By Bp. Stephen Scarlett, Rector
St. Matthew’s Church is a parish of the Anglican Catholic Church. We are Anglican because our tradition of prayer and worship is rooted in the Church of England and the Book of Common Prayer. We are Catholic because we believe and practice the universal or catholic faith of the church.
The word “Catholic” is often understood in opposition to the word “Protestant.” However, in the early church, the word catholic stood in opposition to the word, “heretic.” Those who held to the catholic or universal faith stood in opposition to those who rejected some essential aspect of that faith.
In the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, the Church of England opposed or protested against certain false beliefs and practices that had crept into the church precisely because those beliefs and practices were a departure from the ancient or catholic faith. Thus, Anglican faith is best understood as a reformed catholic faith. We believe that the church is in need of continual renewal and reformation. It must oppose the errors of every age in order to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
I became rector of St. Matthew’s in 1986. At that time we met in a single room rented from the Community Church in Corona del Mar. It was a hidden, inaccessible space; not a great setting for mission. In the summer of 1987, I was a little depressed about the whole thing and wondered whether I ought to update my resume and start looking for other work. I called my good friend, the late Bishop John Cahoon (may he rest in peace and rise in glory). He asked, “What is the plan?” I said, “The plan is to give it two years.” He said, “Then give it two years.”
We moved from the Community Church the following year and met for about two years at the Zonta Club across the street from Newport Harbor High School. Then, we leased space in a retail shopping center on Westcliff Drive for about ten years. In 1995 we made an offer on our current property. We signed the documents for purchase in 1997—exactly ten years from the time I had serious doubts about the future of St. Matthew’s. God is always faithful.
As we planned to build, we met regularly to pray and talk about how to be faithful with the opportunity God was giving us. How would we develop an outward, mission-oriented focus in our church? How would we open new doors of entry? How would someone who knows nothing about us progress from visitor to member? This conversation has been the single most important part of the growth of our church. Since we moved to Ford Road in Pentecost of 2002, our prayers and planning have born significant fruit. By God’s grace, we have grown, added staff and expanded our ministry in several directions.
When I first came to St. Matthew’s, being a traditional Anglican was strange. Times have changed. People are tired of the latest new thing in religion and the highly subjective and emotional character of cultural Christianity. There is now a hunger for “the faith…once delivered unto the saints” which we have continued to believe and practice (Jude 3). People are coming to us and being changed by the experience of the life of prayer in our community. God is showing us new and expansive missionary opportunities in these circumstances.
We are being called, not only to build up St. Matthew’s Church, but also to play a central role in the renewal of traditional Anglican faith across our country and around the world. God has brought many gifted people to St. Matthew’s Church and many new doors of opportunity are opening for us. We are already expanding our mission throughout Orange County and southern California. A significant part of our community lives in the north county area. They gather locally to nurture and celebrate life in Christ, while remaining connected to St. Matthew’s. This is a model for our future mission efforts. We are looking to establish similar outposts in other areas in the future.
We are also involved in discussions with churches around the country about mission and evangelism. We have been encouraging them to join us in fasting and praying for the growth of our churches. With our gifted staff and lay people, we are able to be a resource for others.
We are building relationships with traditional Anglican brethren in places like Africa and India. We plan to strengthen these ties by sending people from our church to work with them, and having people from overseas spend time with us.