[By the Rev. Paul Walker]
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Stevensville has announced its annual Christmas Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols which will be held on Sunday, December 11 at 2:00 P.M. The church is located on Route 706 in Stevensville. The Rev. Paul Walker, Rector of St. Paul’s, will officiate at the service. Refreshments will be served following the program.
Everyone is invited to bring boughs of holly and evergreens to decorate the church prior to the service. Because of the soft ground around the building, St. Matthew’s invites those attending to park at Frank and Mary’s Restaurant, just west of the church, and ride the wagon up to the church.
St Matthew's Church, Stevensville, in what is now Bradford County, was established in 1799 by sheep farmers who came from Litchfield, CT, following the Revolutionary War. Along with their sheep, they brought their deep faith and commitment to the Church of England. However, the recent War of Independence meant that church was now reconstituted in the United States as of 1789 as the Episcopal Church. Their first services were held in a room over a store, but soon they moved to a church building.
In 1814 the church building burned and construction was soon underway for a new sanctuary. This new building, which still stands, was built in 1820 and consecrated by Bishop William White, the first Bishop of Pennsylvania, in 1824. This majestic structure has stood fast and faithful for over 185 years. It is reported to be the oldest building in the Diocese of Bethlehem still used as a church.
The sanctuary has been refurbished several times over the years, but the “modernization” was the conversion of the whale-oil lamps to kerosene. The original source of heat was a large pot-bellied stove in the rear of the church, which still stands. It is not disconnected for reasons of safety; charred beams under the floor are reminders of fires past.
The interior of the building has been kept as the original, including a balcony with benches, which winds its way along the rear and sidewalls. The windows are mainly clear glass, although there are several tinted or painted memorial windows. There are many interesting appointments and paintings in the church.
Due to changing demographics, St. Matthew's has become essentially inactive as a parish. Seasonal services and special events, such as weddings, are held in the building; and, it is the site of many pilgrimages. Since the early 1930's the care and oversight of the church was given to St. Paul's, Montrose, which is seventeen miles east of the parish on Route 706.