Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

1 John 3:18

Mission Ministry

What good is our faith if it is only in words? What good is our love if it is only words? 

We believe true ministry ... true faith and love ... must be accompanied by action. When Jesus spoke of love, He spoke of it as a verb, an act of doing, not just a feeling. And so we, if we are truly to be called followers of Jesus' teaching, must do as He commanded us. We must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must help those who need our help. We must give to others who have need. 

Scripture says:  "...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." - Matthew 25:35-36

All around us there is need. If we open our eyes and hearts to it, there is much to be done. At Saint Stephens United Church of Christ, we do that as much as we can ... in how we live our daily lives, and through the Mission Ministry of our congregation. Here are just a few of the ways we put faith and love into action here at Saint Stephens. 

Saint Stephens adopted the Food for Kids program as a community outreach the summer of 2017, sponsoring the administration of the program so that any and all funds raised for Food for Kids very literally goes to purchase food for kids. The program is also made possible via the donations and sponsorships received from local business, organizations, and individuals. Every dollar raised goes to purchase nutritious food items to be sent home in the backpacks of participating kids right here in the Merrill community so they have meals and snacks on the weekends.

Volunteers from Saint Stephens purchase food to go into all the bags community wide. Then volunteers from Saint Stephens, as well as Calvary Lutheran, Our Saviours, and First Presbyterian churches, pack 14 nutritious non-perishable food items into a bag for each child for the weekend and then deliver the bags to participating schools where teachers discreetly put the bags into the backpacks of participating children at the end of the day each Friday. 

To learn more about this program or how you can support this community outreach, email Terra at Saint Stephens:

Click here for more pictures ...

Re-Member Mission Trips

In 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, clergy and volunteers from Saint Stephens made annual trips to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to spend nearly a week each summer working on carpentry projects building skirting for trailers, decks, bunk beds, and outhouses, and immersing themselves in learning about the Oglala Lakota Nation and its culture and history. They worked hard, learned much, did without many of the luxuries we have grown accustomed to, slowed down the pace of life tremendously, and came alongside their Oglala Lakota neighbors to more fully appreciate their rich heritage. And all came away from South Dakota deeply changed by this experience.

The Pine Ridge Reservation spans over 2.8 million acres of land and is the second-largest Native American Indian Reservation in the United States, yet it contains one of the poorest counties in our nation. Volunteers who travel here to work with the Re-Member organization ... doing such things as building bunk beds for children and wheelchair ramps for elders; repairing roofing, siding, and trailer skirting on homes; installing outhouses; getting and delivering firewood; and more ... are shocked to find the living conditions here are harsh, third-world living conditions ... right here in the middle of the United States. 

"On the Rez," as they call it, extended families and friends often live together in one home and overcrowding is abundant. There is a shortage of beds and mattresses, resulting in many children sharing beds or sleeping on the floor. Many homes do not have functional bathrooms, running water, or kitchens. 

In large part due to these conditions and the despair such living conditions can create, the population in this county has the second lowest life expectancy in the entire Western hemisphere and frighteningly high rates of diabetes, alcoholism, and suicide.

The Re-Member organization has spent nearly two decades building a relationship of trust with the Oglala Lakota Nation. Working with this organization isn't about just "helping someone else who needs help." Rather, it is about becoming a true neighbor to the residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation. It is about tearing down proverbial walls and building relationship. We invite you to come along with us next time as we go along to be a part of that journey.

Or join us in one of our other Mission and Ministry events. Contact the church office to inquire.

Dinner @ Five

Dinner @ Five began here at Saint Stephens in April, 2015, when Dave Raddenbach approached Rev. Carnes with the idea of hosting a weekly dinner for the community in our Fellowship Hall. The meal would be open to anyone who wants or needs a hot, nutritious meal. Volunteers handle all of the cooking, preparation, and serving of the meal and clean up afterward.

Saint Stephens has embraced the idea and so it began ... Dinner @ Five, A Community Table at Saint Stephens ... and since that very first meal was served here, a hot meal has been served here every single Monday evening at 5:00 PM, regardless of holidays or weather, and all who come are invited to eat, regardless of ability to pay. In fact, there is no charge for this weekly meal, just a free will offering to help defray costs. Each week between 80 and 125 people come to eat and spend time in community with others. And for many, this feeling of community with one another is every bit as important as the food we serve. 

Want to get involved? Volunteer on Mondays! Know someone who needs a hot meal and some community? Invite them to come to Dinner @ Five. Better yet, pick them up and bring them along with you.

Kids Outreach & Taco Tuesday

Did you know that right here in our own community of Merrill, Wisconsin, we have hungry children? Statistics for 2019 showed 12.7% of families in Merrill lived below the poverty level. During the school year, many of these children qualify for the free lunch and breakfast programs, ensuring they get at least one hot, nutritious meal per day. But over weekends, on school breaks, and during the summer, Saint Stephens and other area churches were determined that these kids would not go hungry. Saint Stephens is one of five participating area churches to help provide pre-packed non-perishable food packages to be discreetly put into at risk kids backpacks on Fridays so that these children will have food to eat on non-school days.

During the summer break, these churches take turns providing a hot meal to children in the community, served in parks or other easily accessible locations. For Saint Stephens volunteers, this means Taco Tuesday! Every Tuesday over the summer, volunteers prepare healthy beef tacos and serve them hot with toppings, fresh fruit, and a beverage at Stange's Park in the shelter near the playground area. The meal is free to any child who appears to eat.

Both of these projects are true Mission Ministry helping children right here in our neighborhood. It takes many volunteers to purchase food items, pack bags, cook, serve, and clean up. If you'd like to get involved in this project, contact the church office!

Food Pantry Support

The Community Food Pantry of Merrill, now run independently and located at 503 South Center Avenue in Merrill, originally began at Saint Stephens United Church of Christ as a community mission ministry of our church. As the food pantry grew, it became an entity of its own, helping families in need in the Merrill area, and has been growing in its scope and reach ever since. We recognize that there are many families and individuals who need this resource, and it is vitally important to people in our area.

The congregation of Saint Stephens continues to embrace support of the local food pantry as a part of our mission and ministry in our own community. Members serve on the Board of Directors, others volunteer at the food pantry, and many, many members regularly bring in donations of non-perishable food items each and every month. In fact, we designate the first Sunday of each month as "Food Pantry Sunday" with an emphasis on bringing in donations that day. A volunteer then transports all of the Saint Stephens donations to the food pantry in the week that follows to help restock food pantry shelves. Every month Saint Stephens' members contribute hundreds of pounds of non-perishable foods to the pantry.

Mission Ministry At Home and Abroad

Mission Ministry at Saint Stephens shows up in so many ways. Sometimes it is named, organized and orchestrated every week as an ongoing ministry, like Dinner @ Five or the Kids Outreach and Taco Tuesdays. Sometimes it is for a specified period of time, like the Re-Member Mission trips of 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019; and a past mission trip to Busia, Kenya. Sometimes it is dynamic and organic, springing up from a single idea or a community outreach ... like when one child decides to pack shoeboxes to go overseas as part of Operation Christmas Child ... or our youth collect new socks, toiletries, and supplies and create Blessing Bags to distribute to the homeless in our community ... or members jump in to get things done for our neighbors in need on Make A Difference Day each October ... whether through our Medical Ministry, our support of the community food pantry, or our church's generous donations to UCC Camps or a local charity called Jessi's Wish (Saint Stephens congregation donated the entire Christmas Eve offering to the community food pantry in 2015, split the Christmas Eve offering between the UCC Camps and Jessi's Wish in 2016, donated the entire Christmas Eve offering to Food For Kids in 2017, and donated the Christmas Eve offering to The Nest, a food and clothing pantry at Merrill High School, in 2018) ... we recognize that Mission Ministry begins at home ... with faith, with love, and with action. Like our philosophy? Join one of our Mission Ministries!