The picturesque countryside with vast fields of tobacco along the St. Stephen’s Church Road, Crownsville, in the 1840s - the site of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. The church was built on a parcel of land donated by Mr. John Reigle and clay from his land was used to build the church with bricks, which remains standing. Mr. Reigle died in 1847 and is buried in the attractive and well-maintained cemetery at the rear of the church.
In 1838, the Reverend Henry Aisquith, ordained in 1826, served as rector of St. Margaret’s, Westminster Parish. The early settlers worshiped at St. Anne’s Church, Annapolis (1698), involving an overnight trip for the Sunday services. The Episcopalians joined with the Methodists to build a church on the land donated by Thomas Williams Turner, known as both Severn Church and Old Cross Roads Church, and located across the road from the present site of the Baldwin Memorial Methodist Church. The Reverend Aisquith received the permission of the rector of St. Anne’s to hold Episcopal services at the Old Cross Roads Church. Within a short time, The Reverend Aisquith saw the need for a separate parish. He became the first rector at the new Severn Church (St. Stephen’s) and served from 1839 to 1852. Upon his resignation, he returned to St. Mary’s County as rector of King and Queen Church and died in 1855. Because of his extraordinary service to Severn Parish, and its respect for him and his accomplishments, the vestry had his body returned for burial at St. Stephen’s. His grave site and marker, along with his wife, is at the corner of the present church building enclosed in an iron fence.
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, was consecrated on August 14, 1845, by the Bishop of Maryland, the Right Reverend William Rollinson Whittingham. All the rights to Old Cross Roads Church were relinquished by the Episcopalians and sold to the Methodists for $100. The fourth rector of St. Stephen’s, the Reverend Henry R. Pyne, served from 1858 to 1861. During his last couple of years at St. Stephen’s, the general populace became quite embroiled in issues that led subsequently to the Civil War. Maryland was a state divided by allegiances to both the North and the South. The majority of parishioners were allied to the South, but the Reverend Pyne was strongly with the North and he submitted his resignation for an appointment as chaplain to a Connecticut regiment.
The Civil War led to serious economic problems when Maryland abolished slavery in 1864, with many members of the parish losing one third or more of their net worth and tobacco farmers lost a dependable source of labor. Many established families and long-time members of the Parish left to seek opportunities elsewhere. The church survived only by small donations from members, friends and supplemented by the Diocesan Missions Committee.
In 1886, James T. Woodward, who attended St. Stephen’s Church in his youth, became wealthy as president of the Hanover Bank in New York. He remained in close touch with his family and his mother, Mary Webb Woodward, a member of St. Stephen’s. He provided a comprehensive permanent plan for ten years’ support of the church. Mr. Woodward donated funds for a parish hall adjacent to the church, now known as Woodward Hall, which now includes the rectory’s study, office and library. James’ brother and sister, along with other relatives, contributed substantial financial assistance to the parish. James T. Woodward died in 1910.
St. Stephen’s Church serves parishioners of Anne Arundel County and the surrounding areas. St. Stephen’s continues active adult and youth programs with day-care facilities, Cub Scouts and civic meetings. The church regularly participates in many community missions. Extensive renovations created enlarged seating capacity, a large narthex and undercroft with secured archives, nursery, music and choir rooms.
An additional parish hall built in the 1960’s with auditorium and fully equipped kitchen. The lower floor has five large classrooms with are occupied on Sundays with Church School and the week-days with the Crofton Nursery School occupants.
The Reverend Carl B. Harris served as the longest reigning rector from October 1971 to July 1998. He lives in Crofton with his wife Tomie. He was succeeded by the Reverend Michael Mayor and the Reverend Steven Hagerman. The Reverend Victor Hailey began his ministry at St. Stephen’s on September 15, 2016, after formerly serving as Assistant Rector at St. James’ in Monkton.