December 2017


Advent will begin on Sunday, Dec. 3rd.  It is a time to prepare for Christ's birth as well as for His second coming to judge the world.  It is a time of watching and waiting and great expectation.  Purple, the color of thoughtfulness and penitence, is the color of the season.  The Greek letters Alpha (the first of the alphabet) and Omega (the last letter) combine to make the symbol for this season of the year signifying that God is Eternal -- the beginning and the end.  Come and worship during Advent in joyful anticipation of the birth of our Lord.

Dear Friends,

In the closing scene of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", Scrooge buys and sends to Bob Cratchit's house, the largest turkey he has found in London.  When it arrives with a card to dispel doubts about the bird belonging there, the question is raised James‑‑ "Who on earth could have sent that turkey?"  Tiny Tim guesses that it came from Mr. Scrooge. Everyone's surprised.  Then Mrs. Cratchit asks, "What could have made Mr. Scrooge lose his senses enough to send this turkey?"  And Tiny Tim replies, simply, "Christmas."

We will readily admit that Christmas makes us do strange things ‑ even to the point of "losing our senses".  I have friends who certainly do not believe in the Virgin Birth, the divinity of Christ, the angel or the multitude of the heavenly host.  And yet, they and countless other agnostics, and even atheists, celebrate Christmas with great joy and contentment.  What is it about this Christian feast that causes even those who are not Christians to celebrate?  Why does this holy season have so great an influence upon us all?

No doubt, millions of people do not know why they feel happier when the melody of "Silent Night" rises in the frosty air.  Millions of people accept the spirit of the season without questioning the source.  Yet there may be, deep down, a feeling that this is the most real occasion in life ‑‑ not only life as it ought to be, but life as it is.

The Christmas story is about how the supreme Spirit, that surges through the whole creation, from a blade of grass to the vast mystery of the Milky Way, this Spirit whom we call God, has found an instrument, God's own son, suitable to express God’s purpose for us.  Now, that makes things easier, not in removing problems and difficulties, but in giving us an assurance that we are not here by accident, with no purpose, but that we are children of the Creator God.  If this is true, then we do not say at Christmas, 'Look how high we reach up toward God.' but, 'Look how far God has reached down to us.'  It is not simply that this is the kind of thing that ought to happen, but that this is the kind of thing that did happen.

All of us traveling through this life can cheer ourselves up quite a bit by the sound of our own voice.  But when we are truly alone and truly lost, we would like to hear a word of greeting and good cheer from someone else, not alone, not lost ‑‑ someone who knows the purpose and the end of the journey.  This person is Jesus who comes to us at Christmas, so that we might never be alone or lost. 

What is it about Christmas?   The extraordinary is happening ‑‑ God is made flesh and sinful humanity is redeemed.

Have a blessed Advent and a holy Christmas season,


Christmas Services

Sunday, December 24th:
9:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist

Sunday, December 24th:
4:00 p.m.  Family Eucharist
7:30 p.m.  Festive Candlelight Eucharist

Monday, December 25th:
9:00 Morning Prayer
10:00 a.m.  Eucharist

Sunday, December 31st
7:30 a.m. Morning Prayer
8:00 a.m. Eucharist
10:15 a.m. Eucharist

Sunday, January 7th
7:30 a.m. Morning Prayer
8:00 a.m. Eucharist
10:15 a.m. Eucharist


Cleaning and Greening of the Church

Help prepare the church for Christmas. On Sunday morning, December 17th, beginning after you get your coffee at 11:30, we will meet in the Church to hang the greens, and generally prepare the church for our celebration of Christ's birth.

Advent Quiet Morning, Saturday, December 2, 10 am – 12:30 pm. “Preparing our hearts for the birth of Jesus” This morning retreat will have meditative prayers and readings interspersed with solitude. It’s designed to quiet our minds, engage our imaginations and rest in the presence of God. Quiet day experience is not necessary!   Sign up at church or email Dennie Bennett, Assisting Priest, at

St. Stephen’s
SAT. DEC. 9TH at 6:00 PM
Kingsway Arms Nursing Center
323 Kings Road, Schenectady 12304
Carol sheets/booklets provided

Please sign up in the nave extension.  If you need a ride, contact Richey Woodzellcaroling

Outreach Committee

Hello! With the holiday season here the Outreach Committee has designated a couple of organizations to help. Specifically we are asking for new hats and gloves that will be delivered to the Oneida school in the beginning of January for the children who come to school with none. At that time we will also bring the school supplies that the parish so graciously donated in the fall.

We will also begin collecting new and/or gently used books to donate to SICM. They are given to children during the year and specifically during the summer lunch program. 

Also be on the lookout for the coat rack! We are collecting gently used coats- men's, women's and children's - to be donated to those in need. When a woman has served her jail sentence and is released she does not always  have a jacket and so we are excited to be able to help provide these necessary items.

Thank you for everything you do and give! We appreciate all of you! -the outreach committee 

Thank you! 



Sunday, December 10th, is the day to prepare Christmas cards to be delivered to the inmates of the Schenectady County Jail. We will be busy during both coffee hours that day, stamping and bundling the cards so that inmates can send cards to their loved ones. There is plenty of work for all but the tiniest hands. Come and share in this annual project, which is part of our ongoing jail ministry.

Deacon Pat

Adult Education

Wednesday Evening Bible Study:

Shalom: The Biblical Concept of Peace

Peacemaking is a central focus for study, reflection and action in the church today.  This course begins with an in‑depth examination of the Hebrew 'shalom' in the Old Testament and the Greek 'eirene' in the New Testament and then explores the implications of this study for a broad range of contemporary issues.  The aim of the course is to develop a theological understanding of peace that is biblical in its formation and contemporary in its application.

Classes are held on Wednesday evenings in January from 7:30 to 9:00 in the Conference room.  If you would like to attend these classes please email Fr. James

Sunday Morning Forum:

Christianity & Religions of the Worldclass

We continue our comparison of the main religions of the world in an attempt to discern commonalities, general patterns, and associations with cultural and ecological features. This course will help you better understand your neighbors AND strengthen your own faith through viewing well-produced videos and participating in constructive conversation.  The first half of the month will be an examination of Confucianism, the second half of Daoism.

Classes are held on Sunday Mornings from 9-10 in the Conference Room.

Education for Youth

Angels, announce with shouts of mirth 
Christ who brings new life to earth 
Set every peak and valley humming 
With the word, the Lord is coming 
People, look east and sing today 
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

(People Look East vs.4 – text Eleanor Farjeon 1928)

This is one of my favorite Advent hymns because for me it summarizes the reason we spend the four weeks of Advent talking about and making plans for the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child.

In the Holy Spirit Kids’ classroom we are preparing for Christ’s coming by rehearsing our annual pageant. This year we have a simple one-act play that incorporates all the elements of the biblical story and is acted out to narration. In addition to the regular lectionary-based Bible stories that we learn about each week we will spend time rehearsing so that we know exactly what we are doing and how!

The pageant is scheduled for the 3rd Sunday in Advent this year, December 17; the dress rehearsal will be on Saturday, December 16 at 11:00am.  This is the last day that anyone can be added. If your child has not been in class at least one of the preceding Sundays or is not at the rehearsal then they will be unable to participate. The day of the performance we will meet in the classroom at 10:00 to get costumed and line up to process into the church with the choir.

The older students will be acting as stage managers and overall helpers this year instead of doing a separate skit of their own. During Advent the Sunday Friends will study the meaning of Advent.

There is no instruction on December 24 and December 31.

May your Advent and Christmas celebrations be blessed with peace and joy!

Miranda Rand

Episcopal Church Women

The Episcopal Church Women (ECW) met briefly on Saturday, November 18, to make plans for the year.

December  We will make announcements during services about the Advent outreach projects (refer to the Outreach Committee article), and help with sorting and packing items to be delivered to Oneida School. 

We also plan to attend the Rev. Tim Coombs’ one-man presentation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at Trinity Presbyterian Church on Saturday, December 2 at 6 pm.   Several of us saw it last year and are eager for a repeat performance. Contact Carole or Richey if you’d like a ride.


January  We will make sandwiches for the visitors at St. Joseph’s Place on Albany Street.   Watch for the date!

February  We hope to have another study on women in the Bible.

March   During Holy Week, we’ll host the parish Seder dinner on Wednesday, March 28.  Liz Varno, Vicki Hoshko and Carole Merrill-Mazurek have volunteered to be in charge of the meal. 

April   We’ll look forward to our annual and well-attended Ladies’ Luncheon, with Linda Emaelaf making arrangements.

May  As for the past three years, we will again host the one-day reunion for HAWS (Healing a Woman’s Soul) participants, date to be announced.

Carole Merrill-Mazurek and Richey Woodzell.

The Bell Choir breaks out their new chimes!

Nominating Committee Appointed

In an attempt to be as inclusive as possible in nominating parishioners for elective offices, the vestry has appointed the outgoing members of the vestry as a nominating committee.  They are securing the nominations for the five positions vacant for next year. In addition, nominations will continue to be made from the floor of the Annual Meeting of the parish.  The elected offices are:

Three  three-year terms for Vestry
One two-year term for Warden
One one-year term for Warden

In addition, nominations for three delegates to Diocesan Convention in June will be sought.

What is Vestry?

The vestry is a group of eleven lay representatives from the parish who are charged with the temporal affairs of the congregation.  They meet monthly with the rector presiding.  The vestry spends considerable time on income and expenses and upkeep of parish buildings and grounds.  They set the salary scales and are responsible for raising the money to meet expenses.  The vestry also has the important job of finding a new rector whenever a vacancy occurs.  Three representatives are elected at the annual parish meeting for a term of three years.  In addition, a Warden (vestry officer) is elected for a term of two years.

The Advent Wreathwreath

Pre Christian peoples who lived far north and who suffered the archetypal loss of life and light with the disappearance of the sun had a way of wooing back life and hope.

'Primitives' do not separate the natural phenomena from their religious or mystical yearning, so nature and mystery remained combined.  As the days grew shorter and colder and the sun threatened to abandon the earth, these ancient people suffered the sort of guilt and separation anxiety which we also know.

Their solution was to bring all ordinary action and daily routine to a halt.  They gave in to the nature of winter, came away from their carts and fields and put away their tools.  They removed the wheels from their carts and wagons, festooned them with greens and lights and brought them indoors to hang in their halls.

They brought the wheels indoors as a sign of a different time, a time to stop and turn inward.  They engaged the feelings of cold and fear and loss. Slowly....slowly....they wooed the sun  god back.  And light followed darkness. Morning came earlier.  The festivals announced the return of hope after primal darkness.

Christians have developed a tradition of the Advent wreath to help us take time out from our busy Christmas preparations and to open our hearts to Jesus.

The circular form of the wreath, like God's love, is never-ending.  The greenery that covers it reminds us of everlasting life and hope because evergreen trees are green even in the midst of winter.

The candles are symbols of the light God brings us.  Three of them are purple, the royal color for the new King.  The fourth candle is pink and is lit on the Third Sunday of Advent when we celebrate with special joy.  Some people light a white candle, the Christ candle, in the center of the wreath on Christmas day.

A "Simple Family Advent Service" for each Sunday in Advent is available on the welcome table in the nave extension.

Home Blessing Prayer for Lighting a Candle on the Advent Wreath

Lord God,
          You who sent into the world Your Beloved Son 
          as a light that shines in the darkness, 
          invest this wreath, our Advent symbol,
         with the power of Your energy and light.
With each of these candles that is lighted,
          may we rekindle within ourselves the desire
          to prepare a way for the birth of Christ. 
With each new candle that is lighted,
          may the flame of Christ's coming
          grow brighter and brighter
          so that this Christmas may see
          a fresh and ever-green coming of the Lord of Light
          into each of our hearts
          and into our whole world. (candle is lighted)

We pray, then, that the richness of God's blessing 
          rest upon this Advent wreath, 

Gathering Straw

A tradition at Saint Stephen’s is the "Gathering Straws" to soften the waiting manger bed in your household creche.  It is just helpful in reminding children about the season of Advent.  For every good deed a straw is placed in the manger as a graphic sign of growth and preparation for the Christ Child we await.  On Christmas Eve, the little manger, now soft with straw, is brought in procession to the waiting stable where the figure of the Child is placed during the night.

The Advent Calendar

The "Advent Calendar" helps us count days.  "We await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."  This cardboard calendar has a window for each day in Advent and a door for Christmas.  Shutters close over the window and keep secret the picture or message hidden inside.  With the passage of each day an additional window is opened and contents revealed. Each family member can be responsible for a certain window

Hung against a window, the light shines through the picture emphasizing how darkness gives way as time passes.

The Christmas Crèche

The Christmas crèche—also known as a Nativity or manger scene—is more than a decoration. For many, displaying a Christmas crèche is a way to focus on the real meaning of the holiday. The traditional crèche figures are drawn from the accounts of Jesus' birth in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. There are many ways and variations to display a Christmas crèche. Feel free to adapt these basic steps.

First Sunday in Advent:
Set the basic scene. Traditionally, most people begin with the stable, or something which resembles the rough Bethlehem setting of the Nativity. Put shepherds in the fields. Place the figures representing shepherds, their flocks of sheep and their sheepdog near the stable but not yet surrounding the manger. Use a green cloth to represent the fields, or unroll sheets of absorbent cotton to represent snowdrifts—not meteorologically accurate, but traditional.

Second Sunday in Advent:
Add the figures of Mary and Joseph and the ox and donkey who share their shelter. Display the manger, filled with a bit of straw (from the bags of straw) if you like, topped with a star ornament or Christmas light, but don't place the Baby yet.

Third Sunday in Advent:
Launch the Magi on their journey. At a distance from the stable, set the figures representing the Magi—also known as the Wise Men or the Three Kings—along with their camels and retinue of servants. creche

Christmas Eve:
Add the Bambino. On Christmas Eve, place the figure representing the Christ Child in the manger. Top the stable with an angel figure. Bring the shepherds and their animals in around the Holy Family. Display and enjoy your Christmas crèche through January 6. On Christmas Eve, begin moving the Magi figures closer to the stable, advancing them a little each day for the twelve days of Christmas.

By January 6, the traditional Feast of the Epiphany, the Three Kings should be gathered by the manger to offer their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Remember, you don't need to limit yourself to traditional figures. The crèche custom in many countries has grown to include all kinds of people who might have been present in Bethlehem on that first Christmas Eve. In some Nativity scenes, the Christ Child and the manger are one inseparable piece. If you have one of these figures, keep the whole piece out of sight until Christmas Eve.

Explore the crèche tradition in the folk art of many cultures. Francis of Assisi, an Italian saint, invented the crèche tradition in the 13th century, and Italians are still masters of what they call the presepio. Latin American Nativity scenes are fashioned from clay and sometimes set inside carved gourds. In recent decades, Native Americans of the US Southwest have made a specialty of building crèche figures from traditional pottery. Remember, keep Christmas crèche figures, especially fragile heirlooms, out of the reach of pets and unsupervised young children.

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church

Church Staff
The Rev. Dr. James R. McDonald, Rector,  Rev. Dennie Bennett, Assisting Priest,
The Rev. Patricia L. Jones, Deacon,  Miranda Rand, Christian Education Director, 
Susan Lohnas, Organist, Douglas Lohnas, Choir Director, 
Lisa Zebrowski, Nursery Manager; Laura Bynon and Chris Quinn, Nursery School 
Joe and Donna White, Custodians 

The Vestry
Sr. Warden, Jim Syta; Jr. Warden, Claudia Jakubowski
Clerk: to be appointed; Treasurer: Denise Crates

Vestry Class of 2017
Joanne Frank, Peter Nelson, Elissa Prout

Vestry  Class of 2018
Linda Emaelaf, Liz Varno, Mary Alexander

Vestry Class of 2019
Stephanie Grimason, Mary Ann Harrington, Daniel Ruscitto

The Church Office
Our office is located at 1229 Baker Avenue.  The telephone number is (518) 346-6241.
If we are unable to answer your call, please leave a message. We will call you back as soon as possible. 
The Rector's email is: Our website is
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The Messenger is published September - June. Chris Jones is the publisher.