Mountain Missionary Spirit
In the mountains, the seeds of our diocesan missionary spirit were planted by Bishop Ives in the 1830s and 1840s. For twenty years, he traveled extensively, on horseback, through most of the western regions of North Carolina.
Upon his arrival at a particularly beautiful spot in the northern mountains of Watauga County, Bishop Ives saw, as legend has it, the image of a St. Andrew’s Cross formed by the two streams in the valley and named that area Valle Crucis (Latin for the Vale of the Cross). Here, in 1842, Bishop Ives established a center for missionary work, a classical boys’ boarding school with a focus on agriculture, a theological school for training persons for ordination, and the Order of the Holy Cross, the first monastic order in the Episcopal Church since the Reformation. All these endeavors were supported by a working farm, dairy, and a blacksmith shop.
Among Bishop Ives’ notable contributions to Western North Carolina perhaps the most significant was inviting
Church of the Holy Cross, Valle Crucis, NC, Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
William West Skyles to come to Valle Crucis in 1844 to serve as the manager of the farm and to teach agriculture. In 1847, Skyles was ordained deacon and became one of the first Episcopalians to enter monastic life. Beloved for his pastoral care and known affectionately as “the homely sage,” Deacon Skyles, under extremely difficult conditions, served the isolated mountain people as doctor, legal advisor, counselor, mediator, schoolmaster, public scrivener, and evangelist until his untimely death in 1862.
One of the first directors of the school of ministry in Valle Crucis, ordained by Bishop Ives, was the Revd. Jarvis Buxton. Following graduation from seminary, Buxton arrived in the village of Asheville in 1847; five years later he helped establish Trinity Church. Supported by this congregation and fired by missionary zeal he was fundamental in establishing most of the churches in the Asheville area, while continuing to pastor Episopalians in Murphy, Franklin, Cherokee, Waynesville, and Burnsville.
Throughout the second half of the 19th century, many other leaders were also active in missionary work, holding services and ministering to families in remote mountain areas west of Asheville, most notably the Reverends Buel and Deal. In 1872, the Revd. Buel was invited by Bishop Atkinson to direct the newly established Ravenscroft Associate Ministry, a diocesan mission center for training young men to the ordained ministry. From this mission center, clergy and students would go out to visit and care for communities beyond Asheville. The Revd. Buel tended to the growing congregations in Waynesville, Brevard, and Cullowhee in the west as well as congregations in Rutherfordton. In 1876, the Revd. Deal was invited by Bishop Lyman to serve the church in Murphy. One year later, Deal moved to Franklin and from there he shepherded Episcopal communities in Highlands, Cashiers, and Murphy, all the while building the churches in Franklin and Cartoogechaye.
Rev. Henry S. McDuffy
In 1887, the Revd. Henry S. McDuffey was one of the first black clergymen in the diocese, having arrived as priest-in-charge of St. Matthias. He embraced the missionary spirit and helped expand the diocese's work and ministry among African Americans.
Sometime toward the end of the 19th century, Bishop Horner established the Franklin Associate Mission, and later, during the early years of the 20th century, he added the Rutherford Associate Mission. These mission centers were modeled after the Ravenscroft Associate Ministry and staffed by a new generation of ordained missionaries who served clusters of churches.
A priest who influenced the whole diocese greatly in the 20th century was the Revd. A. Rufus Morgan. Born and raised in Franklin, NC, Rufus was sent by Bishop Horner to seminary in New York City. In 1914, the bishop called the now Revd. Morgan back to the mountains to help establish the diocesan Appalachian Industrial School, which later became the Penland School of Crafts. In 1918, Morgan left Western North Carolina to serve parishes in
South Carolina and then headed north, across the state line, to become the assistant managing director of the new Kanuga Conference Center. He retired in the early 1940s to his native mountains west of Waynesville. In his retirement he helped build St. Francis in Cherokee and restored the original St. John’s, Cartoogechaye. All the while he was serving churches in Cullowhee, Sylva, and Highlands. This remarkable man was also one of the people who established the Appalachian Trail and was a principal developer of the route from Georgia to the Great Smoky Mountains. Up to his last days, Rufus led hikes throughout the southern Blue Ridge Mountains. A man who practiced good stewardship of the earth before it became popular, he inspired several generations of Episcopalians to an appreciation and reverence of God’s creation. We are all indebted to the work and dedication of the Revd. Rufus Morgan.