The earliest known Episcopal communities to gather for regular worship west of the Catawba River, in the early 1800’s, were at St. Andrew’s Chapel, about 5 miles outside present-day Lenoir, NC, and St. John’s Chapel, just outside present-day Morganton, as well as at White Haven Chapel, about 1 mile outside present-day Lincolnton, NC. All three churches were shepherded by the Rev. Robert Johnson Miller, affectionately known as “Parson Miller”.
Miller arrived in the Lenoir area in 1786, and, although raised in the Episcopal Church, he was a lay missionary for several years in the Methodist Church. In 1794, Miller was ordained in the Lutheran Church with the stipulation that he would seek Episcopal Orders when a diocese was formed in North Carolina. It was during this time the three worshipping communities of St. Andrew’s, St. John’s and White Haven were formed, comprising both Episcopalians and Lutherans. Eventually, Miller was ordained in the Episcopal Church by Bishop Moore of Virginia in 1821.
In the early 1840’s, St. Andrew’s Chapel was officially moved to downtown Lenoir and became the foundation of St. James Episcopal Church. Families from both St. Andrew’s and St. John’s chapels came together and founded Grace Episcopal Church in Morganton. Similarly, White Haven Chapel moved to Lincolnton and the cornerstone of St. Luke’s was laid in 1842. St. Luke’s was the first church in the region admitted to the Diocese of North Carolina.
Meanwhile, 80 miles southwest of Lincolnton, wealthy families from Charleston, South Carolina had begun establishing summer residences during the early part of the 19th century in Flat Rock, NC. A few residents built small chapels to sustain their regular worship, notably the Baring family who erected a second structure
(the first destroyed by fire) on the present site of St. John in the Wilderness in 1832. This was the first church structure consecrated in our diocese.