St. James Episcopal in New London to celebrate new rector

The Rev. Ranjit K. Mathews is seen Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017, outside St. James Episcopal Church, 76 Federal St., New London. Mathews is the church's new rector. (Greg Smith/The Day)
The Rev. Ranjit K. Mathews is seen Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017, outside St. James Episcopal Church, 76 Federal St., New London. Mathews is the church's new rector. (Greg Smith/The Day)

New London — The Rev. Ranjit K. Mathews wants the church to remain relevant.

For the 38-year-old new rector at St. James Episcopal Church, that means reaching outside the walls of the historic building at 76 Federal St., building bridges out in the community, attracting millennials who have lost interest and “paying attention to what’s going on in the world.”

In the Episcopal Church, a rector is the priest in charge of a parish.

“I want the church to be about the Kingdom. I’m not about playing church, coming to services and not really embodying who Christ is out in the community,” Mathews said. “We’re right here in downtown New London and trying to be a midwife to something that’s growing here and trying to be truly representational of the community here.”

Mathews, who is fluent in Spanish, landed in New London in May and took up residence with his wife, Johanna, and 5-year-old son, Dhruv, at the church’s rectory at 4 Whale Oil Row. Prior to taking his first job as the leader of a parish, Mathews was traveling around sub-Saharan Africa as the church’s Partnership Officer for Africa.

He’s also done urban ministry work in places like Capetown, South Africa, and Harlem, N.Y., helped organize anti-war protests and investigated immigrant detentions. On Wednesday, Mathews gathered with lawyers and other members of the clergy at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Hartford in support of a Guatemalan mother fighting a deportation order.

“Our gospel talks about welcoming the stranger. It’s wrong to be separating and breaking up families,” Mathews said.

The church will hold a celebration of Mathews’ new ministry at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28, at St. James. The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, bishop of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, will preside over the ceremony, with Rev. Gary Commins preaching.

Carole Shores, a member of St. James, said Mathews has helped to re-energize the parish, brought a global perspective to current issues, was instrumental in starting an environmental awareness committee at the church and in partnering with other area churches on immigration and refugee issues.

Mathews said he’s been warmly welcomed by the “scrappy” city and looks forward to attracting more community members into the church.

Mathews was living in Arizona when he saw the opening to lead the New London church. He said he sees an opportunity here to collaborate and open doors to other agencies “that are about the gospel.”

The church operates a popular food pantry and thrift shop and provides monthly community meals and is involved with such organizations as the Covenant Shelter, Homeless Hospitality Center, St. Francis House and Ecuadorian Mission.

St. James opens its doors to various community organizations and most recently became the new home of The Drop-In Community Learning & Resource Center, which used to be housed on the campus of Mitchell College.

Prior to coming to New London, Mathews was an associate rector at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Long Beach, Calif., where, being fluent in Spanish, he worked to build connections between the Spanish- and English-speaking community members. He is a former lecturer at the Msalato Theological College of St. John’s University in Tanzania and served as an assistant rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Milton, Mass. He majored in business administration at George Washington University and received a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York.

"How do we become relevant? It's about transformation, which means putting our whole selves onto this project of following Jesus," Mathews said.

He was born to Indian parents who had emigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s. He grew up in Sharon, Mass. His father, the Rev. Koshy Mathews, is the rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Phoenixville, Penn.

Mathews follows the Rev. Michel Belt, who served at St. James between 2002 and 2015 and retired at the age of 66. Belt helped to establish a temporary homeless shelter in the parish hall at St. James in January 2006. The 50-bed shelter would remain at the church until 2013, when a permanent shelter opened on State Pier Road.

g.smith@theday.com

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