St. Matthew’s celebrates 175 years
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church will observe the 175th anniversary of its consecration on Saturday, Sept. 24. The congregation will culminate months of celebration with two special events to take place next weekend.
The history of the church in Jamestown goes back to the 1700s when various Christian groups gathered in a shared building to worship. In 1836, a group of Anglicans came together and formally established an Episcopal church in Jamestown.
According to Rev. Kevin Lloyd, who has been the pastor at St. Matthew’s for the last five years, “It initially became a mission parish of Trinity Church in Newport, which means it was supported by Trinity and the diocese. Eventually it became a self-supporting parish.”
The Episcopal Church in the United States was formed by Anglicans and has always been a member of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, which are those churches for which the mother church is the Church of England. So the Episcopal Church was formed from Anglican tradition in the United States.
The current building that houses St. Matthew’s was built in the 1960s and is the third church building on the site. The existing church was preceded by a cedar-shingled building until the former rector, Edgar Tebbetts, decided that a larger space was needed. The cedar-shingled building was taken down, and the existing church was consecrated in 1968.
The first building to stand on or near the site was that structure that was shared by all of the is- land’s Christian groups in the 18th century.
When an Episcopal congregation is formed they will chose the name, which is often the name of a saint. “The naming of the church St. Matthew’s probably had to do with the fact that that was the time of the year that they were in the process of forming the congregation and they reached that goal around the time of St. Matthew’s feast day, which is always Sept. 21,” said Lloyd.
In the 175-year history of St. Matthew’s there have been a number of interesting stories. One of those involved what was known as the “moveable chapel.”
“This happened right around the turn of the last century,” Lloyd said. “It started in 1899 when the rector of St. Matthew’s, Charles Preston, decided that St. Matthew’s should have more of a presence on the north end of the island.”
“There was a summer community up there, and just south of that a farming community,” Lloyd continued. “So he came up with the idea of building a small chapel and putting it up on wheels, and having a team of oxen haul it up to the north end of the island to where the summer community was. After the summer community left, they hauled it down a mile south of that to where the farming community was.”
The building that was the moveable chapel was eventually incorporated into a house on the island and still stands.
The 175th anniversary celebration started earlier this year at St. Matthew’s with a very special service. “The first thing we did to kick off the celebration in the early part of the year was to have a service in the style of 1836,” Lloyd said. “I did research on how worship would have been at that time, and came to find out that it was certainly quite different in terms of how the service flowed, and the language used.”
“It was one of the earlier Books of Common Prayer, which is the guideline for our worship on Sunday mornings,” Lloyd added. “We researched that and did an 1836 style liturgy. Folks in the congregation even dressed in the style of how people would have dressed at that time. It was a neat service. The language was very different.”
Another part of the celebration was the creation of a photographic timeline with pictures and information about the history of the church. The display is presently hanging in the St. Matthew’s Parish Hall. Other photographs from the church’s archives have also been hung around the Parish Hall.
A contingent of approximately 60 church members marched in the Jamestown Memorial Day Parade carrying the 175th anniversary banner that has been hanging on the church. That same banner was incorporated into the sail for the St. Matthew’s entry into the Fools’ Rules Regatta. “Our entry did quite well,” Lloyd said. “It came in fourth place in our category. It was a pretty seaworthy craft.”
A gala weekend will culminate the St. Matthew’s celebrations for this year. On Saturday, Sept. 24, there will be a party at a member’s home with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Then on Sunday a celebratory service will take place with special music.
The St. Matthew’s congregation is composed of approximately 380 baptized members. Average attendance for Sunday services is about 120 members.
Lloyd is looking forward to the future of his congregation. “We just want to continue to grow as a faith community and be active and involved in the Jamestown community,” he said. “We’ve got a strong Sunday school program with wonderful teachers during the school year. We have a solid and growing music program.”
The role of faith in the lives of his parishioners is of paramount importance to Lloyd. “The history of St. Matthew’s is one in which the people of St. Matthew’s have always been very active and involved in the community and have sought to serve the community in various ways,” he said. “We seek as a community of faith to discern how best to live out that faith, and how best to share God’s presence and love with the rest of the world.”