St. Stephen's story began when an initial meeting for interested parties was held on November 17, 1982, at the Athens Federal Savings & Loan building on the eastside of Athens. At that meeting, Fr. Robin Connors represented Bishop Knutti of the Anglican Catholic Church, and the people attending the meeting used the time to draft a letter of intent asking the diocese to establish a congregation in Athens. That very night, the group agreed that the new mission church would be named “Saint Stephen’s".
St. Stephen’s conducted its first service in the community room of the Beechwood Branch of Athens Federal Savings & Loan (later Athens First Bank & Trust) on Advent Sunday, Nov. 28, 1982. Thereafter services were held every Sunday. An interim vestry was soon elected to lead parish formation. Father Mark Haverland came down from Duke University for the second Sunday and thereafter returned every other weekend. On February 7, 1983, he accepted the Vestry’s call to become first rector of the new parish. He moved to Athens in May after completing coursework for his Ph.D. in religion.
After six months, Saint Stephen’s moved to the chapel of Bernstein’s Funeral Home, where we worshipped from June 1983 until the spring of 1987. This parish remains forever grateful to the kindness of Bernstein’s, which would never accept any rent or payment.
In 1983 we bought slightly over four acres at Timothy and Rambling Roads from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta. The property was first used for public worship on December 28, 1983, when Father Haverland and twelve parishioners said Evening Prayer on the undeveloped grounds. The parish by consensus selected a “carpenter Gothic” design for the building with the board-and-batten construction so prevalent among traditional rural Southern churches. Ground was broken and the land was blessed on April 12, 1986.
The cornerstone laying ceremony was held on September 22, 1986, with Archbishop Louis Falk presiding, assisted by Bishop William O. Lewis and Father Haverland. The cornerstone included a Bible, Prayer Book, newspapers, and coins from the year, along with parish documents. The Bible placed in the cornerstone was carried by John McNally in many battles throughout the South Pacific during World War II.
The first Sunday service was held in the new church building on March 22, 1987. The flooring was not complete and many of the windows were covered in plastic but we finally had our own church! Nancy Wilds of Aiken, SC, designed the windows. They were assembled by women of the church.
In May 1987 Bishop Lewis and his wife, Elsie, moved to Athens to begin his tenure as the ACC Bishop of the South thus making St. Stephen’s the pro-cathedral of the diocese.
Father Haverland was consecrated as Bishop of the South on January 31, 1998, in Athens. Later, in October 2005, Bishop Haverland was elected Metropolitan Archbishop of the ACC's Original Province. Archbishop Haverland resides in Athens and has his office at Saint Stephen's which continues to be the pro-cathedral of the diocese.
Today, St. Stephen’s continues to grow and thrive under the leadership of its rector, Fr. Nick Athanaelos, who returned to Athens in 2010. Together, we pray that we will keep the “faith once delivered to the saints” and the Anglican tradition of worship here in the Athens area for generations to come.