St. Stephen’s History and Buildings
Members of the Episcopal Church have held regular worship services in Sunflower County since 1877 when St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was founded in Johnsonville and later moved to Baird, Mississippi.
The property to build St. Stephen’s Mission in Indianola was given by Joseph Holmes Baker, and the deed was recorded on June 30, 1904. The congregation was admitted to the Diocese of Mississippi on November 29, 1904. The first service held in the newly erected St. Stephen’s Church was Easter Sunday, April 11, 1909. Prior to that time, services were held at First Methodist Church. Visiting priests conducted these services. John deDonahoo became the first resident priest in 1912, and St. Stephen’s became a parish in 1921.
Pews, a lectern, and a baptismal font now being used at St. Stephen’s were gifts from a small Episcopal church in Baird that was no longer having services.
In 1916, the present Pilcher pipe organ, the first organ in Sunflower County, was given to St. Stephen’s in memory of Virginia Brown Baker. This organ was completely renovated in 1993 after seventy-seven years of excellent service. This renovation was dedicated to the memory of Virginia Early Van Cleve, a long time communicant.
The church building was remodeled in 1951-1952, and at this time three memorial windows were installed over the altar. The building contained a sacristy, vesting room, and restroom. During the next few years, more memorial windows were installed in the nave and the vestibule of the church. Further renovations to the church in 1980 included vaulting the ceiling and moving a wall to accommodate pews for thirty more seats. This gave the church square footage of 2,300 and a seating capacity of approximately 130. The altar was made a free-standing structure. Also at this time the sacristy was moved, new carpet was added, and additional memorial windows were added. Parishioners made needlepoint cushions for the altar railing after the renovation.
In 2007, the sacristy was renovated. The former room was gutted and made new with fresh paint, floors, sinks, and cabinets.
In 1983, the bell was taken from the church belfry and placed in an attractive structure on the church grounds. The bell is rung by an acolyte before our Sunday worship.
The Parish House was built in 1955 and renovated in 1986 with the addition of a large kitchen. It has a large reception room, two restrooms, and two large storage rooms. This building is used for most parish events and meetings, study groups, birthday parties, the weekly bridge club, and other community activities.
The Early Building
The Early Building, consecrated on November 7, 1986, houses the priest’s office and parish office, vestry room, library, parlor, nursery, five Sunday school rooms, and three restrooms. There are approximately 3,000 square feet in this structure. The Early Building was named after life-long St. Stephen’s communicant, William Richards Early. Eight stained glass windows adorn this structure.
An extremely successful project of St. Stephen’s in 1970 was the publication of Bayou Cuisine, a nationally-known regional cookbook. Scores of communicants served on cookbook committees for many years writing, editing, marketing, and delivering the books to retail stores and individuals throughout the country.
There were 6 printings of Bayou Cuisine between 1970-1979, and approximately 100,000 copies were sold. Although Bayou Cuisine has been out of print for a while, the church office still receives requests for this popular book. Funds from the book were used to make many renovations throughout the church and fund outreach projects.
In 1997, the Best of Bayou Cuisine was published, featuring the best recipes from the previous book and additional recipes from new parishioners. This publication sold out as well and the church elected not to do a second publishing.
St. Stephen’s has a long and revered history in the community. That fact was reestablished on November 7, 2004, at the church’s 100th anniversary celebration (1904-2004). The parish celebrated with a dinner at the local country club. A highlight of the evening was the viewing of a long-awaited DVD that had been made by local parishioners using pictures and videos from many previous years.
The Bishop of Mississippi, The Right Reverend Duncan M. Gray, III, presided over the Sunday service followed by a brunch in the Parish House. Families, friends, and former rectors of St. Stephen’s thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. To remember this weekend, parishioners and visitors were given magnets with a miniature pen and ink drawing of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church done by a former rector, the late Murray Lancaster. Church members also sold prints of St. Stephen’s painted by church communicant Laurie Fisher.
In our history, we have had a total of 20 rectors. Our current rector is the Reverend Giulianna Cappelletti Gray, who was installed in the Spring of 2014. Together with our current priest, the whole community of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church is striving to carry our strong legacy of faithful service and worship in the name of Jesus Christ in our own day.