Who was Stephen?
“Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” Acts 6:8
Our church was named for St. Stephen, who is described in Holy Women, Holy Men:
Very probably a Hellenistic Jew, Stephen was one of the “seven men and good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3) who were chosen by the apostles to relieve them of the administrative burden of “serving tables and caring for the widows.” By this appointment to assist the apostles, Stephen, the first named of those the New Testament called “the Seven,” became the first to do what the church traditionally considers to be the work and ministry of a deacon.
It is apparent that Stephen’s activities involved more than simply “serving tables,” for the Acts of the Apostles speaks of his preaching and performing many miracles. These activities led him into conflict with some of the Jews, who accused him of blasphemy, and brought him before the Sanhedrin. His powerful sermon before the Council is recorded in the seventh chapter of Acts. His denunciations of the Sanhedrin so enraged its members that, without a trial, they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death.
Saul, later called Paul, stood by, consenting to Stephen’s death, but Stephen’s example of steadfast faith in Jesus, and of intercession for his persecutors, was to find fruit in the mission and witness of Paul after his conversion. The Christian community in Jerusalem, taking fright at the hostility of the Judean authorities, was scattered; so that for the first time the Gospel of Christ began to spread beyond Jerusalem.
The Seal of St. Stephen’s Church
The seal above the pulpit in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Richmond was developed for the parish by J. Wippell & Co. of Exeter, England, and was dedicated April 30, 1961. At the top of the shield appears a crown, symbol of sainthood. The motto “Plenus Gratia Et Fortitudine” translates “Full of grace and power,” a reference to Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 6, verse 8). The upper left quadrant of the shild includes stones and palm branches, symbols of Stephen. The lower left quadrant shows the Seal of the Diocese of Virginia with the three ships Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery, that brought the first English settlers to Jamestown, where Anglicanism began in the New World. In the upper right quadrant is the Coat of Arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The lower right quadrant depicts the Memorial Cross commemorating the founding of the Episcopal Church in Henrico Parish (the larger geographic area in which St. Stephen’s eventually was founded).