Historic St. Luke’s to celebrate anniversary

Published 10:12 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A historic landmark in Smithfield is planning a day of nostalgic festivities in honor of the 60th anniversary of its restoration, and just in time for National Preservation Month in May.

Historic St. Luke’s, the oldest church in Virginia, will celebrate the anniversary on Saturday. The national historic landmark is inviting guests for 1950s-themed festivities with guided tours, games and a special presentation at 14477 Benns Church Blvd.

“We’re inviting people to come out and make a day of it,” said Todd Ballance, the executive director of Historic St. Luke’s. “To enjoy themselves and get the chance to see something you don’t see every day.”

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The educational non-profit will have its renowned tours of the church at the top of each hour starting at 10 a.m., with the last tour at 4 p.m. Visitors will meet at the Welcome Center gift shop and follow a walking path to the church.

Staff will explain the significance of the church as part of the country’s history of religious freedom.

“Every informed citizen should have a constructed opinion on the matter of religious freedom, and that’s what we hope to do here,” Balance said. “We hope people leave the experience seeing the world differently.”

An exhibition will be held of the church’s pulpit from the 1890s, its stained-glass windows, and many other items that haven’t been shown to the public since before the restoration. Ballance said visitors are often surprised by what they discover during the tours.

“They were expecting one thing and got something completely different, and we were blown away by it,” he said.

Classic automobiles of the 1950s will be on display, and the Smithfield Little Theatre “Grease” cast may make an appearance. A scavenger hunt will entertain children, and families are encouraged to prepare picnics.

“We’re an educational institution, but the kids can come out here and have fun, too,” Ballance said.

A presentation will be held at 1 p.m. by archaeologist Edward Swindell and his team on the findings of their recent ground-penetrating radar project on the property. The results will bear new insight into Virginia’s oldest church, Ballance said.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg for more discovery,” he said.

General admission for adults is $8, $6 for seniors and free for children under age 6. Call 357-3367 for more information.