The growth of the Episcopal Church in Western North Carolina rests in equal measure to the faith, perseverance and ministry of women, persons of different sexual orientations and Latinos.
Our story includes early pioneer women who nurtured the faith formation of their families by collaborating with diocesan bishops, clergy and neighbors to secure funds to construct church buildings, manage and direct diocesan schools for girls, teach Sunday School in local parishes, and lead women’s auxiliary groups. One notable churchwoman was Miss Minnie Drinker of St. James, Black Mountain who became the first social worker in the mountains of North Carolina.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the Diocese supported the ministry of deaconesses, women set apart to care for the sick and the poor. Following the 1976 General Convention, our diocese welcomed women priests and deacons to lead and serve our congregations. The Rev. Elizabeth “Ibba” Tappe was the first woman ordained priest in the diocese and the Rev. Sherry Mattson was the first rector of a church serving the people of St. David’s in Cullowhee.
In the 1980s, the Rev. Neil Zabriskie, rector and dean of The Cathedral of All Souls, was known as "the living social conscience" of the diocese. He advocated and challenged the diocese to begin facilitating conversations around human sexuality as well as becoming a welcoming and safe church for gay and lesbian persons. By the early 1990s, we had embarked on diocesan-wide dialogues around the blessing of same-sex relationships. Today, our diocese not only welcomes all people to worship and serve in our congregations, we also celebrate the ministry of our LGBTQ clergy and lay leaders.
Likewise, during the 1990s, Bishop Robert Johnson and others recognized that Western North Carolina was becoming one the fastest growing Latino populations in the country. Bishop Johnson worked to establish our first Spanish speaking mission at La Capilla de Santa Maria in Hendersonville and call our first Latino Missioner, the Rev. Tim Hoyt. Today, the diocese has a vibrant Spanish-speaking ministry with 4 mission sites across the diocese, numerous parish ministries serving their Spanish-speaking neighbors, and two full-time Latino missioners.