St. Matthews Baptist Church


St. Matthews Baptist Church


St. Matthews Baptist Church


Celebrating 104 years!

In the latter part of 1902, the late Rev. Isaac Wright was inspired by God to organize a Sunday School Mission in Southeast, Washington, DC. In 1903, a site was chosen at 1263 First Street, SE, where the Sunday School Mission was organized. The Mission quickly outgrew the facilities on First Street, and plans were made to find larger quarters. In 1904, negotiations were started to purchase a house on Quander Street (a short street located where the Navy Yard is now located). Shortly afterward, Rev. Wright was led by the spirit of God to organize the Mission into a Baptist Church.

St. Matthews Baptist Church was organized and incorporated in late 1905. Rev. Wright assumed Pastorate. By 1910, the Church had outgrown its Quander Street facilities and services were held at an address in the 1000 block of 3rd Street, SE while the facilities were being enlarged. Shortly after moving back to the Quander Street address, there became a need for even larger facilities and in 1911 plans were made to purchase a large house located at 1105 New Jersey Avenue, SE. In 1920 the house was torn down because still more space was needed, and a new Church was started. While the church was being built, services were held in a warehouse on 3rd Street, SE. In early 1921, the cornerstone was laid, and services began in the new Church.

After Rev. Wright's death, the following pastors have served at St. Matthews: Rev. Westfield; Rev. T.J. Payton; Rev. E.P. Patterson; Rev. A.D. Williams; and Rev. Roy Settles, Sr. On May 19, 1969, by majority vote, Rev. Maxwell M. Washington was elected Pastor. He still serves in that capacity today.

But what was happening outside of the sanctuary at St. Matthews Baptist Church in Southeast was far from a laughing matter. No longer able to contend with the District's stringent parking restrictions and what comes across as unabashed greed in the name of revenue collection, Washington finally threw in the towel and decided to take what's left of his congregation and move to Prince George's County.
"It's hard to tell when we will move. But in my mind, we should be out in two to three years," said Washington, 75. "Hopefully, within the next few months we will be able to get some permits for our new property."
Outside St. Matthews, the streets bustle with newcomers who dash in and out of The Onyx, a new high rise apartment building, located directly behind the church. To the church's immediate left, a plot of land sits vacant, but placards dot the fence line and announce the advent of yet another high-rise apartment building.
Today, St. Matthews Baptist Church, also known as "the little church on the hill," has a congregation of approximately 250 members, down 100 since 2007 and those numbers continue to go south. The church was founded in 1905 by the late Rev. Isaac Wright who sought to organize a Sunday school mission in Southeast. As the congregation increased, so did the need for a larger space. St. Matthews moved to its current location on the corner of New Jersey Avenue and L Streets in Southeast in 1921.
Washington said the church's mission is to "not just deal with spiritual needs but human needs." In addition to its youth ministry and Bible study, the church helps members with their immediate concerns or refers them to organizations that can.
"The economy is messed up and if people run short or lose their jobs, they can come to the church," Washington said. "We do it the way Jesus would. He wouldn't just be concerned with your soul if you were hungry."
These days, it's not the congregation that's getting bigger. Instead, it's the space that is getting smaller, specifically parking. Problems cropped up in 2006, when construction around St. Matthews started. Gentrification and the movement of 2,000 new residents into the area after the completion of the high rise apartment and the lure of Nationals Park has made parking around St. Matthews a hot commodity, said Naomi Campbell, a neighborhood liaison to Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).
"As the city's become denser and there's more development, churches are competing for parking," Campbell said. "People who live in the city stay home so there's a fierce competition for parking in neighborhoods."
New parking regulations pushed longtime churchgoers two to three blocks away from St. Matthews, making it especially difficult for elderly members. Attendance has fallen off as a result, said head Deacon Johnnie Ferguson, 69.
"It was bad before the stadium but then it just got unbearable," Ferguson said. "When a game starts at 1p.m., they [have] signs up here on Sunday that say: You [have] to be out of here by 11 a.m. That was the time we were starting," the Southeast resident said.
At least one church member plucked four consecutive tickets from his windshield wiper after attending church services. Lawrence Sidbury Sr., of Upper Marlboro, Md., paid upward of $200 in tickets just for going to his house of worship.
"It's been very frustrating to see the same thing every week," said Sidbury, 58. "Something has to be done to help the church and the community."
The shortage of parking spaces forced St. Matthews to move its Bible study to a location on Benning Road that had better accommodations for a while. Eventually, church officials moved Bible study back to the church and changed the time of the weekly study group and Sunday service. Despite the changes, congregants continued to be fined exorbitant fees by the city.
The move to a location on Old Branch Avenue in Temple Hills, Md. will be St. Matthews first outside of the District since it was founded. The church will follow many of its congregants, two-thirds of whom have moved to Maryland over the years but still attend church services in the District, according to church officials.
Wells, who has represented Ward 6 since 2007, said he's helping neighborhood churches with their specific parking difficulties. Those who compete for coveted parking spaces include churchgoers who drive into the District from the surrounding Maryland suburbs. After a barrage of complaints from St. Matthews and nine other churches within the "ball park zone," the D.C. Department of Public Works finally issued renewable parking passes to church officials. But it was too late and too much damage had already been done.
"I have office hours in the community once a month in the morning and I'm moving out to the different churches. The feedback I have gotten is that it's working," said Wells, 55. [St. Matthews] leadership might not live in the neighborhood so they're not in the meetings when we're in the neighborhoods."
Church officials at St. Matthews see the situation differently.
"[The Gray administration] seems unfriendly to the faith community," said Washington, who has been at the helm of the church for 43 years. "They could help us out with parking and not ticket us so badly when we have Bible class and [Sunday] service. It's too bad now; we have already made plans to get out.


The Informer and St Matthew's website


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“St. Matthews Baptist Church,” Arthur Capper, accessed January 26, 2021,