The Story of St. Matthew’s
In early 1962, under the leadership of Ralph Mirse, our organizing pastor, the initial planning for establishing a new congregation in Acton was begun—and it involved knocking on many doors and stirring up interest. At the time, the Acton church was one of three local Methodist churches that Ralph was involved in organizing, later joining the Board of Church Extension of the denomination, which was active in planting churches throughout the country. In the next few years, some 509 new churches were founded, with St. Matthew’s being the model.
The Community Center Days
There was no church building at the time of our founding, so the early meetings of the church took place at the homes of members and in the Community Center, which is now Theater III. The first worship service, attended by twenty-seven members of the congregation, was held on Worldwide Communion Sunday, the first Sunday of October 1962. The church was formally organized and was named St. Matthew’s Methodist Church on December 16, 1962.
Early Church Growth and Construction of Building
On New Year’s Day 1963, the Rev. Gary Campbell moved to Acton to become our first full-time pastor. The next few months saw the completion of the church’s basic organization: legal incorporation, the purchase of an 11½ acre site, and membership expansion to one hundred charter members on Easter Sunday 1963. During his four years as our pastor, Gary Campbell ensured the construction of both the parsonage and the church building. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on Sunday, October 18, 1964. The parsonage at 429 Central Street was first occupied in May 1965. In November of that year, we moved into the educational wing and multipurpose hall at 435 Central Street. In honor of Gary Campbell, the fellowship hall was dedicated in 1968 as “Campbell Hall.”
Development of Special Programs
Under the leadership of the Rev. Ellis Johnson, a gifted preacher with a legendary sense of humor, many new programs were developed, notably the Boston University student intern program, which began in 1970. At any given time during the next decade, the church had from one to four interns. These interns participated in the life of the church and were instrumental in many of our programs, and St. Matthew’s increasingly became a lively church with lots of activity.
Political and Social Impacts
St. Matthew’s was profoundly affected by the Vietnam War. The members who had served during World War II found it hard to relate to draftees who would go to Canada to avoid the draft. One of the interns did draft counseling, and St. Matthew’s lost some members over issues raised by the war.
The electronics industry was struggling during 1970, and many engineers were out of work. People pulled through those tough years, however. Some changed careers, some started their own businesses, and others simply stuck it out until they were able to find jobs again in their fields.
Some members observe that the early years of the church at the Community Center had “such a small family feeling,” and that Acton wasn’t as transient then. But over the next decade, several families would become very strong members for a few years and then have to move. The big fir tree on the front lawn of St. Matthew’s was planted one year in the early 1970s in honor of twenty members who moved in one week!
Another social trend that affected St. Matthew’s had particular impact on the women of the church. To quote one member, “The United Methodist Women used to have big morning circles and meeting groups. We had study clubs, book clubs, and all sorts of activities. Then everybody started going to work! While we used to get together during the daytime for brunches and morning meetings, there’s no way we could do that now.”
During the early 1970s, St. Matthew’s was also fortunate to have two pastors who were living in Acton as leaders of the church—the Rev. Charles Shook, a professor at BU, and the Rev. Landon Lindsay, Pastor of Human Relations for the General Conference. These two pastors also made significant contributions to the life of the church in ministries of social justice, adult education, and worship celebration.
1980 to the Present
Rick Black became pastor in 1983 and brought great life and spirit to the church. Rick is remembered for bringing to St. Matthew’s a rare blend of Christian spirit and down-to-earth common sense, a feisty sense of humor, and a strong emphasis on social justice.
In 1997, during the pastorate of Kent Moorehead, St. Matthew’s fulfilled its dream of building a glorious new worship space and hospitality area with a new choir room and a large space in the lower level. The new building was dedicated on World Communion Sunday in October 1998.
Frank Gullinello served as pastor from 1998-2001 and Bruce Pehrson from 2001-2005. During those years the church was again impacted by many retirements and job relocations, with thirty families moving away in one year alone, but the church’s resilience again carried us through a time of change.
Rev. Bob Moore led us from 2005 to 2011. Under his leadership we experienced growth and healing, deepening our answer to God’s call to be beacons of justice in the world.
Our present pastor, Steve Garnaas-Holmes, began his ministry here July 1, 2011.