Greetings from Saint Stephen’s!
I hope this letter finds you well, and that you’ve had an amazing summer.
Some of you might not know me that well, so I thought I’d tell you a little bit about myself. My wife and I moved here from Atlanta a few years back, and we did so specifically because of St. Stephen’s. I was finishing a residency at the VA Hospital in Atlanta, and received a tip from a colleague of mine that this church in McKeesport was looking for someone.
Well, it didn’t take me long to absolutely fall in love with the church — both the people and the place. We spoke a few times, and then I came up to visit for a weekend. I immediately felt like it was home, and like the people were family. Of course, I’m certainly not the only one. I hear this again and again. Whenever they are at St. Stephen’s, it feels like coming back to the family home, and the people there feel like one big family.
I remember years ago when my grandmother passed away, the members of my family — many of whom had not seen each other in years-were all sitting around in her home — the family home — sharing stories. There was laughter and there were tears, and warm memories stirred.
Someone said that it was a shame that it took a funeral for us to all be together again, and we all agreed. In the midst of all that love and connectedness, we vowed to not wait again. To not let it be another funeral which brought us together, but to enjoy each other as often as possible.
But, things happened, and we fell back into our old routines, and, without realizing it, those familial bonds were put aside. And, then, our grandfather died. And, once again, it was a funeral which was the only thing that brought us back together.
In the past few weeks, there have been several deaths in the St. Stephen’s family. The resulting funerals brought many back to St. Stephen’s who hadn’t been there in years, but who never lost the sense that St. Stephen’s is their home. I was able to hear many stories of how much the church had meant to them, all the fond memories they had. The people who regularly attend expressed how much they had missed the people. They would tell me stories about the good old days when they were all together.
And I couldn’t help but wonder why those “good old days” couldn’t be now.
If we all have this sense of family, this sense of home, then why do we wait until death to remember to share our lives together? Why do we content ourselves only with bittersweet memories when we could have abundant experiences of love and welcome and support now? What is it about the human experience that makes us want to cling to the past and hope for the future, yet never really live in the now?
And, let me tell you, the “now” of St. Stephen’s is full of life and love.
Even as we honored and saw off one of our acolytes to his bright future of college, other acolytes have joined the ranks and are now serving at the altar every Sunday. We have seen Baptisms of small children, and are preparing for another adult Baptism in the near future.
In preparation for that Baptism, we are having an Inquirers’ Class starting on Sunday the 16th, after the service. We will be taking a close look at the Sacraments and at the Episcopal Church as a whole. It’s the perfect opportunity for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of what we are all about, for anyone who has always had some questions about what we do and why we do it, and for those of us who are coming back to the church after a hiatus. We will also continue our Bible Study on Tuesday nights, which is a wonderful group of open, inquisitive people eager for a deeper understanding of God’s Word. If you are interested in either or both, please let the office know!
We are constantly expanding the ways in which we reach out into the community and serve God in the world around us. Our ecumenical relationships continue to develop and grow as we form closer and closer bonds with our brothers and sisters from other denominations in the area. We continue to host the oldest addiction recovery programs in the city. Our Outreach Committee continues to provide for those who need as we are able. New and exciting opportunities for service are added all the time.
For example, beginning on Thursday, September the 13th, we are offering a women-only yoga class. The instructor will be Ali Popivchak, herself the daughter of an Episcopal priest. This class is designed to empower the women of McKeesport, who so often find themselves disempowered and disenfranchised. The program is free, and child-care is provided. Ali would love for the people of St. Stephen’s to join in and/or help out! Once again, if you are interested in this program, or any others, please contact the office.
Through all these things and more, through our worship and service to God, we continue to be a beacon of God’s light and love, a place of hope where brothers and sisters come together to share their lives as the family of God. This has been the case for generations — for generations of many of your very own families-and will continue to be so for many generations more as the Bishop and Diocese renew their commitment to the mission in the Mon Valley.
The generations come and go, but the family persists.
To that end, we are having our own version of a Family Reunion this Sunday, September the 9th. This is our Welcome Back Sunday, after a summer of the family being spread out, after years of some of us being apart, this is the Sunday when we celebrate our coming back together. We will be having a cook-out, with the grill fired up, and some of your favorite people cooking side dishes to bring together.
The festivities start at 10 a.m. with the service, with the Family Cook-Out to follow afterward.
Of course, every Sunday is always a “Sunday dinner with the family” experience at Saint Stephen’s. Each week we gather together around the table, and we share bread and wine, laughter and tears. We grow closer to God, and closer to each other. Brothers and sisters in Christ.
You are part of this family, and this will always be your home.
Your brother in Christ,
The Rev. Brandon Thomas Mozingo +