The city is on its way to renaming a Dixwell Avenue corner after an historic, community-service-oriented local Baptist congregation that dubs itself “the church that cares.”
During this past Thursday night’s Community Services and Environmental Policy (CSEP) committee meeting on the second floor of City Hall, alders voted unanimously in support of renaming the corner of Argyle Street and Dixwell Avenue “St. Matthew’s Church Way” in honor of the 100-year-anniversary of St. Matthew’s Unison Free Will Baptist Church at 400 Dixwell Ave. (The proposal now goes to the full Board of Alders for final approval.)
Pastor Kevin Hardy and two dozen smiling, supportive St. Matthew’s congregants filled the back half of the Aldermanic Chambers’ pews to demonstrate their enthusiasm for the proposed street corner name change.
Hardy said century-old St. Matthews’ unofficial nickname is “the church that cares” because of the congregation’s long-standing commitment to community service in the Dixwell neighborhood.
The church serves as a food pantry in collaboration with the Connecticut Food Bank. It partners with Lincoln Bassett school on a literacy program, and with the Hill Health Center on a men’s health fair where men receive HIV testing, blood pressure screenings, and access to mental health services.
“The church wants to be a beacon not just on Sunday,” Hardy told the alders. “We as a church want to be a refuge for all comers and be a place in the community where they can feel God’s love and also our love.”
In an Oct. 8 letter submitted to the Board of Alders along with over 250 signatures of support for renaming the corner, St. Matthew’s Committee Chairperson Lillian Vinston provided a history of the Dixwell neighborhood fixture as the church celebrates its 100-year anniversary.
“We started out on Orchard Street,” Vinston wrote, “moved to Henry Street and became charted as St. Matthew’s United American Free Will Baptist Church. In the 1920’s the church moved to Webster Street and in the 1930s moved to Charles Street. In 1962 St. Matthew’s moved to 400 Dixwell Avenue, where it is currently located.”
“They’ve been in the community for a long time,” Hill Alder and local pastor Ron Hurt said about St. Matthew’s. “I believe that part of Dixwell Avenue has become better because of the church that sits right down in the middle of it. I’m just so elated to support this whole corner naming.”
Newhallville/Prospect Hill Alder Steve Winter, who represents the stretch of Dixwell where St. Matthew’s sits and who helped the church’s congregants gather signatures for the street corner name change petition, said he quickly learned going door to door just how much the church has meant, and still means, to the Dixwell community.
“Given the ethic of faith and service that St. Matthew’s brings to Dixwell and has brought to Dixwell for the past 100 years,” he said, he supports the corner name change.