St. Matthias:Rationale for a page about the parish

This church, dating to shortly after the Civil War, was founded to serve recently freed African-American slaves in Asheville, North Carolina, USA. Apparently prosperous into the early 20th century, its membership fluctuated and then fell to less than a dozen active members in the early 2000s, and was on the point of closing.

At that point, the congregation decided to abandon its description as a "Black" or "African-American" church in favor of being "the church that celebrates people." This, in effect, announced the church's intention to end its de facto segregation and to integrate racially, socially, culturally, once and for all.

I have thought to post St. Matthias's progress from the point when I joined it in mid-2004, because it represents an opportunity for Religion Wiki-ites to track a number of developments which may be of interest. For example, Black and White parishioners have used numerous adult "Sunday school" sessions to discuss racial justice, Black literature, belief profiling, and Bible issues in an open and accepting atmosphere that aims to find God's work for us as a whole.

Other developments look exciting and may prove intriguing: a strong interest in discovering and recording the history of the church, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places; a possible archaeological site consisting of the original "schoolroom" predecessor of the current building; extensive preservation challenges; possible research projects in the church's link to the South Asheville Cemetery, where slaves and later free African-Americans were buried until the early 1940s.

St. Matthians are generally agreed that simple justice requires us all to face all of the past of St. Matthias, from the gift of its land by a White ex-Confederate officer in the 1860s, through the rise of its parishioners from slavery, in which education (once forbidden to slaves) played a large role, to the prosperity of post-Reconstruction and Gilded Age Asheville, when the main sanctuary and smaller chapel were built, on down through the defeat of Jim Crow by the Civil Rights movement, to the end of the century in our own memories, when Christianity in America appears to be falling apart as a cohesive institution, even as a religion. We want to understand as much of this as we can discover, so that we can build real peace and justice in service to our community.

With 80 parishioners and two clergy (one priest and one deacon) listed in our latest directory, St. Matthias holds annual Vestry elections, and has formed several committees for sustaining the functions of worship, youth and adult education, hospitality, and maintenance of buildings and grounds. Its music programs, in both liturgy and performance, are renowned in Asheville and its surrounding area, and worship services are regularly attended by students from neighboring institutions of higher learning, as well as by emeritus professors and clergy. Adult Christian education is sustained largely by in-house volunteers, with considerable help from friendly outsiders.

St. Matthias is discussing a mission statement, a vision, and one or more supporting statements of public purpose in hope of clarifying its future course. The challenge here is to be inclusive without losing direction and focus, and to build community relations without serious mistakes.

In summary, on this page and its relatives this wiki will have a chance to follow the rebuilding of a church as a kind of illustrative analog of the rebuilding of faith.