St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church
The story of a church, any church, is not easily told. When people gather to worship and share their faith, to pray for the sick, to hope for the future, and maybe even to find their calling, the story invariably becomes complicated. St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church is no exception. Since 1833, St. Matthew’s has changed, grown, and evolved to become a thriving church community whose reach extends globally, and yet still maintains an active local presence. The story of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church is multi-faceted: it speaks of construction and funding, of passion and faith, of logistics and planning, but mostly, it’s a story of vision.
In 1833, when the first St. Matthew’s Church was built on what is now a corner of St. Matthew’s United Church of Christ’s cemetery, Lutheran and Reformed congregations shared the building and alternated services every other Sunday. This was common practice in Colonial Pennsylvania, but sharing soon proved too difficult, and in 1872, the vision to gather and grow the Lutheran faith community took hold. Lutherans from St. Matthew’s began planning their separation. The separation was amicable, and the Reformed congregation bought out their portion of the church, giving the Lutheran congregation $1,000, an organ, one stove, and half of the books in the library. In 1878, the cornerstone of a new, Gothic-style church was laid, and the foundation of a vibrant Lutheran community was established.
Since its official dedication on May 1, 1879, St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church has seen many changes. Ten of its original 18 ½ acres were sold by 1901, and a rededication was held to mark extensive church renovations, including new carpets, paint, and a new platform installation. In 1903, the parsonage was built. The congregation grew in strength and numbers and began reaching out to the entire community by starting yearly social events, such as the “Strawberry Social” in June, and the “Oyster Supper” in early autumn. From kerosene lamps, to gas lighting, to the eventual installation of electricity in 1929, St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church continued to adapt to their ever-changing environment. Improvements to the church often came from the generosity of its congregants: the stained glass memorial windows, “The Good Shepherd” and “Gethsemane,” were presented as gifts from two members of the congregation. The parsonage was remodeled in 1941 and from it water was piped into the church kitchen. In 1948, an artesian well was drilled close to the parsonage to provide a safe and reliable water supply for both the parsonage and the church. In 1981, the first woman pastor began her ministry, and in 1990, a computer was installed and the first church secretary worked from a newly installed trailer, as the parsonage was providing income as a rental property. More renovations came in 1991 and in 1995 and by 1998, the parsonage was also renovated to provide much needed space for staff and volunteers. The congregation grew by the hundreds, and with this new growth came a renewed vision. Now was the time to strengthen their commitment, to expand ministries, to continue to extend their welcome to the entire community, and to live the church’s new theme, “Making Room for Faith to Grow.”
So in 2001, the vision again alive, St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church embarked on its most ambitious project to date. The $1.7 million project would build, expand, and renovate the church to make room for their renewed congregation and their commitment to call all people into a community of faith. The sanctuary was literally turned around, a full 180 degrees, to add seating, additional entrances to the church, and a narthex for gathering before worship. The stained glass windows were cleaned and moved, and nearly 100 years since they had been donated, became a prominent feature in the narthex. A new building, the Christian Life Center (CLC) was added to provide meeting and social space, and by 2003, a new preschool and kindergarten opened its doors, providing an environment of caring and thoughtful learning. The school grew quickly and widely became known in the area as an exceptional learning environment.
The new wave of congregants and student families paved the way for St. Matthew’s to broaden its reach. It wouldn’t be long before St. Matthew’s would extend its arms…all the way to Africa. In 2007, the Africa Fund at St. Matthew’s was established and a massive effort was underway to help construct the Neema Orphanage Center in Kalali, Tanzania. St. Matthew’s House is now one of the largest dwellings at the Center which provides a safe, homelike environment for children who have lost both parents to the AIDS pandemic. Volunteers from St. Matthew’s congregation participate in yearly Vision Trips to the orphanage and come back to share these life changing experiences with congregants and the community. Children from the orphanage participate in a yearly exchange with children from St. Matthew’s Preschool and Kindergarten, trading crafts and greetings across the miles.
But changes were happening at home during this time, too. Outreach ministries continued to grow, as did the children of the congregation. Those who first attended the preschool were now growing into young adults, and they needed to feel that they, too, could be active members of this faith community. The vision was simple: create a space that would welcome those youth to gather and socialize in their church environment. In 2011, with that vision in mind, the congregation came together and the “Lounge” was born. This endeavor transformed the church basement to include a kitchen, two meeting rooms with state-of-the-art audio and visual capabilities, and plenty of areas to sit and meander. Young adults and older youth now had their own space to gather after church, while the younger children still participated in weekly Faith Formation classes.
For more than 180 years, St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church has led the way in extending their hands to those in need and continually growing in their faith. Their vision today remains simple, yet far-reaching, as expressed in both their “Mission” and “Vision Statements:”
God calls St. Matthew’s congregation and community to
Be engaged in joyful service in God’s world through faith in Jesus Christ.
We will commit ourselves through our time, talents and financial support to:
- Put God’s Word into action.
- Foster communication, in order to inform and connect people to ministry
- Express God’s love and fulfill God’s mission by generously serving one another locally & globally.
Throughout its long history, St. Matthew’s Church has grown, changed, and reached out to the community and beyond. With a tenacious will to share God’s love as their guide, St. Matthew’s continues to expand its outreach efforts. Where will their vision take them next? What does the future hold for this historic church? If history teaches us anything, we know that whatever challenges lie ahead, they will be met…with faith, God’s guidance, and a shared vision.
By Nancy Repko