A nationally recognized pastor in the Pacific Northwest and a famous name in Seattle history, Mark A. Matthews began his career in Tennessee. Between 1896 and 1902 Matthews laid the foundation for his work and established his pattern of ministry in Jackson. Compared to other southern clergy, Matthews fashioned an unusual combination of religious conservatism and social conscience. His national fame developed during his ministry at Seattle’s First Presbyterian Church from 1902 to 1940. He built his congregation into the denomination’s largest with nearly ten thousand members and played an assertive role in Seattle politics while displaying a personal flamboyance in the pulpit that was matched by few of his contemporaries.
Born in Calhoun, Georgia, on September 24, 1867, Matthews grew up in the war-ravaged South. He sought his religious calling in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Later ordained in the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Southern), Matthews never went to seminary. He served churches in Calhoun and Dalton, Georgia, before moving to Jackson in 1896. At the First Presbyterian Church, he was a popular preacher and an activist in civic life. He founded a night school for working people, persuaded Andrew Carnegie to donate funds for the town library, organized a Presbyterian hospital, and started an unemployment bureau for Jackson’s poor. Organizing local chapters of the YMCA and the Humane Society, Matthews introduced elements of the Social Gospel during his six years in Tennessee, making his ministry unusual among southern churches of that time.