Tom Steffen

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Tom Steffen (1934-2021) served God, Second Congregational Church, and the Bennington community for many years. He also delivered the most important sermon Marsh ever heard.

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I‘ve heard many sermons so far in my life and spoken many to others and to myself. But the one sermon that changed my life more than any other was spoken by Tom Steffen. Tom was my pastor in high school and beyond and served Second Congregational Church here for many years.

One Sunday Tom was talking about God and how hopeless it was to try to be “good enough” for our Maker to love us. “God,” Tom explained, “knows all of our failings and weaknesses.” I slunk down in my pew in sadness. In those teenage years, I felt very aware of my imperfections.

“In spite of that,” said Tom, our Maker “loves us with all the love in the universe.” Now that confused me. If God saw all my weaknesses, why would God love me? Why would God love you?

Tom continued, “God sees Himself in us” whether we’re awash in mud, manure, or rose petals! The Bible tells us that we are all made in the image of God. So like the best Mom and Dad, God looks at us sees a “chip off the old block.” God sees the good in us no matter what and holds us in a love that NOTHING can shake.

“Wow! All these years,” I thought to myself, “trying to earn God’s acceptance, hating myself, driving myself, living in fear, in guilt, in shame. What a waste! “

Why did Tom’s sermon make such a difference to me?

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I grew up as a Methodist, and we were taught to STRIVE for PERFECTION. That seemed like a great idea, so two of my high school friends and I created the “Perfect Club.” We tried be perfect with every ounce of will-power we could muster. Unfortunately, we all failed miserably. Furthermore, trying to be perfect left me feeling inadequate, and nervous about God.

So what a gigantic relief it was to hear Tom declare that my Heavenly Mom treasured me just the way I am. That’s grace, a gift I could never deserve. Not only was God NOT watching and counting my every sin. On the contrary, nothing I might do or not do could rip me out of God’s embrace. God loves me more than the person who has loved me best – even in the middle of my hurtful, messed-up failings and rebellions.

That morning the cell door in my own PRISON OF FEAR burst open. It was almost as if Jesus was there saying, “Marsh, let’s get out of this place!” A prison break had begun! My heart began to sing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!” and I can still feel the relief today.

Your Maker’s invitation

Does your heart suffer in a prison of guilt or fear? Do you wear chains of anxiety that you will be judged?

God WANTS YOU to live in the freedom of DIVINE, OVERWHELMING LOVE which you cannot earn… because it IS ALREADY YOURS! Laugh! Sing! Dance! Then pass on the love that is forever pouring out to you!

Marsh Hudson-Knapp is a member of Second Congregational Church and the Interfaith Council. If faith has set you free would you share your story? He would love to hear from you at


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