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About St. Stephen's
As one drives North on Highway 29 through the heart of Napa Valley, one can see through the trees and above the grapevines, the little white clapboard church that is the home of St. Stephen’s parish. It sits about one-tenth of a mile West of the highway on Oakville Grade. And it has been there, in peaceful tranquility, since about 1914 when it was built in a vineyard on land made available by Mr. and Mrs. Churchill who lived in Napa.
The first congregants were local residents who were organized in 1904 into the interdenominational “Napa Valley Christian Union Church” and who had been meeting in the Oakville school house. When the land was provided for a proper church building, materials were donated and the church members provided the labor.
The one room church had such modern appointments as a wood-burning stove and kerosene lanterns and a privy out back. There were benches which had come from the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco and there was a hitching post in front of the church.
Beginning in the 1920’s Presbyterian clergy and seminary students served the congregation and, eventually, the Oakville Union Church adopted Presbyterian bylaws and constitution.
For many years the church continued to serve the farmers, the laborers and their families who lived in the valley. Eventually though, as small farms declined and children grew up and moved away, attendance waned until there were few worshipers and almost no children. One faithful parishioner, Arthur Schmidt, whose father had helped build the church, stayed on, unlocked the doors and rang the bell on Sunday mornings.
When, in the late 1970’s a group of worshipers called upon Bishop Robert S. Morse of the Anglican Province of Christ the King to establish a traditional Episcopal parish in the valley, he and a group of lay leaders were able to work out an agreement with Mr. Schmidt to make the Oakville Union Church available and so St. Stephen’s was born. By this time, though, the vineyards had been sold to the Mondavi family and so negotiations again had to be conducted in order to convey the bit of land on which the church stands.
As the church was restored and refurbished, the congregation grew and Mr. Schmidt continued to participate in the services and rang the bell to summon worshipers on Sunday mornings until his death in 1998.
The only structural change occurred in 2001 when an all purpose room was added to the back of the church. It serves as a sacristy, Sunday school room, kitchen and gathering room. When the Sunday school outgrew this new room, another building was built adjacent to the church. The building is a small scale model of the old church with clapboard siding and cupola. It was completed and dedicated in 2005. All of these changes were accomplished with generous donations of both money and labor.
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