The First Home Gatherings
While St. Stephen’s parishioners have, over the years, used the home gathering as a way to meet in an informal way to discuss key issues, the first St. Stephenites, like the first Christians, used them for a more basic purpose - to worship. St. Stephen’s Church had its beginnings in one of the brick houses on South Main Street in Pearl River in the early 1880s. The Rev. Thomas Stephens, Rector of St. Paul’s Church, Spring Valley, led the services at that location and in various other homes in the vicinity for several years. Missionary funds were obtained from the Diocese of New York by members interested in building their own church. The laying of the cornerstone for the first church, in the heart of Pearl River, took place Oct. 13, 1887 and the first service was held a few weeks later, on Dec. 4, 1887. On June 11, 1924, the church became an organized mission, still deriving its main support from Diocesan missionary funds.
Movin' On Up
In the spring of 1926, the church building was moved to avoid damage resulting from the annual spring flooding of the nearby Muddy Creek. The three-block move to higher ground took almost two weeks, due to difficulties in moving the church across the railroad tracks. Once at its new location, a wing, larger than the original church, was added.
Home Sweet Home
In 1941, the Rev. Kenneth W. Mann became the first resident minister. On April 30, 1952, St. Stephen’s declared itself an independent and self-supporting parish and called the Rev. Ernest Churchill to be its first rector. As the congregation grew, the need for a larger facility became apparent, and on June 8, 1958 ground was broken on a new St. Stephen’s Church, at its current locaon. The first services were held in the nearly completed building on December 14th of that year. The building consisted of a parish hall, where the main services were held, a chapel, classrooms and offices. It was also at about this time that St. Stephen's purchased and enlarged a Cape Cod-style house adjacent to the church for a rectory.
Our Cornerstone of Faith
The second rector, called Sept. 1, 1958, was the Rev. Benson Fisher who provided leadership for the construction of the church building that was completed in 1966. The first service in the new sanctuary was held on September 11, with a dedication ceremony on September 25.
The Rev. Orion W. Davis became the third rector of St. Stephen’s in February 1976. During his tenure, ending April 1982, the parish saw a new and sustained growth in its spiritual life and lay leadership, as well as an understanding of, and deep commitment to, stewardship. Intergenerational events became a dynamic way of deepening the bond between church members. The EYF youth group and Christian Education (adult and children) programs flourished with Orion’s gifts of ministry.
100 years Together
The fourth rector of St. Stephen’s, the Rev. Bruce A. Rodgers, came to us in October 1983. During his tenure, ending in June 1989, St. Stephen’s celebrated its centennial year with a reunion of past and present rectors, clergy and parishioners. The Centennial Fund, a three-year capital fund campaign, was the result of a new awareness of our stewardship and the realities of a 30-year-old building, rectory and parking lot. During this time, Nancy Bailey-Strong and Betty Hudson served consecutively as part-time assistants to the rector.
A New Baby Boom
The Rev. George Adamik was called on Sept. 8, 1991. During his tenure, the number of young families with children grew. His spiritual gifts and talents with youngsters created a strong model for our children and the parish as a whole. Father George’s emphasis on outreach brought the parish into a covenant with Habitat for Humanity and support for other local charities. He stressed the need for time and talent as well as treasure. Father George also shepherded a successful Capital Fund campaign.
A Woman's Touch
With the new millennium came new opportunities at St. Stephen’s. In June of 2001, we welcomed our first full-time female rector, Rev. Susan Fortunato. Pastor Susan brought in a fresh perspective and helped us start many new traditions. She was a strong advocate of interfaith relationships and built lasting connections with the Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Jewish communities of faith in Pearl River. The day Susan began her ministry, our roof began to leak. She spearheaded a three year effort to secure grant funding to allow for professional repair. The roof has been leak free and a source of great parish pride ever since.
A Healthy Tree Bears Fruit
St. Stephen’s has been a training ground across the years for a number of priests. The parish has joyfully celebrated a number of ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood. Some were reared in the parish itself, others came as part-time deacons and stayed as part-time assistants contributing much to the spiritual growth of the parish.