While we continue to learn from and grow into what it means to be a church community existing in a time of pandemic, one that none of us have ever experienced in our lifetimes, we also are seeing the signs of hope on the horizon for what can be moving forward as the expression of this particular branch of the Jesus Movement that we call St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Longview, WA.
While we continue to operate with specific policies and procedures designed to protect all in our community based on the leading current advice of medical and scientific experts, we also are beginning to re-engage in many of the activities, ministries, and opportunities for worship that make St. Stephen’s such a vibrant faith-filled community.
This fall, we are excited to launch a number of new initiatives, geared at exploring our personal practices of faith, deepening our relationships with God and our neighbor, and learning more about who we are as people of faith following the way of Jesus:
- 10:30am Choral Eucharist: On September 12 we will celebrate “Welcome Back Sunday!” This annual tradition feels especially meaningful this year as it will mark the return of many pieces, including servers and acolytes, our choir, and the traditional worship structure of our Episcopal services (complete with our current Eucharistic practice happening at the heart of the service as opposed to the end). We will continue to explore our worship together to make this expression truly St. Stephen’s own, utilizing the different resources and flexibility we have discovered during this time, while still holding onto the deep tradition that informs our practice of worship together.
- As part of “Welcome Back Sunday!” we will also have the “Blessing of the Bags”, where all who attend school, work, work from home, maintain a home, or are retired, can bring their “bag” of choice for a blessing for this upcoming year
- A New Offering of Sunday School: Also beginning on September 12, we will be launching our new Sunday School program during the 10:30am Sunday Service. Children will begin the service with their families for the opening hymn and prayers of worship, then will make their own procession behind the cross as we sing them out to their Sunday School program that will teach them the lessons of the day from the lectionary within a classroom structure that also teaches them the flow of our worship and why we incorporate the different elements like the Prayers of the People and the Creeds. This program is designed for Children aged 10 & under (but open to ALL children/youth who would like to attend). Children over the age of 10 are strongly encouraged to volunteer for acolyting to further their learning of our worship services.
- Sung Evening Prayer, Sundays @ 5:00pm: This new worship opportunity is being made available every Sunday this upcoming fall, beginning September 12. This beautiful expression of worship will utilize sung chant prayers, modern Christian praise music, and more, to immerse the worshipers in an expression of prayer that comes deeply from the heart. Led by lay leaders, this worship experience is a wonderful compliment to the Sunday morning service and will open new expressions of worship for our whole community.
- Youth Group, Sundays @ 6pm: Launching September 12, our new Youth Group will gather each week for a meal, fellowship, games, and an opportunity to explore our faith together in an inclusive and affirming atmosphere. The Youth Group is for Middle and High School Students. This youth group is an ecumenical effort with Longview Presbyterian Church, Longview United Methodist, and Bethany Lutheran.
- Monthly Small Group Gatherings, First Sundays: Beginning with the First Sunday in October (October 3), you will be invited to gather with a small group of St. Stephen’s members for a meal hosted at someone’s home, and an opportunity to share a little bit about our own faith journeys. These “sharing faith dinners” are an opportunity for us to reconnect with one another after this past year, and begin to share in our common faith with one another through simple questions to spark our conversations. More details to come soon.
- Further Formation Opportunities: We will also be making available a number of further formation opportunities into this fall and beyond. In particular, the Sacred Ground Racial Reconciliation program will be made available by Fr. Nic once more (it comes HIGHLY recommended by those who engaged in the program last year), and there will be opportunities for parish-wide connection and study as well.
As you can see, we are very excited about what is coming to St. Stephen’s this fall.
And, we know that our best plans and preparations can easily be shut down if needed for the health and wellness of our community, both the St. Stephen’s community and our wider community of neighbors. BUT! We are hopeful that we will be able to move forward with all of these plans on schedule and truly welcome back the people of St. Stephen’s.
If you would like to be involved in any of the above activities, either as participant or host or volunteer, please reach out to Fr. Nic and he will connect you with the person in charge of that ministry offering.
As always, I am grateful for the flexibility and patience that the people of St. Stephen’s have practiced since March of 2020, and I am looking forward to our continued progress towards a time post-pandemic. As we make our way towards that day, it is truly exciting to be able to offer this slate of ministries, both returning, re-imagined, and brand new!
If you have any questions or comments about the upcoming fall please feel free to reach out, anytime.
Important Future Dates for Your Calendar:
- November 28: First Sunday of Advent
- December 2: Feast of St. Nicholas Community Event
- Friday December 24: Christmas Eve Services at 4pm & 10pm
- Sunday December 26 @ 10:30am: Feast of St. Stephen
- January 9, 2022: Annual Meeting Dinner & Epiphany Celebration