2011-01-13 / News

St. Matthew’s celebrates 175 years on the island

By Tim Riel and Sue Maden

St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church was demolished in the 1960s so that a new church could be built at the same location. Photo courtesy of the Jamestown Historical Society St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church was demolished in the 1960s so that a new church could be built at the same location. Photo courtesy of the Jamestown Historical Society St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church will host a handful of celebrations in 2011 to commemorate its 175th anniversary, which kicks off this Sunday – Jan. 16 – with a special service in the style of 1836, the year that the church was established.

“We will be worshipping in the style of 1836, the year in which Saint Matthew’s was established,” the rector of the church, Rev. Kevin Lloyd, said. “We will be using the 1789 edition of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, which is what would have been in use at that time. I will be wearing vestments appropriate to the time, and members of the parish have been invited to dress the part as well.”

Although St. Matthew’s was founded in 1836, it wasn’t until the next year when the church was officially “received into union” by the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island. Rev. Edward Waylen was named the first minister of the parish, and was joined by a humble 13-member congregation, which included seven Quakers and six members of other Christian denominations. At the time, Jamestown’s population was about 400.

The church held its first baptism in 1838, performed by Rev. Benjamin Hickok on Martha Underwood. Ann Eliza Weeden and Job Hazard were the first couple married at St. Matthew’s, and the church’s first rector was Rev. John Stoddard.

The purchase of the Artillery Lot in 1836 was just the first of several buildings that St. Matthew’s would make its home. A second church was built in 1880 across the street. The Victorian Gothic-style building – architect George Mason and contractor Gordon Oxx were mainly responsible for the construction – held its first service on June 28, 1880. At that time, the steeple wasn’t complete, so it had not been officially dedicated to the bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island, Rev. Thomas Marsh Clark, which is customary before the first service is held. Rev. G.J. Magill said that he didn’t want to keep worshippers waiting any longer for the completion of the steeple, and assured everyone that the bishop would take part in a dedication ceremony at a future date.

The new church was an upgrade aesthetically over the old Artillery Lot. According to a February 2000 Press article, “[The new church] was a vast improvement over the quite ugly original church that looked more like a barn or storage shed than a place of worship.”

In 1891, the church announced that Lewis Anthony would build a new rectory, and soon after, Rev. Charles Preston was named the first resident rector at St. Matthew’s


Five years later, St. Matthew’s voted to become an “independent and self-supporting church.” Up until then, it was a part of the Trinity Church in Newport. The first significant decision that Preston made as the rector of the newly liberated church was to build a movable church on wheels.

In 1899, the Chapel of the Transfiguration was completed. Preston called it the “The Go Chapel.”

It was 27 feet long, 18 feet wide, and could comfortably hold 100 people. The Cincinnati Bell Foundry cast a 375-pound bell, which was mounted over the door.

The chapel was the first movable church in the world, according to a Boston Herald article. “This movable chapel was placed on wheels and moved by a team of oxen to and from the north end of the island to provide a place of worship for the farming community there,” said Lloyd.

Interest faded with the first-ofits kind chapel, and today it still stands in Jamestown, but as a private home.

Rectors between the years of 1900-1959 included Rev. Charles Burrowns, Rev. Albert Larned, Rev. John Howard Wright and Rev. Herbert Dowling.

In 1960, Rev. Edgar Tebbets became rector, and it was during his tenure when the unpopular decision to demolish the church was made. In 1968, the new church was completed and open for business. Its first wedding was held on Aug. 9, the first service on Aug. 11 and the first baptism was performed on Sept. 8, of Tebbets’ grandson.

Following Tebbets’ retirement, Rev. Charles Cloughen Jr. became rector from 1973 to 1983. Rev. Frederick Spulnik was made rector in 1983, and held the position under his retirement in 2004, when Lloyd took over.

Along with the special service on Sunday, Lloyd and the congregation have other celebrations planned for the anniversary year. They plan to have a special banner for the Memorial Day Parade, and hope to hold at least one special anniversary concert.

“Through the course of the year, we will be displaying historical artifacts and photographs from our rich history in our parish hall,” Lloyd said. “Our anniversary celebrations will conclude with a special event on or around Sept. 21, which is the feast day of Saint Matthew in our church year. We will have a service of Holy Eucharist to which all members, both current and former, will be invited, in addition to special guests.”

Sunday’s celebration will begin at 10 a.m.

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