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.

Posted in: Uncategorized
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.

Posted in: Uncategorized
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.

Posted in: Uncategorized
May 14, 2019

Belonging with Purpose – Caring for Creation by caring for beagles*

One person’s passion can make a world of difference…

One person’s passion can make a world of difference.  At St. Stephen’s, we look to make opportunities for a person’s passion to change the world as we practice Embracing and Living God’s Commandment to Love our Neighbors—through worship, stewardship, and service to others.

Attending to creation is part of our mandate to love one another.  From the creation stories of Genesis to the words of our Eucharistic Prayers, we remember again and again that we have been charged with the care of creation.  Eucharistic Prayer D says, “You formed us in your own image, giving the whole world into our care, so that, in obedience to you, our Creator, we might rule and serve all your creatures.  When our disobedience took us far from you, you did not abandon us to the power of death.”  (BCP, 373)  Because we are a resurrected people, we have even more incentive to care for God’s creation.

St. Stephen’s has supported the passion of parishioner Bill Murrell, a “Beagle Dad.”  With the support of the Outreach Committee we will host a free community pancake breakfast on May 19th from 9-12 in Rectors Hall. Proceeds benefit the “BeFreegle Foundation”, which is a non-profit rescue organization focused on the rescue, rehabilitation & placement of beagles used in laboratory testing.  Last year we had over 100 people attend, raised more than $2000 for the organization and 3 dogs were adopted.  That’s good stewardship!  

If you’re not a dog person (although what’s not to love about beagles), no worries … Just come join us for great fellowship and enjoy some hot blueberry pancakes, w/real maple syrup!

Come by yourself or bring a friend!  Everyone’s invited!!

*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.

Posted in: Uncategorized
May 1, 2019

Belonging with Purpose- Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day)*

As God does not forget us, so we must not forget one another.

Compassion, from its Latin root, means to “suffer with.”  The Lord has compassion.

Hear the words of God’s compassion in Isaiah 49: 13-15

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
   break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
   and will have compassion on his suffering ones. 


14 But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me,
   my Lord has forgotten me.’ 
15 Can a woman forget her nursing-child,
   or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
   yet I will not forget you. 

As God does not forget us, so we must not forget one another.  By joining with Jews around the world to commemorate the suffering that their people endured and the hope that we all share in a new creation, we participate in God’s compassion.  The Holocaust Remembrance Day has no other purpose than to stand in solidarity with those who have suffered.  “As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.11Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:10-11)

The Yom HaShoah service begins at 7pm on May 2.  Please join in this act of faith.

*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.

Posted in: Uncategorized
April 17, 2019

Belonging with Purpose- Following Jesus through Holy Week*

Through Holy Week, we remember that we “belong” because we are all God’s creation, made from his infinite love.

The week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday is called Holy Week.  During these days, we come together frequently for worship to witness closely God’s re-ordering of the world through Jesus.

On Maundy Thursday Jesus re-orders the world through telling his followers that his Kingdom is comprised of servants.  Unless you want to take on the role of a servant, you have no place in God’s Kingdom.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. – John 13:35   He charges his disciples to live as servants of God in the world

On Good Friday Jesus re-orders the world by choosing death for the sake of our life.  For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. – John 10:17-18  Knowing that God cannot deny God’s justice, and that we can never satisfy the justice of God, Jesus satisfies that justice through his very self.  God gives God’s self so that we might be free from death.

On Holy Saturday, at the Easter Vigil, Jesus re-orders the world through his resurrection, revealing that our freedom comes from our obedience in following him.  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:4  In Jesus, we see that placing our life in God’s hands is for God’s glory and our life made new.

On Easter Sunday, Jesus re-orders the world by showing that our differences don’t divide us since we are united in him.  Instead, they illuminate the expansiveness of God’s salvation.  Peter began to speak to Cornelius and the other Gentiles: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” – Acts 10:34  As followers of Jesus, we embrace our uniqueness and offer it to God in service of his mission in the world.

Through Holy Week, we remember that we “belong” because we are all God’s creation, made from his infinite love.  We also remember our “purpose,” which is to live in the hope of God’s salvation, made evident in our practice of loving our neighbor.

(to hear the sermons for each service, please go to the About tab and click on Sermons)

*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.

Posted in: Uncategorized
April 9, 2019

Belonging with Purpose- Forgiveness*

This Sunday, April 14, The Rev. Sabune will speak about living forgiveness in a forum following 10am worship. Read more here…

One of the most significant teachings of Jesus centers on forgiveness.  In what we call The Lord’s Prayer, he instructs his disciples to pray “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  This is no easy task.

The Rev. Petero Sabune knows of its difficulty.  Forgiveness has been an active part of his daily life for several decades.  His work with inmates in Sing Sing, from which he recently retired, continuously provided him the opportunity to live forgiveness.  His own experience of the torture and murder of several of his family members brought the evil of hate always close.  The Rev. Sabune writes about this in his blog for The Huffington Post in 2015. 

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/forgive-why-not_b_6565856

This Sunday, April 14, The Rev. Sabune will speak about living forgiveness in a forum following 10am worship.  Please plan to join us in Rector’s Hall at approximately 11:30am to hear and dialogue about forgiveness.  The Rev. Sabune will speak from his experience of traveling to Rwanda in 2007-2009 with Catholic and Muslim chaplains from Sing Sing.  Over the years they visited 10 prisons where priests and ministers were incarcerated for having taken part in the 1994 Genocide.  These trips were made possible from a grant from Trinity, Wall Street.  Within the last couple of years, Sabune has served as adjunct faculty at The General Theological Seminary, leading a pilgrimage with students to visit Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as incorporating them into his ministry at Sing Sing.  Recently, February 25-March 2 of this year, he continued his work on forgiveness at Bishop Okullu Theological Seminary in Kisumu, Kenya and Rebirth Ministry in Harare, Zimbabwe. 

As you prepare for the conversation that he will make possible on April 14, I invite you to read the article on Forgiveness above, as well as his reflection on Prayer (below).

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/sing-sing-prison-and-the_b_604610

The Rev. Sabune will also preach at both services.

Bonus: on April 9, WNYC Morning Edition had the following news story:

http://www.wnyc.org/story/after-the-genocide-author-witnessed-how-rwandans-defined-forgiveness/

*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.

Posted in: Uncategorized
April 2, 2019

Belonging With Purpose – Dorothy Day Hospitality House*

I am grateful that, as my church, St. Stephen’s keeps me “ever mindful of the needs of others…

Bless, O Lord, this food to our use and us to thy service. And make us ever mindful of the needs of others. 

            This was the simple prayer said before lunch every single day at the small, private school I attended on the banks of the Ashley River in South Carolina, many years ago. Thirty years later, it’s still one of my favorite go-to prayers, but today it also reminds me of the mission statement of one our areas most important outreaches, the Dorothy Day Hospitality House in Danbury, CT.

            If you spend any time in or around St. Stephen’s Church, you’ve no doubt heard of this facility, but perhaps you didn’t know that it’s based on the Houses of Hospitality founded by Dorothy Day during the Great Depression.  It serves 60-80 hot meals every afternoon and can shelter up to 16 people each night. It is staffed entirely by volunteers, as it has been since it opened its doors to the homeless and hungry in 1982, on Spring Street in downtown Danbury.  We have several members of St. Stephen’s involved in this missionary effort. 

  • There are individuals who stay overnight as a host. 
  • A group from St. Stephen’s serves breakfast on the first Monday of the month.  Having cooked the main egg course on Sunday, they gather in the church parking lot at 6am and carpool to Danbury to serve 75-80 people.  Our work is over around 9am.  If you would like to be a part of this, please email  Linda Hutchings  ljlpep@aol.com or give Ginny a call in the church office.
  • Additionally you can support this effort by contributing to the Change the World container in the narthex on Sunday morning. 

            I am grateful that, as my church, St. Stephen’s keeps me “ever mindful of the needs of others” with its long-standing ties to Dorothy Day House, embodied in yearly mission fund donations, dedicated parishioner volunteerism and promoting critical awareness of the aid that it—and other organizations like it—provide on a daily basis in our area.

            When we share our bounty, we truly live God’s commandment to Love Our Neighbors. And I for one am thankful that St. Stephen’s Church gives me a neighborhood map to do just that.

By Tara Filaski

*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.

Posted in: Uncategorized
March 28, 2019

Belonging with Purpose- Becoming a Missional Church*

Christianity must again prove its worth in answering the deepest questions of the human heart with clarity and purpose.

“Much has been written about the pervasive changes relative to the missional task of churches in recent decades.  The dissolution of Christendom has been acknowledged, sometimes with angst, other times with elation.  Some bemoan loss of the former bias that the church once enjoyed; others acknowledge the incapacity of faith to transform, unless it is validated as authentic when proven in the fabric of pluralism.  Authentic faith rises to the surface in the face of conflict and challenge.  No longer assumed to be the faith of choice, Christianity must again prove its worth in answering the deepest questions of the human heart with clarity and purpose.”  (excerpt from Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches, by Milfred Minatrea)

St. Stephen’s is embarking on significant change.  The structures that served God’s work in the world so effectively in the past (at least as we remember it) no longer meet the needs of the changing world in which we live.  At the start of 2017, we began an effort to articulate our purpose in Ridgefield and the broader community.  One outcome of the year was a new Vision statement and Mission statement.

Our Vision- A world made whole by God’s transforming love in action.

Our Mission- Embracing and living God’s commandment to love our neighbor- through worship, stewardship, and service to others.

Our work on restructuring personnel and property allocations came from our need to reorient ourselves to our mission.  As Minatrea writes above, the church (St. Stephen’s) has to “again prove its worth in answering the deepest questions of the human heart with clarity and purpose.” 

God’s mission is sustainable because people find the time and money to dedicate toward responding to the needs of a hurting world.  By prioritizing our collective efforts which feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit those who are sick or in prison; and which draw us into prayer and study of scripture, so that we might encounter the living and loving God in the immediacy of our daily lives, we discover that God has provided us with more than enough to do God’s work in the world.  We are transformed from a community focused on our own scarcity and inadequacy, to a focus on the abundant provision of our generous God. 

People wonder if God really can address the places where we feel most vulnerable.  By becoming a missional church, we can show them that- YES! – God really can.

by Rev. 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.

Posted in: Uncategorized
March 19, 2019

Belonging with Purpose – Life Long Learners*

Life Long Learners – what it means to be a Christian at this stage of our lives…

One of the advantages of being a member of St. Stephen’s is the wealth of activities that are open for participation. In October of 2015, Life-Long Learners was launched with this mandate:  To provide a welcoming environment to discuss the challenges of living in the post-60s phase of our lives, helping us to clarify our path, draw some conclusions, be affirmed and supported in our decisions, and give us new insights and perspectives.  Since then a stalwart group of mostly women have met monthly to discuss books that will hopefully stir discussion and send us into our spiritual community and the greater community with a renewed conviction of what it means to be a Christian at this stage of our lives.

The selections range from novels (A Man Called Ove; The Light Between Oceans; The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old) to memoirs (The Year of Magical Thinking; The End of Your Life Book Club) to historical fiction (The Women in the Castle) to children’s literature (A Wrinkle in Time) to drama (Southern Exposure) to graphic novels (Can’t We Talk about something more Pleasant?).  We also read books related to spirituality (The Liturgical Year; Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life) and a lot about aging since this is a defining issue as one reaches the 60s and 70s and beyond (The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully; Aging with Wisdom: Reflections, Stories & Teachings). Some books deal with the challenges of aging especially death and dying (Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End; In the Slender Margin: The Intimate Strangeness of Death & Dying) and some push us to think about the challenges of this phase of life (The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter; Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer). What makes a book “perfect” is when these themes overlap in one book, which fortunately has happened many times.

Two books have come to us from the diocese: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World and our February book, Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist. This book has led some in the parish to explore racial divisiveness. When any book causes us to change our thinking it has made an impact.

Our March book is a book of essays by the renowned and recently deceased Ursula K. Le Guin: No Time to Spare: Thinking about What Matters. Her essays explore the world of literature, politics, grandparenthood, and ownership of a unique cat. In April we will meet Doris, a female Ove or Hendrik Groen, in a book rich with memory, history, and heart.

Various members have stepped up to lead the monthly discussion, and we are eager to continue to explore the many literary offerings that will continue to improve our lives and create a caring community.  

by Linda Hughs

*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.

Visit us at: www.ststephensridgefield.org              

Posted in: Uncategorized
css.php