The History of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church
At the time of the settlement of Covington in the early 1820s, the names of persons appearing on the county records were those whose descendants were Episcopalians, according to St. Matthew’s oldest parish records. Therefore, it can well be assumed that Episcopal services were held in Covington in the first decades of the 19th century.
Building a church
Sometime in early 1846, Covington area Episcopalians, led by Dr. Charles Glover Fisher, Sr., (1800-1849), were organized into a congregation by the Reverend James W. Rogers, an Episcopal priest who had charge of the county’s mission stations; namely Trinity (Mason), Ravenscroft Chapel (Brighton), and St. Paul’s (Randolph). The new church was dedicated to St. Matthew, who was one of the twelve apostles and the writer of the first gospel. A small church building was constructed on the opposite corner from the present structure in about 1855 or 1856.
Robert I. Mitchell deeded Lot No. 88 of the original plan of Covington to the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Tennessee. The deed dated June 28, 1858, recites: “for and in consideration of a deed to me to the lot on which the Old Episcopal Church now stands (the building excepted) and $50.00 cash, Lot No. 88, being 124 feet square.”
The church is of Gothic architecture and was designed and built by J. J. Malone and William P. Malone. The cornerstone bears the date 1858. The lumber used in the construction was yellow poplar and red gum, mortised and pegged. Old Uncle Shirley Fisher claimed that he and the other Fisher slaves sawed all of the lumber for the church by hand with a pit saw, which consisted of a cross cut saw with two men at each end. All of the framing was in the rough, but the flooring, siding, and shingles were dressed by hand. The plaster lathes were split out of oak. In the later years the gallery was closed, plaster removed, and a wood beaded ceiling was installed by Alex D. Paine. In 1956, the transept was extended and the entire church was renovated and redecorated. Central heating and air conditioning have since been installed. Otherwise, the building is preserved in its original state.
The Reverend John Ambrose Wheelock, former Rector of St. Paul’s, Randolph, was the first Rector of St. Matthew’s Church. The chancel windows, given by the Right Reverend Charles Todd Quintard, Bishop of the Diocese of Tennessee, bear this inscription, “To the blessed memory of the Reverend John Ambrose Wheelock, who entered rest A. D. 1866.” An interesting historical fact was told many times by Ebenezer Paine, concerning these windows. Bishop Quintard was visiting England and, while there, extensive repairs were being made on Canterbury Cathedral. Three fine stained glass windows, two or three centuries old at the time, were being discarded. They were given to Bishop Quintard who had requested them for St. Matthew’s Church. The windows were shipped by sailing vessel to New Orleans, up the Mississippi River to Randolph, and overland to Covington. In all, it took six months to complete the journey.
Among the charter members were, Dr. Charles G. Fisher, Jr., Mrs. Annie Fisher Hamilton, James Baker Hamilton, Mrs. Jacob Tipton, Judge James Byars, Joseph Green, F. M. Green, Mrs. Elizabeth Baker Jones and her four sons and five daughters, Dr. Hugh Rose and family, W. P. Malone, J. J. Malone, the Lauderdale family, the Newman family, and the McGregor family. Between 1869 and 1879, additional members were, J. B. Hill and family, Miss Susan Fisher, William Hamilton, Andrew Hamilton, William V. Byars, Dr. Hugh Byars, Charlie Collins, Jr., Laudie Collins, Blanche Collins, Susan Slaughter, Mrs. Pattie Rose Hall, Mrs. Annie Rose Bell, Mr. And Mrs. Richard Jackett, Mr. Robert Malone and family, W. J. Malone and family, Colonel and Mrs. Wood, Mr. And Mrs. John R. Sloan, Mr. And Mrs. J. W. Lemmon, Mr. And Mrs. Ben Adams, Mr. and Mrs. Sam Mitchell, Horace Davie, Mrs. Bettie Bell, Joseph Green, Malcolm F. Green, Mr. and Mrs. Ebenezer Paine and sons, William , Ed and John, Mr. Heintz, H. M. Moore, Yank Smith, Robert Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Will Adams, Dr. John I. Sherrod, Nat Elcan and family, Dr. A. L. Elcan, John A Tipton, the Claybrook family, John W. Harris, Burt Mayo, Thomas Barron, and Arthur Smith.
Reconstruction and the turn of the century
Bishop Quintard came annually for a week’s visit and was noted for preaching outstanding sermons. People of all denominations, saints and sinners alike, came to hear him. According to Mr. Stanley Hamilton, his father, Mr. William P. Hamilton, always entertained the Bishop during his visitations. “Seated at the head of the table, carving the roast, Bishop Quintard addressed all of us children as ‘Peter,’ and would say to my father, ‘Billy, I will serve the children first, because of their impatience, and Billy, I am going to carve this roast as thin as charity.’”
During the 1890s the life of St. Matthew’s Parish was at low ebb, due to very irregular services. Through the efforts of Mrs. Maria Baker Lemmon in maintaining a regular Church School, the doors were kept open. She prevailed upon Mr. J. Allie Green to act as Church School Superintendent, in which capacity he served for over a decade. In the late 1890s under the ministry of the Reverend J. M. Northrop, the Church was greatly revived and was active for a number of years. Miss Sara Lemmon and Mrs. Bessie Lemmon McQuiston served as organists during this period and St. Matthew’s had both a splendid vested choir and vested acolytes.
It was during this same era under the ministry of the Reverend J. M. Northrop, followed by the Reverend W. P. Brown, that St. Matthew’s achieved parish status.
After 1900, many communicants moved from Tipton County. A number of Episcopalians married into families of other denominations. For the first quarter of the 20th Century St. Matthew’s had irregular services under numerous priests who had the added responsibility of serving other parishes in the area. Mrs. Agnes Paine Barret served as the faithful organist during this period.
In 1924, the Reverend Paul Williams came to St. Matthew’s and the parish enjoyed regular services. Although, as the priests before him, Fr. Williams too was responsible for other parishes, an active youth work was organized and greater interest was taken in the life of the parish. From 1926 to 1936 services were held intermittently by various priests. Troy Beaty McCall enthusiastically served as the Church School Superintendent for a small group of children during this time.
In 1937, the Reverend Paul Earle Sloan came to Covington to live and serve as priest-in-charge of St. Matthew’s (Covington), Trinity (Mason), Ravenscroft Chapel (Brighton), and Immanuel Church (Ripley). This was the beginning of a new era for St. Matthew’s Church.
Under the capable direction of Peyton J. Smith, organist, a vested choir was reorganized which contributed much to the worship of the parish. On February 20, 1945, Mr. Sloan was instituted as the rector of the newly formed Quintard Memorial Parish, comprised of Trinity Church, St. Matthew’s Church and Ravenscroft Chapel. It was during this time, due to the growth of St. Matthew’s Church School and the interest of the Covington membership, that Mr. Sloan led his people in building a brick parish house. The parish house was adequately furnished by gifts and memorials and is still in use for the many purposes for which it was originally intended. Through Mr. Sloan’s devoted service, and until his death on December 6, 1949, St. Matthew’s Parish began to make slow but steady progress.
From 1949 to 1953 there was no regular priest at St. Matthew’s. Services were held by supply priests until 1953, when the Reverend John H. Sivley was called. Fr. Sivley served as rector until October, 1955. The Reverend Mr. Curtis B. Luck assisted Fr. Sivley as a perpetual deacon during his tenure at St. Matthew’s.
In June of 1956, the Reverend Canon Sheldon Davis, Canon of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Memphis, accepted the call to become Rector of Quintard Memorial Parish. The Reverend Mr. Curtis B. Luck continued to assist as deacon. The later half of the 50?s was a time of interest and growth which enabled St. Matthew’s to adopt measures to be reestablished as an independent parish in 1959.
Former priests and other faithful servants
Among the priests who have served St. Matthew’s are the Reverends John Ambrose Wheelock, Dencie Drummond, James Rogers, Father Lawton, Father Weakley, Charles E. Collins, Father Matthews, F. A. Jung, Calder R. Young, Charles Steele, Howard Dumbell, Troy Beatty, Charles Wright, Ira Trout, J. W. Northrop, Neville Joyner, W. P. Brown, S. R. McAlpin, Oscar Lindstrom, George O. Watts, Archdeacon A. C. McCabe, Paul Williams, Archdeacon B. F. Root, Alfred Loaring-Clark, Archdeacon Charles F. Weller, Paul Earle Sloan, Sterling Tracey, Alfred Snively, Ellis M. Bearden, John H. Sivley, Curtis B. Luck, H. Sheldon Davis, Claud W. Behn, Victor M. Bircher, and Joseph M. Huske, Jr.
Faithful organists who have served St. Matthew’s are Mrs. Bessie McQuiston, Mrs. Agnes Payne Barret, Peter Fyfe, Jr., Peyton J. Smith, and Thirza Mobley Sloan.
The Reverend Morris “Mark” K. Wilson became the Rector on July 14, 1974, serving until March 1, 1984. During his tenure, the parish purchased a new rectory at 811 Irene Circle, Covington. In 1983, communicants numbered 86 in good standing. Fr. Wilson now lives in Nashville, Tenn., with his wife Deborah.
St. Matthew’s was without a rector from 1984 until 1986. Bishop Alex Dickson very kindly sent priests almost every Sunday to serve the parish.
On July 1, 1986, the Reverend Richard Wadsworth Wilson became the rector of St. Matthew’s. Fr. Wilson retired on June 19, 1994. During his tenure St. Matthew’s purchased and demolished an old house west of the church school building. During his tenure, a $125,000 renovation of the church complex was undertaken. Although St. Matthew’s had to borrow the necessary funds to accomplish the needed renovations, the lender was paid in full prior to Fr. Wilson’s retirement.
After Fr. Wilson’s retirement, St. Matthew’s was blessed to have the priestly ministry of the Reverend Martin S. Field. Fr. Field was a United States Naval Chaplain attached to the United States Marines Corps at the Naval Air Station in Millington. He virtually functioned as the rector of St. Matthew’s for a period of eighteen months that concluded in December of 1995. Under his capable and loving leadership, St. Matthew’s actually prospered and grew in many areas during the time the parish was without an official Rector. Given the tendency of the parish to decline during past periods during which it was without a Rector, its progress during its most recent interim is a fine commentary on Fr. Field’s ministry.
On January 1, 1996, the Reverend Neal Hamilton Platt became the Rector of St. Matthew’s. Fr. Platt is married to the former Victoria (Vikki) Croft of Mobile, Alabama, and they are the proud parents of three beautiful daughters: Heather, Shannon, and Meghan. Father Platt took a parish in West Texas in 2001. He died in 2005.
St. Matthew’s in the new millenium
Until 2003, the church was serviced by supply priests. In 2003, the Rev. Joseph Gohn agreed to serve as interim rector at St. Matthew’s. He has made twice-weekly trips to Covington in those three years, not only administering the sacrament, but making visitations to the sick. Father Gohn has been a wonderful shepherd of the flock.
In late 2005, the vestry under the leadership of our Senior Warden John Stanley Shoaf, began a search for a full time Rector. During the month of March 2006 our parish agreed to share a full time priest with Immanuel Church Ripley. On May 1, 2006 the Rev. Joseph Alford began his ministry at St. Matthew’s Parish serving faithfully for 18 months ending on November 30, 2008.
James Newsom, a recent graduate from Memphis Theological Seminary and St. Luke’s at Sewanee started his ministry at St. Matthew’s on December 23, 2007. He was ordained deacon on January 19, 2008, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Memphis. Fr. Newsom served the church faithfully until December 2009.
The church was served with visiting and supply priests until May 2010 when Fr. William Ryan began his tenure. Fr. Ryan served St. Matthew’s, living in the rectory next door, until mid-2012 when he returned to Texas.
The church was again served with visiting and supply priests until September 2013, when Fr. Don E. Brooks was called to serve as priest-in-charge.
After more than 166 years, St. Matthew’s is alive and well. Through the efforts of the Episcopal Church Women, active at St. Matthew’s through the years, altar hangings and other contributions have been made to beautify the church. The Church School is in service every Sunday during the school year. Since Tipton County is one of the fastest growing counties in West Tennessee, the future looks bright for St. Matthew’s. The next 166 years should, God willing, be even more glorious than the first.
Compiled by the late Theodore B. “Tim” Sloan, edited by Echo Day