Outreach has always been a very important part of who we are. We are committed to tithing 10 percent of our pledge income every year to support programs close to home and farther afield. In the past, we have allocated funds to international agencies such as Episcopal Relief and Development, M.O.M.S. (Midwives on Missions of Service), SHADE (an organization run by a young man who grew up at St. Stephen’s that educates, and houses children born with albinism in Tanzania) and several groups that work with refugees. Within our Diocese of Olympia, we have supported Episcopal Community Action, La Iglesia de la Resurrection, and Neighbors in Faith (a group that works to promote better Christian/Muslim relations). Within our community on Whidbey Island, we have supported SPiN Café (Serving People n Need), Ryan’s House for Youth, Help House (the Oak Harbor food bank), Garage of Blessings (a local thrift shop that charges nothing for merchandise), Whidbey Homeless Coalition, Kids First (which works with foster children and their families) and Opportunity Council (which provides a great many services for low-income individuals and families.) We also open our doors for outside groups that need a space to meet. These include Boy Scouts, Campfire USA, PFLAG, Pilates and the Oak Harbor Power Squadron.
In addition, our Outreach Committee has been working on how to make the focus of outreach something that doesn’t just happen with checks and donations allocated by the committee, but rather something that is visible, vibrant, and accessible to the whole congregation and wider community.
The Outreach Committee has also worked to spotlight the many ways our congregation members show up in ways that reach out to our community. In February 2020, the committee asked parishioners to tell us the organizations they support through volunteer work, financial support and other means. As expected, almost the entire congregation reported playing multiple roles in support of St. Stephen’s through worship ministries, coffee hours and property upkeep. But our reach is far greater than our faith community. The responses we gathered, written on pink Valentine hearts, identified more than 100 additional local, regional, national and international organizations that we support. These endeavors have only deepened during the pandemic with individuals working at food banks, young parishioners spearheading and executing a week-long food drive during the summer, and more.
Until it was interrupted by the pandemic, St. Stephen’s put a lot of work and organization into education in the past few years. We are hopeful that all of this will resume in the not-too-distant future. We have equipped and staffed a nursery for our little ones between birth and four years of age. This has been supervised each week by a paid, trained young person and an adult volunteer. For our younger children, we have offered a wonderful Godly Play program and a dedicated group of teachers who work in pairs on a rotating basis. Older children are offered a separate program geared for them. We also have offered adult education classes on Sundays before worship, beginning at 9:30 a.m. We are blessed to have a large group of great teachers to lead these classes – some ordained, some laity. Topics have included a study of the Book of Common Prayer, a talk on “Scoundrels of the Bible,” a look at the geology of Whidbey Island and many others. We also have offered special education opportunities during Advent and Lent, and occasionally at other times. And we continue to conduct, via Zoom, an active Education for Ministry class.
We are people who really enjoy spending time together and we have especially missed these times during the pandemic. This is something we are very eager to resume! Every Sunday, following worship, we will meet again in the parish hall where a rotating group of hosts will set out food, coffee, tea, water and juice. We have large, round tables with chairs where people gather and chat, chat, chat! There usually is lots of movement between tables, and everyone seems to have a wonderful time. We are especially tuned to newcomers and make sure they are included. During coffee hour, we have occasionally enjoyed impromptu puppet shows put on by the children. On Shrove Tuesday, we have a traditional pancake supper with the pancakes made by men of the parish. We have had a Christmas sing-along, a Valentine’s love song sing-along, an outdoor service in the summer and last Easter, and a parish picnic at a local park. As well, in recent years we hosted an evening with retired Army Col. Grethe Cammermeyer with a showing of the film about her life, “Serving in Silence,” an informational meeting of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and a concert series. The concerts included two evenings of Celtic music with a famed Irish soprano and her two singing sons; an organ, piano, and vocal concert with our late, beloved organist Vernon Greenstreet and two of his friends; and two appearances by the Seattle Total Experience Gospel Choir. We have also recently hosted movie nights and game nights. On New Year’s Day 2018, we had a Celtic New Year’s Blessing by the Irish family of singers. That performance was standing room only, and we raised $3,500 for the Whidbey Homeless Coalition.
St. Stephen’s has an informative web site that provides information about our church, our events, our outreach, our staff and much more. It is here people connect to our live stream every Sunday morning. We also send a weekly email that arrives on Saturday mornings that outlines the Sunday worship as well as events scheduled for the next week. In addition, we make spoken announcements at the end of worship, and we use our Facebook page to post announcements and promote upcoming events. Our Sunday worship service is live streamed via the internet on our web site.