Last November, the congregation of St. Matthew A.M.E. Zion Church announced the start of an ambitious renovation project.
The first phase, repair of sidewalk and stairs and replacement of doors, was completed, funded by a grant from Sewickley Valley Historical Society along with generous matching donations from the congregation and community, according to a news release from the church.
Members of the SVHS board recently joined the Reverend William Rankin, pastor of the church, and church grant committee members Grace King, Joyce Parker, Henry Scales, Susan Kaminski and Helene Zacharias to celebrate the installation of the doors. In addition to adding features that are more secure and safe for the church, the design is more historically appropriate than the previous doors, which had a design that was circa 1970s.
Joining the group was Fred Smith, a local door expert, who facilitated the process and ensured a design that met the goals of both organizations.
“We are very thankful that Fred volunteered to help with our project,” Rankin said. “He was able to find a solution that met both the church’s and the Sewickley Valley Historical Society’s needs.”
“We greatly appreciate the Sewickley Valley Historical Society’s generous funding of the project, as well as their perseverance in helping to ensure we maintain the integrity of our exterior,” said Helene Zacharias, a trustee and chair of the grant committee.
The next phase, electrical work, soon will begin in the sanctuary, thanks to a grant from the Sewickley Valley Community Fund. Less visible than doors, this crucial repair will improve visibility and safety in the church.
“We are so appreciative of how the members of the Sewickley Valley Community Fund took the time to learn more about our church’s role in the community and how readily they provided support,” said Grace King, grant committee member.
In addition to the initial grant, the SVCF also has offered an additional matching grant. Efforts to raise funds from other sources for this matching grant are underway.
Helping with the fundraising is local volunteer Susan Kaminski.
“This has been one of the more rewarding projects I’ve been involved with,” she said. “The church is an incredible asset to our community, and the church members I’ve been working with are fantastic … a fun and productive group to be with!”
St. Matthew A.M.E. Zion, located at the corner of Walnut Street and Thorn Street, is the oldest African American church in the Sewickley area. This historically significant building was designated a historic landmark by the Pittsburgh History & Landmark Foundation.
In addition to being a spiritual center for congregants and a prized landmark in the center of town, St. Matthew A.M.E. Zion established and oversees the Daniel B. Matthews Historical Society, which has preserved extensive records of the African American community in the area. The church also regularly hosts events open to all that celebrate important times for the community, including Black History Month, Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Mavuno, and Harvest Festival.
The church also played a crucial role in identifying and honoring our local Tuskegee Airmen. Significantly, the church was also a part of the Underground Railroad in Western Pennsylvania.
Anyone interested in learning more can contact Rev. William B. Rankin, pastor of St. Matthew, at 330-714-1399. Donations may be sent directly to St. Matthew A.M.E. Zion Church, P.O. Box 266, Sewickley, PA 15143.