St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church will celebrate one hundred years of ministry All Saints Sunday, Nov. 4, at 11 a.m. The Right Reverend J. Scott Mayer, Bishop of the Diocese of Northwest Texas, will celebrate with the congregation.
In 1910, J.F. Paret and Alice Paret held an Episcopal service of evening prayer in their home. Paret was an official with the Orient Railroad and a son of Episcopal Bishop William Paret of Maryland. The following October, at the Episcopal General Convention in Cincinnati, the Missionary Diocese of North Texas was formed from the northwest corner of Bishop Garrett’s Diocese of Dallas. In December, Bishop E. A. Temple was consecrated, and the first of January, 1911, took up his new duties. He reached Sweetwater for the first time February 2, 1911, and held a second service in the Parets’ parlor, with 11 people making up the congregation.
In May 1911, Bishop Temple came again, and, with a special permit from the Mayor and City Council, held a service in the barren City Hall. June 12, 1912, the Bishop returned to Sweetwater to start a tent mission through the summer and early fall. The tent, complete with wooden pews, altar and organ, drew many people to the Episcopal services. In September the diocesan Archdeacon came, appointed by the General Board of Missions to visit and serve 11 of the little prairie towns of West Texas. Archdeacon E. Cecil Seaman was pleased with the “promising little city, with its paved streets, electric lights, modern office buildings, splendid schools, bountiful water, three railroads and incipient manufactories.”
His first two services (September and October) were held in the City Hall. Later services were held in the hall rented by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. After those services and one in the Opera House, Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church met in a vacant Presbyterian Church. The church relocated in December of 1912 to a duplex owned by church members at 400 East North Third Street. Mrs. Paret asked to name the church St. Stephen’s after her former church in Baltimore, where her father-in-law had been rector. Mrs. Paret’s scrapbook entry for January 17, 1913 mentions forebears whose children are still part of the church: “Mrs. Guy Morris sang two of the favorite Mexican songs in the native language.”
The present building on Locust Street was built in 1921.
The church’s heritage includes the following priests: John L. Showell, Harrison H. Black, James Butler, Angus Miller, Worrell H. Holby, Harland (Steve) Birdwell, Richard H. Saxer, Frank Ambuhl, James L. Considine, Frank M. Swindle, and Dennis V. Bosley. Members of Saint Stephen’s have included Mr. and Mrs. Guy Morris, Vivian and Fred Wimberley, Fred Stevenson, Jack and Laverne Carson, Charles and Ingrid Griggs, Buck and Libby Wetsel, Carlos and Vangie Morris, Mr. and Mrs. Porter, Mr. and Mrs. Clifton, Kathleen Armor, Ena MacQueen, Ethel Nelson, Alpha Day, Jack and Frances Harris, Gerald and Fran Woodward, Hubert and Mary Barton, Dr. James and Barbara Pace, Rod and Merry Laine (Pace) Wetsel, Jessica Messersmith (whose daughter, Laurie Salyer, was the first female acolyte at Saint Stephen’s), Dr. David Wetsel, Tory Wetsel, Buford Patterson, Jack Carson, Carolee Patterson, and many more whose names are not mentioned in this article, but whose gifts and service to Saint Stephen’s continue to bless the community.
Mrs. Alice Paret kept a scrapbook about Saint Stephen’s until her death. Included in the scrapbook is this prayer: Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, give unto us, Thy children, such a sense of Thy presence that our prayers may be real, and our service heartfelt and willing. We bring before Thee, O Father, this work which has been committed to us by Thee, and which we are doing in Thy Name and by Thy grace. Help us to plan wisely and work diligently. Save us from error in judgment, perversion of motive and coldness of zeal. Give us abundance of faith, courage, patience, loyalty and love. May we see in difficulties, opportunities to show what we can do, in discouragements and misunderstandings, a test of our sincerity and truth. For each part of the work we pray and ask the blessing of wisdom, enthusiasm and success. Give to each one in the work that which each one lacks, and strengthen and increase what is already possessed. May we see the good in others, the evil only in ourselves. May we speak good of all and harm none with our tongues. May our aim be to serve Thee as best we can by serving those who, like us, are Thy children. And, O Lord, may we so prize our goodly heritage, so value the blessings we receive through Thy Church, that we shall give and work for the extension of Thy Kingdom unto the end of the world. In thankfulness to Thee for all Thy mercies we pray in Thy dear Son’s name, Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
The church welcomes all who might wish to join on Sunday at 11 a.m.