In 1963, Dolores Templeton stood with several others looking over a tomato field thinking, “This is where we will build our church.” The tomato field, donated by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Yates, was located on Dutch Road in Fairview and became the site for St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year.
In her sermon during the service celebrating St. Stephen’s fiftieth anniversary, the Rev. Sabeth Fitzgibbons said, “We tell this story, as we tell many stories, to remember those who went before us. To remember who we are because of those who went before us. Stories of our foremothers and forefathers help shape who we are, how we understand ourselves, and how we live today. Because we know ourselves to be part of this still-unfolding story, we know that we are forming the story which will define history for future generations.”
St. Stephen’s story began in 1963 when a group that was worshiping at Trinity Mission in Fairview (founded in 1907 over Dr. Week’s drugstore), along with a group from the Cathedral of St. Paul who lived in the western suburbs of Erie, gathered together to discuss the need for a new parish. Bishop Crittenden gave his approval for the establishment of a church that would be a mission of the Cathedral of St. Paul. Money was quickly raised and there was a ground-breaking ceremony in December 1964.
During that time the Rev. Ronald C. Molrine was being considered as the vicar and seemed a perfect fit, but he lived in California and there was no money to transport him for an interview. As luck, or divine intervention, would have it, Fr. Molrine was already traveling to Washington D.C. and was able to make it to Erie for an interview. He was issued the call and accepted before he left.
St. Stephen’s cornerstone was laid on July 15th, 1965, and the first service in the new building took place on October 17th, 1965. St. Stephen’s quickly grew, adding a Boy Scout troop in 1967 and a nursery school in 1968. By 1969, they had outgrown the building and an educational wing and offices were added.
St. Stephen’s has been through both prosperous times and more difficult times during their fifty years as a congregation. They’ve had a few short-term rectors and some long-term rectors, like Fr. Molrine and the Rev. Mike Annis. They even raised up one of their own, the Rev. Donald Baxter, to be a priest, and he now serves at St. Mark’s in Erie. As the Rev. Fitzgibbons noted, “St. Stephen’s has modeled the natural life-cycle changes of a congregation. There have been more difficult days that may have even felt like trials and persecution and there have been glory days of fondly remembered dinners and Vacation Bible School and Christmas services.”
The Rev. Fitzgibbons went on to say, “Through all of it, the Holy Spirit has been constantly present with this family of faith, blowing on us with life and hope, love and God’s desire for us. Like Stephen himself, this is a place full of grace and wisdom and power. Here in 2015, we know ourselves to be an open and welcoming Christ-centered community, where people of all ages and abilities can find caring and acceptance, be formed and nurtured in faith, and go out into our local community to make a difference in the name of the Gospel. Here in Fairview, we have claimed our identity as a church that welcomes families of all ages and forms.”
St. Stephen’s ministry as a Christ-centered community was celebrated in grand style on October 14th, with Char Molrine, the widow of Fr. Molrine, in attendance. Bishop Sean was also there and gave the blessing to start the festivities as well as a rousing speech about St. Stephen’s. The Rev. Fitzgibbons called on people to stand by the year they had started attending St. Stephen’s. One parishioner commented on how impressive it was that the parishioners from the 1960s numbered almost as many as the parishioners from the 2010s. Dolores Templeton is now 87 and could not travel to St. Stephen’s fiftieth anniversary celebration, but sent her blessings and spoke of her pride in raising her kids there.
The event was used not only to look back and celebrate the history, but also to look ahead and celebrate the future that St. Stephen’s has ahead of it. The Rev. Fitzgibbons gave a call to action for the next 50 years: “As we look ahead 50 years, who knows what technology will have emerged? Who knows what mission fields will have emerged as Fairview and Erie County continue to change? What we do know for sure: there will still be people of faith looking for a liturgical church that brings together ancient liturgy with social justice ministries; there will still be children to raise in communities that share our values, baptisms and burials. This broken and hurting world will still need us to bear witness, with courage and confidence, to the love that we know, the hope that we find, the sustenance that we receive in a community of faith like St. Stephen’s.”