Christian renaissance in Kentish Town led by St Luke’s Church

Reverend Jon March at St Luke's Church in Kentish Town. Picture: Polly Hancock

Reverend Jon March at St Luke's Church in Kentish Town. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

A Kentish Town church that lay derelict for 20 years is undergoing a renaissance – a year after reopening its doors.

St Luke’s Church in Oseney Crescent has proved so popular that more than 500 people attended its carol services this Christmas.

The congregation will now celebrate the renovated church’s first birthday with a Burns Night ceilidh on Friday January 25.

St Luke’s has a particularly youthful following – mainly young professionals and families, with mid-week groups specifically for students and young mums.

Vicar Jon March, 33, said: “There is an increased spiritual hunger among people in their 20s and 30s than there was 10 or 20 years ago. The growth of a congregation like this is giving people the opportunity to explore that spiritual hunger.”

The church also offers sessions to support people with eating disorders.

Rev March says St Luke’s has been successful because it fills a spiritual need in the community.

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“I don’t think we’re doing anything particularly differently – but I think again it goes back to giving people the opportunity to explore life’s questions,” he said.

“The questions of faith are as alive as they have been for thousands of years.”

St Luke’s flourishing congregation is a marked change from the time it stood derelict between 1991 and 2011.

Built in 1869 by Basil Champneys, who also designed Newnham College, Cambridge, and the John Rylands Library in Manchester, declining congregations in the second half of the 20th century caused the church’s closure in 1991.

During the years it was abandoned, it was even used as an artist’s studio, before Rev March was given the task of resurrecting the church by the Bishop of London.

The roof had been repaired by the Church Conservation Trust but everything else was left for the vicar and his congregation. Grants and the donations have raised more than £100,000 to fix dry rot in the ceiling, wet rot in the floor and install electrics and heating.

Rev March arrived with a ready-made congregation of 40 to 60 people from his previous church – Holy Trinity Brompton in Knightsbridge.

He says this core, mainly residents of the area, has not only boosted his own church but also energised nearby parishes.

“The stereotype is that you end up dividing the same number of Christians among more churches. But I think the reality is that it awakens something spiritually within people when a church reopens,” he said.

Rev Philip North, of nearby St Michael’s Church in Camden Road, Camden Town, agrees.

“The vibrancy of a young congregation just makes everyone feel good,” he said. “Seeing a derelict building repaired makes everyone feel good.”

His own congregation has grown significantly in the last two years. “There are four or five churches in this area of Camden. Twenty years ago, the congregations were single figures – they’re all now in triple figures,” he said.

“Church life in Camden is vibrant and on the up. There is no doubt about that.”

Looking ahead, the test for St Luke’s is to maintain the momentum of its first year.

“For me, the challenge will be continually keeping fresh,” said Rev March. “Continually keeping excited about a new project or thing.”