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St. STEPHEN’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH

Sweetwater, Texas

July 1998

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church is a mission parish and the sister church to All Saints of Colorado City 30 miles west. We are located in West Texas along I 20 about 40 minutes west of Abilene in the town of Sweetwater, a community of 12,000 in the rolling prairies of what is known as the Big Country. Sweetwater is the county seat for Nolan County, whose population is 17,000, a rural area whose principle industries include gypsum for wallboard, ranching, cotton, and oil. Besides a fine public school system, Sweetwater is the home of Texas State Technical College. There is a quality hospital, three supermarkets, and all other businesses which afford a comfortable lifestyle. The winters are mild but real, spring and fall (the "rainy" seasons) are long and very pleasant, and summer is dry and hot. We are at the "edge of the desert" (18" to 24" rainfall), Sweetwater Lake is just outside of town for recreation, water is supplied by two ample reservoirs located elsewhere in the county, and we are at an elevation of approximately 2200 feet. Sweetwater is the home of The World’s Largest Rattlesnake Roundup, and Christmas enjoys a parade called the Trail of Lights.

There are approximately thirty-five places of worship in Sweetwater, mostly Protestant, with two Roman Catholic, but St. Stephen’s is the only Episcopal church. We are a congregation of 58 members whose Sunday services vary between 20 and 25 for Morning Prayer and between 25 and 30 for Holy Eucharist. Our church was organized in 1911, the building constructed in 1921, and the Parish Hall added in 1949. There is some interesting history surrounding the Bishop’s Chair and the altar, both of which came from a historic church in TN, the altar having been used as a coal bin for some time during the Civil War.

Since 1996, we have operated St. Stephen’s Day School for young children, located on the same block as the church building. The children range in age from two years up through the first grade, and scheduled enrollment for Fall of 1998 is approximately 40.

We are an assembly whose people represent all ages, from young children through the elderly, and our preference for worship is traditional, with moderately formal liturgical services and with a large emphasis on genuine spirituality. Upon entering the sanctuary, one is struck by the quiet and understated sacred sense of the space.

We have great hopes for our place of worship. We pray for a vicar who can lead us into evangelical outreach in the community, especially for children (e.g., VBS), a person of great enthusiasm for the work of God and for the love of his people. We would like to see an increased opportunity to fellowship among ourselves (e.g., church life activities like potlucks and coffee hours after services), particularly because we cherish the holy atmosphere of the worship itself and hence need more sharing time at less formal occasions. With Sunday School and a Sunday evening in-home Bible study/prayer group already established, we would like to be further challenged by such teaching and scholarship and always with a humbleness before the Lord. It is important that any new vicar who joins our congregation should come into our midst without a strict preordained agenda, willing rather to work with the personality of our congregation and lead us into new ways of expressing this personality. Because St. Stephen’s has been financially endowed by generous persons of the past, our pastor should honor the fiscal responsibilities that accompany such a trust. As well, our leader will need obvious managerial capabilities because of the importance of the school in our church family life.

Our church has great strengths and great needs for improvement, as well. Though we are a friendly congregation, we would like to see increased opportunity for this kind of growth, as well as in number and even perhaps in facilities. We have come a long way in correcting the problems inherent in developing something as important as a school, but we are confident that a new vicar will do much to guide us into making this program a success on many levels. We want to bring people into the Kingdom of God, be it by Gospel or fellowship or social outreach. As well, we need to know more easily about the joys and distresses of our own church family, and ideas such as a prayer chain would be welcomed for this purpose.

Our new vicar should be involved in our local community (e.g., Ministerial Alliance), and we would like to see him or her be enthusiastic for the needs of children, someone who has a special rapport with youth, and a person of commitment and energy. If a candidate is not familiar with West Texas, flexibility may be a requirement, since small town life in rural Texas can be challenging for all its open space and friendly ways and dry climate.