Our History: A Faith Journey

In late 1955 the Episcopal Church of the Advent in downtown Spartanburg began exploring the need for planting new mission congregations in the fast growing east and west sections of the city. Identified then as Fernwood in the east and Park Hills in the west, the Episcopal families on the west side of Spartanburg moved quickly and held their first service on February 3, 1957.

Led by the Reverend Capers Satterlee, Rector of the Advent, those first services were held in homes in the Park Hills neighborhood. By early 1958, rapid growth had necessitated moving from homes to larger venues; first to Hidden Hills Gardens, then the Knights of Pythias Hall on Victoria Road and then as numbers continued to grow to the Seventh Day Adventist Church. 

Now having a dedicated sacred space for worship, Father Satterlee donated the 1895 processional cross from the Advent and an altar was procured from a former Episcopal mission in Blacksburg. The cross and altar are still in use. The processional cross is used on special occasions and Feast Days and is always present in the Nave. The altar, which has now been repurposed as a retable, stands behind the current altar. It was built by the Rev. Dr. W.H.K. Pendleton, Rector of the Advent in the early 1900s as a memorial to his son, Henry, who died as a child.

In July of 1958 the Reverend Jack M. Bennett was called as the new assistant at the Advent with responsibilities that included serving the new congregation that Bishop Cole had named  St. Matthew's. In June of 1959 the Reverend John W. Arrington, III, was ordained deacon and appointed the first vicar of  St. Matthew's. During this time the Cleveland family had donated a seven and one half acre site on W. O. Ezell Boulevard and the permanent home for  St. Matthew's was under construction. The first service in the new church was Reverend Arrington’s ordination to the priesthood on July 9, 1960. Reverend Arrington served as vicar until September of 1963.

The Reverend James H. George became the second vicar of St. Matthew’s in April, 1964. Due to rapid growth an assistant to the vicar was secured, the Reverend Grayson B. “Barry” Garvin, and the two priests served The Church of the Epiphany on the south side of Spartanburg and Calvary Church in Glenn Springs in addition to St. Matthew’s. Father Garvin expanded  St. Matthew's presence and work at Church of the Epiphany, often taking acolytes and lay readers from Saint Matthew’s to assist in weekly Evening Prayer services in the traditional African-American congregation.

This work laid the foundation for the involvement of  St. Matthew's third vicar, the Reverend Clifford McWhorter, in the Civil Rights movement in Spartanburg. Serving from 1967 to 1972, he often encountered opposition from the local community but he remained steadfast in his support for equal rights. It was also during those years that  St. Matthew's Kindergarten was founded; an educational ministry that continues to this day as  St. Matthew's Preschool. 

The fourth vicar was the Reverend David E. Bridgforth. The church experienced rapid growth during his tenure and by early 1975 was self- supporting. On November 4, 1976, Saint Matthew’s was accepted as a parish of the Diocese and Father Bridgforth accepted the vestry’s call to serve as rector. In 1982 it became clear our parish was outgrowing its facilities. After a one-week bond drive, funds were raised in the amount of $186,000 and construction began in the fall on a 7,000 square foot expansion that included new offices, classrooms, a kitchen and a half court gym. Father Bridgforth served until May, 1987, when he left to become rector of St. Timothy’s in Columbia. 

The Reverend James Janks came to St. Matthew’s in June, 1988. During his time the office of Lay Eucharistic Minister was instituted to encourage more lay involvement in the ministries of the church. 

Father Janks left in August, 1989 and the Reverend Dr. Dennis Smith came to Saint Matthew’s as interim rector in November. Father Smith served in that capacity until October, 1992, at which time he was installed as a permanent, though still part-time, rector. Saint Matthew’s went through a rebuilding time under Father Smith and experienced important growth in faith, in community, and in service. Under his leadership a Prayer for Spiritual Growth was developed and is still said at every service. It is a call to Preach, Teach, Heal, and Make Disciples and serves as the foundational statement of our parish life and ministry. Father Smith retired from Saint Matthew’s in 2001. 

During an eighteen-month period of interim ministry, the vestry made the decision to prepare for new growth by renovating and expanding the Nave which doubled our worship capacity. This coincided with the calling in August of 2003 of the Reverend Rob Brown as Saint Matthew’s seventh rector. Father Rob, as he prefers to be known, grew up at Saint Matthew’s and returned to the parish after being away for over twenty years. By 2007 the parish had doubled in average Sunday attendance and a new building was needed to house the growing Preschool and formation programs. The Mission and Ministry Building, a 12,000 square foot addition, was completed in late 2008. 

Since that time St. Matthew’s has added a Food Pantry and a Free Medical Clinic to its ministry offerings. The efforts of the pantry feed nearly 15,000 people annually and the medical clinic is now a partnership between the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM), St Luke’s Free Clinic, and the parish. The clinic is open during the same hours each week as the food pantry and reaches many of the same clients. The St. Matthew's Preschool, Iin operation for over 50 years, has now served generations of family members and ranks as a Five Star program, the highest level of the Quality Counts Program administered by Spartanburg County First Steps and the Mary Black Foundation. 

For the past twenty plus years Saint Matthew’s has been home to the most dynamic EfM (Education for Ministry) program in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. A four-year course of studies administered by The School of Theology at the University of the South (Sewanee), five Saint Matthew’s graduates of EfM have gone on to ordained ministry in the larger Church and many others serve at every level of parish leadership and volunteerism. We are home to one of the largest and most involved chapters of the Daughters of the King in our diocese. A group of devout and faithful women, they are devoted to prayer and are of immeasurable assistance to the clergy. Our men’s group, the Brotherhood of  St. Matthew's also has a special devotion to prayer and an additional focus on service to those who otherwise would stand alone, traditionally spoken of as the sick, the poor, the widow, and the orphan. 

While clearly focused on Outreach and Christian Formation, Saint Matthew/s has also been greatly blessed by the work of multiple artists in the parish who inspire and teach others to use their creative gifts. The Gallery in the Mission and Ministry Building is flanked on either end by a three-year stained glass project that proclaims the Biblical faith story in twelve panels designed and made by our artists and dozens of volunteers. Each year we partner with the other Episcopal and Catholic Churches in Spartanburg and walk the Way of the Cross through downtown led by banners crafted by those same volunteers and artists. A beautiful reproduction of Caravaggio’s Inspiration of Saint Matthew is another example of our focus on art and adorns the west wall of the Nave. Members of the parish serve in every capacity. The Altar Guild and Flower Guild adorn the church for worship. The choir, our lectors, acolytes and servers, assist with every worship service and our technical teams broadcast those liturgies to the larger world. From our Network of Care to the many outside ministries we host, pastoral care is offered both within and beyond our walls. There are countless opportunities to be both nurtured and to serve. 

In 2023 Saint Matthew’s is once again poised for new growth as our outreach programs touch the needs of a wider, growing community, our formation efforts continue to expand, and our online presence spreads our Sunday worship throughout the region.