Welcome Wednesdays. What Our Members Say:
Welcome to Welcome Wednesday, our new feature where parish members share their stories of how St. Stephen’s made them feel that they had found a spiritual home. We start off with one of our favorite people, John Lafrentz, who can be seen every week making repairs and doing maintenance work before and after services. Thank you for sharing, John!
“A personal relationship in San Francisco introduced me to the embrace of a welcoming church. It was 1998 that I was introduced to Grace Cathedral and what felt like a community where I belonged. Having been effectively marginalized after 45 years as a Roman Catholic, I engaged in training to learn about the Episcopal tradition and was received into the community at Grace. It was rare from me to make it through the Sunday Eucharist without having tears in my eyes.
When the offer of a good job brought me to Portland, I gradually began the search for a community of faith that I could call my own. A work colleague who was involved in the diocese pointed me to St. Stephen’s. At the time I came to St. Stephen’s, the parish was discerning its path. The parish new that there was call to serve a changing neighborhood while addressing the physical needs of the church building. Twists and turns and a convergence of like minds brought the parish to its present mission, serving those in need in both body and spirit. Seeing this mission to serve the homeless and the food insecure as something concrete and active, I was pulled in.
As welcoming community to those in spiritual need and sustenance, the work of the parish actively demonstrates the embrace of neighbors and strangers alike. All are welcomed. For me, this sense of purpose and embrace are what my own faith strives to be. St. Stephen’s feels very much a home to me, and I continue to work in whatever was I can to perpetuate the church in its mission.”
Why am I at St. Stephen’s?
Part of it is silly, personal, almost superstitious stuff: the Parish telephone number, 503-223-6424, ends in the four digits that were the first phone number of my family when I was a child in Montana, and phone numbers were only four digits long.
Part of it is the liturgy. I grew up Episcopalian, and the formal style of worship feels “right” to me as the way to be in God’s presence.
And part of it is the way St. Stephen’s priorities seem to me to mirror those of Jesus: feeding the hungry, welcoming people others reject, sharing resources with generosity and warmth. I was unchurched for decades in the middle of my life. When I felt the need to reconnect with a believing community (around the time of Columbine), I was first led to evangelical churches, where I learned to pray and to respect the Bible. But when I came to St. Stephen’s a little over two years ago, the unexpected sense of having come home left me weeping in the pews with joy and relief.
St. Stephen’s is a miracle – how else could so small a congregation support programs that offer over 40,000 meals a year to hungry people? I am amazed and grateful to be part of it.
I came to St. Stephen’s over 40 years ago. I came because of the music program and it was close to my home on the Park Blocks. I was made welcome and have continued to sing in the choir. Over the years I have moved several times and for most of that time I have lived in the suburbs, but I have stayed at St. Stephen’s, and served in many capacities. St. Stephen’s has become my spiritual family. They have prayed with me, for me; rejoiced with me and wept with me and always I have been enfolded into the love of the St. Stephen’s family. I have been directed on to paths that I never expected but always it has been a joyful and wonderful journey.
How we found St. Stephens: Being new to Portland and moving to Terwilliger Plaza located downtown, St. Stephens was a logical parish to explore. It is within walking distance and also has plenty of free parking in the area on Sunday mornings.
Why we chose St. Stephens: We attended the cathedral, Trinity, a few Sundays and decided a smaller parish would serve our need for “a connected feeling” where our spiritual and personal community needs could be met. St. Stephens is located in an area of low-income housing and takes advantage of carrying out the Christian mission of caring for others. We have belonged to a number of Episcopal parishes throughout our octogenarian lives where we felt we were part of “God’s Christian Frozen People” as contrasted to others where we felt a part of “God’s Christian Chosen People.” At St. Stephens we really feel part of the “Chosen People” practicing the Christian mission as there are many and varied opportunities. Each service and activity makes one realize everyone is “really welcome” regardless of their circumstance in life. One can actually feel that warmth and Christian love. At St Stephens one feels a sense of community and gratification in being able to contribute practical skills to the second oldest church in Portland.
Sam R. Ganczaruk
When Ed and I arrived in Portland seven years ago, it was a great leap of faith into a community we barely knew. Other than a brief visit as tourists, Portland was an adventure for our partnership and retirement.
Joining the Episcopal Church in 2004 while residing in Santa Rosa, California, I found a welcoming and loving community there. I was hoping to find a parish equally as welcoming and loving as the one I had experienced there.
Walking into St. Stephen’s in midwinter, 2006 I was greeted by the interim rector. He made me feel completely at ease in what could have been an alien experience. I was feeling close to God by experiencing the liturgy and sermon at St. Stephen’s that day. I transferred my membership from the Santa Rosa church to St. Stephen’s in early spring, 2006. All during 2006, I felt wanted, accepted and needed by the community of St. Stephen’s. My relationship with God grew deeper and more loving each week while attending St. Stephen’s.
When I was asked to serve on the Vestry starting in 2007, I gladly accepted as a way to serve God and St. Stephen’s parish. It was gratifying to hear that my abilities and contributions were welcome and encouraged. Each year as I served on the Vestry and attended our worship service each Sunday, I grew closer to God and to the friends I have made at St. Stephen’s. God speaks to me clearly and directly at St. Stephen’s. I can share the joys of good times, reassurance in difficult times and comfort in bad times because of the clergy and community of St. Stephen’s.
St. Stephen’s liturgy is inspiring, loving and comforting to me and I have made it the most important event of each week. At times, I have experienced difficulty in making the long, slow and uncomfortable journey from my home on the far east side to St. Stephen’s, but have always realized waiting for me at St. Stephen’s is a meaningful and comforting liturgy, the company of good friends and acquaintances and most of all the nearness to God.
I treasure my participation in the worship of God at St. Stephens.
Samuel R. Ganczaruk,