NEWBERRY — St. Matthew Baptist Church has persevered through faith for more than 100 years on Boundary Street.
The small, family oriented church has overcome losing its building but has kept many of its members and even generations of its members.
The church has less than 50 members, which are a good mix of younger members under 40 and the older generation, according to the Deacon Board Chair Zebbie Goudelock.
The exact date of the founding and organizing of the church is not known but 1913 is considered the beginning. For the first three years, meetings were held in a building on Boundary Street in the Cannon Town section.
From 1913 until 1916, the Revs. John Williams and George Haltiwanger were the pastors and the founders, according to Goudelock. The first tract of land was purchased at 907 Booker St. in 1916 and the first building was finished in 1923.
However, the original church building wasn’t able to stand the test of time and slowly gave way until it collapsed. The church finally built a new building next to the old building and opened its doors once again.
“The old church (building) had to be abandoned because of age and deterioration. The church pulled apart so we had to prop it up for stability and made a decision to relocate to a building on College Street by Bethlehem Baptist,” said Goudelock.
The building used to be a service station, he points out.
“We stayed there for a few years then left because of the higher rent. Triangle Day Care was so gracious to let us come worship in their building,” said Goudelock. “We had intentions of remodeling but after we moved, the church collapsed.”
Despite the old building fading away, Goudelock said they were able to save a lot of of furnishings from the old building. They used the pulpit from the old church as well as the pews and the lights hanging from the ceiling, he pointed out.
One of the newer additions is the heated baptismal pool. The Rev. Annie Reeder said when she was baptised that there was no heater.
“We used to run the hose from outside from one of the neighbors to fill the pool. It was a concrete pool in the pulpit,” she said. “Now we have a modern heated pool.”
Members Mable Davidson and Kathleen Sligh also recall their baptisms in the older pool along with many other memories.
Goudelock said he was told the church used to baptize members in a trough at a nearby farm.
Another change is the service time from evenings to morning. The morning services began in 1974. Evening services occurred because a lot of the black pastors had more than one church or other jobs, according to Goudelock.
“This has always been a family oriented church,” said Goudelock. “There are very few we could name not connected with the church by family.”
Church members all lived within a mile of the church because a lot of people had to walk to church. Goudelock’s family lived just two houses down from the original church.
“Most of the members walked to church because there was no transportation,” he said. “One of my fondest memories is the day we walked into the new sanctuary after the hard road. It was a very spirit filled day for myself and others.”
Goudelock and the others said they remain at the church because of the family atmosphere.
“In a big church, your members don’t know you and your pastor doesn’t know you,” said Davidson. “Small congregations are like family.”