Travel old US 80 for a trip to a different era
St. Matthews CME Church dates history from a former slave’s land donation in 1872

By Mary K. Hamner
Journal Correspondent

Dixie Overland Highway was once North Louisiana's main drag. Designated US 80 by the Bureau of Public Roads in 1926, it was the first all weather coast to coast route. Today, Louisiana is the only state with US 80 still in place from border to border. Should one abandon the heavy traffic and 18-wheelers of Interstate 20 to cross Louisiana via US 80, it can result in A lesson in history, a trip back in time, and a look at a ninety year old landmark along the way.

Saint Matthew Christian Methodist Episcopal Church is one of the buildings along historic US 0 that causes a quick braking action and maybe a stop. Records indicate that Lewis Ralston, a former slave of Alexander McIntyre, donated land for the church in 1872. It is said that the congregation organized and began meeting in 1872, one year after Webster Parish was carved from Bienville, Bossier, and Claiborne Parishes in 1871. Today's church building was constructed in 1921.

In a history of the church by Dr. Roy G. Phillips and James Smith, they write, "The history of St. Matthew Christian Episcopal Church dates back to the year 1872. Under the guidance of God, and the leadership of Brother Cobb Carter and Brother Lewis Ralston, Sr. these men have been credited for being the founders of this great Church. God's first words were spoken through Pastor Elijah Powell in 1872."

" As the years passed, new members were added and over a period of forty nine years, the first church building became worn and weather beaten."

Phillips and Smith went on to say that lumber was donated and pulled to the church site by a team of mules. Through volunteer labor and donations the new building started and then was completed by contractor Elliot Perry of Minden in 1921.

"During the years of 1916 to 1925, Saint Matthews membership reached its highest peak, over one hundred members," Phillips and Smith said. Membership dwindled through the years and according to Rev. David Browder, pastor and trustee of the church, the church now has only two living members.

"Upon completion of the new building," Dr. Phillips and Mr. Smith continue, "Pastor G. W. Cooper was assigned as the first pastor. Pastor Grover Cleveland Jaggers was appointed presiding Elder in 1962. Through this old rock, God has spread the ministry, as sand in the wind, into society."

"Many ministers were nurtured through Saint Matthews, each making their own contribution. Pastor Jessie C. Battle, Sr. undertook a new goal of raising funds to put a new roof on the church. Pastor Douglas McArthur Lewis, Sr. reinstated revival services. Under his guidance, new light fixtures were installed and the building was painted. Pastor Jessie L. Johnson helped restore the grounds around the church."

The history of Saint Matthews CME Church tells the story of many who were members and others who were Pastors.

"Bishop Otha H. Lakey was Saint Matthews gift to the Christian world. He is currently affiliated with the General Conference of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and is editor of the Christian Index. Consequently, Reverend Lakey was elected Bishop and presently serves as Presiding Prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District."

"Jessie Stone served humbly through academia and was nurtured through Saint Matthews CME Church. Although he is now deceased, he served as President of Southern University--the world's largest predominately black university. Dr. Stone was president there from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s."

"Elder Reverend Floyd M. English assigned Rev. David Browder to Saint Matthew in July of 2004." Phillips and Smith said, and Browder deserves recognition for numerous accomplishments. In addition to Pastor Browder's teaching and preaching gifts, he has demonstrated many talents inspired by the Holy Spirit. 1. Organization of a Music Ministry with Pastor Browder as musician. 2. Renovation of both the Pastor's study and the Stewardess Room. 3. New church pews were donated to the church under Pastor Browder's leadership. 4. Organization of a Male Chorus on the district level. 5. Two new members united with the church. 6. A new musician volunteered at Saint Matthew's, Sister Michelle Browder, 7. An iron gate was purchased and installed by Pastor Browder. We are thankful for this God-sent man, and we will continue to give praise for all of God's blessings."

The history of Saint Matthews written by Phillips and Smith speaks of many who served the church through the 139 years of its history. Today the church is inactive due to a decline in membership but is still carefully tended with oversight of the CME organization.

Saint Matthews CME Church is located on approximately two acres of land West of Dixie Inn on US 80 near Camp Minden. Saint Matthew CME Memorial Cemetery is located beside the church building. Four graves in the cemetery have burial dates of 1884, 1894, 1895, 1896. The earliest grave in the cemetery for Alice Jones is dated Birth 1859 and death 1884.