St. Stephen's Episcopal Church

St. Stephen's Church, located at 5019 Sam Houston Avenue, is the sixth oldest church in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. In 1854, the Rev. Charles Gillette reported that St. Stephen's had ten communicants. The church's early congregations met in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church building, the Odd Fellows Hall, and the upper room of the county courthouse. On July 26, 1870, a lot was purchased for $150 from M.L. Thorton, and a new building was planned.

St. Stephen's first vestry consisted of Dr. I.P. Nixon, Dr. Thomas W. Markham, J.S. Markham, and Joe Bates. In 1871, Rev. Jeremiah Ward became St. Stephen's first rector. On March 23, 1873, Bishop Alexander Gregg consecrated St. Stephen's first church building. Ward was compelled to resign as rector when the congregation refused to support a married priest.

In 1904, a new church building was constructed on 13th Street and Avenue L. During this period of time, St. Stephen's experienced frequent setbacks. First, the church went without a rector for many years, relying on lay readers to lead services. Church membership decreased from 39 communicants and 20 Sunday School pupils in 1907, to only 13 members in 1922. Making matters worse, in March 1931 a fire broke out at the church destroying the building. Between 1936 and 1940, the vestry made plans to construct a new church building. The lot on 13th Street was sold to the Continental Oil Company, and a new lot was purchased on the corner of 15th Street and Avenue M. On November 28, 1948, construction was completed on the new church building; Bishop Simon Quin preached the dedication sermon.

The community of Walker County rallied to support the struggling church and congregation by raising funds to purchase furnishings. Throughout the 1940s, membership increased as the church found consistent clergy leadership. In 1959, the congregation moved to the corner of 16th Street and Avenue J. In 1973, St. Stephen's was re-admitted to Parish status. In forty years, membership increased from 10 to 211 communicants. By 1980, membership increased to over 400 people.

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church is one of the oldest churches in Huntsville, Texas. Throughout its long history, St. Stephen's has endured many hardships. However, the church has maintained an active presence in the community, and demonstrated a fortitude to overcome adversity.

Images

Audio

Cheryl Spencer: St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
Cheryl Spencer. "Early Churches of Walker County". Musings from Sam Houston's Stomping Ground. 08/15/2008.
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