St. Stephen and St. Martin’s Episcopal Church is a vibrant Parish of diverse seekers who through our baptismal vows respect the dignity and humanity of each person. Through prayer, study and evangelism, our Parish is a dynamic place of worship for committed souls/faithful stewards who foster community partnerships, growth and development.
The church of St. Stephen begun as an offshoot of St. Andrew’s parish on August 5 1857. In 1868, it became a mission under the Reverend Abram Kirk Littlejohn. The original church was located in a store front room on Fulton Street and Reid Avenue (Malcolm X Blvd). The congregation later moved to an unoccupied house (Dr. Jerome walker’s house) on Gates Avenue near Patchen Ave, where the church school was organized. On September 30th 1868, St. Stephen’s was incorporated into the diocese of New York. The present building located on Jefferson and Patchen Avenue was formally opened on Sunday Feb 14th 1869.
By World War II, circa 1940, the community began to change and fewer people worshipped at St. Stephens’s church. With the arrival of new ethnic groups, the congregation began to dwindle as they moved out of the community; the vestry and St. Stephen did not close its doors to the community. The parish Group kept the property in good condition repaired and improved the exterior and interior of the building and also raised funds through various affairs. The vestry realized that the parish could not continue without the full pastoral care of a priest. The vestry met with the archdeacon of Brooklyn to secure a priest -in-charge. On November 1, 1949, Bishop Dewolfe appointed Reverend Norman Reid as the priest-in-charge. He served as rector until 1954.
St. Martin’s chapel was started on Easter day April 1, 1934 in a community center in Bedford Stuyvesant under the leadership of reverend Egbert A. Craig. The headquarters for the St. Martin’s chapel was the colonial mansion located at 118 Lefferts place. On December 15, 1934, Reverend Craig and his growing congregation leased and; later purchased a brownstone building at 541 Franklin Avenue. This became the new home for St. Martin’s chapel. St. Martin’s chapel continued to flourish and quickly outgrew the Franklin Avenue building. St. Martin’s chapel had a seating capacity of 72 but had a congregation of 250. On special holy days, including weddings, they had to rent outside facilities to take care of the large number of worshippers. It became evident that Reverend Craig and his parishioners had to find another church home.
Reverend Craig died in 1951 and a young black priest, Reverend Herman E. Blackman, took over St. Martin’s Chapel. In 1954, the diocese offered the poorly attended St. Stephen’s Church as a new home. The building at 541 Franklin Avenue became the rectory for the combined churches.
St. Martin’s chapel merged with St. Stephen Church on November 14, 1954. The Reverend Herman E. Blackman was appointed the rector of the newly merged church. Members from both congregations settled into making the building at 809 Jefferson Avenue their place of worship. Under the leadership of Reverend Blackman, the church continued to grow and fill the spiritual needs of the surrounding community. Many of the congregant’s heritages were Caribbean – American.
During Reverend Blackman’s tenure, the congregation grew to 312. Many additions were added to the physical structure such as windows removed and replaced with cathedral glass, new choir robing, new lights, new floor in the parish hall and installation of a new organ.
Rev Blackman served for 24yrs until he retired on Jan 1, 1978. He was replaced by the Rev Clarence H. Powers on February 1. 1981. Under Reverend Powers’ leadership, the church continued to grow and attracted new congregants /many Structural and cosmetic changes were implemented in the church during his tenure. When Rev. Powers left on January 24, 1987, he was succeeded by the Reverend Barclay L. Stoute on November 1 1988. The church continued to grow and began to undertake a tremendous task of building a new church building in the spacious churchyard. On December 1, 2007, the rev Audley Donaldson was appointed as Priest-in-Charge. In the short time that Reverend Donaldson has taken leadership, we have experienced new energy, enthusiasm and commitment to our faith and ministry of stewardship and evangelism.
St. Stephen and St. Martin’s church continues to thrive today as a small but warm parish, where all are welcome. It is a resilient church and has seen and withstood many changes during its 140 years of combined history. The fact that it still remains a vibrant place of fellowship and worship is testimony to God’s abundant grace and benevolence. We Thank God for giving us this place of worship which exemplifies, “The legacy of Yesterday and the Ministry of Tomorrow.”
History complied by: Violet Allen, Nia Grinage, Penny Grinage, Joni Manning, Nathaniel Manning and Claudine Murphy