In the late 1930s, the population of Edina was nearing 5,000 souls. Population was centered around the 585-home Country Club district, developed by the Thorpe Brothers. Community member Clinton Christopher challenged then-Bishop Stephen Keeler on his foreign mission enthusiasm at a time when there was no protestant church in Edina. The Bishop did his research and responded to Christopher with a challenge of his own: Would Christopher (a Methodist) serve on a committee whose goal would be to establish an Episcopal Church in Edina?
Christopher was part of the 30 handpicked Country Club residents (there were 12 Episcopal families in the district) who met with the Bishop on March 24, 1937, and unanimously decided to form an Episcopal Church in Edina, later deciding on the location at the corner of 50th Street and Wooddale Avenue. The intent was to have a “Community Church” and the leadership included people of many denominations, even Roman Catholic.
The architect, Lois Bersbach, who specialized in English church architecture, designed a typical stone English country church and then, for even more professional approval, the plan was submitted to Cram and Fergusson of Boston, the foremost church architects in the country.
While the church was being built, the infant congregation met at Wooddale School, diagonally across the street from the church site. The church was named “The Church of St. Stephen the Martyr” in order to dissuade any misunderstandings that it was named after Bishop Keeler. The Bishop had selected The Rev. Elliot Marston, from Trinity Church, Excelsior, to be the first Rector. By the end of 1937, 63 families were actively participating in the church services.The cornerstone was laid on September 11, 1938, and the church was dedicated on Sunday, March 19, 1939, 11:00 AM at a ceremony officiated by Bishop Keeler.
In later years, commenting on St. Stephen’s spectacular growth since its inception, Rector Bernard Hummel said at the January, 1956, annual meeting, “Since the beginning of 1954, St. Stephen’s has been the largest church in the diocese, communicant wise. We have not chosen to be big, it has chosen us, and like the call which came to Isaiah, who responded with ‘Here am I, send me’, so we, now called, must respond ‘Here stands St. Stephen’s, send us.’”
To see video footage of our building and grounds and learn more about St. Stephen’s, click here.