Call it a tale of two churches. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 11229 N.E. Prescott St. in Parkrose, which dramatically split its membership following a moral roadblock back in 2010, is succumbing to internal turmoil and throwing in the towel after 73 years. Its last services took place Oct. 29.
At a recent October Sunday service, only six to eight people were found in St. Matthew’s pews. “It kind of snowballed with a decreasing amount of people, which certainly hurt us financially,” explains Laura C. Minnick, senior warden at St. Matthew’s. “Money is the main factor in closing the church. We’ve gotten to the point where there’s nothing on the offering plate to keep the lights on.”
It’s hard not to pin the demise on the Anglican St. Matthew’s. In 2010, there was a split among the ranks of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church over issues such as women being ordained as priests, as well as gay rights (“Schism partitions Parkrose church” MCM July 2010). The fallout: Around 80 percent of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church left to form St. Matthew’s Anglican Church (currently sharing space with Faithful Savior Lutheran Church at 11100 N.E. Skidmore St.).
St. Matthew’s Anglican Church was contacted and decided not to comment.
This might come as a surprise to progressive Portlanders, as St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church was the more liberal of the two. Surviving members still held faith. “It was a huge, traumatic split,” says Minnick, who ironically began attending St. Matthew’s two weeks after things went down in April 2010. “Then we really tried to come back after it. We had new clergy come in. We got some loans and grants and tried to move on. People from other parishes came in to help us out, and I thought we would be able to pull it off. We got to the point where 40 or 50 people were coming, but the significant portion were people who were there with the clergy we had from other parishes. When that clergy left, they left too.”
Eventually, Minnick and St. Matthew’s couldn’t afford their own priest. Finding a priest itself was difficult, and there were only three applications. “We were a small, struggling parish with history,” says Minnick. “A lot of candidates look at the finances and history and think, ‘No, I don’t want to deal with that.’”
When their priest left the church this last spring, the writing appeared on the wall.
Even so, Minnick hasn’t wasted any time these last seven years. “I was confirmed here; my oldest daughter was married here,” says Minnick. “We had her reception in the Parish Hall [in the basement], where her and her husband did a tango for their first dance.”
Minnick is nowhere near the church’s oldest member. Barbara Hall had been attending the church since 1956, and she was one of the last three surviving members who “grew up” with the church. “I had actually left for a short time and came back,” says Hall, whose brother was baptized at the church and whose children were all confirmed there. “I was asked to come back when they split; I don’t believe in the values of the Anglican church. They don’t allow women to be priests, [and] they don’t want gays. I believe Christianity is for everyone.”
When asked to reflect on how the church changed over the years, Hall believes marked differences were present long before 2010. “We used to have an annual church picnic every year. Those stopped probably sometime in the 1980s,” says Hall, who’s also active within the church’s vestry. “They haven’t done anything like that in a long time, but we had some other gatherings, even since the split. One year at Easter for Holy Week, every single day we had something different to eat for every service before or after, like baked potatoes or soup.”
Minnick says she’ll miss “walking in and looking at the altar. It’s a little different now, as another group is using the facility, so they have a bunch of their stuff in there. We’ve just been using the chapel, since there are a few of us. It looks very different than my internal memories.”
The church has a few breaths left in it. A celebratory commemorative event is planned for some time in November. For the next few months, the diocese will be checking the inventory. And for now, the diocese will hold onto the building until members like Minnick help decide on the next steps.
“The church has been in the area since 1944; the building since 1957,” says Minnick. “When we close the church, there won’t be another Episcopal Church in this area of Portland. We are very conscious of a lack of an appointed ministry in that area, so I’m jumping up and down.”
She continues, “Maybe we could put together a community center with art or yoga classes. After a few years, we could start another faith community. Usually, you wait a couple years before you start doing that—because you need to start something new. I really want to do something more involved with the more diverse community at large. There are a lot of Hispanic people, Asian people, Russian people. The elementary school down the street has a hundred different languages spoken there. There is a very high proportion of their children on a free lunch.”
Minnick and her fellow churchgoers hope to continue to give, even if her church is no longer receiving—or in operation. In this way, St. Matthew’s retains its spirit, if not its façade.