Eiring and his wife, Jane, live near Waynesboro, Ga., and for the past eight years have driven into Harrisburg to attend the small church on Crawford Avenue.
The church is more than 100 years old, and the Eirings are among its longest-serving members. Al Eiring is a trustee.
“I can remember when it only had 20 or 30 people. Now it’s back in the 50s or 60s,” he said.
Eiring said four pastors have served the church since he’s been a member, and the congregation has become more diverse over the years, transitioning from mostly white to mostly black.
The first service Georgia Regents University medical student Brett Heimlich attended at St. Luke had about 10 worshippers, and most of them were considerably older than he was.
“The church looks a lot different (now),” he said. “I think the beauty of the church now is that it really reflects the community.”
The Rev. Luther Felder said he is not certain how many members the church has, because the rolls are being purged of members who have not been active in years. But an average Sunday morning attendance is more than 70.
“We just continue to grow,” he said.
Felder said before he became pastor nearly three years ago, a handful of members who were still active in the church discussed closing it.
“St. Luke has seen as its mission for this church to serve the children of Harrisburg. In order to do that, we had to be here,” he said.
The members decided to keep the church open as long as they were financially able. Finances continue to be a struggle, however, as much of the congregation is poor.
“They said we want to stay here until our last gasp to try to help address the needs of the children in the community,” Felder said.
He said everything the church does is geared toward the children. ‘
On Mondays and Wednesdays, the church holds a tutoring program that serves about 60 children each night.
During the summer, Camp Veggie Truck allows children to create meals and teaches them to eathealthily.
“Some of the parents of the children are now coming to be a part of the church,” Felder said.
Eiring said the children keep him coming back week after week.
“I love that church so much, but the children are the main blessing I’m there for every week,” he said.
For Heimlich, joining the church was an extension of his desire to serve the neighborhood. So much so that he moved into a house on Crawford Avenue so he could live with the people he serves.
“I think I’ve gained more than I’ve given in terms of life lessons and being able to be blessed by the people I’m serving. It’s definitely not a one-way street,” he said.
Heimlich, along with another medical student and St. Luke’s Outreach Director Marsha Jones, created The Veggie Truck, an outreach of the church that now partners with local nonprofits to bring fresh, locally grown produce to the residents of Harrisburg.
Services are relaxed and a little more contemporary to allow people to feel comfortable coming just as they are.
Felder preaches most Sundays in slacks and often pulls off his coat for comfort. He rarely wears a tie. On first Sundays he dons the robe to administer communion.
He doesn’t want anyone to say they can’t afford to attend church.
Felder said outreach ministry has been key to the church’s growth.
“A church must have a relationship with the community it serves if it’s going to be effective,” he said.