MONROE, CT — The Rev. Derek J. Stefanovsky, 28, was hired as associate rector of Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Darien during a transition in leadership three years ago, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, so he says challenges faced by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Monroe did not scare him off.
Stefanovsky took over as pastor of St. Peter’s this spring, a church that had no clergy for the past two years and is currently merging with Grace Episcopal Church of Trumbull after dwindling membership forced it to close.
“It was a really good fit for me,” he said during an interview around a table outside St. Peter’s Thursday afternoon, adding of its members, “the first time I met them, they were very welcoming, but nervous because there were lots of moving parts.”
Stefanovsky said the Trumbull church’s members and assets are coming to St. Peter’s, essentially creating a new parish.
“They may have wondered if that was going to scare me,” he said. “In fact, it was just the opposite. I was excited about the opportunity — the challenge of it.”
Stefanovsky joined the church on May 18, ending St. Peter’s two-year-search to replace its longtime pastor Kurt Huber, who left to lead churches at the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.
While at Saint Luke’s, Stefanovsky said any disruptions caused by the leadership transition and making adjustments during the pandemic did not bother him. “That didn’t phase me,” he said, adding his attitude was, “here I am. What do you want me to do?”
“I was pleased to provide some stability during their transition,” he said. “It was being a stable presence simply by showing up, being there and doing the work. That’s what I will remember most about my time there.”
Joining the ministry
Stefanovsky grew up in West Branch, Mich., and was studying law at Alma College when he found his true calling.
“I went to college and felt I wanted to be a lawyer, but I grew up in the Episcopal Church and started to think more and more that I may actually want to go into the ministry,” he recalled.
Stefanovsky said he was an active member of Trinity Episcopal Church in West Branch, displaying leadership while taking part in church programs.
“My parents were active,” he said. “As I became more interested, they became more interested. I think me doing this made them say, ‘we want to be more involved. It’s important to us.'”
After finishing college in 2016, Trinity Episcopal Church in West Branch sponsored Stefanovsky for his ordination in the Diocese of Eastern Michigan, where he started the process. He enrolled at Yale Divinity School, finishing as an ordained priest in 2019.
Stefanovsky, who is now part of the Connecticut Diocese, was hired for his first position at Saint Luke’s in Darien by interim Rev. Ellen Tillotson.
“She took a risk,” he said. “She was willing to hire me straight from the seminary.”
Stefanovsky met his future wife, Katherine Vaillancourt, at Alma College and they got married in 2017. The couple now lives in Stamford, where Dr. Vaillancourt is finishing the last year of her residency at Stamford Hospital.
Coming to Monroe
When he became aware of the opportunity at St. Peter’s, Stefanovsky expressed interest and applied through the Connecticut Diocese. Then the bishop and his staff forwarded Stefanovsky’s name for consideration and he was interviewed by the parish.
Stefanovsky’s first day in his office at St. Peter’s was May 18 and he gave his first Sunday sermon on the Pentecost (June 5). He said he was immediately impressed with the church leadership.
“They’ve done a tremendous job of holding it together without clergy here and they still do,” he said. “Everyone is active and supportive of me, while being leaders in this church.”
After a two-year-wait for a new priest, some may have thought there would be less work to do, Stefanovsky said with a smile, adding, “no, it’s just other work. My job is to help them, to empower them, to be at their side so they can be the church and run the church.”
Stefanovsky said he likes all aspects of being a priest, from the Sunday sermons and teaching church members of all ages, to providing pastoral care by visiting the sick and homebound.
Of Monroe, Stefanovsky said, “I think it’s a lovely little town and I’m looking forward to working in the community and getting to know people.” He recently had lunch with The Rev. Jennifer Gingras of Monroe Congregational Church and said he intends to meet with all of his colleagues.
Stefanovsky said he is still in the listening phase, while getting acclimated with St. Peter’s. He plans to maintain the status quo through the summer before considering any changes.
“I’m very grateful to be in this new role,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to the work we can do together. There’s a lot of potential in this place to be a gift to each other and a gift to the world.”