Our Mission & Vision
Preach God’s Word.
Teach Christ’s Love.
Reach all people.
Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Sunday Mornings at St. Matthew’s
It is a time we gather as believers to fellowship, pray, praise, and hear from God’s Word together.
Come as you are! We are a church of people from all walks of life, and we want you to feel comfortable worshiping with us. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” Matthew 6:25
Bring the kids! We’re a family friendly church, welcoming people of all ages. There is space in the back of church for handicap access, as well as for families with small children and/or nursing moms. “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
Truth – We are a church that stands on all the truths of the Bible. We encourage and assist people to be in the word, and to study it for themselves. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
Our worship services include music and a time of teaching. Our music is a mixture of new music and traditional hymns, and our Pastor teaches every week from the Bible.
We would love for you to join us on a Sunday morning. We meet at 8:00 AM for worship every Sunday morning at our church building at 121 Kline St.
Hope to see you there!
What we Believe:
We believe the Bible is God’s Word and is, therefore, totally true and relevant to our daily lives.
We believe the only true God is the Triune God of the Bible: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We believe God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to rescue ALL sinners through his life, death and resurrection.
We believe forgiveness and eternal life in heaven are gifts by grace (undeserved love) alone through faith (trust) alone in Jesus Christ alone.
We believe God cares for us physically, emotionally, and especially spiritually, all the days of our lives.
Who We Are
Our Team & Leadership
Greetings in the name of Jesus!
My name is Nathan Buch. I have had the pleasure of serving our Lord as a teacher and principal in schools in Arizona, Nebraska, California, and Michigan. I have also been able to serve our Lord as a pastor in Nevada and here in SW Michigan.
The Lord has blessed me with a wonderful wife, Kelley, who works as a teacher’s aide at Grace Lutheran. He has also blessed me with 4 wonderful children. Maddison is a sophomore at Wisconsin Lutheran College. Sydney is a junior at Michigan Lutheran High School. Keeton is a freshman at Michigan Lutheran High School. Landree is in 7th grade at Grace Lutheran.
I have been at Good Shepherd for a little over a year. In that time, I have been amazed at the kingdom of God and his people who are in SW Michigan. The Lord has certainly blessed this area of the country with an amazing amount of blessings.
I am excited to serve the Lord and help St. Matthew’s during her vacancy. I pray, along with you, that the Lord continues to guide St. Matthew’s in his grace and mercy and gives her the direction that she needs to continue her mission and ministry.
History of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church
A Brief History
In 1894 first attempts were made to start a Lutheran church in the Benton Harbor area. Rev. A. Cronheim helped organize Zion Ev. Lutheran Church and property was purchased. But unresolved disagreements ended the planning. In 1898 another attempt was made. A new name was chosen for the congregation, St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church of Benton Harbor. Rev. H. Peter was installed on February 15, 1898 and held services in an upstairs hall of the White House Store on Main Street. A church was soon built with seating for 300 on the southwest corner of Harrison and Lavette and dedicated on August 22, 1898. However, Pastor Peter resigned that same day.
Rev. August Behrendt was then called and installed on the last Sunday in October that year. For ten years he led the congregation and was also the teacher in St. Matthew’s Christian Day School. When Pastor Behrendt took a call, the congregation called Rev. H. C. Hasse. He was installed on December 13, 1908 and served the church for almost forty years.
At. first, St. Matthew’s was a subsidized mission congregation of the Wisconsin Lutheran Synod. With an influx of German immigrants to the area in the early 1900’s, which caused a steady growth in membership, by 1906 St. Matthew’s became self-supporting. By 1915 it became apparent that a larger church building was needed. The current property at the corner of Colfax and Kline was purchased for $2,650, but because of World War I, no further action was taken until 1919.
Architect Anton Dohman of Milwaukee was secured to design the new church; a solid brick, Gothic style building with a seating capacity of 550. As work began, a cornerstone dedication service was held on August 24, 1919. The initial cost was given as $35,000 but by the time the church was completed and dedicated the cost had risen to $67,000 and left the congregation $40,000 in debt.
Rev. E. H. Wendland came to St. Matthew’s in 1948 and during his service the congregation continued to grow. He started with about 780 communicant members and by 1962 there were 1,270. Much of this new growth was due to a second wave of German immigrants and World War II refugees. Worship services had been offered in the German language weekly and were continued for decades. The church had as many as three services on Sunday mornings. St. Matthew’s also began calling Vicars to help the pastor.
Following Pastor Wendland’s call to Zambia, Africa, Rev. James Fricke served St. Matthew’s for two years. He was followed by Rev. Kermit Biedenbender in 1965, who led the congregation for 29 years.
During Pastor Biedenbender’s tenure, membership at St. Matthew’s church and school began to diminish for a number of reasons. And in the 1980’s, two tragic incidents caused even more members to transfer to nearby WELS congregations: the attack on teacher Donald Habeck, and arson of the church building. The members that remained continued to be committed to God’s mission to reach out with the Gospel.
As a result of the changing circumstances, qualifications for future pastors became (1) strength in outreach and (2) fluency in German. Rev. Timothy Buelow, who had been a Vicar at St. Matthew’s, followed Pastor Biedenbender in 1994. When Pastor Buelow left in 2000, St. Matthew’s was without a full-time pastor for over three years. Finally, Rev. Martin Weigand, also a former Vicar, accepted the call and was installed in 2003. Two years later, the church called retired pastor, Rev. Richard Hennig to serve part-time, instead of calling for a Vicar. Pastor Hennig remained until 2014 when he retired for health reasons. When Pastor Weigand took another call, St. Matthew’s went to the seminary and was assigned a 2009 graduate, Rev. Jeremy Laitinen, to be their next pastor. It was shortly after this that St. Matthew’s discontinued their German worship services, although Stille Nacht (Silent Night) is still sung in German at Christmas time. Rev. Jeffrey Bolwerk had been shepherding St. Matthew’s congregation from 2015-2021. Currently, Rev. Nathan Buch, the pastor from our daughter congregation Good Shepherd, is filling the vacancy role at St. Matthew’s.
Through the years, additional changes have been made to the church. An inviting Scripture verse was carved into the front doors, and a row of pews was removed to allow room for fellowship in the back of the church. A handicap ramp was added, as well as a handicap bathroom off the narthex. St. Matthew’s has built a couple of different signs near the front door, and recently, the cupola was replaced.
When an arsonist started two fires in the church on October 5, 1987 the Lord’s divine intervention saved the structure. Patrolman Ron Singleton happened to be driving by at 2:00 a.m., saw smoke and called the fire department, minimizing the damages. Had the fires burned even an hour longer, the church would have been a complete loss.
Fire, smoke and heat damaged much of the interior, including the pulpit, sacristy, piano, pipe organ, interior paint, hymnals and burned a hole through the floor to the basement. It cost more than $250,000 to restore. A brand-new pipe organ was part of the cost. Also, a beautiful painting on the dome of the church representing the four Gospel writers, Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, interspersed with angel figures, was added. Thankfully, none of the stained-glass windows were badly damaged and were restored to their original beauty.
The tragedy of the fire caused the members of St. Matthew’s, who had been holding services in the school gym during repairs, to be strengthened in their dedication to continue to reach out to the people of Benton Harbor. The first services in the newly restored church were held on March 6, 1988. Several rededication and celebration services also followed.
Looking Forward as We Look Back
It’s good to look back and remember how God has blessed us. From the small wooden church on Lavette Avenue to a large brick building with a steeple, a bell, and stained-glass windows. God had certainly been gracious to the members of St. Matthew’s. So, in 1919, as they laid the cornerstone of the new church building, the people gathered to praise God for his goodness. They praised God for his greatest blessing to them, God’s Son, Jesus, who is the true Cornerstone of the Christian Church. Through Jesus, God freely offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who believe. It was that living faith, created by God’s Word, that moved the members of St. Matthew’s to build the church as a place to serve God and glorify his name.
It’s good to remember all the different ways that God has blessed others through us. Jesus’ Church here on earth does not exist as an entity unto itself. God put us here to be a blessing to others. Those blessings took on many different forms: the immigrants that were welcomed, the community members helped with their material needs, and the family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors with whom the good news of Jesus’ saving work was shared.
While it is good to remember the past, it is even better to think of all the ways God continues to bless us and bless others through us. The true words and promises of God continue to be proclaimed among us. Brothers and sisters in Christ continue to care for each other and encourage each other to acts of love and kindness. St. Matthew’s continues to share with the people of this world what they so desperately want and need: hope for a better future, a peace that lasts, and the comfort of knowing that life is not lived in vain. We share all these things as we share the blessings God has promised through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. We pray that God will allow us to continue to praise and proclaim his saving name from this church building for many years to come.
-Pastor Jeffery G. Bolwerk