Canon Maria Tjeltveit
Church of the Mediator, Allentown
Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
Stephen is remembered as the first Christian martyr. Chosen as one of the seven, “to wait on tables,” Stephen’s grace-filled actions come to the attention of those who falsely accuse him and bring him before the high priest. Stephen gives a long speech that challenges the people and enrages them. They respond by stoning him to death. He has an ecstatic vision of Jesus with God and dies saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 6:8-8:1).
In Greek, the word for ‘witness’ and the word for ‘martyr’ are the same. Stephen is the first, but by no means the last, of Jesus’ followers who bears witness through his death. I recently read that St. Jerome wrote about two kinds of martyrs: red martyrs, “who lose their lives for the sake of the name of Jesus;” and white martyrs, “who embrace the cruciform life in the humdrum of their daily walk” (Kathryn Greene-McCreight, United in Suffering, in Christian Century, September 30, 2015).
Two churches in our diocese, which are named for red martyrs, are now in a partnership: sharing a priest-in-charge in order to better raise up white martyrs and faithful witnesses. St. Stephen’s, Whitehall and St. George’s, Hellertown, have been on this new pilgrimage together, since November, 2014.
St. Stephen’s is the older church, founded in Catasaqua, in 1900. In 1974, it moved to a new building* in Whitehall. For years, it was the church in our diocese with the most modern building and the most traditional theology, using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer well into the first decade of the 21st century. Today the parish is more open to change, while staying focused on faith. They have a successful Day School with 175 students, and host the Whitehall food bank. They are known for their spectacular dinners and annual community craft show. Having gone through some struggles in the past years, their dedicated core and newer members have confident optimism that God is leading them forward.
St. George’s was founded in 1908, and has been in its current location since 1950. Like other parishes it has had its ups and downs. Toward the end of their first century, they dedicated a new organ and installed air conditioning. They are now enjoying a growth spurt, with a renewed Godly Play program. They have started their first youth group in 15 years, which plays and active role in the parish’s outreach projects, including growing vegetables to donate to a local food bank. The parish is thankful for the sacrifices of those who started the parish, seeks to be faithful today, and is hopeful for the future.
What might it mean for you to be a white martyr?
*Did you know that St. Stephen’s church is in the shape of a dove (the symbol of the Holy Spirit), whose body is shaped like an egg (symbolizing Easter and the resurrection), the yolk of the egg (a circle symbolizing God and eternity, with no beginning or end); with the wings of the dove housing classrooms, offices, and the library, and the head of the dove being the parish hall. Check out the shape, with an aerial view on Google earth! From the side you can see the roof is shaped as a bridal train , which together with the white walls, “remind us that the church is the bride of Christ and is to be faithful only to Him and not to the world it is called to serve” (From A Journey Through the Historic Diocese of Bethlehem).