St. Francis’ Church was consecrated in 1960 as a daughter church of St. Mary’s, the Parish Church of Luton and became a parish in 1977. The then vicar of Luton, Canon William Davison, was particularly devoted to St. Francis of Assisi and chose the dedication. The church, hall. and vicarage were all built in 11 months for what was even then the modest price of £23,000. The architect, Peter Dunham, aimed deliberately at simplicity of design, saying he wanted the church to look like a church and not “a glorified drawing room”. He described the building as “Like a very tall tent”.
The outside mural was painted by the architect’s daughter, television actress Joanna Dunham and shows scenes from the life of St. Francis. The engraved window in the porch shows St. Alban, the first British martyr and patron saint of the Diocese of St. Albans, to which the church belongs. Also in the porch are the foundation stone, laid by the chairman of Hunting Aircraft whose works were then at Luton Airport, and a medieval stone head from St. Mary’s, a tangible piece of the mother church.
Inside, the church floor is raked to improve vision. The pulpit is decorated with the fish symbol used by early Christians as a secret sign. The initial letters of the words “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour” in Greek make the word “ichthys”, which means “fish”. The fish also appears on the wooden collection plates. The pillars of the communion table are faced with flint, a link with the traditional building material of the area. The large mural, entitled “To the End of Time”, was painted in 1962 by Mary Adshead. There are small consecration crosses in the top of the communion table and a larger one on the pillar by the clergy stall.
The organ was built in 1975 from the parts of the Victorian organ of Park Street Baptist Church, whose members donated it to St. Francis when their church was closed. It is a two-manual organ, built to a classical specification, with 23 speaking stops. Previously, the church had an electronic organ in the choir gallery. Near the organ is a small keyboard for the bells system. The sounds are produced by striking metal rods which are electrically amplified and broadcast from under the fleche on the roof. Nearby is a reproduction of Fra Angelico’s painting of St Francis.
The font is raised and sited, unusually, halfway down the church. The traditional site for a font is by the door, symbolising entry into the Christian faith, but here the whole congregation has a good view and baptism is given great prominence. The copper font, mounted in slate, was made by apprentices of Hunting Aircraft as a craft piece.
The gallery built for a choir, now gives extra seating for the congregation; the rear of the gallery was raised in 1982. Below is a small room, originally the choir vestry, now a crèche and meeting room. The sliding doors at the back of the church open into the hall, which is used to seat the overflow from the church when it is full.