5. A focus on spiritual development & community outreach programs: 1973 to the early 1990s
After 28 years as Rector of Saint Matthias, the Reverend Jenkins retired in 1973. At that time the Vestry called the Reverend Chester H. Howe, who had served under the Reverend Jenkins at Saint Matthias as a curate some years before, to succeed. During his tenure as Saint Matthias's third rector, the Reverend Howe initiated and shepherded many in-house spiritual development programs. He was also instrumental in establishing a climate of trust in Whittier that facilitated the beginning and continued effectiveness of the ongoing community outreach programs in which Saint Matthias parishioners have always taken a leadership role. In recounting the history of these programs, the Reverend Howe recalled the following:
Ecumenical Food Center: In the fall of 1974, the Reverend Howe introduced a wicker basket in the narthex and invited parishioners to bring nonperishable food items when they came to church on Sunday morning. During the following year, three or four bags of food were given out weekly to those seeking such assistance. In the decade that followed, that number grew to 125 bags a day and gave birth to the Ecumenical Food Center.
Thanksgiving Dinner: In 1975, 25 parishioners gathered in Lewis Hall to share their Thanksgiving dinner in the hopes that Whittierites would join them. Elderly neighbors, folks without food to put on their own tables, and people living alone were especially invited to take part in this first annual Thanksgiving Dinner. Under the leadership of two parishioners, this Thanksgiving experience grew year by year. Now, more than two decades later, Saint Matthias volunteers donate, prepare, and serve up to 1,000 meals to our friends and neighbors every Thanksgiving.
Soup Hour: In the fall of 1985, clergy and staff gathered at the round table in Lewis Hall for soup and invited those seeking a hot meal to join them. Very quickly, this Soup Hour ministry grew beyond clergy and staff, necessitating teams of Soup Hour volunteers. The ministry is now under the leadership and direction of parishioners, with the assistance of our Parish Administrator and our Sexton. Within a year, the Soup Hour was (and still is) providing hot meals, five days a week, to 75+ guests every afternoon.
Cold Weather Shelter: Following the Soup Hour on a particularly cold and rainy day in February 1988, it was obvious that we could not send some of our guests, which included women and children, into the evening. Thus under parishioner leadership and direction, the Cold Weather Shelter began. That night in February we provided shelter to our homeless neighbors in Lewis Hall, and continued to do so every other cold night until other Whittier-area churches also began to offer their parish houses to share in this important ministry.
Clothing Closet and Food Pantry: In the early 1990s, a Saint Matthias parishioner established a clothing closet, open three days a week during the Soup Hour, in order to provide clothing to our guests in need. Almost simultaneously, other parishioner volunteers developed a food pantry ministry to help meet the needs of our guests.