Outreach. 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. We allocate a quarter of our outreach funds to support agencies around the world, including Episcopal Relief and Development, M.O.M.S. (Midwives on Missions of Service), various projects in El Salvador, SHADE (an organization run by a young man who grew up at St. Stephen’s that educates and houses children in Tanzania born with albinism) and several groups that work with refugees. The second quarter of our funds goes to programs within the Diocese of Olympia. We do much of this through Episcopal Community Action (an entity which gives grants to programs within this Diocese) but we have also supported La Iglesia Episcopal de la Resurrección (a Hispanic congregation in Mount Vernon), Neighbors in Faith (a group which works to promote better Christian/Muslim relations), St. Luke’s Ballard and its Edible Hope program, and the Diocesan Refugee Resettlement Office. The other half of our outreach funds is given to programs operating on Whidbey Island. These include Spin Café, Ryan’s House for Youth, Help House (our local food bank), Garage of Blessings (a local thrift shop that charges nothing for merchandise), Whidbey Homeless Coalition, Kid’s First (which works with Foster Children and their families) and Opportunity Council, which provides a great many services for low income individuals and families. In addition, we held a Treasure Sale in Fall 2017 and collected just under $3,000 for hurricane relief in the southern states; we collected many pounds of food for the food bank; we collected toiletries, blankets, hats, scarves, and snacks for the Oak Harbor overnight homeless shelter; we collected school supplies for the nearby Olympic View Elementary School; and we collected money to buy gift cards for all the teenage foster children on Whidbey Island as a Christmas gift. We open our doors for outside groups that need a space to meet. These include Boy Scouts, Campfire USA, PFLAG, Pilates, Oak Harbor Power Squadron and a prayer group. And we have individual parishioners who volunteer their time at the food bank, the overnight shelter, Spin Café, Ryan’s House, Pacific Rim Institute for Environmental Stewardship and many other local organizations.
Education. St. Stephen’s has put a lot of work and organization into education in the past few years. We have equipped and staffed a nursery for our little ones between birth and four years of age. This is supervised each week by a paid, trained young person and an adult volunteer. For our older children, we have a wonderful Godly Play program and a dedicated group of teachers who work in pairs on a rotating basis. The children seem to love the program, and we have seen much growth in the last two years. We also have 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,” the look at the geology of Whidbey Island and many others. We also have special education opportunities during Advent and Lent, and occasionally at other times. And we have an active Education for Ministry class, which started four years ago and will have its first graduates this spring. In addition, we have sent a team of three lay people and our deacon to the College of Congregational Development.
Fellowship. We are people who really enjoy spending time together. Every Sunday, following worship, we meet in the parish hall where a rotating group of hosts 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. In conjunction with this event, we have started a tradition of doing a poetry slam after supper. We have had a Christmas sing-along, a Valentine’s love song sing-along, an outdoor service and a picnic. As well, we have 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 own 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. This year, we have started a series called “Island Backstage,” featuring local acoustic musicians in a Saturday night cabaret-type setting. This provides an opportunity to open our doors to our community; we charge no admission but we accept free will donations with proceeds given to one of our outreach partners. 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.
Communication. St. Stephen’s has an informative web site that provides information about our church, our events, our outreach, past sermons, our staff and much more. As well, a monthly newsletter is produced and sent by email and made available in print. We also send a weekly email, which goes out every Thursday evening, that outlines the events scheduled for he next week. We also make spoken announcements during coffee hour, using our new parish hall sound system, and we use our Facebook page to post announcements and promote upcoming events.