August 14, 2019

Belonging with Purpose – Senior Luncheon*

Table fellowship is a primary practice throughout the scriptures as a means of encountering the sacred…

Religious institutions are one of the few remaining institutions that serve people for the duration of their lives. The church offers opportunities for fellowship and spiritual growth across the lifespan. The Senior Luncheon is one such example of this commitment. In the spring and fall, when the weather is tame and travel is at a minimum, there is a once-a-month opportunity for seniors to gather for the Eucharist and a delicious meal. The first Thursday of the month (March-June & Sept-Dec), Lori Seibert and Sarah Bernhardt organize parishioners to offer a home-cooked meal, complete with centerpieces, coffee & dessert. Additionally, there is beautiful music played on the piano by George Ryder. The luncheon begins at 12:00 with a Eucharist. Seniors attend from town, including from Ballard Green and Laurel Ridge. St. Stephen’s parishioners and their friends are also encouraged to attend! Postcards are sent out monthly to remind folks about the luncheon. If you know someone who should receive a card, contact Ginny in the office. Table fellowship is a primary practice throughout the scriptures as a means of encountering the sacred. The rituals in the Old Testament about what to eat and what preparation was necessary to eat reflect the sacredness of the act of eating. Jesus welcomed all people to the table at which he sat, something the religious leaders found sacrilegious. It was at the table that Jesus taught his disciples. The Last Supper, when he broke the bread and shared it, as well as the wine, is the foundation for our weekly Eucharist. It was at the table, after his resurrection, that Jesus first revealed himself to Peter. Paul writes about table fellowship, what to do and not to do, in order that the holiness of eating together might be magnified. For this reason, opportunities for eating together are opportunities for holy fellowship. The first senior luncheon of the season will be on Thursday, September 5. If you would like to attend, or be a part of making it happen, please let Ginny, Lori, or Sarah know! What better way to spend an (almost) fall afternoon sharing a meal and engaging in fellowship with our brothers and sisters! By Lori Seibert, Marcy Kelly and Whitney Altopp *Belonging with Purpose is a weekly news update of how our purpose is being reflected through the collective and individual lives of St. Stephen’s. If you have a story or experience that you believe illustrates our Vision and Mission, please send it to Ginny Fitzpatrick, gfitzpatrick@ststephens-ridgefield.org The staff works together to create a schedule for highlighting our ministry as St. Stephen’s Church.

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August 7, 2019

Belonging with Purpose – Bishops United Against Gun Violence

Since last weekend, three young white men—all American citizens, all in legal possession of assault rifles—have murdered more than 30 people in cold blood. Most of the precious children of God who are dead and injured are people of color.

As Episcopalians, we are united to one another through the office of the Bishop. The Greek work (anglicized- episcopus) literally means “overseer.” It is this system of governance which supports and organizes Christians in the Episcopal Church, whether laity, priest, or deacon, to carry out their duty. For this reason, I share with you the letter sent out to all of those on the ECCT distribution list. To sign up to receive these e-newsletters go to https://www.episcopalct.org/enewsletters/

BISHOPS UNITED REPUDIATES CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM, SYSTEMIC RACISM White supremacy and gun violence coming to define our era, say Episcopal Church bishops AUGUST 6, 2019—Since last weekend, three young white men—all American citizens, all in legal possession of assault rifles—have murdered more than 30 people in cold blood. Most of the precious children of God who are dead and injured are people of color. When gun violence makes headlines, politicians supported by the National Rifle Association are quick to call white shooters “mentally ill,” while characterizing black and brown shooters as “criminals” and insisting that guns are not the problem. They choose to remain loyal to the gun lobby and its campaign contributions while denying the incontrovertible evidence that more guns mean more deaths. Common sense measures like universal background checks, assault weapons bans, handgun purchaser licensing, and restrictions on gun ownership by domestic abusers point the way toward sane gun policy that is well within any sensible interpretation of the Second Amendment. They are necessary and long overdue, but they are not sufficient. This latest sickening cluster of mass shootings has thrust into the headlines the deadly mix of white supremacy and gun violence that is coming to define our era of American history. Anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise and our government holds asylum-seekers on our southern border in inhumane conditions. The president of the United States uses racist tropes and inflammatory language to incite crowds against people of color, refugees and immigrants; and hate crime reports have increased for three consecutive years. The hatred and fury that drives mass shootings can also be turned inward, where it fuels the invisible and growing death toll of gun suicides. As Christians, we must work actively to dismantle the systemic racism that is part of our country’s founding narrative and that continues to fuel mass shootings and urban gun violence today. We must insist that both our fellow Christians and our elected leaders repudiate white supremacy and white nationalism and embrace humane immigration policies that follow God’s command and the Biblical imperative to welcome the stranger in our midst. And we must refuse to participate in scapegoating people with mental illness, a ploy too often used to distract from the urgent yet simple need to enact common sense gun safety measures. Seven years ago yesterday, six people were murdered by a white supremacist at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. That massacre, one of two events that galvanized the creation of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, (the other was the shooting at Sandy Hook in Connecticut) brought us together across our differences to demonstrate that we believe in a God of life in the face of death. Today we are weary of witnessing the slaughter gripping our country. But we are no less determined to continue speaking, even when it seems our words make no difference; to continue praying in order to gather our strength to act; and to follow Jesus in speaking truth, especially when it seems that truth is out of season. Bishops United Against Gun Violence is a network of nearly 100 Episcopal Church bishops working to curtail the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. Learn more at bishopsagainstgunviolence.org and follow Episcopalians United Against Gun Violence on Facebook.

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August 1, 2019

Belonging with Purpose: Forgiveness from our relational God

Did you ever wonder where the process and practice of forgiveness originated?

Did you ever wonder where the process and practice of forgiveness originated? It is first mentioned in Genesis 9, after the flood God sent to blot us out (all except Noah’s family and some animals). Our very human behaviors (missing his marks) had made him so angry that he was sorry he ever created us. Then he remembered he loved us and had made us in his own image. He placed the rainbow in the sky as his covenant of forgiveness with humankind for all future generations. He’s been teaching us about forgiveness ever since. Forgiveness is an invitation from our relational God who loves us so much that he seeks us out wherever we go, whatever we do. He invites us to seek his forgiveness and then to extend that same forgiveness to others. Invitation requires a response. We can say “no.” We have free will. If we say “yes” God promises to meet us and to help us in the process of forgiving others. We daily disappoint God just as others on earth disappoint us. But we have been given this reciprocal process to participate in with God. Forgiveness is a big part of God’s longing to be in right relationship with us and for us to be in right relationship with others. I confess that I’m baffled as to why more people don’t say “yes” to forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean condoning bad behavior nor does it erase accountability. Not to forgive is detrimental to our health, our behavior and our well-being. It is a heavy burden to carry anger which builds if we do not or will not forgive the other. Forgiveness releases that anger. For those burdens for which we need someone else’s help to lift off of our shoulders, the Episcopal Church offers the Sacrament of Confession (The Reconciliation of a Penitent, Book of Common Prayer, 447ff) The service ends with the priest saying the words, “The Lord has put away all your sins.” Forgiveness is a practice that starts with a few minutes in prayer. It takes a lifetime to live into that forgiveness, to learn to receive the forgiveness that our generous God gives us and to share that with others. Amazingly, God gives us the strength to receive God’s forgiveness and the patience and perseverance to offer that forgiveness to others. It’s amazingly available. You simply ask God to be with you. And practice. That’s it. Remember, the next time you see a rainbow: Forgiveness is an invitation to you from God. Imagine that! By Anne Beatty

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July 24, 2019

Belonging with Purpose- Called to Stand with the Vulnerable

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”― Edmund Burke

The church is called to stand with the vulnerable. It’s likely something that we prioritize in our minds and perhaps with some regularity in our lives. We might go about doing this quietly. But what do we do when our quiet commitments sound like a whisper by the volume of national news? Should the church speak to cruel comments made by our president about other elected officials? If so, how? If we make a comment on it, does it mean that we’re making a comment on the rest of his leadership? Aren’t we capable of parsing out things that we support and things that we don’t support in him? After all, don’t we do this for any human? Even if we don’t agree on the political position of four congresswomen, what is the reason to turn a blind eye on the attack of them personally? Does our quiet commitment to stand with the vulnerable speak as loudly as we hope? July 22 is the feast day of Mary of Magdala. It is believed that she is the woman that Jesus stood up for when she was about to be stoned to death, an action defended by people who didn’t agree with her ways (John 8:2-11). Anytime that people were dehumanized (called Sinners and Prostitutes and Tax Collectors), Jesus sought to restore their humanity by treating them as worthy of love. This was scandalous. It eventually got him killed. We feel this same threat. It’s not easy to take a stand. We wonder what it will cost us. We fear that it might make us ostracized or further separate people from one another. Can’t we say the same thing as Jesus- He who is without sin throw the first stone? None of us is without sin. (1 John 1:8-10) So none of us should be throwing stones. None of us. We can speak up in defense of the attacked without becoming an attacker. This is non-violent action. It is up to us as Christians to defend those who are being dehumanized. How will you familiarize yourself with the humanity of another so that you can stand up for their humanity when you see it being attacked? How will you do this non-violently? Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan when he was asked by a very smart person, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The smart man knew the answer- You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. He asked a follow-up question of Jesus in an effort to justify himself, to assure himself that he was right, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-37) Jesus told a story of a Samaritan doing the right thing. The ethnic division between Samaritans and Jesus’ own people cannot be overemphasized. Jesus highlights how much it cost the Samaritan to show mercy- “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Jesus questions the smart man- “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The man answered- “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, and says to us, “Go and do likewise.” “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”― Edmund Burke (in a letter addressed to Thomas Mercer, c1770). If someone has turned up the volume, whether we like it or not, then we have to find a way for the voice of the faithful to not be drowned out by it. I’m certain that our just and merciful Father, even today, will present a way for us to voice his love and care for all creation, to stand with the vulnerable, and to do so non-violently by not attacking another’s humanity. By making this our constant prayer, it will become our action.

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July 16, 2019

Belonging with Purpose: VBS: To Mars and Beyond!

Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us. Ephesians 3:20

Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us. Ephesians 3:20

This Bible verse is what drove our VBS program forward this year. The idea that God’s love and power is limitless and is constantly at work within each of us is the point we tried to make clear to the children who participated in the St. Stephen’s 2019 VBS week. Through songs, games, crafts and conversation the children were reminded that we are Jesus’ hands and feet on earth – our kindness, helpfulness and compassion are what reflects our love for God out into the world. When most children think of summer they think of the beach, ice cream, playgrounds, and barbeques. For the children attending our VBS program (who visited from far and wide) we hope that summer also has come to mean Vacation Bible School. Each summer the theme changes, but the message remains the same. This year the theme was To Mars and Beyond – a fitting theme as we asked the kids to “Explore where God’s Power Can Take You!” During our week together, we celebrated God’s love in a way that is fun, loud and many times messy! The children practiced songs that they would later perform for friends and family at the end of the week, they glued, colored and painted crafts to remind them of God’s love, they played games that encouraged them to work together and make fun memories, and they watched videos that told stories of other children who needed God’s love at different times in their lives. By the end of the week, with the songs we learned forever fixed in our heads and the crafts tucked safely in bags to be brought home, the children were smiling so brightly as they came away with a new found understanding of how God’s love knows no bounds!

Sara Armstrong

Please join our VBS Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/StStephensVBS/) for updates, photos and videos from past VBS weeks. Thank you to the parishioners at St. Stephen’s, our wonderful VBS volunteers and parents for all your love and support!

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July 2, 2019

Belonging with Purpose – Music at St. Stephen’s

We are thrilled to announce that Dr. Alcee Chriss III (ABD) will be joining our staff as our Minister of Music.

We are thrilled to announce that Dr. Alcee Chriss III (ABD) will be joining our staff as our Minister of Music. Alcee brings many gifts to this position, which will empower him to build upon our reputation for excellent choral and organ music. His first Sunday will be August 11.

Alcee’s accomplishments and dynamic personality stood out to us among the applicants for this position. In the audition he demonstrated excellence in all of the categories: choristers, organ, and adult choir. We received anonymous feedback from the choir that night. Here are some of the things that they shared: -Organ playing was outstanding, piano as well. Loved the improv piece. -Was warm and supportive. -I think he would fit our choir very well. -Fantastic organist. -Friendly and outgoing. Quite pleasant with a good sense of humor. -Terrific teacher, amazing organist. -Made great use of all the possibilities of the organ. -He obviously knows singers and how to help them achieve a better sound. Alcee’s professional accomplishments are too numerous to list within this introduction. However, a summary is possible. While pursuing his BM and MM in organ performance at the Oberlin Conservatory, he was also the Minister of Music at South Euclid UCC where he expanded the music program to help grow the congregation’s membership from 40 to 400 in 4 years. He also oversaw the design, selection and installation of a pipe organ in the parish’s new sanctuary.

While completing his coursework for his Doctor of Music in Organ Performance at McGill University, he was on the music staff at St. Ansgar’s Lutheran Church in Montreal. Also during this time, he won the biggest organ competition in the world: the Canadian International Organ Competition. He was the First Prize Winner (youngest ever) and also took the Spinelli Program Prize and the Bach Prize. He also took First Prize at the Fort Wayne National Organ Playing Competition and was the Silver Medal Winner at the Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition (both in 2016).

Alcee gives several organ recitals throughout the year, a schedule which he has successfully managed through all of his years of ministry. You can hear him as part of the 2019 Summer Organ Series at Riverside Church in Manhattan on Tuesday, July 16 at 7:00 PM

Alcee has just been appointed the University Organist and Artist-in-Residence at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. The part-time position at Wesleyan makes our part-time position a perfect fit. He will be moving to Connecticut from Akron, OH this summer with his partner, Alex, and their dogs and cats. Having been confirmed as an Anglican in 2009, he is excited to return to his home denomination.

Worship is the church’s highest calling because it orients us to serve and love one another. Music should inspire and shape our faith. It is not something done to us, but something we’re captured by and drawn into. With Alcee as part of the worship leadership, St. Stephen’s worship will be excellent, participatory, steeped in Episcopal tradition, engaged and leading with the emerging church, and recognized in Ridgefield as a contributor to the arts scene. In whatever way we’re already doing this, it will be strengthened. We look forward to what God has in store for us as we serve God in relationship with one another through St. Stephen’s.

*Belonging with Purpose is a weekly news update of how our purpose is being reflected through the collective and individual lives of St. Stephen’s. If you have a story or experience that you believe illustrates our Vision and Mission, please send it to Ginny Fitzpatrick, gfitzpatrick@ststephens-ridgefield.org

The staff works together to create a schedule for highlighting our ministry as St. Stephen’s Church.

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June 26, 2019

Belonging with Purpose – Prayer Practices: Learning to Listen

I have come to realize the real lesson that Rev. Whitney was trying to teach was that there wasn’t just one or two ways to have a prayer practice.

A few months ago, Rev. Whitney presented an adult formation session on prayer practices between services. She talked about prayer practices. I took it all too literally and thought to have a prayer practice that one had to get on one’s knees every night before bed, or set aside a regular block of time in an easy chair and the Bible or some text by a learned theologian as the subject of silent contemplation and personal reflection. By those measures, I don’t have a prayer practice and wasn’t likely to get one. Now I have come to realize the real lesson that Rev. Whitney was trying to teach was that there wasn’t just one or two ways to have a prayer practice.

Sometimes I talk to myself in my head. For years and even decades, I thought I was talking to myself because the voice in my head sounded like me. As I have come to listen more closely, I realize that the familiar voice isn’t my voice at all but the Holy Spirit telling me it’s okay to complain when times are tough, just not to give up, and to recognize and relish the good times with gratitude when I am mindful enough to notice those everyday little things; a gentle breeze, a pretty flower, and a cheerful greeting from a friend who is obviously glad to see me.

Now hearing voices, well one voice anyway, might sound disconcerting but I’m never told to do something at all. The voice just listens and is encouraging and comforting and even a real cheerleader when that is called for as well. St. Francis of Assisi is widely associated with saying “pray at all times, use words if necessary” or various variations but no historical record can be found of this quote prior to the 1990’s. Regardless, I find myself thinking and praying in little microbursts frequently. Sometimes, it’s more like a wave of feeling rolling over my body. Other times, it’s a word or phrase. Once in a while, it’s more of an internal monologue. What I find is that the more words I use, the less of a sense of immediate feedback I receive!

Anne and I travel a lot and when we go into the incredible ornate churches or even other non-Christian houses of worship I feel called to pray. In some ways it’s a nice break from being on one’s feet sightseeing but in other ways because it’s quiet and contemplative, it’s easier to string sentences together into paragraphs into complete thoughts. I don’t really understand why this happens but I’m grateful to be able to sound a little bit more eloquent to myself than usual. My real or imagined eloquence is for my own sake because God doesn’t care if I’m eloquent or can only manage a thought or feeling, nor does God care if I pray for 10 minutes or 10 seconds or 10 milliseconds. If I pray enough to feel connected, comforted, and supported, then that is good enough for God. By Rich Stein

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June 19, 2019

Belonging with Purpose- A Caring Community*

A hallmark of a Christian community is the commitment to care for one another in times of distress, transition, or uncertainty.

A hallmark of a Christian community is the commitment to care for one another in times of distress, transition, or uncertainty. We are thrilled to introduce Marcy Kelly, our new Associate for Caring Ministries. Marcy will follow and expand upon the good work that Avril Sweeney began in this position two years ago, leading and fostering the care that we want to demonstrate. To learn more about the ministry that Marcy will oversee go to the Programs tab on our homepage and click on “In Time of Need.” After an interview process including members of the Decker and Parishioners’ Funds, Marcy was the clear and superior candidate. Whitney met with her and agreed that she would be a true asset to St. Stephens, assisting her in carrying out caring ministry to our entire congregation. Marcy has served for the last ten years as Parish Manager in a church with over 1200 members. Her responsibilities included not only administrative work, but pastoral duties as well. She was the on-call pastoral point person in her parish on weekends, visited homebound parishioners, worked in her parish’s food pantry, a soup kitchen, and several other outreach ministries. We were so impressed by her desire to serve, her skills, and her compassion. In her words, “I have always considered my position as my ministry and not my job. As such, I am constantly reminded that I am called to serve with kindness, compassion, and love my brothers and sisters, no matter who they are or where they come from.” Marcy resides in Trumbull with her husband, Tom, and their two rescue dogs. She enjoys Christian yoga, reading, and walking their dogs. She plans to be on campus Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Starting July 2, Marcy can be reached through calling the church office, extension 16 or by email, mkelly@ststephens-ridgefield.org. Please join us in welcoming Marcy to the St. Stephen’s community.

*Belonging with Purpose is a weekly news update of how our purpose is being reflected through the collective and individual lives of St. Stephen’s. If you have a story or experience that you believe illustrates our Vision and Mission, please send it to Ginny Fitzpatrick, gfitzpatrick@ststephens-ridgefield.org The staff works together to create a schedule for highlighting our ministry as St. Stephen’s Church.

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June 11, 2019

Belonging with Purpose- “The Gift of the Holy Spirit”

You can hear Rev. Murray’s sermon “The Gift of the Holy Spirit,” which was first preached at Trinity Episcopal Church in Washington, DC on May 29, 1977, preached again on Trinity Sunday- June 16, 2019 during our 9am worship.

For most people, the Holy Spirit is “out there.”  The fact that The Spirit is beyond comprehension makes it feel inaccessible.  Perhaps that’s the problem- that we attempt to make it fit within our mental constructs.  The Spirit refuses to “fit” anywhere.  Jesus says in John 3:7-9 “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

On Trinity Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost- June 16 this year), we’ll focus on the Holy Spirit through hearing a sermon written by The Rev. Pauli Murray entitled “The Gift of the Holy Spirit.”    Pauli Murray was the first African-American woman ordained an Episcopal priest in 1977.  Prior to becoming a priest she was a lawyer and social activist.  She became the first African American to receive a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from Yale Law School in 1965.  It was her arrest with a friend for sitting in the whites-only section of a bus in Virginia in 1940 that led to her becoming a civil rights lawyer.  She fought both racial and gender discrimination.  One of her lifelong friendships was with the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. [1]

You can hear Rev. Murray’s sermon “The Gift of the Holy Spirit,” which was first preached at Trinity Episcopal Church in Washington, DC on May 29, 1977, preached again on Trinity Sunday- June 16, 2019 during our 9am worship.  We are blessed that Kimberly Wilson, a believer, will come and give voice to Rev. Murray’s written words.  In this sermon “Murray defines the Holy Spirit’s gift as a transformative force in our lives.  The transformation is not instantaneous, but is a continuous process that requires ‘struggle and sacrifice.’  Murray emphasizes that the Spirit ‘works through humanity individually and socially.”[2] 

We are invited to commune with the One God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And it is the gift of the Holy Spirit which draws us into that communion.  Within that communion, we experience our belonging.


[1] Paulimurrayfoundation.com, June 8, 2019

[2] Bettye Collier-Thomas, Daughters of Thunder: Black Women Preachers and Their Sermons, 1850-1979 (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998), 227.

*Belonging with Purpose is a weekly news update of how our purpose is being reflected through the collective and individual lives of St. Stephen’s.  If you have a story or experience that you believe illustrates our Vision and Mission, please send it to Ginny Fitzpatrick, gfitzpatrick@ststephens-ridgefield.org  The staff works together to create a schedule for highlighting our ministry as St. Stephen’s Church.

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June 4, 2019

Belonging with Purpose- All-Parish Summer Book

We learn about God through reading the stories that tell us about God

The sacred stories of holy scripture tell of God’s saving deeds.  From the beginning (Genesis) to the end (Revelation) God interacts with his/her creation.  Through people’s lived experience of being human, God comes close.  We learn about God through reading the stories that tell us about God.  We learn about ourselves, too, since the human condition, according to scientist Michio Kaku, remains largely unchanged over the last 100,000 years.

A friend of mine recently said, “Whitney, pray for guidance and wisdom for me.”  My reply, “Absolutely!  Wisdom and guidance are two things that God loves to give.”  I know this not from a hunch or speculation, but through the stories of scripture.  People for centuries have been praying for the same and God has answered them.

Even if you’ve read through the entire Bible or been in church every Sunday, I invite you to join in fellowship with one another through reading The Path.  Here is the description from the Forward Movement Publishing website:

Walk in the footsteps of faithful men and women who have done their best to follow God’s call. The Path is the story of the Bible, excerpted from the New Revised Standard Version so that it is clear and easy to read. Follow the path of God’s love all the way from the beginning to the end, from Adam’s creation to John’s revelation.

With informative trail signs to help you see how each piece of the narrative fits together, The Path is an experience unlike any other: an amazing 360-degree overview of the vast, sweeping story of God’s extraordinary love for ordinary people. Join us on this epic adventure, a journey through the Bible to grow closer to God.

The Path has received a bronze medal in the Bible Study category of 
The Illumination Awards.

Then learning about God translates from a head exercise to a heart experience.  Faith moves from a mental ascent to a transformed life—something better than we could imagine. 

For the sake of our life together at St. Stephen’s, I hope that you’ll purchase your copy after worship or at the office or online.  You’ll find it to be one of the most worthwhile ways in which you’ve spent $18.

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