The Luke Community Chapel contemporary gospel service celebrated its 40th anniversary Sunday with the theme “Forty Years of Grace and Mercy.”
“The gospel service has such a rich history, but one of the facts that most people might not know is that the Air Force did not reintroduce chaplains to oversee the gospel service at Luke Air Force Base until 1996,” said Chaplain (Capt.) Kenya Gray, 56th Fighter Wing Chapel.
First established by Col. David Rathjen, former installation chaplain and now retired, the gospel service has been alive on Luke since 1973.
“My intention was to present the truth; it was the main thing,” Rathjen said about the gospel service. “Evidently it’s been very good. Obviously it must’ve been successful.”
Originally overseen by Chaplain James Calloway, the position was eventually given to his close friend Reverend Lee Montague. The late Montague had to seek permission from the Air Force’s Chief of Chaplains Office in Washington, D.C., as well as the Luke gospel service.
“Reverend Montague led by word and by deed,” Gray said. “He was a great teacher, mentor and organizer. He was the early visionary and the driving force behind the gospel service for 23 years.”
Montague passed away on May 19, 2004. He is survived by his wife, Shirley, who has played the service’s piano for the last 40 years. Mrs. Montague’s musicianship and leadership will be another point of recognition during the 40th anniversary celebration.
“It’s been a blessing in my life and for lots of people,” Montague said. “It was a unified thing, it was a church meant for all. I’m just grateful God used me for this service.”
“This year may be an end of an era for her as all of our music contracts were cut from appropriated funding,” Gray said. “We had to cut four fully funded contract music positions down to two, one for each Protestant service.”
For many involved with the gospel service, it has been a long yet fulfilling journey. Virginia Ponder, an usher for the service since its beginning, has many good memories of their history on base, one of which was when the church did not have a pool to baptize in, and Luke Air Force Base obliged them.
“When people needed to be baptized, the base opened the pool to the people,” Ponder said.
After 40 years of serving the spiritual needs of service members and their families, the contemporary gospel service meets at 10 a.m. Sundays in the Luke Community Chapel.