"Christian Education is our Business"
From the foundation of St Matthew Lutheran Church, providing our children with a good education with a solid Christian background, has always been a priority. At the original building, the school was opened before the church structure was finished. After being closed in the depression, the Lutheran Central School was housed in the same rooms by the Lutheran Education Association, and in 1957 the congregation was blessed to re-establish a school.
1889 - A meeting was held to organize a new congregation to serve the spiritual needs in this part of North Tonawanda. The church, then named "St Matthew's German Evangelical Lutheran Church of North Tonawanda" would be built on a piece of land donated by Colonel Lewis S. Payne, a Civil War officer and philanthropist. The name "St Matthew" (Matthew meaning "God's gift" in Hebrew) was chosen by the forefathers citing Matthew 9:9 where Jesus said, "Follow me."
1890 - On New Year's day 42 communicant members were released from Immanuael Lutheran Church to form the new congregation. On January 6th, the school opened with 45 children enrolled. Church services were held in the basement until the church was completed. It was dedicated in October and Rev. William C. Kloch died just 1 month later, of typhoid fever, serving the young congregation for only 5 months. Rev. August Hering was installed the following spring
Over the next several years, the young congregation continued to grow. The cemetary was established on Niagara Falls Boulevard, school enrollment tripled, and an English service was added to the schedule. Pastor Hering served the congregation for 22 years and died at age 53. The Rev. Carl A. Frankenstein was installed shortly afterwards. By 1914 the congregation was debt free.
After years of growth, hosting an Eastern District convention, a school addition, new pipe organ, and celebrating its 40th anniversary, the Great Depression hit hard. The congregation was no longer able to afford to keep the school, and it was closed in 1933, much to the dismay of the members.
The congregation continued to press on. The church kitchen was remodeled, a garage was added at the parsonage, and the Eastern District convention was held again at the church in 1937. In 1948, Pastor Frankenstein retired after 35 years service. Rev. Paul H Gassman was installed in May 1948, and Pastor Frankenstein died just 5 days later.
Pastor Gassman took a call to another church, and Rev. AW Moldenhauer was installed as pastor in 1955. The congregation decided in a special voters meeting to re-open the school, and in September 1957, the school season started with 52 children. The blessings of God on the church were abundant. A new school wing was added and a new parsonage built.
By 1967, it was obvious to the congregation that is was outgrowing the building. The congregation began looking into options to expand or re-locate to a larger structure. In 1968, a 3 service schedule was started. In 1971, it was decided a new structure was the needed, and plans were started for our current building. In 1974, the congregation held its final service in the old building, and walked to the new church. The building was then dedicated in a festival service.
Despite a fire that destroyed the new altar and chancel area shortly after Christmas 1977, the congregation was able to hold New Year's Eve Holy Communion service in the church. Over the next several years, 2 school additions and a gymnasium were added. The grounds included an athletic field, outdoor altar, bell tower, pavilion and playground. Shortly after construction of the pavilion, church picinics were held on the grounds, with the service outside at the outdoor altar.
Changes and Challenges
In 2009, Pastor AW Moldenhauer concluded his ministry at St Matthew, after more than 50 years service and the congregation entered a period of transistion. Attendance continued to drop as various pastors filled in. In 2011, the congregation decided that it was no longer necessary to have 2 services, and moved to a single service to help unite the congregation. The Rev. Gregory Schultz accepted a Call and was installed as pastor in January 2010, but resigned his call in June 2012 for personal health reasons after serving just 2 ½ years. Pastor Otto Struckman served as regular vacancy pastor until Rev. Steven Naylor accepted the pastoral Call and was installed Jan 2014.
Since 1957, the school had been a fixture and an integral part of St Matthew. Many parochial schools in the city closed. The Great Recession of 2008 was hard and the remainder closed. The school had managed to outlast every other parochial school in North Tonawanda. However, enrollment was steadily declining over the last decade, and once again the church faced the future without a school. Enrollment for 2014-2015 was so low the leaders found it was not possible to provide a quality education. With much anguish, it was decided to suspend the school at a special voters meeting held in May 2014, with the hope of re-opening at least a part of the school in the future.
Looking at the Past and to the Future
In 2015, we looked to remembering our history with 125th Anniversary celebrations taking place throughout the year. The celebration kicked off with a worship service in the lower hall, meeting the way our founding father's did when the original church was still under construction. We looked back, and we will looked toward the future. We looked forward with youth, as baptisms occurred in our church. We helped send youth ministry trips to Haiti in 2015 and Belize in 2016. The church upgraded systems by replacing the church lighting system and boiler system. In October 2017, Pastor Naylor accepted a Call to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Lutz, Florida, which started a period of 2 years without a regular pastor. Finally, Rev R Blaine Jorg accepted the Call to be our new pastor and was installed in November 2019.
As we look back over the last 131 years, the blessings of God abound. These are just the highlights, and the congregation certainly had its challenges. We look forward to the future as we again remember Matthew 9:9, where Jesus says, "Follow Me."