But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into fhis marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church is a member church of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), part of the New Jersey District of the LCMS, and one of the founding Lutheran Churches in Bergen County.
On Wednesday, September 26, 1894 in Peetzburg, NJ (now New Milford, NJ) the first Lutheran church service was conducted in a public school on Washington Avenue by the Rev. Gustav Schild. Thus began the life of St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Although officially the church was not organized until August 1895, the men and women who made up those early days planted the seeds of a vibrant Christian community in New Milford.
There are not many early records remaining from the early days, but one story of the first days of the congregation starts when Pastor Schild traveled to Peetzburg for a baptism and asked the simple question, “Why doesn’t the community organize their own church?” Another story is that a number of German families asked him to start a church for them. In the end, the story of how the congregation was birthed is of no consequence – it is the story that is told from the first day of August 13, 1895 until today that speaks of the enduring love of God’s people for community and country.
Throughout its 120 year history, St. Matthew’s has been served by ten pastors, each one bringing their own style into the job, teaching and preaching and caring for the thousands of people who have called St. Matthew’s their spiritual home. Since its early beginnings, the pastors have been directed by their callings to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the people, boldly proclaiming the Gospel from pulpits and meeting halls to bedsides and gravesides.
Ministries at the church have been centered on showing compassion and grace to the community:
For decades, women’s ministries have been a backbone of the development of the Gospel. Through their continued work, they have been the face of hope to many in New Milford who needed help and required a hand up. In fact, one of the earliest events that helped paved the way for the birth of the congregation was a Strawberry Luncheon that they held in the spring, a tradition that lasted more than century. As long time supporters of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, the women’s ministries have worked throughout New Jersey supporting the greater church ministry to bring the Word of God to far away places.
As the issue of homeless grew in Bergen County several decades ago, St. Matthew’s responded by establishing the Samaritans, a ministry focused on serving meals at the county’s walk-in kitchen. Partnering with Family Promise of Bergen County, St. Matthew’s continues to provide meals when called upon to help those within our community who are homeless and hungry.
Food insecurity is another issue St. Matthew’s has tackled, establishing a food pantry that helps a number of families each month from our immediate New Milford community. There are growing number of families who struggle each month to put food on the tables. We are there to provide a bridge to better times and to relieve the worries that single moms, senior citizens, and the unemployed have when it comes to lacking food necessities.
As a church of Christ, we a church at prayer. Our Prayer Shawl Ministry knits prayer blankets, scarves, and even kids hats and mittens, all of which are given to the sick and needy to let them know that there are people in this world who are praying for them. The ministry also celebrates the good events in people lives with special shawls and blankets, giving them to children who are baptized, couples who are married, and teens who are confirmed. This ministry is part of our Prayer Team at church, a ministry that focuses on prayer for all.
And St. Matthew’s supports our military. Through the years, a number of our members have served in the armed forces defending the United States from all enemies. We have prepared care packages for our soldiers, sending them off to Iraq and Afghanistan, letting them know that we are thinking about them. We’ve supported the military chaplaincy with bibles and hymnals and catechisms, sending them to the Middle East for them to use in worship and prayer. And our new Operation Barnabas Ministry, a part of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod’s Ministry to the Armed Forces, reaches out to veterans and their families here at home, helping them when they are in need, and providing support when they feel like they are alone. Formally launching on Saturday, September 26, Operation Barnabas of St. Matthew’s is going to be a ministry that reaches hundreds and hundreds of our local veterans showing them they are loved and celebrated, and never forgotten.
The Operation Barnabas ministry is spearheaded by two of St. Matthew’s leaders and Vietnam veterans, current congregational President Ed Geiger and former congregational president Lee Bigbee.
Since 2005, we have been served by Pastor Anthony J. Iovine, a transplanted New Yorker. Pastor Iovine stands with the great men of God who have served this spiritual community since it founded:
Rev. Jack Wangerin (served 1965-2005)
Rev. Rudolph Harm (served 1960-1965)
Rev. Ralph Zorn (served 1955-1960)
Rev. Daniel Reichelt (served 1922-1955)
Rev. John Boehling (served 1906-1922)
Rev. William Schmidt (served 1901-1906)
Rev. Hugo Stechholz (served 1897-1901)
Rev. J.A. Schwoy (served 1895-1896)
Rev. Gustav Schild (served 1895)