.

When Maine was granted statehood in 1820, the Episcopalians in Maine were told that they were expected to form their own diocese independent of that of Massachusetts. The distinguished Dr. George Burgess, DD was chosen Maine’s first bishop 27 years later. He was one of the greatest intellectual luminaries the Episcopal Church has ever seen and author of many works that are still in print. The diocese grew steadily under Burgess’ care. In 1851, a new parish in Portland’s West End was formed under the direction of the Rt. Rev’d Horatio Southgate, retired Episcopal Missionary Bishop to Constantinople. A Portland native, Southgate was an acknowledged authority on Islam, Arabic, and Turkish cultures.

Bishop Burgess died in April 1866, and Henry Adams Neely of New York was chosen to succeed him. By then, St. Luke’s was the largest parish in Maine and was chosen to host a purpose-built cathedral. A cornerstone was laid 8 August 1867, but it took another nine years before the Cathedral Church of St. Luke was consecrated, due to financial difficulties. Improvements were gradually made to the building and grounds, but some projects such as the cathedral’s main entrance off State Street had to wait a very long time. The cathedral precincts were enlarged in 1888 by the purchase of a lot abutting Park Street, and a three story brick parish house designed by Portland architect Francis Fassett was constructed. More art and memorials were added over the next 40 years.

However, between 1925 and 1975, with a very brief respite during World War Two, Portland and St. Luke’s experienced a catastrophic economic and demographic decline. Though many buildings in Portland were neglected, the cathedral was well maintained.  Portland began to emerge from its depression in the late 1970’2 as general enthusiasm for modernist architecture began to wane and the city’s Victorian era buildings, pleasant setting and sound commercial infrastructure was rediscovered and enhanced. Elements of the cathedral and parish house were extensively refurbished in the 1980’s and 1990’s, including the installation of the “low altar” platform. A major restoration effort was completed int he 2000’s. Efforts continue to this day to both secure our magnificent structure for the ages and to continue to enhance both its financial security and our stewardship of the resources it represents.