A Letter of Reminiscence from Marilou Benz Harrison, a former parishioner

St. Stephen's recently received a donation toward the refurbished organ, along with a letter of reminiscence, from Marilou Benz Harrison, a former parishioner. We thought the parish would enjoy it, so with Marilou's permission we are sharing the letter:

 

St. Stephen's has loomed large in my life for as long as I can remember. My family started going there during WWII as it was geographically "the closest non Catholic church" during gas rationing. Neither of my parents had been raised Episcopalian - instead a Congregationalist and a Lutheran. But they grew up in the NW and here they were living in a small town in the east. Certainly they became lifelong, loyal and very active members of the congregation. I will remember Sunday School, Confirmation and singing in the choir along with my father (Luke Benz) and stepmother (Pauline Murrah Benz). Mom always taught Sunday School taking on the Middle School age classes - the ones no one else wanted to teach. Our family activities revolved around the church, especially on holidays.

When we first started attending St. Stephen's, the church had a small pump organ. Then right around 1940 there was a big sale (auction?) to raise money for an electric organ. My mother (Margaret Benz) walked the 4+ miles from our house to the sale location leading our burro, Bonita. She was sold as part of the effort to raise funds for that organ.   I think it was Aunt Margery Curry who said she could hear Bonita braying when bass notes were played on that organ. One of my father's brothers was an accomplished musician and played a large church organ in Yakima, Washington. I think Dad envied his brother's skills and the instrument on which he played. By the way, that original pump organ still exists. Dad acquired and rebuilt it. The bellows had been destroyed by mice feeding on the rice used at weddings over the years that had found its way inside the organ. For many years it was in our living room where Dad played it. Now it's a my brother Mark Benz's farm in Vermont. With the assistance of at least one grandson, he rebuilt it again and it is still played.

 

In 1960 Lee and I were married at St. Stephen's. In 1967 my mother's memorial service was there. My Dad's was there in 1976 and four years later Pi's was too. Dad and Pi sang in the choir. The cut through the wall between the choir loft and the altar was originally called "Luke's Lookout ". He was active in making that happen as for years he had been frustrated at not being able to see what was happening on the main stage. For many years he served on the Vestry, most of them as Treasurer. Pi and Dave gave the funds to build the columbarium behind the church as a Memorial to their parents. Even though we live in Denver, Colorado, all three of our children were baptized at St. Stephen's. My older daughter was married there. Certainly St. Stephen's has historically had and continues to have great meaning to me.

May this new organ ring out the sounds of praise and thanksgiving for many years to come!

Welcome to our Summer Intern

St. Stephen's is welcoming a summer intern, Ella Skaggs, who will work at Treasures Thrift Shop and in the Parish Office.  She will also be interning for the North Castle Historical Society, helping out with general tasks and with the docent program at their Smith's Tavern complex. When you see her at Sunday worship, please introduce yourself.

"My name is Ella Skaggs and I am 15. I live in Missouri. I love to swim, play my violin, cook and play piano. I have swum for 6 years competitively for a local club. I have played violin for 5 years and I have played piano since I was six. I go to North Kansas City High School and am the fourth generation that has gone there. I am in speech and debate at school. At church (First Baptist Church of North Kansas City) I work with our kids program. This August I will be teaching bible drills at my church to the younger kids. I really love watching the younger kids build that relationship with God and I want to help them build a spiritual bond. I love spending time with my family and friends. I really enjoy going to my grandparents' house and playing cards (I could beat anyone in a game of royal rummy)."

The Lowdown on the Hoedown

A Message from Meg Gregg, Chair of the 175th Anniversary Committee: A big congratulations to Paul Lashmet on organizing the successful Square Dance at the Quaker Meeting House!  Paul contacted and made arrangements for the caller, for the delicious barbecue dinner and for the shuttle service. He even bought the wine! Ed Woodyard was also central to pulling of this wonderful event.

photos by Steve Hillebrand

The  exhibit at Smith Tavern about the history of St. Stephen's is really very special, and parishioners should be sure to view it. The Tavern is open Wednesday and Sunday from 2 to 4pm.

Daniel's Story

Claire Turner writes: Our very reticent son has finally put pen to paper about his cancer journey (for a school assignment we almost didn't see).  What he says below applies very much to the "community of St Stephen's" as well as the "community of Somers". This letter also coincides with our participation with the Relay for Life!  

The Turner family will be participating for the fourth year, as team Daniel Strong, in the Somers Relay for Life event on June 16th, 2017 in support of the American Cancer Society.  

We would love to have you join us to walk some laps any time from 7pm until 6am.   Please go to this link where you can read Dan's story and sign up to join the team or make a donation.

'Together' by Dan Turner

 No one wants to get cancer. It's a tough thing to deal with, especially alone.

On September 1st, 2013, I was diagnosed with Leukemia. It was a shock to me, a shock to my family, a shock to my community. I was in England on vacation at the time when I got sick, so I had to have treatment there for 6 weeks before I could fly home. It was scary. The place was unknown to me, and I had to take all sorts of medicines that began to take a toll on me.

There would be times when I wished I could just go home. To see my friends, my cats, to just sleep in my own bed for a night. But I was stuck there until it was safe for me to fly home.

My mom shared that I was diagnosed with cancer on Facebook, so everyone knew why I wasn't going to be home for a while, and know how I was doing. Shortly after, I began getting letters, messages, gifts, and food from people in Somers, the town I live in (They sent food because I was taking a drug that made me extremely hungry. I would eat pretty much everything in sight.) but most importantly, they sent hope, happiness, care, and love. They would wish for me to get better quickly in their letters, send me gifts to cheer me up. I got letters from school. I got letters from my baseball team. I got letters from my church. I even got letters from people I didn't know, but had heard my story. Even though I was thousands of miles away from Somers, they all seemed to be backing me up.

They kept me going. I could've been sad, mad, wondering why this had to happen to me. But I didn't. I stayed happy, positive, because everyone was there to cheer me up (even though they weren't actually there). It happened to me for a reason. God knew I was strong enough, and knew that I was definitely strong enough with the power of my community to help me through.

People would pray that I would stay positive and happy, and that I would get to go back home soon.

After the six weeks, I got to fly back home, where I would continue my treatment. I missed everyone so much, especially my friends. Everyone missed me, too. When I finally got home, I had posters on my doorstep, from my neighbors, and my friends. Every night a different family would bring my family dinner.

I was elated to be home, to see my cats, to sleep in my bed. But most importantly, my friends, and the whole community of Somers. I wasn't alone. During the whole journey, they were there for me.

Now, four years later, and 6 months done with treatment, I can easily say that I believe people in my community will always be there to help me.

St. Stephen's part of Landmark Conservancy Sacred Sites open house

On May 20th and 21st, St. Stephen’s, the church that founded the hamlet of Armonk in 1842, will participate in The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Sacred Sites Open House weekend. Our church will be open for tours on Saturday, May 20th from 10am – 3pm and on Sunday, May 21st from 12 noon – 3pm. There will also be demonstrations of our new organ, installed just this month, on the hour.

Prior to 1842, many Christians in the Episcopal tradition in North Castle had to travel to Mount Kisco or Bedford for services, and wanted their own place of worship. A farmer in the Mile Square area of North Castle, Elisha Sutton, donated a quarter-acre to allow the building of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, which was founded through the leadership of the Reverend Robert Harris of Grace Church, White Plains. In around 1850, when Elisha Sutton died, St. Stephen’s acquired the other fourteen acres of his farm (largely occupying what is now Armonk Square) and parceled it into lots for sale. Thus they created the first subdivision in the area, effectively establishing modern-day Armonk.

The church was built in the Greek Revival style popular at the time, and then enlarged in 1889, with the addition being in the Neo-Gothic style. Stained glass windows were added throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, including two as a memorial to John Wesley, who died in 1861 aged 22, and who was the son of the co-founder of the New York Times.

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church is at the heart of the Bedford Road Historic District, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. We will be one of dozens of religious institutions throughout New York State participating in the Open House weekend May 20th and 21st.

Since 1986 The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Sacred Sites program has supported more than 750 religious institutions throughout the state which have received over $9.3 million in matching grants. Sacred Sites is the country’s oldest and largest statewide grant program to help landmark religious properties. In recent years, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church received a grant from the Sacred Sites program to renovate the impressive Doric columns on our recessed portico.

For additional information on the Sacred Sites Open House Weekend, contact the New York Landmarks Conservancy at 212-995-5260 or sacredsites@nylandmarks.org

"An Evening with Dave Barry" was a great success!

What a wonderful evening it was, when Dave Barry returned to Armonk, and gave a talk in the North Castle Library's auditorium after a reception in the Magazine Room. The event was sponsored by St. Stephen's and provided a very entertaining chance to hear about Armonk of old from a hometown boy who's gone on to great success as a humorist, including winning a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. Dave's childhood friend Barbara DiGiacinto gave a wonderful introduction, describing the bucolic Armonk of the 1950s and 60s, a small town with rural character and stores run by local proprietors. Dave Barry was a witty raconteur and a very friendly and approachable guest. Many old time Armonk residents came, bringing memories and in one case,an old yearbook. He even let a skeptic check whether his full head of hair was genuine. Dave's talk in Whippoorwill Hall painted a vivid and very funny picture of our town in another era. He also gave insight into why Miami is a gold mine for a humorist. The sellout crowd in the hall was enveloped in a warm feeling of nostalgia, and appreciation for old Armonk. This event wouldn't have happened without the generous assistance of Barbara DiGiacinto, the inspiration of Ed Woodyard, the lavish donations of flowers and catering from local businesses, the work of St. Stephen's 175th Anniversary Committee, headed by Meg Gregg, and leadership from Laura Desmarais, Lena Cavanna, Pamela Sellers, Paul Lashmet and of course Father Nils. Thanks to everyone who contributed and above all, thank you to Dave Barry for his generosity.  

What a wonderful evening it was, when Dave Barry returned to Armonk, and gave a talk in the North Castle Library's auditorium after a reception in the Magazine Room. The event was sponsored by St. Stephen's and provided a very entertaining chance to hear about Armonk of old from a hometown boy who's gone on to great success as a humorist, including winning a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

Dave's childhood friend Barbara DiGiacinto gave a wonderful introduction, describing the bucolic Armonk of the 1950s and 60s, a small town with rural character and stores run by local proprietors.


Dave Barry was a witty raconteur and a very friendly and approachable guest. Many old time Armonk residents came, bringing memories and in one case,an old yearbook. He even let a skeptic check whether his full head of hair was genuine. Dave's talk in Whippoorwill Hall painted a vivid and very funny picture of our town in another era. He also gave insight into why Miami is a gold mine for a humorist. The sellout crowd in the hall was enveloped in a warm feeling of nostalgia, and appreciation for old Armonk.

This event wouldn't have happened without the generous assistance of Barbara DiGiacinto, the inspiration of Ed Woodyard, the lavish donations of flowers and catering from local businesses, the work of St. Stephen's 175th Anniversary Committee, headed by Meg Gregg, and leadership from Laura Desmarais, Lena Cavanna, Pamela Sellers, Paul Lashmet and of course Father Nils. Thanks to everyone who contributed and above all, thank you to Dave Barry for his generosity.

 

Cub Scouts "Blue and Gold Dinner"

The Cub Scout award ceremony known as the Blue and Gold Dinner was held in April.  The Webelos (the oldest Cub Scouts -- 5th graders) "crossed over" to become Boy Scouts. The Boy Scout troop received three new boys this year.

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The Weblos literally cross over a bridge and are greeted by the senior Boy Scouts in leadership positions. They receive a Boy Scout Handbook to take with them over the bridge. It is like a "bible" to a scout, providing guidance and serving as a record for all his scouting career.

When the former Webelos are greeted on the other side by the troop they are given a Troop 94 neckerchief. 

Father Nils and Don Gregg handed out other Cub Scout awards earned over the course of the year.

Christmas Cookie Baking

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Our annual Christmas cookie bake-a-thon took place in early December, with many children from the parish taking part. They joined together to bake a variety of cookies, in addition to decorating two gingerbread houses. The cookies were presented to the parish after our Christmas Pageant. Thank you to our many industrious bakers!

Veterans Day dedication of two Civil War soldiers' new markers

On Veterans Day, two new grave markers were dedicated to two Civil War veterans resting in St. Stephen's cemetery.. The markers were granted by the Veterans Administration thanks to the dedication and research of George Pouder. Below are their eulogies, which were researched and delivered by George Pouder at the gravesides.

Eulogy for Albert Ransom

Albert Ransom was 19 when he enlisted, and had already fought along with his 120th Infantry at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg before he was captured at the Battle of The Wilderness.

He was held in an open field, the notorious cattle pen of Andersonville, Georgia. No buildings sheltered the captured Union soldiers in Andersonville, the water was polluted, the rations were meager and contaminated and their Confederate guards were trigger happy. The camp was planned to hold 10,000 prisoners, held 31,000 and eventually was overflowing with 45,000 . 13,000 Union prisoners died of starvation, exposure, infections of their wounds, dysentery, and lack of medical care.

Civil war soldiers (as well as some soldiers in other wars) frequently carried pocket editions of the Bible. The book was usually placed in the jacket pocket over the heart to protect it from bullets or shrapnel. Museums often display soldiers’ Bibles that had effectively stopped a bullet and saved a life.

I like to think that Albert was comforted by reading the psalms during his captivity. A line in Psalm 79 might have been his favorite.......
"let the sighing of the prisoners come before you and preserve those appointed to die”.

Yes, the sorrowful sighing of the prisoners. Ransom survived seven months imprisonment and then spent another seven months recuperating in a Philadelphia army hospital. He had persevered, but came home so tormented by his experience that he was unable to recall his time in Andersonville, or the regiment in which he had served.

Today we would call it PTSD.

He slept in obscurity in this unmarked grave for 110 years before he received the gravestone that he earned so dearly and we now see. Father Nils found an old cemetery map that showed the Ransom plot. Documenting his eligibility for a V.A. gravestone revealed many new facts about his life. They clearly portray a captive who suffered more than any other soldier in this cemetery. Without doubt, he is one of the most heroic of the Civil War veterans buried here.

Today we dedicate the army’s gravestone, a tribute to Corporal Albert Ransom, recognized at last. He takes his place, front and center, along with our 23 North Castle Civil War soldiers at peaceful rest in their churchyard bivouac.

Euology for William Freeland

Private William Freeland, farmer, came from a patriotic family. His older brother, John, answered President Lincoln’s appeal for volunteers in 1862. When his term expired in 1864 John reenlisted in his 5th New York Heavy Artillery.  William, 22, then decided to sign up to serve alongside his brother.

Their widowed mother, Maria, had depended on Billy’s help on the farm; now she would be left alone to raise her two young daughters, Sarah and Anne.

The soldiers have no relatives that could be located, so the U.S. Army honor guard presented the flag to George Pouder, who gave it to the St. Stephen's.

The soldiers have no relatives that could be located, so the U.S. Army honor guard presented the flag to George Pouder, who gave it to the St. Stephen's.

John survived the war but William died of typhoid in Harpers Ferry just seven months later. The army sent his body back to Armonk and Maria buried him here next to his father on November 4, 1864. She was given his only possessions, a small note book, a greenback dollar and the Bible he had carried in his pocket. Maria bought a gravestone for him and requested that it be engraved with two crossed cannon to proudly commemorate his service in the artillery. We have preserved his mother’s tribute to her son at the foot of his 2016 replacement.
It is comforting to know that after Billy died Maria was awarded a U.S. government mother’s pension that she received until her death in 1891.

At some unknown date Billy’s gravestone toppled forward and lay face down. After his mom died people soon forgot that a Civil War soldier was buried here. Bill seldom got his flag on Memorial Day.

Father Nils submitted the documentation and applied for a veteran’s gravestone for Freeland. The VA rejected the request because “the veteran already had a stone,” even though it was face down, had broken and could not be read. The application was resubmitted along with more data and the additional photos that persuaded the VA to approve the stone you see before you. It will be dedicated today.

Finally, here is closure for an American family’s tragedy. It is exactly 152 years ago this week since Billy came back home to North Castle to rest .

His artillery comrades Privates Ferris, Raymond, Riley, Mathers and two Stilsons surround him and share their last encampment.

Cemetery Tour a success!

Our first ever Cemetery Tour was a great success. Local actors played the parts of people who rest in the cemetery, and the various characters gave an overview of the history of the town and the people who've lived here. Kudos to all who joined in this effort, with special thanks to George Pouder, who did so much research into the history, and Pamela Sellers, who spearheaded the event.

A pastoral message about the election from Father Nils

Although I am a US resident, I am not a citizen, so I wasn't able to vote yesterday. If I'd had a vote I would have had no difficulty whatsoever in deciding how to use it. 

That having been said, I am a parish priest and I believe that it is important that I recognize that in our congregation and our community are people who voted for Donald Trump or for Hillary Clinton or for neither and did so motivated by the best of intentions for the common good of our country and world and who wish to see justice and righteousness prevail and people flourish. It is my earnest hope and prayer that, whether in victory or in defeat, you will be magnanimous, gracious and kind to your fellow human beings, many of whom may feel uncertain about what happens next.

And what does happen next? We have to ask this question because, whichever candidate we voted for, this election campaign and its outcome are - and have been throughout -  very far removed from normality. Uncertainty is the new certainty, and that is unsettling for everyone, of whatever political stripes.

At a time like this, more than ever, the Church needs to be true to the essence of its calling, and to recognize that every single person on earth - including all those for whom we may have the lowest regard - is made in the very image and likeness of God and is infinitely precious to him. 

Jesus Christ - the embodiment of the Word of God - is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow and for ever. Whatever happens, that is one thing that will never, ever change - no matter what.

So what happens next? We carry on being Christians. We carry on living the Way of Christ, which means that we love God, we love our neighbor as ourselves, which means that we forgive seventy times seven (a metaphor for infinity), that we remember that only the one without sin may cast the first stone, that we do not repay evil with evil, that we feed the hungry, that we care for the sick, that we clothe the naked, that we house the homeless, that we welcome the stranger in our land, that we do not judge others, that we visit those in prison and that we love others in the same way that God loves us - without condition, reservation or partiality.

In the words of Mother Julian of Norwich, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well".

Historic Cemetery Tour Saturday, November 5 at 4pm

The historic research has been done, the scripts are written and the actors are ready.  St. Stephen's is holding our first ever cemetery tour on Saturday, November 5 at 4pm. You will hear the stories of characters whose lives encompass the history of Armonk and St. Stephen's. Don't miss the excursion into our town's past!

Tickets can be purchased at the door, or on the home page of our web site.

Father Nils will speak on "The Evolution of Sacred Music" at St. Mary's

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On Sunday, October 23 at 5:30pm, Father Nils will speak on The Evolution of Sacred Music at St. Mary's Church . St. Mary's, built by farmers in the nineteenth century, is located at 197 Hickory Kingdom Road at the intersection with Middle Patent Road in Bedford

Nils' talk will show how music in the Christian Church has come a long way in two thousand years. After centuries of monophony (one line of music), there was a huge explosion of development about a thousand years ago, leading to the emergence of polyphony (several lines of music sung simultaneously). The evolution of church music hasn't stopped since. Music is perhaps the greatest of universal languages and has the capacity to bring people very close to God's presence. Indeed, St. Augustine famously said that 'he who sings, prays twice.' Nils' talk will be a whistle-stop tour of the development of church music, with illustrations from recorded music. All are welcome.
 

By County Proclamation, October 9, 2016 is St. Stephen's Episcopal Church Recognition Day

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"Formed in 1842 when a local farmer donated a quarter acre of land to build the church, St. Stephen's Episcopal Church has served the body of Christ and the community of Armonk for one hundred and seventy-five years...

 

"Upon the renovation of the interior of the sanctuary and gathering with the faithful to celebrate their 175th anniversary, Rev. Nils Chittenden and all the congregants of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church are truly deserving of our reverence and appreciation for carrying out their noble mission of serving God and the community."