Monday, February 14, 2005

The paper prayer rug

Periodically, Nicole and I will receive "junk mail" at our residence. This isn't uncommon, as I'm sure everyone receives those kinds of mailings from time to time. As it happens, a piece of what I perceived to be junk mail had been left unopened that had been in the mail earlier in the week, and I was helping Nicole with cleaning our domacile. I saw this envelope, on the front of which was declared that a miracle was about to happen to my family. Unable to resist, I opened the mailing and found inside a letter addressed to "Someone Connected to this Address," stating that the people at St. Matthew's (54 year-old) Church were praying for me, and what's more, they had a powerful prayer rug that they had mailed me. This rug, they said, had the power of prayer attatched to it and had been blessed by the elders of their church. I was to place the rug in a Bible or under my bed at night in faith, after praying with it over my knees, that whatever my prayers and needs were, God would answer these prayers and deal with these needs. A further dig inside the envelope revealed that the "rug" was really a piece of paper with a picture of a rug on it. On the rug was an image of Our Lord with his eyes closed. I was told in the letter that if I looked long enough, I would see Our Lord's eyes open, but I did not see this after staring at the image for several minutes.

At first, based on the tone of the letter and the fact that the grammar was terrible, I assumed that it came from someone with a badly misinformed fundamentalist outlook. Further, at the conclusion of the letter was the tell-tale request for money. Considering that I did not know these people from Adam, I very quickly discerned that this was some sort of scam. I thought I might use the reply envelope they sent to send them a Catholic Answers tract.

Curiosity got the better of me, however, and Nicole and I did a Google search for them. What we found was far worse than simple ignorance. Saint Matthew's Churches claims to be a 54-year old ecumenical ministry with several churches under its care. A careful examination of the website showed that this was the same organization that sent me the envelope because they have the same Tulsa, Oklahoma mailing address, but yet say they are not located in Tulsa. In fact, after carefully checking their website, we are still unsure where they are located.

What is most frightening about these people is that if they are a real religious organization (something I think is doubtful based on their lack of disclosure), they have a strange theology that is a mixture of Cathlicism, Anglicanism, and fundamentalism. Their bishops claim apostolic succession through the Anglican line and through several schismatic Orthodox and Catholic groups, a fact that automatically invalidates their succession. What's more, they try very hard, but with poor grammar and bad theology, to connect themselves with the Holy Catholic Church.

If Saint Matthew's (54 years old, as they are so anxious to point out) Churches are a real ministry, they don't give the newcomer much of a chance to become a part of their community. We are told all about their beautiful "St. Matthew's Cathedral," even given a picture, but we aren't told where it is located that we might worship there. There is a phone number, but you are told on the website that you can leave a message, and if you are in need of ministry one of their elders will get back to you "if they can." At least one third-party website we found said that the leader of this groups has been under suspicion of fraud for many years.

Whatever they are, real or phony, St. Matthew's Churches need prayer. If they are phoney, they've likely taken advantage of untold thousands of unsuspecting people. If they are real, they have chosen to believe in a series of falsehoods, and may face eternal damnation.


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