Friday, 01 October 2010 00:00
The Evangelical Church of St. Stephen recently kicked off a gala weekend as religious and political luminaries gathered for the church’s 100th anniversary, celebrating a century’s worth of fellowship, service and worship on Long Island, all in the same Hicksville location.
“We stand out among churches, because we have both a bishop and a pope,” said Church Council president Vicki Maxey as she noted that a leading religious leader, the Rev. Dr. Robert Alan Rimbo, a bishop with the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, attended the event along with local politicians and the church’s beloved leader of three years, Pastor Stephanie Pope (the church’s first female pastor ever).
In addition to advanced around-the-clock preparation by church members, the weekend started with a formal dinner in which more than 160 congregation participants and local officials celebrated the church’s commitment to Long Island. The dinner was held in the Church’s Social Hall at 270 South Broadway, Hicksville. New York State Assemblyman Michael A. Montesano presented a proclamation from New York State Gov. David Paterson.
In addition to offering historical retrospective, speeches and delicious cuisine, the church also shared citations from Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano and Assemblyman Charles Lavine.
Legislator Rose Marie Walker, who has close ties with the church, was also in attendance.
“Over the past 100 years the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Stephen has been a vital and active part of the Hicksville Community, not only fulfilling the spiritual needs of the congregation, but also serving the community at large through outreach programs, like the Preschool, Youth Group, Book Club, Young at Hearts and many more. I was proud and honored to be a part of this celebration especially since all of my children attended the preschool and because I taught there as well,” said Walker.
On Sunday, Sept. 26, the celebration continued as Bishop Rimbo arrived to join Pastor Pope in leading the 100th Anniversary Celebration Service at 10 a.m., also located at the church. A packed house welcomed “The bishop and the pope,” who offered thanks for the church’s blessings over the years and recalled a century’s worth of devotion to Long Island.
“It is my privilege to be a part of this one hundredth year celebration – and to be a part of this community in Christ. Our theme for this anniversary year has been ‘Many hands, many hearts, one Lord,’ and it has been wonderful to witness these many hands at work for our community and for the world,” said Pastor Pope. “I am blessed to know such a fine, loving, genuine group of people. I know that this congregation’s devotion will last far into the next century – and beyond.”
As a lead-up to the church’s 100th anniversary, it collected 100 items per month for local food pantries – and well exceeded its goals. In addition, its Sunday School classes are working to collect 100 pounds of pennies as part of its ‘Change for Change’ campaign, and they will be presenting the Bishop with $1,700 that they’ve collected to donate to a charity organization, Heifer International, which gives farm animals to needy families around the world. “These are just some of the ways that the church is makings its message heard – both locally and globally,” Pastor Pope said.
Two of the longest-standing congregation members are octogenarians Henry Brengel, who has been a pillar of the local community for decades and a member of St. Stephen’s since he was baptized as an infant, and Wilma Schmelzle, who was baptized there, married there, had her kids baptized there and has worked in the Nursery School for decades. Her daughter, Kathy Yuill, now works there, too.
Schmelzle, like many St. Stephen’s members, said the 100th anniversary celebration was enjoyable and well-planned.
“I think it was one of the finest affairs I’ve ever been to, the committee just did a fantastic job,” said Schmelzle.
Schmelzle, who noted she has “wonderful memories” of St. Stephens, had a hard time putting into words just how important the church has been for her over the years.
“The church has meant … I don’t even know how I want to express it, I’ve been a member for over 70 years, it’s just been my family. The church has been my rock, really,” she added.