The Rev. Loren Russell stood at the pulpit of St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church as he spoke about topics ranging from God’s mercy to Forrest Gump last week, as he honored the 192nd anniversary of the church’s founding.
Russell, who had been invited as a guest speaker for the celebration, opened his sermon with a brief history of the church, which originally was founded in Yonkers in 1835.
“One hundred and ninety-two years—that’s a long time,” he said. “That’s 2,304 months, 10,018 weeks, 70,127 days, 1,683,048 hours, 100,982,883 minutes, but watch this, 6,058,972,980 seconds. How many lives have been blessed in that time?”
He left the church after his talk and did not clarify how he arrived at the numbers, including the three extra minutes in the number of hours he mentioned.
Russell told the story of how, in 1835, a group of people—“36 whites and one colored”— incorporated the church near what is today W. 251st Street in Fieldston. Russell called it “the first house of worship to be erected by a religious society in Kingsbridge.”
“In 1897, when residents of Yonkers began moving south in order to be closer to the city, St. Stephen’s relocated to Marble Hill and built this building,” he said. “One might say that this building has stood the test of time, but I would say that it has been this ministry that has stood the test of time.”
Russell talked about the many lives that had been touched by the small but well-known church at 146 W. 228th St., in Marble Hill.
Other congregants also got in on the action, as 16-year-old Eddie Shomo stood up by the altar and rapped about the history of his church.
“We remember with great love all our brothers and sisters, it doesn’t matter if you’re tall, short, a miss, or a missus,” he said. “Abiding God’s joy, faith and hope helps us hold fast to the word of God.”
Assemblywoman Carmen de la Rosa, who recently replaced Guillermo Linares in representing Marble Hill, also attended the celebration, along with a proclamation honoring St. Stephen’s years of service to the community.
“In looking to see what we were going to write in this proclamation we learned about some of the history of this house of the Lord,” she said. “I think that we are blessed not only to have this church here in the middle of this community that needs a place of worship right in the middle, where we can say ‘No matter what is going on outside, the Lord lives here,’ but also a community that has wrapped its arms around this church and has really served in this community.”
De la Rosa, who was present throughout the two-hour service, also thanked congregants for their message of service.
“Most of us get into public service because we come from homes where they taught us that our community is everything,” she said. “I always say that being in this life to be with the people. We are not elected to be on a hill high above the rest, we are here to work with you, to bring resources and also to be with you, to walk with you every day… You have saved generations and generations, so here is to saving many more.”