Over 150 years ago, a little band of Lutherans from Wurtenberg and from Pennsylvania grew tired of being served by wandering ministers from time to time. From 1835 to 1849 there had been no regular services; worship was help when a traveling preacher was available. During the year of 1849 St. Matthew congregation was organized and adopted a constitution. For a number of years the services were conducted in German; as years past English was introduced to attract young people. Services in both languages were held for years, then eventually the German service was dropped.
The first building was a simple frame church, built in about 1849. In 1866, the frame building was sold to Trinity Lutheran Church in Pitsburg, who used the building from 1866 to 1914. A brick structure was built for St. Matthew in 1865 and used for 57 or 58 years. On July 30, 1922 the cornerstone of the present church building was laid. A full basement was dug, concrete walls were poured. The bricks from the old church were used on the inside wall. Most of the labor was done by members of the congregation. The bell was purchased in 1864, used in the first two buildings and it’s mellow tones call welcome to all each Sunday even today.
St. Matthew Pastors
St. Matthew was originally served by traveling pastors whose names are not available.
The founder of St. Matthew was Jacob Gruber; a native of Pennsylvania. He was ordained in 1832 and called to serve the Lewisburg parish in 1830, where he served until 1853. During that time he established three new congregations, including St. Matthew.
Reverend Adolph Kleinegees, born in Obinhausen, Lippe-Detmold, Germany served St. Matthew from 1848-1849 along with five other churches. He was followed by Reverend Georg Christoph Freidrich, who served 1849-1851. He transferred when the congregation desired preaching in both English and German; he only knew German.
Reverend George Baughman served from 1853 to 1869. During his service, the town of Ithaca flourished and the second St. Matthew building was completed. Reverend Baughman served multiple congregations; he left St. Matthew to found churches in the areas around Eaton. Reverend Wilhelm J. Schroyer followed, from 1870 to 1874. He also served the Trinity, Pitsburg congregation as well as Emanuel at Phillipsburg. St. Matthew, like many Lutheran congregations in the 1860’s was divided over four issues: chiliasm (or millennialism), mixed communion (altar fellowship), exchange of pulpits with sectarians (pulpit fellowship), and secret or unchurchly societies (such as Masons, the Lodge, etc.). Because of the conflict, Reverend Schroyer resigned all three congregations.
Reverend Phillip A. Peter served St. Matthew 1874 to 1908 and is known as a “peacemaker.” He was loyal to the Joint Synod of Ohio and declared he would “defend the pure doctrine of God’s word, according to the confession of the Evangelical Lutheran church against all errors and false doctrines.” Reverend Peter wrote volumes; he contributed many articles to the Lutheran Standard and wrote two books.
Reverend John C. Einfalt served one year, 1909-1910. He served only a year and a half before being called to Willow Dell, Versailles. Reverend Arthur M. Pence followed, serving 1911- 1923. During his years of service both St. Matthew and Trinity built new church buildings and St. Matthew built their current parsonage in Arcanum. Pastor Pence died while serving St. Matthew, at the age of 49.
Reverend Edgar W. Schuh served St. Matthew, his first call right out of the Lutheran Seminary, Columbus for three years from 1924-1927. He was subsequently called to New Orleans. Reverend C.J. E. Lautenschlager served only ten months in 1927-1928. Reverend Adam Walter Lynn served for about eleven years, 1928-1939. Reverend William F. Fritz served St. Matthew 1940-1946 after serving as a missionary in India, with his wife and three children. In 1946 the Fritz’s returned to the mission field in India.
Reverend Victor C. Ridenour served St. Matthew and Trinity from 1946 until his retirement in 1967. In 1955 restroom facilities were installed after the oil-burning furnace was converted to natural gas. Reverend Hilbert E. Piel followed, serving 1968 to 1981. Pastor Piel and his wife Mary returned to the Arcanum area after retirement and he served as interim pastor 2004-2006. During Pastor Piel’s service a major remodeling was done in 1972. Reverend Bradley J. Brauer served four years 1981- 1985. The congregation, a member of the American Lutheran Church, began using the LBW, the green hymnal during his time of service. Reverend James L. Castello followed, serving 17 years from 1986 to 2004. James and his wife Carol were greatly loved as were their three daughters who grew up in the congregation. During his service, St. Matthew joined the ELCA.
Reverend Joene Herr, was installed in December 2006, after her ordination the month before. Pastor Joene is a “second-career” seminary student, graduating from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus. She and her family, husband Peter, son Luke and daughter Kristine lived in the St. Matthew parsonage in Arcanum. An older son, William, teaches English in Vietnam. Originally from Michigan and a graduate of “that school up north.” Joene loved serving God in Darke County, Ohio until April 12, 2015. Pastor Joene is now Lead Pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico.