When the diocese of Oakland tapped the Rev. Jay Matthews to become the new rector at Cathedral of Christ the Light, his ministerial colleagues serenaded him with a little ditty inspired by the theme song to The Jeffersons, the popular sitcom that aired from the mid-70s to mid-80s.

They substituted “We’re moving up to the East Side to a deluxe apartment in the sky” with “You’re moving up in the East Bay to a deluxe cathedral in the sky.”

For those old enough to remember the TV show, the reference makes perfect sense.

Matthews, 66, known affectionately as Father Jay, has been the priest at St. Benedict in East Oakland for more than a quarter-century. It is an urban parish located in an area with a multitude of challenges, including one of the highest homicide rates in the city. The 400-seat church has a predominately African-American congregation made up of 500 families. Cathedral of Christ the Light, located at Lake Merritt, is the mother parish of 500,000 Catholics in Alameda and Contra Costa counties from 84 parishes. Matthews’ new offices are housed in the $175 million cathedral complex that is known internationally for its architectural design.

“This is my little church now,” Matthews said in jest on a recent afternoon as he guided visitors through the spectacular 1,400 seat sanctuary and underground mausoleum. Matthews, who is known for his gregarious personality, says he is getting used to the formality at the cathedral. I suspect the folks at the cathedral are getting used to his more relaxed demeanor.

Matthews, the first African-American priest ordained in Northern California, gave his first homily this past Sunday and will be officially installed at the 5:30 p.m. Mass on May 9.

It is a source of pride and celebration within St. Benedict Parish and among area Catholics in general that Matthews, a social activist who has long been an outspoken advocate for the church playing a more active role in civic life, has been tapped to such a prominent position within the church leadership. Matthews is known for his innovative thinking and bold approaches to addressing social issues.

When he took over at St. Benedict in 1989, the crack epidemic was raging. Matthews set up an anonymous tip box behind the church. People would leave slips with information about drug dealing and other illegal activities for the police. Matthews says the tips helped police close more than 80 crack houses. The program was successful until people stopped participating….

This story comes from a Feb. 11 posting in the Contra Costa Times.