By the Rev. Bryant C. Bechtold, long-term supply priest
St. Matthias Episcopal Church has represented a viable Episcopal presence in both Cave Junction and the Illinois Valley since the early 1950s. Like many parishes, the congregational fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the years. Currently, we are a very small but dedicated congregation that is determined to add to the valued history of St. Matthias’ presence in this area of southwest Oregon.
I would characterize St. Matthias by two areas of ministry: worship and social outreach. Each Sunday we do our best to offer sound worship that reflects the best of the Episcopal Church’s rich liturgical tradition. We believe that our major task as a parish is to gather together in fellowship to worship God by glorifying and praising his most holy name. We find that sharing together in worship strengthens us as a family and defines all else that we do as a people of God.
Our parish is perhaps best known for our Harvest Kitchen, which provides a substantial lunch two days a week to our community. While some in Cave Junction do not approve or appreciate this ministry (in fact someone once referred to our parish as nothing but a glorified soup kitchen), we believe profoundly in our Lord’s call to serve those in need without passing judgement on who they are or what their particular lifestyle might be. It is our belief that both our parish and the patrons of the Harvest Kitchen are able to grow in love and knowledge of our Lord through this vital ministry to our community. We are satisfied if the patrons of the Harvest Kitchen—when they look at us as we greet them with a smile, hello and meal—can see in us the face of Christ.
The Shepherd’s Table Food Pantry, a partnership with Food for Lane County, opened in a modular unit at St. John the Divine in 2013, but suffered a plumbing accident in 2016 that forced them to operate out of the Parish Hall. Now they have built a new, permanent building with twice as much space, which was blessed and officially opened last Sunday.
Run by volunteers, The Shepherd’s table serves about 180 people each month. They are currently open on the first and third Saturday of each month from 9:00 a.m. to noon.
St. Matthias has served Cave Junction and the Illinois Valley for over sixty years. It is a rather typical small town church—rather plain on the exterior, but with a rustic, wooden interior that exudes a homey, welcoming ethos. While never a large parish by most standards, it has continued to maintain a viable and dedicated presence in the community. In recent years the parish has suffered from the lack of a full-time clergy presence, resulting in a significant decrease in the number of active parishioners. Currently being served by a non-stipendiary, retired priest, it offers a weekly Sunday Eucharist service in the best tradition of the Book of Common Prayer. While the congregation averages only four or five worshippers on any given Sunday, it takes seriously the prayer of St. John Chrysostom that “when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them.”
Because of the size of the parish congregation, they have limited resources and ministry opportunities. Not to be deterred by their small size, the parish is perhaps best defined by their “Harvest Kitchen” ministry, which has been in place for over 20 years. They serve a wholesome meal to 20-30 individuals (including some families) in their community two days a week. It is a ministry which is controversial to some in the community, who believe it perpetuates the problem of vagrancy in Cave Junction, but very much appreciated by others. They draw inspiration from Matthew 25:35—“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” Their intention is simply for others to see in them the face of Christ as they extend hospitality and a meal to some of the most vulnerable in their community. It also allows St. Matthias to cultivate relationships with the forgotten and disenfranchised in their midst, which has resulted in two of their “Harvest Kitchen” patrons attending worship on a regular basis.
Though they struggle and face multiple challenges unique to a very small, rural parish church, the people of St. Matthias consider themselves privileged to serve God and play their part in the unfolding drama of salvation in this small corner of creation.
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