Sauntering with Mother Eva Lee Matthews

Readings for the Feast Day of Mother Eva Lee Matthews

This reflection was shared at Sacred Saunter Outdoor Eucharist on Saturday July 2, 2022 at Sequoia Park in Eureka. 

Eva Lee Matthews was born on February 9, 1862, in Glendale, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati. She was the daughter of a former justice of the Supreme Court, Thomas Stanley Matthews. Raised in the Presbyterian tradition, Eva accompanied her brother, the future Bishop Paul Matthews, when he went to study in Oxford, England. There she encountered the work of Charles Gore and other Anglican luminaries and found her spiritual home in the sacramental life of Anglicanism. She was confirmed in the Episcopal Church on their return to the U.S. She and her brother also ministered in Omaha, Nebraska, where she worked tirelessly to serve poor and disenfranchised women and children. Eva then traveled to Palestine. She recounts her travels and experiences in the book, “A Little Pilgrimage to Holy Places.”

These experiences of service and faith led Eva to return to Ohio where she and her longtime friend Beatrice Henderson founded Bethany Mission House, so named because of their conviction that the Christian life is one of both service (embodied by Martha of Bethany) and prayer (embodied by Mary of Bethany). Continuing her service to children, Eva focused on educating, clothing, and caring for those children in need. She considered joining an established order but was encouraged to start a new American one. In 1898, Eva and Beatrice took vows and formally established the Community of the Transfiguration. Now known as Sister Eva Mary, she soon moved the community to her hometown of Glendale, a suburb of Cincinnati. The sisterhood grew throughout the 1920s, engaging in ministry in China, Japan, Hawaii, Texas, and California (in San Mateo, Ferndale, Eureka!) and in locations throughout Ohio, including Painesville, Cleveland, and Lincoln Heights. Today, the community runs Bethany Episcopal Day School, the Transfiguration Spirituality Center, and St. Monica’s Recreation Center.

Mother Eva, as she is known today, taught that through our actions and care for others, the light of Christ shines through us. She was an active leader of the Community of the Transfiguration where she served until her death in 1928. She is buried under the altar in the chapel at Bethany School.

Mother Eva Lee Matthews (window at the Chapel of the Transfiguration in Glendale OH)

Mother Eva stressed the balance between action (Martha) and contemplation (Mary), work and rest, ministry and retreat. (Mary of Bethany is traditionally understood to be the woman who anointed Jesus in today’s Gospel). The community is named after the Transfiguration, which was a mountain top experience of Christ’s luminescence shared by Peter, James, and John after a long hike. Eva emphasized the fact that after this mountain top experience, they descended from the mountain and healed a very sick child. When we are given mystical insight, it is not for us alone but to be shared with a world in need of healing. We don’t remain in ecstasy. We return to work. After the ecstasy, the laundry. 

Just as our act of walking requires a balance between our two legs in motion so too does our spiritual walk with God involve a balance between action and contemplation. As the prophet Micah says, we are called to walk humbly with our God balancing both love and justice. May we keep this spiritual balance in mind as we listen to “all the trees of the wood shout for joy” (Psalm 96:12) and as we continue our sacred saunter together “in remembrance of her,” Mother Eva Lee Matthews. 

The Sacred Saunter altar replete with offerings

The Archdeacon’s Dismissal

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