A Downtown Church
Today St. Matthew’s finds itself in a new role and place in the society around it. Its physical community and local demographic has changed quite drastically from the heydays of the 1800s and 1900s. The church, the classic example of a “downtown” urban church, is now surrounded by a fast-moving business district and even faster moving populus. In 1999, when the congregation had served this area for 250 years, it actively sought new ways to honour and open a tradition of faith deeply rooted in the community. The members took it upon themselves to offer a new relevance for their facilities and spirituality. The oldest United Church of Canada in the country began moving in a new direction with an exciting process of celebration and renewal.
Celebration and Renewal
The members and ministry leaders of the congregation reach out to the surrounding community to share and hear the Good News of Christ through traditional and contemporary means. Through worship and social outreach a deep caring for each individual’s spiritual growth is expressed. The accomplishments and faith of more than 250 years are celebrated, and an active program of renewal has been initiated to embark on the next 250 years.
At the end of the 20th century when the church was celebrating its 250th anniversary, two creative projects were initiated to enhance and celebrate the congregation and church. The first was a history of St. Matthew’s written to commemorate the historic church and its role in the community; A Sentinal on the Street is still available at the church. The second project, a triptych tapestry that hangs in the sanctuary, was created – everyone who was a member at the time contributed at least one stitch. The three panels of the tapestry depict the history and growth of the congregation throughout the years.
A community outreach Anniversary Project was also sponsored in partnership with Halifax’s local Habitat For Humanity affiliate. Through financial, material and physical contributions, St. Matthew’s helped build a home in the Halifax Regional Municipality for a family who otherwise would not have had access to this kind of living arrangement.
The renewal process included a new look for the building, the music, and the ministry. The Christian Education Centre was completely rebuilt with four Sunday School rooms (two of which are computer-ready), a nursery, a boardroom, a refurbished mid-week day care centre with office and kitchen, and a Green Room, used as a drama lounge and library. The stage and gymnasium also were refurbished.
The physical rebuilding did not stop there. Space for The Scots Highland Company (an experiential youth initiative for boys 12-16) was created under the stage, ministers’ offices were refurbished, and the sanctuary and narthex were redecorated. The chancel was also redesigned so the space could be flexible for worship and community events; a stage floor was created and everything in the chancel – including the organ and choir pews – is now moveable.
The 1921 Casavant organ was completely rebuilt in the late 1990s to eliminate redundant stops and give it a brighter sound, a moveable console, electronic pre-settings and computer compatibility. The pipes and console were sent back to Casavant Frères in Ste. Hyacinthe, Que., for restoration, and the congregation was delighted to welcome back “the finest romantic organ in the city” in October 1998. The sanctuary acoustics were also improved to enhance the rich music from the organ, ever-growing choir and other performers using the stage.
The United Church hymnal Voices United has opened many doors to the old favorite hymns and new images of faith. A magnificent balance of traditional sacred music and contemporary musical expressions of faith enriches the worship and spirit of the community. All this work continues on guided by the talented leadership of our music director, choir members, and a myriad of musical volunteers.