St. Stephen’s Community Church, as we were once called, first opened its doors in 1928.
Early Years, Early Challenges – the 20’s
The Right Reverend Clinton S. Quin was Bishop of the Diocese of Texas back in 1927 when the Trustees of General Episcopal Church Work instituted a five-year program for the development of the Episcopal Church in Houston.
Two house lots at the comer of Woodhead and Alabama had been purchased in 1924, at a cost of $6,000. In 1928, St. Stephen’s Community Church opened its doors in a brand new building. That building continues to exist today: it has been incorporated into our current offices and nursery space. The building was only one story tall, with a high vaulted ceiling, the beams of which are visible in the Choir Hall.
St. Stephen’s was the first Episcopal Church west of Houston’s Main Street. At the time, Woodhead was not yet paved. Vestry minutes in the early 1930s recount how the church was assessed several dollars per frontage foot in order to help pay for the paving.
The building was dedicated to the Glory of God in a Service of Dedication held on Sunday, April 22, 1928, with a congregation of more than 200 persons present. The Dedication Preacher was Dr. Peter Gray Sears, and Bishop Quin was the officiant. Other Houston clergy present included: the Reverend Claude W. Sprouse of Trinity; the Reverend AG. Denman, St. Mary’s; the Reverend R. N. McCallum, Chaplain of Palmer; and the Venerable John Sloane, Archdeacon of the Diocese of Texas. The hymn selections included: “Onward Christian Solders,” “The Church’s One Foundation,” and “There is a Wideness in God’s Mercy.”
Bishop Quin first assigned Mr. Harold A Johnson to be in charge of the work at St. Stephen’s. Harold had just graduated from the Theological School at Sewanee, Tennessee. He was at St. Stephen’s only two and one-half months, until July 1928. However, he did present the first class for Confirmation on his last Sunday at St. Stephen’s. On July 8, 1928, Frank Casmere, Claudia Davis Housman, Boyd Damon Wacey, Aldin Milby Clarke and Katherine Virginia Clarke were confirmed by Bishop Quin. Frank Casmere was the first baptismal candidate at St. Stephen’s, baptized on July 1. On Sunday, July 8, Bishop Quin baptized Eugene Maurice Houseman.
On Sunday, July 15, 1928, the Reverend Charles A Sumners conducted the church’s first worship service. The first order of business was apparently another baptism Royston Patterson, Jr. Following in short order before the end of that first year were several other baptisms, including: Walter Hood, Jr., son of Walter and Althea Hood. On Dec. I, 1929, Betty May Pecore was baptized. No “adults” were members of St. Stephen’s until the Application for Mission Statement was signed Dec. 16. This makes Betty Armstead, nee Pecore, the longest-tenured member of St. Stephen’s.
Charles was called to St. Stephen’s during very trying times. The year was marked by a new building fortunately paid for by the Diocese a new congregation, and the beginning of the Great Depression. In spite of these concerns, however, the church did grow. The Diocesan Council granted St. Stephen’s mission status in January 1929. By the end of the year, there were 72 communicants.
“I attended my first service at St. Stephen’s on Good Friday in 1939 …it was a small frame building … I found the members to be most welcoming and friendly.”
To Move, or Not to Move – the 30’s
In the early 193Os, the Parish was struggling to pay its bills. The Vestry even considered leasing the comer lot to a filling station in order to afford a church secretary; however that need was met in more conventional ways. There was a regular note at the bank, which was continually increased and extended over the years. In November 1932, Charles resigned as Vicar of St. Stephen’s mission and went to Palmer Memorial Church.
St. Stephen’s began a tradition of “marching to its own drummer” in regards to calling a Rector, actually still a Vicar at this time by calling Charles’ twin brother to be the next priest in charge of the parish. Tom Sumners was serving at Trinity Church, Galveston at the time. Upon the suggestion of Bishop Quin, the entire Vestry journeyed to Galveston, braving the elements and driving through a chilly November rain to see him.
The smooth leadership transition was a tribute to the talents of both Charles and Tom, and early evidence of the commitment of St. Stephen’s members to carry out their ministry despite inevitable change.
In January 1933, the Diocesan Council granted St. Stephen’s parish status. Sunday School attendance reached 200 on Easter Day, and by the end of the year, enrollment was 235. The parish had 217 communicants.
The following year marked the beginning of a five-year struggle of conscience over whether the current church property was large enough to accommodate the parish and allow for further growth. . Property was looked at both in the immediate neighborhood and further afield. Property at the intersection of Shepherd and Richmond was available, but not affordable.
In 1938 and 1939, when the River Oaks subdivision was laid out by the Hogg brothers, serious consideration was given towards moving the church to the comer of River Oaks Boulevard and Westheimer. Bishop Quin requested that they reserve this prime location as a church site. The Bishop attended a number of meetings at St. Stephen’s, urging the process of extending the church in Houston “out west”. Preliminary sketches drawn by Hiram Salisbury, one of the parishioners, envisioned a beautiful Gothic-style structure with cloistered walks. A prominent feature of the proposed building was to have been a tower, much like the one standing over the modern-day sanctuary.
Parish meetings were held and pledges were made even by Charles Sumners, St. Stephen’s Vicar during the mission days, and Bishop and Mrs. Quin but to no avail. When it developed that a firm down payment was going to be required, the Vestry voted in September 1939 to stay at Woodhead and Alabama.
Bishop Quin was still desirous of extending the work of the Episcopal Church to the newly developing subdivisions west of town. The very next month, October 1939, St. Mark’s Mission in West University and St. John the Divine Mission at the River Oaks site were begun, each founded b members of St. Stephen’s. Tom resigned as Rector of St. Stephen’s in November and became the Vicar at St. John the Divine.
With the loss of 77 families, including seven church-school teachers, and the Rector, the parish stood a good chance of floundering. But instead, it survived and thrived, largely due to the inspired leadership and sacrificial giving of the remaining congregation. Leaders such as Albert Pecore, Will Chatham, Hiram Salisbury, John Trible and many others saw the church through these trying times.
The Reverend Thomas J. Sloane conducted services until 1940, when the Vestry called the Reverend E. Percy BarHam to be Rector. Percy was a native of Idaho, educated in England and at Sewanee.
“St. Stephen’s was a little neighborhood church with good character.”
Building for the 1940s & 1950s
The need for a new building was talk of the day in 1940. By October, it was decided that the parish would stay on the present site, move the present building back and construct a new building. The cost of moving and remodeling the current church and building the new building was estimated at >5,000.
Percy agreed to stay on for at least five years, and plans for the new building were presented at the 1941 Parish Meeting. When the new church was designed, the old building was jacked up and moved, just a bit, to allow for the width of the new building. When the new church was built in 1941, the west end of the narthex and the west-side of the parish house were within two feet of the property line.
The parish had 465 communicants at the time. A review of Percy’s first 10 months revealed that all debts had been paid and church membership had increased by 50 percent. The plans presented to the congregation carried the following stipulations: spend no more than $20,000; borrow no more than $23,500; payoff the loan within 10 years; begin no construction until >2,500 in cash pledges were in hand.
In March, the Senior Warden, Hiram Salisbury and the Building Committee were given the authority to proceed. O. L. Allen submitted the winning bid of >6,873 for construction of the new building. Separate contracts were let for the stone work and for moving the now” old” church. Six years after discussions regarding space were begun, the parish had finalized the steps necessary to solve the problem. Ground was broken for the building on Palm Sunday, April 6. R. L. Northrup took a color movie of the event. Hiram turned the first shovel of dirt, while Bishop Quin, Percy and several others watched. By Easter Day 1941, >0,314 had been pledged, with $2,413 in cash, or on demand.
On Sunday, Aug. 17, the last services were held in the old church. The next two Sundays, the parish traveled to Palmer Memorial Church and attended services with that congregation. Palmer generously donated the loose plate offerings towards a pew fund that had been established to raise >,800 for 45 red oak pews.
The first Sunday services held in the new building took place Sept. 7, 1941, and Bishop Quin preached. St. John the Divine, one of the missions established just the year before, sent flowers. The dedication service was held the following Sunday, Sept. 14, with more than 300 people in attendance. Bishop Quin preached again, and the procession passed down the aisle led by the Reverend F. G. Deis, Executive Secretary of the Diocese reciting the litany.
The cloistered walk outside the nave and parish house was constructed with bricks which had been salvaged from bomb-tom London. The bricks were used as ballast by English ships coming to America and were offered for sale through the “Bundles for Britain” organization.
A parish dinner was held Oct. 29 in “the big assembly hall upstairs,” presumably the current Choir Hall. Hiram Salisbury was presented with a bound book of appreciation and remembrance signed by each person present, and Mr. Northrup showed the movie of the ground breaking. In 1941, a color movie was a great hit with the parish.
The remodeling of the old church into the new parish house resulted in a second floor being created. The roof was not raised; a floor was merely laid across the old seating area. This created several rooms upstairs, as well as a kitchen, which currently serves as the Music Library.
The choir and organ were located in the chancel area – between the top of the steps at the ends of the nave, and the altar. At that time, the altar was against the east wall, and the altar rail went straight across the sanctuary. The current choir loft was a balcony. Seating for the Nave was estimated at 300.
By November 1945, Percy BartHam had served his five-year commitment made at the time the new building was planned. Percy resigned and went to the mission field in the Territory of Hawaii.
The Reverend John R Bentley was called as Rector in February 1946. At the time there were 560 communicants at 51. Stephen’s. By February 1948, there were 717. More than 1,000 people worshipped at St. Stephen’s during four Easter Day services in 1947.
The parish worked hard to payoff the note on the building on time. Some >7,500 had been borrowed from the Rice Institute, and the parish was making $200 monthly payments. Whenever there was sufficient cash on hand, an additional $200 was paid. By 1949, the note was retired, and the Service of Consecration was held Sept. 18, 1949. The processional cross still used today was donated on that day by Mrs. Lloyd Rideout, in memory of her brother and to the glory of God
“St. Stephen’s is what a church ought to be.”
Welcome to Claxton Monro – the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s
In April 1950, John Bentley and his family said goodbye to St. Stephen’s. John moved to Christ Church, Tyler, where he remained for the rest of his career. In June 1950, the parish called the Reverend Claxton Monro to St. Stephen’s from Grace Church, Nyack, New York.
Clax had attended Philips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, and MIT, where he received a degree in Engineering and Business Administration. He briefly worked for Guaranty Trust Company in New York City, followed by several years with the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency. Following a call into the ministry, Clax attended General Theological Seminary, graduating in 1943. Clax’s first service at St. Stephen’s took place July 9, 1950.
St. Stephen’s was on its way towards a ministry that would break new ground in the Episcopal Church for years to come. A Living Nativity Scene was presented by hundreds of parishioners, the first such scene in Houston. It began a 25year tradition that brought tens of thousands of people to the comer of Woodhead and Alabama.
Physical growth was a hallmark of the 1950s. It was during this decade that the parish began to acquire surrounding property. As envisioned by Bishop Quin, the two house lots, which the church property occupied, were insufficient for the longterm health of the parish. Apartments and houses occupied the south side of SuI Ross. Businesses, and thankfully their parking lots, extended down W. Alabama. Lot by lot, the house and apartments on SuI Ross were purchased.
Shortly after Claxton arrived, a decision was made to build a two-story Education wing to run parallel to the church and form the south side of the present courtyard. The church borrowed $50,000 from Rice Institute and over 200 parishioners signed threeyear pledges to pay the loan. These were very serious pledges as they were recorded at the Harris County Courthouse and assigned to Rice Institute, which had the authority to collect them from the parishioners in the event of default of the loan. Some of the names are still familiar to us: O.J. Andersen, David’s father; Horace Brown; Will Chatham; H.L. DeViney; Mrs. Gerald Franklin (Marquerite); Mrs. Catherine Lawson; Reverend Claxton Monro; Mrs. Betty McGinnis; Jack Schutze (Kathleen); Sidney Smith (Goldie); and the St. Stephen’s Thrift Corral.
“This was an open, friendly and diverse congregation …it is still a place of acceptance and celebration.”
In 1958, the church started a Day School with Mrs. Thomas Bonnell (Ann) as principal. Mrs. Awty, the founder of the Awty International School, was one of the teachers. The school occupied rooms in the Education Wing and soon grew to six grades.
Significant growth in the parish and the school required yet another building and in 1961 the Education Building (Monro Building) was completed and provided a new parish hall (first Seabury Hall, now Pecore Hall) as well as a two-story section of new classrooms. In 1962, the Texas Society of Architects presented an “Award of Merit” to the Reverend Claxton Monro and Mr. J.V. Neuhaus III, of Neuhaus and Taylor, for the design of the building.
The school was nicely housed in its buildings and very successful, but its very success created a moral problem for the Rector and a number of parishioners as it served only white students. Without prompting from government or outside organizations, the Rector and School Board decided to open all grades of the school to all children, without regard to race, color or creed. The decision resulted in a few black children enrolling at St. Stephen’s and a large number of white children leaving. The school lost grades three through six and was in danger of completely failing. When the situation stabilized, there were enough students for classes in kindergarten and the first and second grades. Slowly the school gained enrollment and grades three and four were added. The school set a strong and courageous example in a time of fear and hatred and provided a solid education to hundreds of children in the neighborhood, at least one of whom, Jane Baird, went on to graduate from Harvard University.
“I joined in 1969 … St. Stephen’s was and is a safe place to worship …. “
The Coffeehouse & More
Beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, Clax began to preach a ministry of witnessing by lay persons in the church. This was an extraordinarily radical concept in the Episcopal Church at the time. “Someplace” was a coffeehouse begun in the mid60s. Meeting every Sunday evening, Seabury Hall was filled with tables made from wooden cable reels, each holding a small candle. Vicki Monro, Claxton’s wife, planned the evenings and singers, musicians and other performing artists demonstrated their talents to an eager audience made up of all sorts of people young and old, parishioners and visitors, Christians and seekers; from learned professors to recovering alcoholics and drug users, to prostitutes and people who were just trying to get ready for a new workweek “Someplace” provided a place for people to come together and speak of their faith and was a positive force in a troubled time.
By 1970, St. Stephen’s had turned 40. Houston was blossoming as a major metropolitan city, yet within the thriving metropolis were little pocket communities, small neighborhoods and neighbors who knew each other. The traditional choir was abandoned in the early 70’s. The major service on Sundays, at 11 :30 am, was a rousing Folk Mass. Guitars, banjos and tambourines were the instruments of choice, a special song book was printed and enthusiastic parishioners packed the church. Because there was no Choir, Mary Frances Langford provided solos and occasional additional singers at the 9:15 Rite I Eucharist. In 1980, an enterprising young man named Craig Gallagher told Claxton Monro that he would like to form a Choir. Claxton agreed to Craig’s proposal, so long as the choir did not cost any money! When Helen Havens arrived a year later, she encouraged Craig and due to his extraordinary vision, the Choir grew rapidly in numbers and excellence. Craig also became Director of Music at Episcopal High School and would tour with both Choirs, to many places in England, New York City, and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. where a piece was sung which had been composed by Todd Frazier, a student of Craig’s at ERS, who through Craig’s mentorship went on to do graduate work in music and is today St. Stephen’s Composer in Residence.
In 1951 Claxton had suggested that a Thrift Corral be opened to raise money for the women of the church. This was the first in the city and Bishop Quin cut the rope and blessed the shop. There were over 100 workers and the shop met with immediate success and was soon imitated by St. Mark’s Bargain Center and St. John’s Guild Shop. Kathleen Schutze even went to San Antonio to show the ladies of St. Luke’s Church, Alamo Heights, how to run a thrift shop. But times changed and it was more difficult to find volunteer workers. Ironically, the church’s purchase of the strip center in 1976 brought the closing of the thrift Corral. Some of the workers tried to figure ways to continue the store, but it couldn’t be done. Amelia Parker, longtime member of the parish and a regular worker at the store, wrote Claxton: “I realize it’s hopeless. I still want you to know how I’ve loved it and how many times over the years I’ve said “Thank you God, for the Thrift Corral.”
Although the store closed in 1976, the money made there (over $600,000 during the store’s 25-years) is still serving the community. Kathleen declined Claxton’s suggestion that the Women’s Association contribute the money to the operating budget of the church, and the ladies of St. Cecilia’s Women’s Group still manage it and make decisions on how to spend it. In 1997, Kathleen wrote: “We are down to four members all over 80 but we still operate on Thrift Corral money and continue to do a lot of good works with it”.
In 1976, Claxton realized his long held dream of buying the strip center which had a property line just three feet west of our church building. The center was tom down and the present garden and parking lot were built in its place. The garden evolved in large part from the planning and work of longtime member O.J. Andersen.
The debt associated with the purchase of the strip center was a cause of concern for Claxton Monro and he was determined not to leave the church with a debt. He worked ardently to pay the debt and in less than five years it was done. Bishop Benitez dedicated the debt-free premises, including the garden, in 1981. And so, after 31 years of service, in 1981 Claxton became the first rector to retire at St. Stephen’s. Replacing a rector of such character and tenure is not an easy task, and the church decided to wait at least six months before calling a new rector.
First Woman Rector in Texas – The 80’s
Clax appointed Bob Evans to chair a search committee and the work began. Members visited other churches to hear their candidates, and received recommendations from parishioners. Helen Havens, an assistant at St. Francis, was recommended and some members of the committee were alarmed. The idea of a woman rector was very new. In fact, there were not women rectors in the Diocese of Texas and very few in the United States. Three members of the committee agreed to meet the prospect and were quickly convinced that she was the best choice. After numerous meetings, debates, and prayers, the vestry finally and miraculously recommended that the church call Helen Havens. The Vestry vote was close, but favorable, and Bob Evans and Sidney Mitchell called on Bishop Benitez to request the call.
The Bishop was concerned about St. Stephen’s choice and took the unusual step of requiring the Vestry to reconsider its vote. The Vestry met again and voted with a greater majority to sustain its original vote. Messrs. Evans and Mitchell met again with the Bishop who was still concerned and again asked the Vestry to reconsider its action. At this, Bob Evans said that he would comply, but that he wanted the Bishop to explain to the Vestry why he wanted another vote. This ended the matter, and Helen Havens was called to St. Stephen’s. The first woman to be called as rector to a parish in the Diocese of Texas, Helen began her ministry with us on Thanksgiving Day, 1981.
Also with us on that Thanksgiving Day was Sally Fox, who was in seminary at that time. Sally drove in all the way from Shreveport that morning, just to be here on that special day.
The parish made those adjustments that are always necessary when a new Rector comes aboard. New staff members came, old programs were discontinued, new ones began.
Craig’s Gallagher’s commitment to music and liturgy gave the impetus to the purchase of anew organ from the Walker Company in England. At the height of Houston’s depression in the early 1980s, the Parish raised the >60,000 required, and the fine organ that we have today was dedicated in April, 1988. During this period, several members of the Choir, under the direction of Craig Gallagher, journeyed to England to participate in the Diamond Jubilee of the Royal School of Church Music. An annual event held at St. Stephen’s, the Anglican Saints Festival called members to a celebration of our heritage as a part of the worldwide Anglican communion. Festivals concentrated on English, Scottish and Irish backgrounds.
In time, a school for pre-school children through 6th grade was reintroduced into parish life. In 1983, a successful school was looking for a new home and our church extended the invitation to become part of our church. With Camille Cunningham as principal, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School-Houston was created, which intertwines a Montessori educational philosophy with the spiritual guidance of our church.
An unusual feature of St. Stephen’s during the 19805 was the leasing of office, education and worship space to Covenant Baptist Church. Covenant had long resisted the urge to invest their resources in a physical plant, preferring to make the majority of their expenditures in outreach programs. Like the school, they, too, were looking for a home, and they found one at St. Stephen’s. Meeting at 1:30 pm on Sunday afternoon, there was no conflict between the two churches; in fact, joint community services were sometimes held.
Three times during this era, Helen was nominated to serve as a Bishop of the Church. Once in Michigan, where the election was for a Bishop Coadjutor, and again in Texas, as Suffragan Bishop, and as Diocesan Bishop in Washington, D.C. This news both thrilled and saddened the parish. The prospect of having one of our own become a Bishop was exciting, but the thought of losing Helen as the parish entered into several new ministries was frightening.
Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds – The 90’s
The decade of the 90’s continued to reach out – healing and reconciling. “Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds” became a rallying slogan for the parish. It exemplified our dedication to be inclusive and to welcome all people into our faith community. Helen’s style was open, and utilized the concept of “shared ministry”. She continuously challenged members to minister to each other, often reminding us that “liturgy” means “work of the people”.
“What appealed to me about St. Stephen’s was the courage to openly accept strangers and the strength to change, to love and be loved.”
AIDS continued to touch lives in our community. The AIDS Respite Care team was formed to serve and help individuals with HIV and AIDS. Members from St. Stephen’s were instrumental in the founding of Milam House, a residential facility for men with AIDS. At a time when this disease was feared and misunderstood, St. Stephen’s worked to educate and heighten awareness, and to provide a place of compassion and love for those whose lives were changed by the disease. Our sign on W. Alabama said it best, “AIDS Spoken Here”.
To our sorrow, Craig Gallagher was one of the 100 persons living with HIV / AIDS to whom St. Stephen’s ministered during the eighties and nineties. Craig died of AIDS, on April 7, 1992. Lynn Griebling had been a section leader of the Choir for three years. As Craig had the baton withdrawn from his hand by increasing illness, Lynn gracefully picked up where he left off. The choir continued to flourish and three new choirs were formed: Hand bells, a 9 o’clock choir, and a children’s choir. After six years as music director, Lynn resigned in December, 1998.
During this decade there were new (and revived) ministries at St. Stephen’s. A 9 o’clock Sunday morning service was added in 1990, specifically designed for families with children. Sally Fox returned to us in 1993 and breathed new life into the children’s education program as growing a congregation and families with children increased Church School attendance. Newcomers ministry expanded to include a personal invitation to a monthly open house at the home of Helen and Sandy Havens. In 1995 St. Stephen’s was honored with a trophy for our float entry in the annual Gay Pride Parade.
“I joined St. Stephen’s in 1996 … I felt the presence of that great creative spirit here …. “
For many years the Extended Families of St. Stephen’s gathered at Camp Allen for Thanksgiving. This continued after Helen became Rector, but gradually died out. The Camp Allen habit was joyfully revived in 1990, with Blake Rider showing slides of a recently conducted parish survey, in addition to the other pleasures of Camp Allen – the woods, camp fires, food lovingly prepared, walks, games, movies and visiting with young and old. An outgrowth of Camp Allen was a Creative Liturgy program which included art, music, drama, poetry, dance and prayer writing. Enlisting participation from all ages, Creative Liturgy was so popular that for several summers it also served as the educational program for parish children and adults. The handiwork created was extraordinary – both for those involved in the creative process, and those privileged to experience it. By 1997 our Day School families also began to enjoy Camp Allen with us – it felt so good to be all together there in the beauty and luxury of the woods.
A Multicultural Committee was formed to address prejudices including racism, sexism and homophobia. In 1998 the parish chose to participate in the Habitat for Humanity building project. We cosponsored (with St. Francis Episcopal Church) the building of a home for The Haskett family in June, 1998 – a month of record heat in Houston. Funds for the house-building were raised through a gigantic garage sale during Lent, choir concerts, Gourmet Cooking classes, and private donations.
In 1991, the day school expanded and a middle school was created with a curriculum developed by the St. Stephen’s Episcopal School staff. The fall of 1998 saw the opening of the High School House for the Class of 2002. Total 1998-99 school enrollment exceeded 175.
The day school occupied classrooms in Pecore Hall when it first moved to St. Stephen’s. In 1991 the church began purchasing property to assist the school’s expansion. The first property was purchased and the land used to house a modular building for the school. We like stories at St. Stephen’s. The seller of this first tract buried a statue of St. Joseph upside-down to assist in the sale of the property. Rumor has it the Houston Chronicle featured this story. To purchase the property, Diocesan approval was required. Bill Lipscomb met with the diocesan committee who gives this approval. During the meeting, he left to retrieve an additional document, and returned to a battered group of Episcopalians. The committee members had been robbed at gun-point, one member, Philip Masquelette was hit on the head with a pistol while reaching for a phone. The property purchase was approved – and now is the Monro Building west parking lot.
The fall of 1993 brought the purchase of two additional properties (1822 and 1826 Sul Ross) for use as middle school, primary, and lower elementary classrooms. In 1998, the High School House was added at 1830 SuI Ross.
“St. Stephen’s restored my faith that God’s blessings are for all.”
We “opened” the doors wider with a renovation of the church entrance in 1994. The front doors and narthex were transformed from a dim and winding entryway, into an open, bright and inviting porch, reception and gathering space.
The parish kitchen was also in need of remodeling in the 90s, but no budget money was available. Undaunted by this, a fundraising effort was spearheaded which brought in the needed funds, and the work was completed.
In 1997 a Columbarium was added inside the W. Alabama entrance, and in 1998 new doors with stained glass panels, designed by artist Jennifer Bartlett, were installed and dedicated. A newspaper article at that time announced that we were “Opening Doors to the Soul”.
A long-awaited remodeling of the nave was also completed in 1998. The south chapel altar was brought back to the sanctuary and the chapel reconfigured to accommodate the piano and angled pews that “brought the space” into the nave. Hardwood floors replaced the worn tile in the sanctuary / altar area, and the semicircular altar rail was removed. Rods from the altar rail were used in the side railings of the renovated space. Walls were repainted and refinished, lighting and sound systems were updated and the pulpit was moved to the north side of the nave. All of this work required Sunday morning worship to be held in Pecore Hall from January until April – a staging and logistical challenge that was met beautifully by Sandy Havens and all of the service personnel and Altar Guild. The nave was joyfully reoccupied on Palm Sunday.
More remodeling took place in the upstairs kitchen/choir library, resulting in a wonderful space that houses the music library and computer, and also serves as a small meeting/ meditation room.
Growth in membership meant more cars! In 1998, property at 1801 Sul Ross was purchased to be demolished and used for parking.
“What appealed to me about St. Stephen’s … was the slightly ‘offbeat atmosphere’ in the midst of which I sensed people’s caring …. “
The decade of the 90s was one of exceptional growth, expansion – and PEOPLE. For all the buildings, programs and expansion – it is the people of St. Stephen’s who make our faith come alive and flourish here. We were blessed with the calling of Helen Havens in 1981, and blessed again with the presence of other outstanding clergy: the Rev. Sally Fox, Coordinator of Children’s Ministries, Thanksgiving, 1981-86 and 1993 to present; the Rev. Glynn Harper, Assistant Rector 1985-1992; the Rev. Brian Porter, Associate Rector, 1993 to 1995; the Rev. Bill DeForest, Deacon 1996 and Assistant Rector 1997-98; and the Rev. Alice Cowan, Assistant for Education, 1998 to present. Additionally, we were given the gift of Melinda Flannery, Lay Preacher, and Gary Adams, Pastoral Assistant, 1999; Christina Edelen, Organist 1994 – present; Lynn Griebling, Music Director, 1992-1998; Willie Hazelwood, Family Choir Director, 1996-present. All these gifted and giving people added immeasurably to our worship and parish life in this decade. And, in this period of constant activity, other church staff – Barbara Swartz, Parish Administrator (retired 1997); Dan Delaney, Parish Administrator; John Veillon, Building Superintendent; and Lisa Swan, Assist. to Building Superintendent – worked faithfully to provide the support and help needed by our growing parish.
“This is a place where I know I will find help to discern where God might lead me in the future.”
2000 and Beyond…
Since opening its doors in 1929, St. Stephen’s has never looked back. Throughout its 70-year history on the comer of Alabama and Woodhead, the clergy, leaders and members have reached out to the surrounding community with concern for promoting peace and justice for every person.
During its 70 years, St. Stephen’s has grown to be a strong presence in Houston as a faith community providing service to those in need, and promoting inclusivity and diversity. Although St. Stephen’s considers itself in spirit a neighborhood church, it has become recognized nationally for denouncing prejudice of any sort, including racism, sexism, and homophobia. We have often been a beacon to those who feel disconnected or have lost or never found a spirit of grace and wonder – without which life has no joy.
St. Stephen’s looks forward to rejoicing in a future of continued dedication to servant ministry. As we move into the next millennium, we are filled with renewed dedication to the spirit of our patron saint of whom it was said: “Stephen full of grace and power did great wonders and signs among the People.”
The early history of our church was hand-written by several church historians, notably Mrs. J.H. Ranson. A beautiful old scrapbook, recounts the progress of the church from 1928 to 1933. Thereafter, typewritten notes through 1941 – the year the “new” church was constructed – were kept. In 1984, efforts began anew by such folks as Gloria Wetzel, Martha Lyn Ward, Elva and Al Connelly, Joy Vox, Elsie Gordon, Mary Ella Evans, Mark Steiner and Jim Poteet. For the 60th Anniversary in 1989, the “first draft” of a history was prepared by the St. Stephen’s History Committee: Pat Inselmann, Mary Fay, Pamela Lewis and Blake Rider. We are greatly indebted to this group as their “first draft” as been the foundation for the current edition.
This 1999 history of St. Stephen’s is a synthesis of selected notations recorded over the years, including dates and figures pulled from Vestry minutes and other records. The personal reflections appearing in this brief history are the words of current members reflecting upon the 70th anniversary milestone.