The Rev. Matthew D. Cowden is the Rector of Saint Michael and All Angels in South Bend, Indiana.
With family roots in West Virginia, he was born and reared in northern Virginia. After an early career as a college theater professor, he received his Master of Divinity degree at Virginia Seminary in 2006.
As a Trainer in Congregational Development ministries, Fr. Matthew has led rural and suburban congregations in developing a shared vision for implementing new ministry. He currently serves on the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, connecting larger Church resources with local congregations.
He is married to Melissa Cowden, his best friend and partner in ministry. Melissa is an early childhood teacher with a master’s degree in multicultural education. They have three young-adult children: Meghan, a nurse; Nicholas, a ballet dancer; and Joshua, a computer science major.
Matthew loves hiking, running, making memorable meals, folklore, and storytelling.
Bishop Coadjutor Search and Nominating Committee
Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia
1608 Virginia St. East P.O. Box 5400
Charleston, WV 25361
Dear Deacon Prichard and Friends in Christ on the Search and Nominating Committee,
Grace and peace of the risen Christ be with you in your ministry in the Diocese of West Virginia. Thank you for your dedication of time, prayer, and discernment. You are much in my prayers as you listen and discern your Bishop Coadjutor. After much prayer and the recommendations of my colleagues, I submit myself to your prayers and ask to be included in your process.
In reading your profile I am struck by your call for a pastoral leader who can assist in articulating a common vision, provide strength of purpose in love, and lead a spiritual renewal that brings the communities of the diocese together. The more I pray through your profile the more I have a sense of alignment for how the Holy Spirit has been forming me and the call for the quality of Bishop you are
Over the course of my ordained ministry, I have helped to foster unity and connections between clergy and between congregations. As a trained facilitator with the Diocesan Congregational Development Institute, I have guided multiple congregations through transformative work and assisted them in resource sharing, fostering health and growth. As a relational, present pastor I have helped to connect gifts, talents and abilities within my parishes and beyond. I have built relationships between outside institutions and my own congregations; helping to bring education and social action together. I have also helped to bridge funding sources with congregational needs.
As both a diocesan leader and as a parish priest I have confronted the difficult challenges of declining membership and dwindling finances. Through my management and oversight, it has been my joy to cast and realize a vision; transforming my own congregation from a difficult past to a more solid, hopeful future. I am keenly aware of the challenges that face the Episcopal Church, especially among small churches. I have a deep sense of mission for the work and ministry that needs to be done. I believe the strength and health of our Church is found in the strength and health of our relationships; with one another and with Jesus Christ. Strengthening those relationships and, therefore, the Church is among my greatest joys.
Lastly, as I listen for the call of the Holy Spirit in your search, I am acutely aware that my family roots for preaching come from West Virginia. My grandfather was from Morgantown. He was a dynamic, beloved preacher whose charism for connection and evangelism, along with that of my grandmother, was passed along to me, their grandson. The thought of returning to my roots warms my heart.
If, after reading my application, you also sense a possible alignment of ministry between your call and my gifts, I would be delighted to meet and speak with you further. Please know that I shall continue to keep you in my prayers and look forward to any conversations the Holy Spirit may lead us into.
Yours in Christ,
Collaborative leadership with lay and clergy leaders at all levels of ministry and Church governance; developing networks of support for new ministry initiatives, most recently for Racial Reconciliation and Evangelism; facilitating Congregational Development models for fostering new growth; intentional, strategic long term planning, especially incorporating financial stewardship and fundraising; providing mentorship to clergy; remaining attentive to the needs of the whole Church and those of the individual; celebrating the sacraments, preaching, teaching and pastoral care.
Rector, Saint Michael and All Angels, South Bend, Indiana
Stabilized parish finances and led renewal of spiritual life of the congregation after previous period of decline. Re-engaged parishioners in mission and ministry and welcomed new members, calling and equipping new lay-leadership. Led Capital Campaign to pay off lingering mortgage and balanced the budget for the first time in sixty years. Renewed Stephen Ministries and trained care-givers; developed multiple new, small group ministries; focused outreach efforts, establishing monthly free lunch program; led racial reconciliation pilgrimage and workshops; grew youth ministry; initiated pilgrimages to National Acolyte Festival; renewed Journey to Adulthood curriculum; led teen pilgrimage to Canterbury. Currently planning "big tent revival" for 2021 emerging out of renewed engagement of our Urban Abbey prayer ministry.
Executive Council, The Episcopal Church
Elected in 2018 by the fourteen Episcopal dioceses of the midwest, I serve as the clergy representative for Province V Comprised of thirty-eight members, the Executive Council is the governing body of The Episcopal Church between sessions of General Convention Working with the officers and staff of The Episcopal Church I , serve as the Secretary to the committee for Mission Beyond The Episcopal Church. I assist in developing resolutions and addressing issues emerging from ecumenical relationships, the Office of
Government Relations Episcopal Migration Ministries, and Episcopal Relief & Development. serve as liaison to the Uniten Thank Offering.
Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia
As Associate Rector for Family and Student Ministries I provided leadership specifically for those ministries that served 250 parish families within a resource size congregation; renewed the congregation's commitment to teenage ministries; expanded mission trips and pilgrimages; established family dinner/prayer groups, writing the curriculum called Episcopal Family Movement to guide their
engagement. At least one such group continues to meet to this day. Provided mentorship for clergy residents as part of the Lilly funded Foundations for Spiritual Leadership residency; preached, taught, and provided sacramental and pastoral care.
Children's National Medical Center, Washington, D.C.
Serving as a chaplain on-calJ for crisis intervention and acute pastoral care, I stood with children and families in their worst possible moments. Begun as an internship training program during seminary, I was invited to continue providing care. On-calJ chaplaincy ministry at this urban children's hospital was often about providing a high level of care during a crisis for patients and their families within an ecumenical and interfaith context.
St. Alban's, Annandale, Virginia
As a summer curacy and assistantship I led and oversaw a large Vacation Bible School program; fostered collaborative leadership among lay leaders in a vibrant, busy parish; led and served as chaplain for parish mission trip to Ottr Little Roses Ho1J1efor Girls in Honduras; provided pastoral care to shut-ins, assisted rector in preaching, teaching and pastoral care.
Virginia Theological Seminary
Master of Divinity, C11mLaude, Thesis in Liturgical Theology
University of California at Los Angeles
Master of Fine Arts, Theater
Florida State University
Bachelor of Fine Arts, Theater
Priesthood Christ Church, Alexandria
The Rt. Rev Leo Frade
Diaconate Chapel of the Ven. Bede, Coral Gables
The Rt. Rev Leo Frade
Gathering of Leaders: Racial Reconciliation and Discipleship
Presenter & Participant
Called to Transformation
Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) Facilitator
Church Divinity School of the Pacific
Farm Work/Study hopecsa.org/on-farm-course/
HOPE CSA Hawkins Farm, Pastoral Education
Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program pastor.wabash.edu
Cohort 3, Lilly sponsored formation for ecumenical, Indiana pastors on issues of education, health care, prisons, immigration, racism, poverty, and cross cultural dialogue.
Certified Trainer www.diocesanchurchdevelopment.org
Stephen Minister, Stephen Leader
Clergy Care and Challenge
Diocesan Ministries, Northern Indiana
Rural Dean, Central Deanery
Deputy, General Convention #78 & #79 & #80
2015 & 2018 & 2021
Title IV Disciplinary Board, Indianapolis/Northern Indiana
Province V Executive Board
Standing Committee (President 2013-2016)
Oversaw diocese during bishop search and transition.
Commission on Ministry
Diocesan Congregational Development Institute (DCDI)
Diocesan Youth Summer Camps
Pilgrimages & Missions
National Acolyte Festival, Washington DC
Led trip from northern Indiana to attend acolyte festival at the Washington National Cathedral, inspiring the next generation of Episcopalians.
2010, 2012, 2015, 2018
Canterbury Cathedral, Youth Pilgrimage
Italy, England Sabbatical
Funded by the Lilly Foundation, Rome, Celts and Cathedrals
South Africa: Pilgrimage of pain and Hope
Tijuana-San Diego: Immigration Education
Israel, Palestine, Jordan: Pilgrimage and Education in Conflict
2013 & 2018
New Orleans, Louisiana
Youth Mission Trips after Hurricane Katrina
2006 & 2007
Our Little Roses, San Pedro Sula, Honduras
Other Diocesan Ministries
Diocese of Virginia, Committee on Education
Diocese of Washington, Secretary to Executive Council
Diocese of Southeast Florida, Public Relations Committee
Writings & Public Works
Blog, recorded sermons, travels
On Twitter and Instagram as FrMatthewCowden
Whole Person Healthcare; Authored: The Role of the Christian Chaplain
Drama and the Liturgy, Master's Thesis
American Academy of Religion ~ Society of Biblical Literature Presenter
Mid-Atlantic Regional conference, Religion and the Arts
2005 & 2006
Other Professional Experience
Miami-Dade College, Homestead, Florida
Professor of Speech Communication & Theatre Arts
Taught Public Speaking, Communications, and Theater. Ranked Assistant Professor with Continuing
The Acting Studio, Hollywood, Florida
Adjunct Professor, Taught conservatory and introductory classes for theater students in urban setting in South Florida.
Lived, worked, auditioned and performed in many and varied venues in Los Angeles and South Florida.
1. Tell us the story of your spiritual journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ, and how and why is the Holy Spirit calling you to lead us?
I began my spiritual journey as a Quaker. My parents had done their best to leave behind the organized religions of their Baptist and Methodist upbringing but still sought some connection to faith and social justice. Just before I was born, they embraced the Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers. I grew up meditating, or as Quakers put it, "waiting on the Spirit." To this day "waiting" is still a vital part of my practice as I "wait" in the Spirit every day in Centering Prayer.
It was my grandmother, though, who gave me a robust introduction to Jesus Christ. She was one of the first women ordained in the United Methodist Church. She received this honor, in part, because she was a natural evangelist. She had a close, palpable relationship with Jesus and naturally shared it with her grandson. Through her I learned to pray, read scripture and develop my own, palpable relationship with Jesus Christ.
In college I fell in love with Melissa, now my beloved wife of 29 years, and also with liturgy. During our courtship we prayed in Catholic and Episcopal congregations and in the process I discovered a new way of worshiping and being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Marriage to Melissa and then the birth of our first child were part of God's unique work in bringing me to accept baptism, something Quakers do not do. In 1995, at the age of 25, I was baptized at my grandmother's hands in a simple, living room ceremony. Eventually, I entered into spiritual direction with an Episcopal priest whom I had known since my teenage years. Her patient listening and guidance evangelized me and helped me see the deep connections of my faith and life, helping me find my home and direction for my discipleship in the Episcopal Church.
The Holy Spirit is calling me to offer myself to your discernment to lead you because of the gifts, care, and experience poured into me for service in leadership in our Church.As I read your Profile, I am excited to sense a match between God's formation of me as a leader and the Bishop you are discerning. Leading spiritual renewal and building networks which connect our communities has been a primary joy in my ordained ministry. In response to question three below, I expand on my experience as a diocesan congregational development leader and in fostering congregational vitality.
My experience of articulating and bringing life to a shared diocesan vision is second nature to me. In response to question four below, I say more about such a common vision in the role of the Church today. My role in the life of the national Church, serving on Executive Council, would also serve to facilitate connections between the wider Church and the Diocese of West Virginia in "practical and useful ways," to quote from your Profile.
Speaking more spiritually, however, it is the music that you chose to tell your story in the search video that calls me to you. That piece from Copeland's Appalachian Spring calls me back to my beginnings as a Quaker. I sang that song as a child in Quaker Meeting. I know it intimately. When I first watched your video, I wept. If I am called it is for the "Simple Gifts."
2. What does Servant Leadership look like, particularly for a bishop?
'" Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be.free ... "
This Shaker tune, which the Quaker's adopted and Copeland made famous, speaks of the humility that flows from simplicity. Servant leadership can be found in the phrase from this tune, "to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed." A servant leader doesn't pretend to have all the answer and so is not afraid to bow to others' wisdom. A servant leader in the Church knows that their job is in leading people in their relationship with Jesus Christ and that relationship is more important than rigidly defending a policy. A servant leader is not ashamed to bend for that relationship. This takes great humility and constant prayer and constant reminder that the flock in
their charge belongs to God. This is particularly true in being shepherd for the clergy and their families.
A servant bishop is a true pastor to the pastors. As a servant leader, this would be one of the most joyful parts of my ministry as your bishop. A servant leader reaches out beyond themselves to proactively be present for their people. While the bishop is chief pastor to the laity of his or her diocese, the bishop is particularly pastor to the clergy and their families. As a pastor, I make a point to visit my people where they work and live (which has been done differently in our current pandemic). I keep a close eye on dates and anniversaries that are important in my people's lives and connect with them around those. Cards, calls and extended visits are the heart of being a pastor.
A servant bishop shows up at times without their collar; is ready to assist in flipping pancakes; or helping to move chairs for a meeting. When I was ordained a priest I was reminded that my servanthood in diaconal ministry was still part of my orders. My sense of service and servanthood comes from my own willingness to do whatever it takes.
A servant bishop listens deeply, taking in very different viewpoints before acting, such as you mention in your Profile. Servant leadership, particularly for a bishop, is about having the emotional maturity to take in another person's truth without reacting, but with active loving. By God's grace, I have the maturity to listen deeply when the person before me is expressing strong views, especially when those views are not my own or when those views are difficult in the life of the flock.
Your missionary bishops were servant leaders. Being a Missionary Bishop is a particular ecclesiastical designation that is different from being the Diocesan Ordinary. However, more generally speaking, all diocesan bishops, as servant leaders, should be missionary bishops. "Criss-crossing" the state with missionary zeal such as Bp. Peterkin did is an example of servant leadership. The evangelization ministry of Bp. Strider and the social justice work of Bp. Campbell were strong examples of servant leaders. They were servants of their people and servants of Jesus Christ. Such missionary ministry and servant leadership is my joy.
3. We know and understand the Spirit is always working with us, moving us more closely to unity with God and with each other. What can the bishop do to assist with this process and to build community in both individual parishes and within the diocese?
The bishop can significantly assist in building unity and a strong community between parishes and with God by (I) upholding a clear, common vision for their people and (2) investing in a quality, diocesan wide program that fosters a large network of relationships.
(1) The common vision must emerge from the diocese's authentic life and from great prayer. You seek a bishop who can "articulate a clear vision" that you can embrace and work with. In my response below, "speaking on the role of the church .. .in our times" I describe an example of common vision that I have led others with. That vision came about after our former bishop had been in the diocese long enough to get to know his people. He spent time discovering the charism of the diocese and then time in prayer on retreat listening to God. He presented a vision and a model that we could all embrace. That process of listening to one's people, listening to
God, putting pen to paper, and then repeating that vision again and again and again (and again), makes the difference.
(2) The diocese also needs a quality congregational development program that fosters cross diocesan relationships. The program must provide strategies for addressing relevant congregational concerns but also create a forum for nurturing healthy relationships across the diocese. The bishop must implement, support and promote such a quality program. I am blessed to have been part of one.
Twelve years ago I was invited to be a leader in Diocesan Congregational Development ministry (DCDI) for our diocese. DCDI was unifying and life-giving for the congregations in our diocese. Serving together with a small team, I led other clergy and lay leaders, helping them to take on projects and make mature developments in their congregations. DCDI met quarterly with representatives from each congregation. Each cohort of lay and clergy went through two years, eight sessions, in overnight retreats.
At each weekend, there were teaching-lecture sessions where we presented models and concepts to participants. We held small groups to process what we were learning and applied them to our ministry contexts. As leaders we modeled talking about our relationship with Jesus Christ and telling our personal faith story, preparing participants in the beginning steps of evangelism. The
models we taught were beneficial in diagnosing the communities we served. The projects we shepherded helped make great strides for health in each congregation's context. Most importantly, though, I became convinced that our congregations' unity and growth were found in the unity and growth of our relationships; our relationships with one another and with Christ Jesus.
The quality program does not have to be DCDI but it must be something similar, inviting deep commitment, and the ability to deepen relationships. I could envision the Peterkin and/or Sandscrest Conference Centers as places where such a quality programming might occur and diocesan relationships nourished. One additional thought; the bishop also fosters unity by their presence in all places of his or her diocese. The bishop's proximity builds relationships, builds trust, and builds unity.
4. What do you think the role of our church should be in our times?
This pandemic has helped us to prioritize the role of the Church in our times. We have been there for one another, even if not closer than six feet. We have learned that we need each other more than ever right now. Facilitating our relationships is a primary role of the Church. We have also learned how much we need the rich traditions and liturgies that remind us who we are. The Church and her people also provide a safe and authentic place to grieve and heal. Coming out of this last year there is much to lament. The Church has a relevant role in this as well.
In the re-awakening of our Church's consciousness around the sin of racism over this last year, we have been led, again, in the reconciling role of the Church. Reconciling may not be the best word for addressing racism but speaks to the deep work of learning to respect the dignity of every human being and leads us in the repentance that is called for in this area.
One of the greatest roles of the Church is the role of convening. Our gift to one another and the wider community is to provide safe and holy ground for convening conversations that can lead to healing, reconciliation, and forward movement. Especially as Episcopalians, we have a diversity of thought and differences in our convictions but we have this common ground for engagement..
Over the years, I have engaged the Church's role in convening conversations on such difficult issues of racism and racial reconciliation and the various issues related to our LGBTQ community.
In order to provide for holy ground and safe space to convene and to find forward movement together, a common vision must guide our conversations and identity in the Church. As I mentioned above, the common vision that I worked with as a diocesan leader was developed by my former bishop. After listening to the spirit of the diocese and entering into a prayerful retreat, he emerged by articulating four points of agreement and vision. As diverse as we were, we agreed that we all have (1) a passion for the Gospel, (2) a heart for the lost, (3) a willingness to to whatever it takes, and a (4) a commitment to one another. This common vision allowed us to
deeply engage in the role of the Church across a diversity of convictions and issues. I could envision a similar vision guiding West Virginia.
Our Church's role in our times is to be a relevant witness to the difficult issues at our doors and in our pews. In West Virginia, especially, this means addressing poverty, the opioid crisis and unemployment. As it has always been, the role of the Church is to offer concrete assistance, relief, and love in restoring the dignity of the children of God. In ages past, the Church has needed to "go it alone" but in our current time and place, we are part of a larger network of relief and development. Today the Church is to be a bridge, working with other agencies in doing this ministry.
And we do such ministry as Christians, Episcopal Christians, grounded in and fed by our relationship with Jesus Christ. The role of the Church, as it has always been, is to feed and educate her people in what it means to be a Christian. The role of the Church is to form disciples. Learning who we are in Christ grounds us and guides us in our ministries.
5. Tell us about your relationship with God and your personal spiritual life. What in your own spiritual practice feeds your life with God and Christ's Church?
Every morning before dawn, I sit in Centering Prayer for a minimum of twenty minutes. Like sitting in Quaker Meeting when I was young, I daily "wait on the Spirit." This practice has been knitting my soul ever closer in my relationship with God for many years. Whatever maturity I have in Christ, I ascribe to this discipline of opening myself up to God in this prayer beyond words.
I pray the Daily Office, daily. The Psalms, Scriptures, and Canticles of the Book of Common Prayer are my daily diet. Especially as a clergy person, I cannot tell you how important it is to have a bishop who is also a devoted person of prayer. My own bishop's commitment to his personal spiritual life worked its way into his clergy. We knew he was a person of disciplined prayer because he casually mentioned it. But more importantly, we felt it. Likewise, his relationship with God made us want to be more disciplined in tending to our relationship with God. Some call it "osmosis" while others, I believe more rightly, describe it as a spiritual truth
about the impact of a bishop's soul in the life of their diocese. I had been a praying priest of the Daily Office before I got to Northern Indiana but my bishop's discipline and integrity was an anchor for mine. We knew that if he said he was praying for you that he wasn't just employing convenient words. If he said he was praying for you he truly was.
Praying in Centering Prayer and in the Daily Office feeds me and my flock as my bishop's prayers did so for me. By God's grace, my integrity in prayer feeds my flock.
Leading my diocese in congregational development ministries fed me greatly. Being able to bring congregations together, provide models for engaging in growth, and see relationships flourish across the diocese among lay and clergy was one of my greatest joys. At the height of our engagement with this ministry, there was one year that we saw a significant uptick in the membership of the diocese. It was validating that we were making progress. Congregational development ministries are not a "quick fix," and take time to deepen diocesan engagement but the emotional and spiritual rewards are great. Because we are still the Church, the focus was not
necessarily on the institution's growth but on nurturing our relationships with one another and with Jesus Christ. This meant that we introduced a range of spiritual practices in our workshops. As I mentioned above, we practiced "faith sharing" and learning to tell our story.
I also write cards and letters as part of my spiritual practice. I took a vow to hold my people in prayer before God regularly. This is one way I do so. It's said that an army "marches on it stomach," but the Church marches on pen and ink.
Lastly, my study of Scripture is a joy and assists me in feeding my people from the riches of God's table in preaching and teaching the Word of God. Preaching is among my chief joys and I continue to receive feedback that my preaching feeds my flock.