When Rev. Eugene Matthews, 80, was a little boy growing up in Hanover, he used to hear about the festivities at a “celebration day” but never attended it or had any idea who put it together.
In July, when he was appointed as the part-time pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Laurel, Matthews discovered that the celebration day he heard about in his youth was his new congregation’s beloved Emancipation Day Celebration held the first Saturday of September for as long as anyone can remember.
“My great-grandfather George Matthews [no relation to Eugene Matthews] helped get it started, so it’s at least 100 years,” said Nina Hughes, coordinator of the day, which celebrates the freeing of enslaved African American people. “It’s a great feeling to know that not only does the tradition live on but that the community lives on.”
For 129 years, St. Mark’s has served the community, Matthews said, and while its membership is not what it once was, the congregation of about 150 members has “a lot of energy,” he said.
“There’s a good mixture ... of elderly and young,” Matthews said. “They need a full-time pastor with all the activities and potential for growth.”
After a career serving congregations in Annapolis, Baltimore, Washington and Buffalo, New York, Matthews retired in 2008. He has since been appointed twice as a part-time minister for five-year stints, in the Churchton community in Anne Arundel County and, most recently in Baltimore
“I’m grateful and I’m honored that the conference still has faith and trust in me after all my years of service,” Matthews said. “I get great joy and inspiration in helping congregations.”
At his current assignment, Matthews hopes to spark weekly attendance and attract more members to justify a full-time minister position.
He also hopes to help the church’s various committees achieve their goals, from putting a new roof on the church to upgrading the restrooms and adding on to its fellowship hall.
“We have four to five goals we are working toward,” Matthews said. “That’s where we are.”
His wife of 55 years, Jane, will lead a sign language group, too.
“At each church, she has had a signing ministry,” Matthews said. “She is hearing challenged.”
Parents to four children, Matthews and his wife have seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. When not serving the members of his parish, Matthews walks the family dog, does the puzzles in the newspaper and follows sports.
“When you retire, you need to get up and do something every day,” Matthews said. “I keep physically and mentally active.”
He admits, too, that while he is not always in the office everyday, it is hard not to minister.
“There is no such thing as a part-time pastor,” Matthews said. “If someone calls in the middle of the night because they’re in the hospital or dying, you don’t say you only work 20 hours.”
He is looking forward to attending his first Emancipation Day celebration.
“It’s a big celebration,” Matthews said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Starting with a 5K run/walk in Saturday morning, festivities continue with a parade, a baseball game, pony rides and plenty of food from chicken to funnel cakes, Hughes said. A Skate Jam will also be held from 5 to 7 p.m. to the music of a DJ.
“We’ve got it all,” Hughes said. “We put it on every year to promote the community coming together. You can’t forget the things who made you who you are.”