Elsewhere, the seeds of our diocesan missionary spirit were planted by Bishop Ives in the 1830s – 1840s. For twenty years, he traveled extensively though most of the western regions of North Carolina. Notably, upon his arrival to 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, in either the two streams in the valley, or in their accompanying mist, and named that area Valle Crucis (Latin for Vale of the Cross). Here, in 1842, Bishop Ives established a center for missionary work, a classical boy’s boarding school with a focus on agriculture, a theological school for training persons toward ordination, and 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 blacksmith shop.
Among all Bishop Ives’ notable contributions to Western North Carolina, perhaps the most significant was inviting William West Skyles to come to Valle Crucis in 1844 and serve as the manager of the farm and teach agriculture. In 1847, Skyles was ordained deacon and became one of the first Episcopalians to enter the monastic life. Beloved for his pastoral care, Skyles faithfully served the mountain people until his death in 1862. Beloved for his pastoral care and affectionately known as the “homely sage,” Skyles faithfully served the mountain people as doctor, legal advisor, counselor, mediator, schoolmaster, public scrivener, and evangelist until his death in 1862.
One of the first directors of the school of ministry in Valle Crucis, and ordained by Bishop Ives, was the Rev. Jarvis Buxton. Following graduation from seminary, Buxton arrived in the village of Asheville in 1847 and 5 years later helped establish Trinity Church. Supported by this congregation, Buxton embraced a missionary spirit and was fundamental in establishing most of the churches in the Asheville area, as well as pastoring to the Episcopalians 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 pastoring to families in remote mountain areas west of Asheville. In particular, the Rev. Buel and the Rev. Deal were instrumental in tending the mission field west of Asheville. In 1872, Rev. Buel was invited by Bishop Atkinson to direct the newly established, Ravenscroft Associate Ministry, a diocesan mission center for training young men to ordained ministry. From this mission center, clergy and students would go out to visit and care for communities beyond Asheville. Rev. Buel, himself, tended to the growing congregations in Wayensville, Brevard, and Cullowhee in the west as well as congregations in Rutherfordton. In 1876, Rev. Deal was invited by Bishop Lyman to serve the church in Murphy. One year later Deal moved to Franklin and from there he shepherded the communities in Highlands, Cashiers, and Murphy all the while building the churches in Franklin and Cartoogechaye.
Likewise, the Rev. Henry S. McDuffey was one of the very first black clergyman in the diocese, arriving in 1887 as priest-in-charge of St. Matthias in Asheville. He, too, 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, Horner established 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.
One notable priest who greatly impacted the whole diocese in the 20th century was the Rev. A. Rufus Morgan. Born and raised in Franklin, NC, Rufus was sent to New York City for seminary by Bishop Horner. In 1914, the bishop called the Rev. Morgan back to the mountains to help establish the diocesan Appalachian Industrial School, which later became Penland School of Crafts. In 1918, the Rev. Morgan left Western North Carolina to serve parishes in South Carolina and then headed north, across the state line, in 1929 as the Assistant Managing Director of the new Kanuga Conference Center. The Rev. Morgan eventually retired in the early 1940’s to his native mountains west of Waynesville. In his retirement, Rufus helped build St. Francis in Cherokee and restored the original St. John’s, Cartoogechaye, while simultaneously serving the churches in Cullowhee, Sylva, and Highlands. What is more, the Rev. Morgan was one of the early leaders in establishing the Appalachian Trail and was a principle developer of the route from Georgia to the Great Smokey Mountains. Up until his last days, Rufus lead hikes throughout the southern Blue Ridge Mountains. We are indebted to the Rev. Morgan; his life and ministry inspired several generations of Episcopalians to appreciate God’s creation and actively practice stewardship of the earth.