Compiled by Virginia France: This brief history of our church was largely compiled in 1996, as we celebrated our seventy-fifth "Diamond" Anniversary. Our dear friend, the late Leslie Huber, provided much of the research materials for this report, from materials she had lovingly preserved during her thirty-plus years as a member of the St. Matthew's family.
1921 - The Tea Room of the Rose Garden Inn
It takes a special kind of bravery to start a church. And it takes vision, dedication, and sheer mind-numbing, body-wearying hard work as well. In the spring of 1921, a small but enthusiastic group of communicants of the Episcopal Church met in the Tea Room of the Rose Garden Inn, located at the rear of the lot at 410 South Main Street.
The Tea Room, where those first families met to worship, was operated by Mrs. Lutz, who, though not an Episcopalian, was most helpful in providing a room for the first meetings and services. When the Rose Garden Inn was later sold and the building razed, services were held at the office of Howe Nurseries through the hospitality of Mr. William P. Howe. On May 22, 1925, the Rt. Rev. Paul Matthews, Bishop of New Jersey, visited the mission for Confirmation. This service was held in the Sunday School room of the Presbyterian Church in Pennington. The Bishop's visit seems to have had a powerful, positive effect, and from this time on the growth of the mission steadily increased.
NOTE: The founding members of the chapel congregation were Mr. and Mrs. Robert S. Chevrier, Mr. and Mrs. David Davies, Mr. and Mrs. George W. McGuire, Mrs. And Mrs. Herbert Parsons, Mrs. and Mrs. Edward Randolph, Mrs. And Mrs. Walter Vannoy, and Mr. and Mrs. M.D. Warren. The founding families were soon joined by three additional families who took an active part in the formation of the mission church: Mr. and Mrs. J.Baumgardner, Mr. And Mrs. William Kents, and Mr. and Mrs. A.G. McLean.
1926 - The First Building
In 1926 Mr. Howe generously donated the present lot to the congregation. His gift made it possible to erect a small, wooden church seating about 60 people. The cost of this new building was $4,250, of which the congregation raised about $850. Most of the money, $3,400, was borrowed from the Diocese. What a leap of faith that must have been--both on the part of those early congregants and of the Bishop and others at the Diocesan level! The debt was not paid off until 1945.
In January 1945 St. Matthew's was made a chapel of St. James Episcopal Church in Trenton, by the authority of Bishop Gardner, in order to provide the Pennington Mission with more active leadership. Now the Rev. Gerald R. Minchin, Rector, had pastoral oversight for both the St. James Parish and St. Matthew's Mission.
Later in 1945 the Bishop appointed Henry C. Beck as Deacon. The vigorous leadership provided by Fr. Minchin and Mr. Beck immediately created increased interest and financial support. The love and generosity of many people interested in the establishment of this church was shown by the many gifts and memorials received. Deacon Beck was elevated to the priesthood and took a post elsewhere; he was followed by the Rev.Tilley and then by the Rev. Ware King.
1952 - Expansion
By 1952 the little church was bursting at the seams. An expansion project was undertaken to provide a small connecting parish hall, kitchen, and sacristy. Because of financial constraints- the expansion cost $20,000- the enlargement of the church itself was postponed, although the expansion did necessitate some minor modification to the church proper. The service of rededication of the revised interior of the church, together with the dedication of the new parish hall and kitchen, was conducted on February 10, 1955 by the Rt. Rev. Alfred L. Banyard and the Rev. Messrs G.A. Minchin and W.G. King.
1956 - A Rectory
The parish leadership was then given the opportunity to purchase the home on the adjacent property, to become the mission rectory. There must surely have been a great deal of doubt and prayer as to the wisdom of making this purchase - for yet another $20,000 - so soon after the completion of the remodeling and expansion! Fortunately for us, the visionaries won the day over the nay-sayers, and today we are able to provide a home for our curate.
The rectory's first occupant was the Rev. Edwin Tucker. Appointed as vicar on February 8, 1956, he was ordained to the priesthood on October 27, 1956. Now that the mission had a Vicar, a rectory, and a serviceable facility, its future was assured. At last, at the diocesan convention of April 9, 1957, the mission of St. Matthew's was received as a full-fledged parish.
1959 - More Expansion
During 1959 and 1960 an addition to the first floor and basement of the parish hall was built, providing much-needed space for parish activities and for church school classes. (Some church school classes had even been held in the rectory). The cost of this work was about $40,000. Fr. Tucker took a position with the Diocese and resigned as Rector in 1959. For a few months in 1960 the Rev. Allan Pendergraft was Rector, but he resigned due to ill health.
The Rev. Arthur S. Musson was Rector from 1960 to 1968. During those years St. Matthew's continued its strong and steady growth, until the structure once again became too small. Church school classes for the youngest children were held in the church's existing classrooms, and all the other church school classes were held in the classrooms of the grammar school across Main Street. Those church school children and their teachers attended their own separate services in the school's auditorium, conducted by lay readers and the Rector. Meanwhile, at the main church, congregants spilled over into the parish hall, which was connected to the church by folding doors. Those seated in the parish hall could hear, but many could not see any part of the chancel. Clearly, these painfully overcrowded conditions could not continue. By 1965 the parish had paid off all the debts from its previous additions, and plans were made to expand once again.
1967 - A New Building
It must have been with very mixed emotions that the parishioners decided to raze their beloved wooden chapel and replace it with the present structure. The face of the original parish hall was tied into the new building to provide a unified exterior. In addition, seven large rooms were built for use by Sunday school classes, the choir, and acolytes. The cost of the new church was about $160,000. This money was raised among the generous and devoted parish members, who gave in the stewardship tradition of giving to God his fair share of our income. Bishop Banyard dedicated the new building in April of 1967.
The Rev. Edward Sykes was rector from 1968 to 1975. He paved the way for liturgical renewal of the church by the introduction of the current approaches in style of worship. He was a pioneer in the cause for the ordination of women, sponsoring the Rev. Virginia Sheay, who was assistant at St. Matthew's from 1975 to 1983.
1976 - A New Rector
In 1976, the Rev. John C. Belmont became our Rector. Under his leadership, St. Matthew's has experienced a spiritual renewal with the introduction of the ministries of small groups and healing, and the continued growth of our youth and children's ministries. The Little Leisure Nursery School program, begun in 1971, has become one of the finest nursery programs in the area.
Capital improvements under Rev. Belmont's tenure have included a modernizing of the Reredos (the wall behind the altar), a major addition to the rectory, and refurbishment of the offices and the kitchen.
2000 - A Bigger Parish Hall and More
In 1994, the Long Range Planning Committee reported that the existing parish hall, classrooms, office space and basement storage area were insufficient to meet the demands of a growing parish. In 1995, the property directly to the west of the existing parish hall became available. Church planners determined that a small subdivision of that property would provide all the additional land necessary for new construction that would meet the parish's needs.
In January 1996, in its 75th anniversary year, the parish voted to endorse the Vestry's call for a capital fundraising campaign. The parish successfully met the capital fundraising challenge through pledges and gifts, and on March 5, 2000, the new facility was dedicated. The Rt. Rev. Vincent K. Pettit, Suffragan Bishop (Retired) of New Jersey, presided over the Liturgy of Dedication and blessing of the new parish space to the strains of "The Church's One Foundation" and "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones."
CHRONOLOGY OF CLERGY LEADERSHIP
Rectors: Rev. Edwin Tucker, Vicar (1956-59), Rev. Allan Pendergraf (1959-60), Rev. Arthur S. Musson (1960-1968), Rev. Edward S. Sykes (1968-1975), Rev. John Belmont (1976-2013), Rev. Peggy Hodgkins (Interim Rector: 2013- 2015).
Rev. Ophelia Laughlin
2018 - Present
The Rev. Edwin Tucker
The Rev. Allan Pendergraft
The Rev. Arthur Musson
The Rev. Edward Sykes
The Rev. Barbara Briggs
The Rev. John Belmont
The Rev. Peggy Hodgkins
Assistant Rectors, Curates and Associates: James B. Prices (1966-?), Crey Abraham (1968), Virginia Sheay (1975-83), Daphne Hawkes (1984-86), Beverly Weatherly (1986-87), Frieda Malcom (1987-90), Joanne Epply-Schmidt (1990-00), Peter Stimpson, Mark Frazier (2001-03), Emily Griffin (2003-2013), Frank Castellon, Deacon (2006-2012).