The Rev. Dr. Charles Stedman Stephen, Jr. died on May 29, 2017 at the age of 85.
Charles Jr. was born on February 5, 1932 in Melrose, MA to parents Charles Stedman Stephen and Barbara Hill Stephen, and grew up in the Greenwood neighborhood of Wakefield, MA. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Northeastern University in 1955, then earned a Bachelor of Divinity from Crane Theological School in 1958. Rev. Dr. Stephen would later attain a Doctor of Sacred Theology from Starr King School for the Ministry in 1982.
Rev. Dr. Stephen was ordained on June 15, 1958 by the Melrose Unitarian Church. He was first called to serve the First Parish Church of Billerica, MA from 1958 until 1961. In that year, Rev. Dr. Stephen accepted a call to the Unitarian Church of Lincoln, NE. Rev. Dr. Stephen loyally and lovingly ministered to the Lincoln congregation for 35 years; his service there was only interrupted by a brief stint as an exchange minister at the Great Meeting Unitarian Chapel in Leicester, England (June 1977 – January 1978), as well as twice offering his services as a Minister on Loan in the 1980s. Upon his retirement in 1996, Rev. Dr. Stephen was elected by the Unitarian Church of Lincoln as their Minister Emeritus.
Well known for his powers of writing and oration, Charles won the Skinner Award in 1963 for his sermon “The Gentle People of Prejudice,” and in June of 1973 the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association chose him as their Berry Street Essayist. Rev. Dr. Stephen also gave the sermon to the 25 year ministers at General Assembly in 1983, and delivered the Sermon of the Living Tradition at General Assembly in 1988.
Outside of his ministry, Rev. Dr. Stephen performed an array of service to the denomination. He was a member and President of the Prairie Star District Board (now part of the MidAmerica Region) from 1966 to 1970. Charles also served as the Secretary of the UU Ministers Association's Executive Committee for three years beginning in 1971, and from that same year until 1975 he was a member of the UUA's Nominating Committee. Rev. Dr. Stephen also served on the Ministerial Fellowship Committee from 1975 until 1984. In 1985, Charles edited the UUA Meditation Manual The Gift of the Ordinary. Finally, Rev. Dr. Stephen worked as a Ministerial Settlement Representative from 1983 to 1991; furthermore, on behalf of the Settlement Task Force he carried out an extensive survey of the UUA's ministerial settlement system in the early '90s.
Charles was ever a passionate champion for the causes in which he believed: He was a founder of both Lincoln’s Planned Parenthood as well as the Nebraska Civil Liberties Union. Being a deep lover of books, Rev. Dr. Stephen also hosted the show All About Books on Nebraska’s public radio station, and reviewed books for the Lincoln Star Journal.
Charles’s daughter Susan shared these lovely words in memory of her father: “Man of letters; man of the Red Sox. Hiker of mountains, canoe paddler of oceans, tickler of children, crossword puzzler, lover of opera.”
In reflecting upon his call in 1978, Rev. Dr. Stephen offered the following: “I see my own role as minister as one of facilitating and instigating, as one of educating and inspiring. I seek to share myself with others, to share my own doubts and my own fears and to thereby be open, I trust, to the sharing of others.”
And finally, to quote Charles quoting Jorge Luis Borges, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
He is survived by wife of 63 years Patricia; children Debra June, Susan Elizabeth (Michael Jensen), David Charles (Anne Hinshaw), Karl Scott (Janet Kleine), and Bruce Jonathan; ten grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and brothers Sanders and Mark.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Unitarian Church of Lincoln, 6300 A Street, Lincoln, NE 68510; to Nebraska’s Planned Parenthood of the Heartland; to the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska; and to NET of Nebraska.
A memorial service took place at 4pm on Saturday, June 17, 2017 at the Unitarian Church of Lincoln.
Notes of condolence can be sent to Pat Stephen at 7005 Shamrock Road Unit 109, Lincoln, NE 68506.