St. Stephen’s Nursery School celebrates 50 years in 2019!
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6
St. Stephen’s Nursery School celebrates 50 years in 2019! SSNS transitioned to an Episcopal preschool in 2013 and joined the National Association of Episcopal Schools. As part of the school’s Episcopal identity, each class holds monthly Chapel, says grace before lunch, and the school has a commitment to love each child as part of God’s family. The school has also embraced service with an ongoing Diaper Ministry to donate diapers to local food pantries and Christmas Angel Trees to provide Christmas gifts to children in Danbury. Our school has donated more than 4,000 diapers and hundreds of Christmas gifts since we started these programs.
In September the children were introduced to our monthly Chapel program, and they learned that Chapel is when we learn about God. We talked about how God is our Father in Heaven and Jesus is his son and how they love us as a parent loves their child. We introduced the Beginner’s Bible and how the Bible is a special book that teaches us about God. Each child that is new to our school was presented with their own Beginner’s Bible to bring home and share with their family. Our hope is that this provides an important school-home connection and supports each family on their faith journey. Many parents have shared that their child loves to read their Bible at home, and that their whole family says our lunchtime prayer before dinner each night!
For many families, the faith foundation at St. Stephen’s Nursery School is the only “church” their child receives on a regular basis. If you want a child to appreciate art, science or music, you introduce it at a young age. We believe the same is true for a child’s faith. We want them to know there is a God who loves them. SSNS is one of only two faith-based preschools in Ridgefield, and many parents seek out our school so their child will have a school experience that includes Chapel, prayer, and service. Our Episcopal identity has also reached beyond our school walls to impact our families in other ways. We have a Parent Care Team that provides support to SSNS families in crisis through prayer and meals, and several SSNS Moms attend Moms Connect, a faith-based book study at St. Stephen’s Church.
After Chapel in school one day, a child ran to her Mom at pick up and said, “Mommy, guess what? God created EVERYONE!” Those moments, those lessons, are a part of our school every day. We are looking forward to another wonderful year here at 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, email@example.com The staff works together to create a schedule for highlighting our ministry as St. Stephen’s Church.
Dear Clergy Companions in Christ: We are looking forward to our 235th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut this October 26-27 at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. The Convention will include an ECCT-wide Eucharist on Sunday, October 27 beginning at 11:00 a.m. with a wonderful diocesan-wide breakfast beginning at 7:30 a.m. We are calling our time together on Sunday, “We’ve Come This Far By Faith.” This celebration marks both our common life as the Episcopal Church in Connecticut over the centuries as well as the work we have accomplished in the first year of our Season of Racial Healing, Justice, and Reconciliation.
Gracing us at our Convention Eucharist on October 27 as our preacher will be the Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris, Bishop Suffragan, Resigned of the Diocese of Massachusetts. As you know Bishop Harris was the first woman ordained to the episcopate in the Anglican Communion; and this year we celebrate with her the 35th anniversary of her ordination as bishop. Bishop Harris is an inspiring and engaging preacher who will call us to live the loving, liberating, life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“We’ve Come This Far By Faith” is an exciting opportunity for us to gather together as a united diocesan Body of Christ for faithful and inspiring worship. This celebration is free and open to all in ECCT and beyond. It is our hope that there will be participants in this joyful celebration from every parish and worshiping community across ECCT. If every parish and worshiping community sends 12 people, we will quickly fill all two thousand available seats. Please register for “We’ve Come This Far by Faith” at: https://conventionworship2019.eventbrite.com
Some clergy and lay leaders across ECCT are inquiring how to handle services in their local congregations for those who will not be attending our worship in Hartford. After discussing the matter with the Convention Planning Team, we suggest the following possibilities. It is up to you in your own contexts and congregations to decide the best way forward.
As many of us recall, previous to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Morning Prayer was the principal service in most congregations on Sunday mornings. If a clergy person will not be available to your parish because of attendance at “We’ve Come This Far By Faith” a layperson could lead Morning Prayer. To this end, Bishop Ian offered a workshop for laity at Spring Training on how to lead Morning Prayer. With a little preparation, a layperson or a team of laypeople are easily empowered to lead Morning Prayer, and deliver a sermon or homily for those gathered.
Early Morning Eucharist
For those of you within a one-hour drive of Hartford — which is more than half of our parishes — another option is to hold an early morning Eucharist for those who will not be joining us in Hartford. (We appreciate that many ECCT parishes hold an early morning Eucharist already so this would not be an additional service.) This option allows enough time, after worship, for clergy to drive to Hartford for the 11:00 a.m. Eucharist at the Convention Center.
Our Convention Planning Team will have a live video stream of the worship service on Sunday morning. After holding a worship service (whether Morning Prayer or an early morning Eucharist), parishioners might gather together to watch the worship service as it unfolds in Hartford. Bishop Harris’ sermon is sure to inspire. While the distribution of communion in the local context is not a part of this viewing, it is an excellent opportunity to gather together with other parishes nearby to watch the service and share fellowship. The service bulletin will be made available for people to follow along and join in prayer. This is a great collaborative option and we recognize that not all churches or parish halls are technically equipped for projecting a live video stream. If you are able to live-stream the service, please provide the Rev. Adam Yates, Secretary of Convention, with your contact information so that we are able to communicate this option to all of the people in ECCT. We encourage you to reach out to you others in your Region as well. If you have questions about Convention and its worship service on Sunday, October 27, please be in touch with the Convention Planning Team by contacting Adam Yates (firstname.lastname@example.org) or either of us. We look forward to celebrating with you on October 27! Please do everything in your power to attend “We’ve Come this Far By Faith.” It is an important opportunity both to worship together as the Episcopal Church in Connecticut and to be inspired by one of the great and historic leaders of the Church: Bishop Barbara Harris,
The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas The Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens
Bishop Diocesan Bishop Suffragan
Part of the purpose of the church is to nurture the life of faith within the people who attend
Part of the purpose of the church is to nurture the life of faith within the people who attend. Christian faith is something that grows with a little water and sunlight over time, slowly and surely. Our program year begins on September 15 with opportunities for spiritual growth for all ages at 9am!
Our Path Workshop will be segregated into adult, youth, and children, with each age group studying the same story. This makes it a wonderful opportunity for fellowship and learning. You’ll discover you’re not the only one who feels like you’re reading these stories for the first time. Furthermore, as human nature has remained largely unchanged over the last 100,000 years, your life will be enriched by the engagement with these stories (yet again?) in this particular stage and circumstance of life. All groups will meet in North Hall.
Church School will resume at the 10am hour. The kids (Pre-K thru 5th grade) will stay in North Hall throughout the entire service.
After the 10am service, there will be refreshments and a bounce house on the lawn.
The entire community is needed for faith to be lived and nurtured! Hope that you’ll join in!
Mission isn’t just out there, it’s through here.
Mission isn’t just out there, it’s through here. Every day of the week we provide abundant parking in a lot that’s cleared of ice and snow, turn on the lights, heat or air condition meeting spaces, maintain buildings and grounds and generally make it comfortable for much of the good work that takes place in our community:
Our kitchen is where meals are made for Morning Glory Breakfast sponsored by Catholic Charities
We host 15 AA meetings on campus every week
We supported the Refugee Resettlement Committee with financial guidance and space
We host the first all-female scout troop in Ridgefield
We host LGBTQ support groups for parents and youth
We stock the Little Pantry, available 24 hours for cleaning and personal care items
We welcome community members to rest a while (and perhaps enjoy a treat from Deborah Ann’s) in our Samaritan Garden
We hold a Sunday morning pancake breakfast to raise funds for Beagle rescue
Our parishioners volunteer at the Daily Bread Food Pantry in Danbury, the Pop-Up Food Pantry in Ridgefield and the Mobile Food
Parishioners donate turkeys, hams, desserts and decorations, and cook for six sheltersin Danbury during the holidays
Our Alternative Giving Program provides parishioner donations to Heifer International, Meals on Wheels, and Danbury Food Collaborative’s Man-In-A-Van
Parishioners donate backpacks and their contents to Norwalk’s Open Doors Shelter and Danbury’s Association of Religious Communities
Parishioner volunteers wrap holiday packages at the Danbury Fair Mall to benefit Housatonic Habitat for Humanity
Parishioner families host the children of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility mothers for five days each summer so mothers and children may spend time together
Our high school students make dozens of micro-loans each year to low-income entrepreneurs in countries like Ecuador and Malawi
We collect Change the World donations weekly for a different organization each month, e.g., ABC House, Meals on Wheels, Man-In-A-Van and Dorothy Day Hospitality House.
John Dear, teaches that nonviolence requires three simultaneous attributes: being nonviolent toward ourselves; being nonviolent to others, including creation; and joining the global grassroots movement of nonviolence.
In worship, we’ve been taking up the topic of nonviolence and how it is lived in our time. The reflection below from Richard Rohr reminds us of how fundamental nonviolence is to our Christian identity. To hear Mother Whitney’s call to the church on the topic of nonviolence, go to Sermons on our website and listen to August 18, 2019.
Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
From the Center for Action and Contemplation
Remembering Who We Already Are Monday, August 19, 2019
My longtime friend, Catholic priest and peace activist John Dear, teaches that nonviolence requires three simultaneous attributes: being nonviolent toward ourselves; being nonviolent to others, including creation; and joining the global grassroots movement of nonviolence. John and the Franciscan organization Pace e Bene lead an annual Campaign Nonviolence (September 14-22, 2019), working toward a culture “free from war, racism, poverty, and environmental destruction.”  In John’s words: What does it mean to be nonviolent? Coming from the Hindu/Sanskrit word ahimsa, nonviolence was defined long ago as “causing no harm, no injury, no violence to any living creature.” But Mohandas Gandhi insisted that it means much more than that. He said nonviolence was the active, unconditional love toward others, the persistent pursuit of truth, the radical forgiveness toward those who hurt us, the steadfast resistance to every form of evil, and even the loving willingness to accept suffering in the struggle for justice without the desire for retaliation. . . . Another way to understand nonviolence is to set it within the context of our identity. Practicing nonviolence means claiming our fundamental identity as the beloved [children] of the God of peace. . . . This is what Jesus taught: “Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called the sons and daughters of God [Matthew 5:9]. . . . Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors, then you shall be sons and daughters of the God who makes [the] sun rise on the good and the bad, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” [Matthew 5:44-45]. In the context of his visionary nonviolence—radical peacemaking and love for enemies—Jesus speaks of being who we already are. He talks about our true identities as if they propel us to be people of loving nonviolence. . . . Living nonviolence requires daily meditation, contemplation, study, concentration, and mindfulness. Just as mindlessness leads to violence, steady mindfulness and conscious awareness of our true identities lead to nonviolence and peace. . . . The social, economic, and political implications of this practice are astounding: if we are [children] of a loving Creator, then every human being is our [sibling], and we can never hurt anyone on earth ever again, much less be silent in the face of war, starvation, racism, sexism, nuclear weapons, systemic injustice and environmental destruction. . . . Gandhi said Jesus practiced perfect nonviolence. If that’s true, then how . . . did he embody creative nonviolence so well? The answer can be found at the beginning of his story, at his baptism. . . . Jesus hears a voice say, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” Unlike most of us, Jesus accepts this announcement of God’s love for him. He claims his true identity as the beloved son of the God of peace. From then on, he knows who he is. He’s faithful to this identity until the moment he dies. From the desert to the cross, he is faithful to who he is. He becomes who he is, and lives up to who he is, and so he acts publicly like God’s beloved. Gateway to Presence: If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.  Learn more about Pace e Bene’s Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions at paceebene.org. John Dear, The Nonviolent Life (Pace e Bene Press: 2013), 15-16, 17, 19, 20. Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
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, email@example.com The staff works together to create a schedule for highlighting our ministry as St. Stephen’s Church.
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.
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
“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.
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!
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!