Inspire Dayton: How this pastor brought the church to the community during pandemic

McKinley United Methodist Church is more than just a place for Sunday worship, and to many people, its pastor Rev. Peter Matthews is the reason why.

Matthews, 48, is a Cincinnati native and had dreams of being president of the United States before becoming a spiritual leader. After a knee injury ended his college basketball career, he said was called by God to be part of a bigger team.

“And since then, good, bad and indifferent, God has not seen fit to take his hands off me and so for me to get to be independent and imaginative, and help people to a point where they feel like they can help themselves is the way I pay rent to live on this Earth,” he said.

He went on to complete his education at Princeton Seminary at Princeton University and later make his way to Dayton’s historical McKinley church.

During this challenging year, people across the Dayton region have persevered and banded together. Throughout the month of December, the Dayton Daily News will tell the stories of individuals who have inspired others. Multiple people nominated Matthews for this Inspire Dayton series.

ExploreHistorical church celebrates 140 years

Matthews gave back to the community and helped those well before the pandemic. But he believes it’s necessary to do even more of that this year. Todd Smedley, owner of T-shirt Kings, has known Matthews for about four years and said the pastor puts the needs of others over his own the way a spiritual leader should.

“There’s been a tsunami of generosity that has poured into my heart and soul, and I would not be a man, or human, if I did not position my life that other people might receive just a tenth of what I’ve been given,” Matthews said.

When the coronavirus struck Dayton communities, Matthews worked with Primary Health Solutions and other churches to provide free COVID-19 drive-thru testing service to about 2,100 people over five months.

“I made up in my mind to begin to make a series of phone calls until we could find someone who wanted to partner with us to make sure that everybody had an opportunity to know their status,” he said.

Castel Sweet has known Matthews for about two years and said that his willingness to continue outreach efforts during the pandemic is inspiring.

“Just the way he has been doing things you don’t typically think of, in terms of a church, of providing space and creating space and offering services has been very unique and inspiring to see that happening in a time where most of our churches were struggling themselves, let alone figure out how they can still be of service to others in some very tangible ways,” she said.

Sweet does community engagement for the University of Dayton and said it’s refreshing to see people in the community work to make it better.

Matthews’ efforts didn’t stop with his response to COVID-19. For the 2020 election season, Matthews celebrated his four-year anniversary as pastor with a parade to the polls to encourage people to exercise their right to vote. He also welcomed local organizations to use the church for meeting spaces.

“There’s all these wonderful, powerful organizations that simply needed a place to gather and we just open our doors and continue to be thankful that the genius of other people can be housed in the church doors and that is what the church is for,” he said.

Smedley said Matthews is “different in his messaging” and pays attention to social issues. “He will wear a T-shirt to address these issues and actually preach on the subject,” he said.

While he has proved to be an inspiration to others, there is one person in particular that inspires Matthews: his 8-year-old grandson.

“I think about all the ways in which these young people have had their lives disrupted, and they still find a way to offer hope and resilience and still find the emotional courage to be children when they haven’t seen their friends in months,” he said.

For those continuing to struggle through the ongoing pandemic, Matthews suggests making a plan and remaining prayerful.

“Be still, make a plan, find three friends to hold you accountable to that plan, and then trust God to give you the courage to execute that plan,” he said.

Matthews has two adult sons and he lives in downtown Dayton, where he likes to spend time with his grandson, and read Toni Morrison and Howard Thurman books while enjoying a glass of red wine.

Next year Matthews is looking forward to getting back into hot yoga, lose 49 pounds before his 49th birthday, take guitar lessons with grandson and invest in the lives of homeless children and immigrants.

“Those five things I hope will help me to laugh more and help keep a simpler focus in how I continue to be transparent and inspire people,” said Matthews.


Inspire Dayton

Throughout the month of December, the Dayton Daily News will tell the stories of people who have persevered and inspired others during this challenging year. Tell us who inspired you in 2020 by emailing jordan.laird@coxinc.com.

About the Author