By Erik Alsgaard
On Wednesday, May 28, 1975, at approximately 9:30 p.m., a young Marcus Matthews knelt before Bishop James K. Mathews in the nave of the majestic Washington National Cathedral and was ordained an Elder in The United Methodist Church. The Bible he placed his hands on that night belonged to none other than John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.
Exactly 10,640 days later, on Wednesday, July 14, 2004, the Rev. Marcus Matthews was elected on the first ballot as a bishop in The United Methodist Church at the Northeast Jurisdictional Conference in Syracuse, N.Y. He was consecrated as a bishop on July 16 and appointed to the Philadelphia Area.
As Bishop Matthews prepares to retire at the end of August, the Baltimore-Washington Conference is preparing a love offering to honor his ministry.
That offering will go to build a health and sports facility on the campus of Africa University, located in Zimbabwe. Bishop Matthews carries a love and passion for Africa University, so it is only fitting the conference honor him in this way.
Over the years, Matthews has had a significant impact on the lives of thousands of people in the Baltimore-Washington Conference and beyond.
Bishop Joe Yeakel has known Bishop Matthews since 1984. Bishop Matthews was serving as the pastor at Epworth Chapel UMC in Washington, D.C., when Bishop Yeakel came for a “welcome to the conference” gathering.
Bishop Yeakel appointed Matthews as a district superintendent in 1986, and then Conference Council Director in 1991. He was also present in Syracuse when Bishop Matthews was elected. In short, he’s seen the bishop from start to finish. Even though his ministry setting has changed, Bishop Yeakel said, Bishop Matthews’ character has not.
“Bishop Matthews is very special to me,” said Bishop Yeakel. “He is a man totally committed to the ministry of Jesus Christ. He’s alert to the dynamics of the church in an ever-changing world, and an affirmer of persons for who and what they are. He wants to see people be as effective as they can be.”
Conference lay leader, Delores Martin, takes great pride in how her relationship with Bishop Matthews has evolved over the years. Since joining the church in 1990, Martin said, she has enjoyed the journey with him.
“I was a delegate the year we sent him forward as a candidate for bishop,” she said. “This was bittersweet for me because although I was happy for him to move forward, I selfishly wanted him to remain my district superintendent.”
Martin notes that the bishop has always had a genuine concern for everyone in the conference, lay and clergy. “He is so loved by so many that when I am with my Lay Leader colleagues across the Jurisdiction, we all claim him as “our” bishop. We will all miss him in this role.”
Charlie Moore, a member of Community UMC in Crofton, said that he has seen the notion of “transforming the world” – part of the church’s overall mission statement – in Bishop Matthews.
“Bishop Matthews’ ministry over these many years has known no geographic or spiritual boundaries,” Moore said. “His heart and compassion have touched every continent, but none greater than Africa and no greater place than his beloved Africa University.”
Moore said that when the decision was made last year to honor the bishop’s retirement with a love offering to construct a new health and fitness center at Africa University, he knew he had to contribute.
“Through our participation in this offering of love,” he said, “Carol (my wife) and I are answering the call to assist in the ‘making of disciples’ and the education of future leaders who will be transforming Africa for years to come.”
The Rev. Don Stewart, a retired Elder in the BWC, served with Bishop Matthews in a variety of settings. They first met in the mid-70s when Stewart was the associate pastor at Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C., and Matthews was associate pastor at Asbury UMC, also in Washington.
“We discovered that we had many common experiences in our ministry,” he said, “and we found strength in our sharing.”
Both the bishop and Stewart served together in BWC leadership in the 1990s: Stewart was Conference Director of Connectional Ministries and the bishop was a district superintendent.
“I knew Marcus as a person of great integrity who cared about the pastors and the people in his district,” he said. “In those early years of the founding of Africa University, his travels to the new university and his passion for raising awareness were very instrumental in helping Africa University become the excellent institution that it is today.”
Stewart sees two threads running through the bishop’s ministry: compassion and encouragement. “Our appreciation and support of those threads can weave a strong support for the construction of a new sports facility at Africa University,” he said.
The Rev. Allen Stewart (no relation to Don Stewart) met Bishop Matthews in the early 1970s when they were both students at Wesley Theological Seminary. The duo ended up serving together in the then Washington Central District following graduation and became part of the organizing pastors of the BWC chapter of Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR).
“As neighboring pastors,” he said, “we soon realized that we never took our Sabbath day off. We covenanted together to job, play tennis and have lunch every Monday. Marcus being a graduate of South Carolina State University, and me being a Howard University graduate, we never missed a Howard/SC State football game when they played in Washington, D.C.”