At the end of World War II, the unincorporated town of Orinda had 3,500 residents, one grade school, no high school, and two small churches. With the influx of newcomers after the war, however, this newly forming community began to thrive.
In October 1950 the first regular morning worship service of an Episcopal Church in Orinda was held at the local Scout hut. The persistence of two Orinda wives and mothers who insisted there be a church of their faith in the town in which they were raising their children paid off. In December of that year, 75 charter members signed a parchment scroll attesting to the existence of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Orinda. In the first two years, rapid growth necessitated its meeting in four ever-larger locations with four different Vicars.
In the early 50’s, 80% of the congregation was under the age of 45. These young families were caught up in building homes and careers, and were equally enthusiastic about building a church. Nine acres were purchased in 1951 and the church building was completed in 1954 with additions being made in 1958, 1960 and 1983. The A-frame brick-and stained-glass sanctuary and lovely landscaped grounds remind many of a traditional east-coast Anglican church, especially during the Christmas season, when evergreen garlands decorate the eaves.
Parish status was attained in 1957 and by the early 60’s, St. Stephen’s had the second largest church school and ninth highest income in the 120 parishes of the Diocese. In the late 50’s/early 60’s, the Diocese created missions in adjacent Lafayette and Moraga, but this did not reduce our attendance noticeably.
By the mid-60’s, the population of Orinda and the neighboring towns of Moraga and Lafayette, known locally as LaMorinda, had grown to 47,000 and St. Stephen’s had 1,496 parishioners in 439 families.
From 1986 to September 2003 the parish successfully completed a significant capital campaign, raising over $1,000,000 to remodel our facilities as well as establish an endowment for a Coordinator of Children’s Ministry. This new position enabled St. Stephen’s to provide an excellent program in children’s spiritual formation. As new families moved into the area to take advantage of our community’s excellent school system, many found their way to our church school. In 2000, we celebrated St. Stephen’s 50th anniversary, honoring many of the founders who are still with us but also looking toward the future of our parish.
From 2003-2014, we continued to nourish the hearts and minds of parishioners, as well as shepherding a remarkable variety of programs. We are a large and growing parish family, with a wide spread of ages, backgrounds, and spiritual needs, but we share a common value of the importance of faith in our lives — both individually and collectively. Understanding that faith expresses itself in many forms, our clerical staff works to provide a varied liturgy, while our programs offer a multitude of opportunities for personal spiritual formation, education, outreach, and fellowship. We feel incredibly blessed to receive the gifts of time and talent from the many accomplished, generous individuals who are part of our church family, and to share those gifts with those in need in our community and the world.
St. Stephen’s is fifth in size and in operating budget of the 82 churches in the Diocese of California. Our church school enrolls 120 children, our junior and senior high youth groups are strong, our music program is exceptional, and our engagement in outreach offers parishioners many valuable opportunities to share their time, talents, and treasure.
While St. Stephen’s now serves a community of 62,000 people spread over 36 square miles, it has the feel of a neighborhood church with the sense of belonging that such a feeling provides.