In the summer of 1909, work was finished on a new public school house on the outskirts of the city of Evansville. It would serve the small but growing populations of such communities as Avondale, Beverly Heights and Harwood. This growth of population north of the city was also noticed by the people of Zion Evangelical Church (now Zion U.C.C. on 5th St), as was the fact that there was no church in the immediate area. The people felt that a good Christian education was just as important as a good public education, so they organized a Sunday School program in the new school house.
On December 12, 1909, the first Sunday School class was held in the school house at two o’clock in the afternoon. The attendance was encouraging and classes were continued. As news spread through the neighborhood, the crowds grew and soon there were several well attended weekly classes.
In 1914 the Sunday School became St. Matthew’s Evangelical Church. Since that time the congregation has seen two developments in the national affiliation. The (German) Evangelical Church of the Union united with the (German) Reformed Church of America, forming the Evangelical and Reformed Church of America (E&R). About that same time the Congregational and Christian Churches were also uniting, and in 1957, the Congregational-Christian and E&R Churches united to become the United Church of Christ.
St. Matthew’s Church was also growing and changing. The first Structure of the congregation is the part of our current building that we use as a Fellowship Hall (1917), built on land adjacent to the school property that was given to the church by a local family. It served as an all-purpose worship and fellowship center until 1951 when the current sanctuary was completed. The building addition that houses the classrooms, library and offices was completed in 1967. Throughout its history, the congregation has gratefully accepted the support of the surrounding community and the churches of the area. The furnishings of the sanctuary date back to the turn of the century and were donated by St. John’s U.C.C. downtown as they were remodeling and enlarging their own sanctuary. The church bell was secured from an old German Evangelical Church south of Vincennes, which was forced to close its doors in the late 1940’s.
St. Matthew's Sanctuary Construction 1951
The congregation and community have also weathered difficult times together, as the church was almost closed during the depression due to lack of funding and came near being destroyed by a tornado, which swept through the area in the 1940’s. The school gymnasium, which sat just north of the church, was knocked off its foundation, but the church escaped relatively unharmed. Strength has always been drawn from the surrounding neighborhoods, and the congregation has given back all that it can by offering the facilities to any group who needed a meeting place. Boy Scout Troop #348 is one of the former community relationships we have enjoyed. North Park Kiwanis met here for years before they dispanned. Praying Mothers met here for years while their children were in school.
Neighbors were welcomed then not only to worship and Bible study, but to suppers, programs and festivals, many of them shared with the school personnel. The church’s “Watermelon Festival” was one of the great north side events of the 1950’s and 1960’s; and everyone knows that St. Matthew’s candy booth produces the best fudge and divinity at the annual West Side Nut Club’s Fall Festival.
Today, St. Matthew’s Church is still a community church offering opportunities to worship God and study His word, reaching out to the needy of Evansville through its Food Pantry and other missions, offering its facilities to scout troops, prayer groups, civic organizations, special programs and individuals. Through it all, we stand in witness to Christ and to the sense of community that is founded in justice and righteousness, proclaimed through the good news of the gospel.