Highland Park West / Balcones Area Neighborhood History Article: St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church & Reverend Malcolm P. Riker

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Highland Park West / Balcones Area Neighborhood History Article: St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church & Reverend Malcolm P. Riker

The story of St. Matthew’s Episcopal church really has to start with the priest who founded it: Reverend Malcolm Riker.

Reverend Malcolm Riker

Born in Austin February 12, 1925, he grew up in Austin (article references his mother living at 2300 Leon) and attended Austin High School.  He graduated from the University of Texas – Austin (working as a lay leader during that time for the Episcopal Church in Bastrop and Lampasas) and later studied at General Theological Seminary in New York City and earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, CA.  He was ordained as a deacon in July 1951 and as a priest in June 1952.

Reverend Malcolm Riker, 1963 Item # AS-63-39306, Austin American-Statesman Photographic Morgue (AR.2014.039). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas

His first appointment in Austin was to St. George’s Episcopal Church (near I-35 and Airport Blvd) in September of 1958, but before that he was rector of St Michael’s parish in La Marque, and it was noted that he was also in charge of St. Paul’s Mission in Texas City and had also started churches in Hitchcock and Alta Loma (all near Galveston, TX).  He would continue his knack for planting churches and would be described in a 1980 article about him as “Austin’s foremost church builder.”[1]

St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church

The First Service for the church was held in the chapel of St. Andrew’s Episcopal School on October 19, 1958, with about 25 persons in attendance.  The congregation grew and soon moved its services to a house rented for this purpose at 3101 Highland Terrace West in December of the same year.  They petitioned to become a self-supporting parish in January of 1962.[2]  From there the church acquired land at 4400 Ridge Oak Dr (now numbered 4501) and made plans for a permanent location.  The building was to be designed by the firm of Fehr & Granger at a cost of $60,000.  The groundbreaking for the church occurred on June 11, 1959.  It was actually a big day as two Episcopal churches broke ground that day: St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Barton Hills at 2128 Barton Hills Dr. (also designed by Fehr & Granger) as well as St. Matthew’s.

St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 1960 Item # AS-60-27769, Austin American-Statesman Photographic Morgue (AR.2014.039). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas

The dedication service for St. Matthew’s occurred on Sunday, June 12th, 1960, almost exactly one year after the groundbreaking.  The service was officiated by the Reverend John E Hines, the Bishop of Texas, and Reverend Riker.  In 1961, St. Matthew’s was described as Reverend Riker’s largest mission with 295 members.

The charter members were:[3]

Mr. and Mrs. B. J. Graves

Mr. and Mrs. Tabor Ward

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Bray

Mr. and Mrs. T. McDonald

Mr. and Mrs. O. O. Wooten

Mrs. Margaret Fike

Mrs. Martha Walston

Mr. and Mrs. Seth Gibson

Mr. and Mrs. J. F. McCullar

Dr. and Mrs. S. E. G. McDonald

Mrs. V. A. Sparks

Mr. and Mrs. Clay Simpson

Mr. and Mrs. A. R. Smith

Rev. and Mrs. M. P. Riker

Mr. and Mrs. David Hogue

Mr. and Mrs. Joe Renfro III

Mrs. William E. Martin

Mr. and Mrs. D. R. Knight

Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Frank

Mrs. L. Paxton

Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Horn

Mr. and Mrs. James Huston

Mr. and Mrs. Ross Blumentritt

Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Turner

Lt. Col. And Mrs. William Wilkerson

It was noted that Reverend Riker would be “priest in charge” of these two new mission churches as well as St. George’s.  If it sounds like Reverend Riker was a busy man, you are right.  In 1959, his Sunday schedule of conducting services was:

7:30am – St. George’s

9am – St. Matthew’s

11am – St. George’s

12:30pm – St. Mark’s

6pm – St. George’s

By 1961 it was reported he had additionally founded two more churches: St. Luke’s and St. John’s (302 West Caddo).  His schedule at that point was described as follows:

7:30am – St. Matthew’s

8:30am – St. Mark’s

11am – St. Matthew’s

12:45pm – St. John’s

5pm – St. Luke’s (not a permanent location yet)

6:30pm – St. Matthew’s

Reverend Riker was the priest for St. Matthew’s Church for 7 ½ years and then left in September 1966 to become the full-time priest for St. Luke’s on the Lake,[4] described as one of the most breathtaking churches in Austin at 5600 RR 620.  Riker was quoted saying, “I intend to make an Episcopal pond out of that lake.”

Meanwhile St. Matthews experienced continued growth and in 1976 the church purchased 5 acres at Mesa and Steck for a new church.  It would open at that location in April 1979.  Reasons for the new location described in the article included, “…to gain room for expansion and parking, to become more accessible and more visible to the people in the Northwest Hills area.”[5]  At that point the Ridge Oak location became a residence.

[1] Riker Cited For Being Foremost Church Builder in Austin, Texas Churchman, February 1980
[2] Other 21 — No Title, The Austin Statesman (1921-1973); Austin, Tex.. 08 June 1968: 18
[3] Service of Dedication Program for St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 12 June 1960, page 5
[4] AF Bio, Riker, Malcolm P, 1966
[5] St. Matthew’s set to dedicate church, The Austin American Statesman (1973-1980), Evening ed.; Austin, Tex.. 12 Apr 1979: H4
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