st stephen's,
the parish church
for the
city of bristol,
england

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St Stephen's is not actually surrounded by the city life - it is located right in the heart of it, still going after nearly seven centuries!
 

 

THE PARISH

St Stephen's Church, Bristol, (City) - the 'city' distinguishes it from an equally ancient church to the east, in Soundwell - is the Parish and civic Church of the City of Bristol. It is linked with Christ Church, just 150 yards away, to form the single City Benefice. This benefice (the area served by an Incumbent, whether Vicar or Rector) covers the whole centre of the present City; which includes the district bounded by the University and the BRI to the North, all of Broadmead west to Bristol Bridge, historic Queens Square, all of the Harbourside and back up to the University.

Uniquely that parish area also includes all of the (water only, not the land areas alongside) River Avon, out to the islands of Steep Holme and Flat Holme, in the Severn Estuary.

Among the major premises in the city area are the Cathedral, Council House, Assize and Magistrates Courts, The Lord Mayor's Chapel, @Bristol Exploratory, the Hippodrome, Bristol Old Vic, Colston Hall, the site of the ancient Castle, and most of the major hotels. Despite this, until recently there were less than 1,000 people actually living within the benefice boundaries. Toward the end of the 1990's saw the beginning of an immense amount of new building and re-development. As a result there are already several hundred students living in apartments converted from old office blocks, with several hundreds more planned. The City Authorities and private developers are also seeking to attract many more private residents. If all goes to plan, there should be some 6-7,000 residents in this area before the year 2010! This has been an incredible pace of change.

This is nothing new. The parishes, between them, have adopted the responsibilities of some nine other churches that have previously served the same area. Some have been closed due to falling or dispersed congregations, some were bombed during WWII. Warehouses became Offices, museums or even a cinema. Banks have become pubs and clubs. Commercial Premises have become Lawyers' Chambers, or Apartments.


 

THE ANTIENT SOCIETY OF RINGERS

The Antient Society of Ringers of St Stephen are a group of business men, successors of a society dating back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I, probably the oldest ringing society in the world still in existence.

The Society was founded in 1620 and although peal boards in the tower testify to the fact that peals were still being rung under its banner into the last 20 years of the 19th century, it seems most unlikely that these participants were members of that Society.

By this time the Society had become entirely a social club and its work was dedicated solely to the maintenance of the fabric of the Church.

Although it is unlikely that the practising ringers had either the social status or wealth to enable them to become members, they carried out one lasting duty of the Society - to ring the "knells" for some thirty "godly men" who had left legacies to the Church and the Society to ensure the bells sounded each year on the day of their choice. By 1894 it was clear that the ringers proper were never going to control what they may have seen as "their" Society again in the foreseeable future, and at a meeting chaired by the Vicar in November 1894 a new Guild for the ringers - the St. Stephen's Ringing Guild was formed.

Recently the minute book of the Guild - a battered Victorian exercise book - has been rediscovered which throws some interesting light on ringing at St. Stephens 100 years ago.


 

THE COMMON ROOM & RINGERS CAFE

The Common Room, was reopened in 2000 as the refurbished "Ringer's Café", named such in recognition of the very generous donation from our benefactors, The Antient Society of St. Stephen's Ringers. The Café serves reasonably priced delicious homemade cakes, pies and sandwiches, all made on the premises by Joan, our Café Manager. You may also sample our healthy breakfasts, soups and jacket potatoes.

St Stephen's Ringer's Cafe
The Ringer's Cafe

The Café is open every day of the working week from 10:30 am to 2:00 pm and is aimed toward our visitors and to those who work in and around the City centre. Several hundred people per week gratefully harness this informal and friendly atmosphere and we have the added advantage of a delightful garden for our customers to sit in when the weather permits; altogether a lovely meeting place in the very centre of our busy City.


 

LUNCHTIME CONCERTS

Wednesday Lunchtime Concerts have long been a feature of the cultural scene. Their popularity is as intense as ever. Ranging from organ recitals to school groups and piano duets, the range is such as to cater for nearly every taste.

For more information on concerts and music at St Stephen's click here.


 

CIVIC SERVICES

Frequent Civic Services occur - ranging from the annual commemoration of the battle of Trafalgar, (uninterrupted since 1806) through the remembrance of Edward Colston's many benefactions, many Company Carol Services, early morning May Day worship from the top of the tower, to the ceremonial lighting of a giant Christmas tree by the Lord Mayor on Advent Sunday.


 

HARVEST BRISTOL

A recent innovation has been the introduction of Harvest Bristol. This opportunity for the business community to celebrate its 'harvest' for the life of the community, has involved an exhibition in the Church of company activities, the performance of a specially-written play by the Bristol Old Vic Junior Theatre, the commissioning of educational CDs to assist the teaching of business studies in local schools, and a visit by the PPS of the Minister of Education as a Keynote speaker. The Chamber of Commerce & Initiative respond by encouraging their members to attend the concluding act of worship of the festival, to celebrate their own achievements.


 
THE CHURCH'S MINISTRY

A contemporary feature of this concern for the wider life of the city is the engagement of the Rector of the City of Bristol (to give him his full title) in many of the institutions of the city. As a member of the staff of The Churches' Council for Industry & Social Responsibility (ISR), he is appointed to be Chaplain to the Commercial Sector of the City. Currently this involves him in formal relationships with the Police Judiciary Office, the Chamber of Commerce & Initiative, the Fire Service, Bristol Rugby, and a major Hotel Group.

This is additional to a monthly prayer and support Group for Christian business people, frequent pastoral interviews, and occasional memorial services for members of the business and legal world.