The History of St. Matthew’s Baptist Church

Rev. Jerome Harris organized St. Matthew’s Baptist Church on June 2, 1926, in the home of his sister, Miss Clara M. Harris, 626 Lenox Avenue, New York City.  His pastorate covered the period of June 1926-1927. The co-workers were Mrs. Josephine Harris, wife of Rev. Harris, Miss Clara Harris, Mrs. Ida Tullah, and Mr. James Desverney. Other members were received shortly after the organization of the church.

After the death of Rev. Harris, the following pastors provided spiritual leadership: Rev. Bonaparte (pastorate unknown), Rev. T. J. Herbert (July 1927, period of pastorate unknown) Rev. David Licorish (1934 -1934); Rev. Otis Obotany (1938-March, 1943); and Rev. John Tribble (1943-1946).  There were periods in which St. Matthew’s operated without an official pastor.  Several dedicated members headed by the late Sister Bertha Simmons Blaylock, worked diligently to make sure that the Church remained active.

A New Era. A New Vision.

Rev. Dr. John J. Sass was called to the pastorate of St. Matthew’s Baptist Church in September 1946.  At that time the church was located at 2777 Eighth Avenue and later moved to 43 Macombs Place.  Under the leadership of Rev. Sass, the church grew to such an extent that there was no longer enough space to accommodate the congregation.  The members agreed with the pastor to build a new church on the existing property.

As the years passed, Rev. Sass watched as many in his congregation (who shared the dream) went home to their eternal rest and reward.  Nevertheless, the dream came true.  St. Matthew’s Baptist Church, Harlem’s first modern edifice in one hundred years, became a reality.  The congregation marched into this edifice on July 21, 1967.  The edifice has a chapel, balcony, off-street parking, full central air conditioning/heating systems, a complete kitchen, a fellowship hall, a soundproof nursery, administrative offices, and a seating capacity for approximately one thousand people.

For over thirty years, numerous ministers served under Pastor Sass.  Some were called to the pastorate, while others went home to be with the Lord.  The ministers included: Rev. Francis Legree, Rev. Oscar Moore, Rev Irack, Rev. Clarence Butler, Rev. Sean P, Gardner, Rev. Jimmie Howell, Rev. M. Frances Manning, Rev. Isaiah Lewis, Rev. Richard Reeves, and Rev. Anthony Mann and Min. Tonya Mann.  Rev. Dr. John J. Sass served St. Matthew’s Baptist Church for fifty-four years, Pastoring from September 1946 to August 20, 2000, when he retired.  The St. Matthew’s family was saddened on March 11, 2001, when the Pastor Emeritus, Rev. Dr. John J. Sass, passed from labor to reward.

The Torch Is Passed

Rev. Jimmie Howell was voted in as the Supply Pastor on August 27, 2001.  After a search by the Pulpit Search Committee and a vote by the members of the congregation, Rev. Jimmie Howell was called to the pastorate of St. Matthew’s Baptist Church on September 17, 2001.  He was installed as Pastor on December 9, 2001.

Under Pastor Howell’s leadership the ministerial staff increased.  The ministerial staff consisted of the late Rev. Francis LeGree, Rev. Hyacinth Johnson (ordained by Pastor Howell), Minister Mary A. Nesbit and Minister Shirley Ruffin. Minister Nesbit and Minister Ruffin were licensed by Pastor Howell. Minister Mary A. Nesbit was ordained in the gospel on July 29, 2012.  The ordinant was Rev. James O. Stalling.  Minister Shirley Ruffin was ordained in the gospel on March 17, 2013. The ordinant was Rev. Dr. J. G. McCann, Pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church, Harlem, NY.

During the years of 2006-2007, Pastor Howell, with the support of the members, the Sass Family, and local political leaders, was instrumental in renaming a portion of Macombs Place to Rev. Dr. John J. Sass Place.  This historic occasion was celebrated on a Sunday afternoon in March, 2007. The message of God was delivered by Rev. Dr. Isaac B. Graham, Pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church, NYC, and Moderator of the United Missionary Baptist Association. Invitations for the event were extended to churches, local leaders, and the community at large.  After the service, everyone gathered on the corners of 151st St. and Macombs Place for the unveiling of the new street sign. Names of those who monetarily supported this endeavor were inscribed on a multi-name plaque commemorating the occasion.

Pastor Howell announced his resignation in June 2011 at our Bi-Annual Church Meeting.  A Pulpit Search Committee was formed and presented by Pastor Howell during a morning service.  His resignation was to become effective once a new pastor was elected. 

Pastor Jenkins became the first woman to pastor the St. Matthew’s Baptist Church
in its over 90 year history!

On November 10, 2013 we installed Rev. Lisa D. Jenkins as the tenth pastor and the first woman to pastor St. Matthew’s Baptist Church. She was elected by the congregation in April 2013. We thank God for being with us through the years, for what He is doing now, and for what He will do for us in the future.  We know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the Holy Spirit is leading us and therefore, we give thanks for his guidance, mercies, and blessings.


Pastor Lisa Jenkins

To God Be the Glory!