A Century Plus: The Saint Matthew UMC Story
It’s a long and complicated story that leads us to where we are now. This congregation has experienced four locations, three name changes, one split (over a new location in 1962), and one merger (with Eastwood Methodist in 1966). When our church broke ground on Hitson Lane in 1966 for our present building, we already had over 70 years of history as a congregation. Our story begins back in the late 19th Century with another historic Fort Worth church – Missouri Avenue Methodist.
The Missouri Avenue Years (1888 – 1895)
Missouri Avenue was established in 1888 and quickly outgrew its facilities. This church was looking for a new location, and may have bought the land on Bessie Street for itself. We will never know. What we do know is that Missouri Avenue bought two lots in November of 1884. Then their wooden building burned in 1895, clearing the location where they were, so they rebuilt at that site. (And they built again around 1907 – the building that now serves as St. Andrew’s United Methodist.)
Rebuilding in the same spot left them with two vacant lots over on Bessie Street with a deed restriction that it be used for “a house of worship.” And that’s where we come in.
The Glenwood Years (1896 – 1939)
Missouri Avenue started a new congregation. Glenwood Methodist Episcopal Church, South. A Sunday school class from Missouri Avenue became the nucleus of the new congregation. The first pastor, Rev. S. A. Barnes, was a student at Polytechnic College (now Texas Wesleyan). With fewer than 10 members to start with, Glenwood grew to 35 by the end of the first year, and to over 100 the second year.
The first building, dating probably from 1895 or 1896, was a classic Victorian clapboard. In the early photographs we see hitching posts and a gas light out front. The original small gothic pulpit from this church survives – proudly displayed in the entrance area of our church today.
By 1919 the pastor of Glenwood was complaining that the building was small and hard to heat in winter. In 1925 the thriving congregation moved a couple of blocks over to a fine new facility, brick and the popular style of the day. (This building, at the corner of Vickery and Riverside, later became the first home of Bethel Temple, and is now Central Christian Church.)
The Great Depression took its financial toll on Glenwood, which lost its new church to the mortgage company. The congregation was allowed to rent the property during the 30’s, but this could not continue, for our Discipline requires that Methodists own their place of worship. With the great Uniting Conference of 1939 (when the Methodist church, divided north and south over slavery before the Civil War, reunited), our Conference had to have all of its churches in line with the Discipline. Glenwood was told it must either buy back its building or move out. The painful decision was made to move out.
The Ash Crescent Years (1940 – 1964)
With the decision to vacate the great building, some members left. Those who remained moved two blocks over to Ash Crescent Street, meeting for a while under an oak tree while a new, smaller building was constructed. Church members, led by the pastor, Rev. Hubert Crain, did all the building work. And when it was finished – it was paid for. (This building now serves as a Baptist congregation.)
With the new location came a new name: Ash Crescent Methodist. The attractive stone chapel, dedicated in 1941, served our congregation for over 20 years – a time of stability as a good neighborhood church – until the Great Divide” of 1962. Planning another move, the church could not agree on a new location. Half the members left to form Eastern Hills Methodist. Half remained, changing the name to Saint Matthew in 1964. This division was more shattering than the loss of the great church building in 1939.
The joyful reality, of course, is that Saint Matthew and Eastern Hills reclaimed their common heritage, recognizing and celebrating a unique relationship. In 1996, as part of a plan to enrich life and ministry for both congregations, our two “sister churches” were “linked on a charge,” now sharing some aspects of ministry. This relationship has become a model of its kind.
Saint Matthew UMC (1964 – Present)
The first service in our present building was on Easter Sunday in 1966. And in June of that same year Eastwood Methodist closed and most of that congregation joined Saint Matthew – bringing with them all of their movable possessions, including the Communion table we use today. This was an exciting new beginning, but growth did not continue. In fact, the 1970’s brought drastic membership decline, to the point where the survival of the congregation was in question.
In 1982 we began the turnaround with dramatic growth, and we have moved steadily forward ever since. By the 1990’s we needed more room for our great special services. We also wanted to create a worship area that would, of itself, give witness to the beauty and grace of Christ. In 1992, the present building was “glorified” under the direction of gifted architect Gregory Wyatt. The result may well be one of the most attractive smaller churches in the city.
The architect took a rather plain 60s-looking building and transformed it into a church that looks like it’s been around for a few centuries. In fact, Saint Matthew UMC would look at home beside some country lane in England. And the pulpit actually is an old one – some 175 years old – from a demolished church in Scotland. The baptismal font is a copy in wood of an eighteenth century stone font in a church in London.
Saint Matthew today is known for its joyful worship, its creative community outreach, and its determination to serve and grow as a church even against the odds – by the grace of Christ our Lord.
Saint Matthew UMC is a great place to worship.
But that has more to do with the Holy Spirit than with the building!