Episcopal Church in Nevada


The Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 and retained an episcopal polity (governance by bishops) of its own. During and after the Revolutionary War, colonial churches avoided the names “Church of England” and “Anglican” and began to call themselves “Episcopalian.” The General Convention of 1789 referenced itself as the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America,” and “Protestant Episcopal” remained the official title of the church until 1967. Early in the nineteenth century, there was evidence of two distinct wings in American Episcopalianism, viz. the High Church (or Anglo-Catholic) party, whose liturgy and vestments reflected its Reformation Catholic origins, and the Evangelicals, whose services and raiment were in the Reformed (some would say Evangelical or Low Church) tradition. In 1835, the Protestant Episcopal General Convention in the United States assigned the foreign missions to Evangelicals and reserved the domestic missions to the High Church party. In 1859, the Territory of Nevada was designated part of the million-square-mile Missionary District of the Northwest stretching from the eastern border of California to the Missouri River, spanning between the Canadian and Mexican borders. Its first bishop, Joseph Cruickshank Talbot, described himself puckishly as “the bishop of all outdoors.”

First Clergy, Churches, and Bishops

In September 1861, Rev. Henry O. G. Smeathman officiated at Nevada's first Episcopal services in Virginia City, which were held in the U.S. District courthouse. It was the first step toward organization of St. Paul's Church. The structure was thirty-four by sixty feet, located at Taylor and F Streets and was completed in February 1863, at a cost of $30,000. Among its first vestrymen were William van Bokkelen and future Carson City judge Leonard W. Ferris. Bishop Talbot appointed Franklin S. Rising from New Jersey as St. Paul's first pastor and missionary to Nevada Territory in 1862. St. John's congregation at nearby Gold Hill organized in May 1862. Originally it met adjacent to a gambling establishment, where the continual rowdiness forced the congregation's relocation to the school house. A Gothic brick church with an eight-hundred-pound bell in the belfry was erected in 1864. Adjacent Silver City also had an Episcopalian congregation beginning in 1862. Its church had destroyed by the elements by November of 1875 and was rebuilt. A few miles south, Dayton had a small Protestant Episcopal Church of the Ascension, founded by Rev. Ozi Whitaker in 1863. St. Peter's Parish in Carson City was organized in 1863 by laymen, who included among its vestrymen Territorial Governor James W. Nye and prominent businessman Henry Marvin Yerington. In October 1866, Bishop Talbot appointed Rev. William Maxwell Reilly, who was the first of fourteen priests providing nearly continuous service as pastor of St. Peter's over the next fifty years.

Bishop Talbot first visited Virginia City in 1863, where he judged that every species of evil abounded and recommended that only seasoned clerics should be sent to cure what he called an appalling ungodliness. Failing health forced Rising's retirement in 1866, and Talbot replaced him with Rev. Ozi Whitaker. Meanwhile, Bishop Talbot was transferred to Indiana in 1866, and California's Bishop W. Ingraham Kip was named provisional bishop of Nevada. The General Convention subsequently elected and consecrated Ozi William Whitaker as bishop of Nevada and Arizona in 1869. During his seventeen-year tenure as bishop, Whitaker remained chief pastor of St. Paul's in Virginia City. The church building was destroyed by the fire of 1875 but was rebuilt with a seating capacity in excess of 350 persons. Although Bishop Whitaker kept no journal of his activities, his twentieth-century successor and chronicler, Bishop Thomas Jenkins, noted he had to endure the “perversion of the Rev. Johnston McCormac to the Reformed Episcopal Church—and of the Rev. G. F. Fitch to the Methodists.” Jenkins also noted that the Protestant Episcopal Church's failure to establish western seminaries led to a rapid turnover of clergy, many of whom were unsuited to the demanding ministry of the West. This was particularly true in mining towns, where only three priests, including Whitaker, lasted more than five years in ministry over Nevada's first fifty years. There is no record of Whitaker ever ordaining anyone during the entire seventeen years of his episcopate in Nevada.

When a Chinese Episcopalian convert, Ah Foo (variously cited as Ah For), appeared on the Comstock after evangelizing Asian railroad workers, Whitaker helped to establish for his Chinese proselytes the Chapel of the Good Shepherd in Carson City in 1874. According to early Nevada histories, it seated fifty people. In 1875 another chapel was erected for the Chinese in Virginia City, with the help of donations solicited by Whitaker from Episcopalians in the Atlantic states. St. Paul's Sunday school provided for the chapel's maintenance. The Chinese who attended services at both chapels were, according to their critics, more interested in learning English to advance their earning capacity than in converting to Christianity. In any case, the arrangements were short-lived. The Chinese chapel in Virginia City was destroyed within a few months in the disastrous fire of October 1875, and it was never rebuilt. The growing anti-Chinese sentiment in northern Nevada disheartened Ah Foo and disinclined the Chinese population to seek Christian instruction. The Chinese evangelist subsequently received an appointment from the Anglican Church in England to serve as a missionary in his native China, which ended the Protestant Episcopal Church's outreach to the Chinese in Nevada.

One of Whitaker's most promising achievements was the establishment of an academy for young women in 1876. Whitaker's School for Girls was located in Reno on six acres of what is now Whitaker Park at Washington Street and University Terrace. It functioned as a day school for locals and had a dormitory for forty boarders. The academy employed highly qualified faculty members, who provided rigorous courses in basic education through the twelfth grade as well as an environment designed to inculcate traditional Victorian Christian values. It also served as a “finishing school” with classes in art, music, and domestic science, and it attracted daughters of wealthy families from all over the state. When Whitaker left Nevada for a post in Pennsylvania in 1886 and finally ceased overseeing the Nevada diocese in 1888, the school lost its most effective fundraiser, recruiter, and spokesman. Despite the best efforts of Whitaker's successors, Nevada's declining economy and dwindling financial support from eastern donors spelled the end of the school. It never reached its potential as one of the West's elite Episcopal academies. It closed its doors in 1894.

Protestant Episcopal churches in the mining towns experienced the effects of unpredictable boom and bust. Aurora's congregation, for example, lasted only a few weeks in 1863. Other churches with uncertain futures arose in Treasure City (1869), Eureka (St. James, 1870), Hamilton (St. Luke's, 1870), Pioche (Christ Church, 1871), Belmont (St. Stephen's, 1872), Austin (St. George's, 1873), Wadsworth (St. James Mission, 1892), Ely (St. Bartholomew's Mission, 1902), Tonopah (St. Mark's, 1904), and Goldfield (St. John's in the Wilderness, 1906). One unique aspect of the Episcopal Church's early ventures in Nevada was that church structures were often completely financed by local mining companies and individuals rather than being dependent on gifts from missionary societies and established churches in the eastern United States.

Mission to the Paiutes

As a consequence of President Ulysses S. Grant's “Peace Policy” of 1868 western Indian tribes were assigned to various churches for education and (it was hoped) pacification. The Paiutes of Pyramid Lake, who had unsuccessfully fought against the incursion of the white people in the 1860s, were assigned to the Protestant Episcopal Church. Their largest enclave was a reservation extending from Pyramid Lake to Wadsworth. Wadsworth was twenty-nine miles east of Sparks and was a welcome resting place on the banks of the Truckee River for early travelers across the barren Forty Mile Desert. It became a major maintenance center for the Central Pacific Railroad after 1867. The Episcopal presence in Wadsworth likely dated to the notice by Bishop Whitaker in 1876 that there were two communicants in town. By 1892, the Rev. Charles L. Fitchette was assigned as pastor of the St. James Mission, which met in the Union Church. Fitchette was called to Trinity in Reno, and he was replaced in 1893 by Father Thomas L. Bellam, lately of Eureka. Within six years the congregation had slowly grown to thirty communicants and a Sunday school with fourteen teachers and a remarkable student population of eighty-seven—which likely included some Indian children. The 1904 decision by the new parent company, Southern Pacific, to relocate its shops to Sparks led to a wholesale exodus from Wadsworth, with church services virtually invisible by 1908.

Thereafter, faces in the small congregation included more Native American Paiutes, who were cared for by workers at Nixon. The Wadsworth Indians purchased a government building in 1935, remodeled it as a chapel and social hall, and relocated it to its present location on Reservation Road. It was dedicated as St. Michael's and All Angels Episcopal Church by Bishop Jenkins. He and his successor, Bishop William Fisher Lewis, provided for regular weekly and confirmation services. In 1941 the total donations from its communicants amounted to less than $24. Today the church is a self-supporting parish, without a resident priest, served by lay volunteers and supply clergy from the area. It has a mixed congregation of whites and Native Americans totaling one hundred, of whom about twelve are regular churchgoers. There is no longer a Sunday school, but in 2008 three congregations from the San Francisco Bay Area sent fourteen teenagers and their adult supervisors to join Wadsworth's Paiute and white children for a week of religious instruction and cultural exchange.

The first recorded Episcopal service by a priest at Nixon in the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Reservation was a baptism administered in 1894 by Father Thomas Bellam, resident vicar at Wadsworth eighteen miles to the south. Bellam held monthly services at Nixon, and Bishop Ariel Leonard appointed Miss Marian Taylor as the mission's resident educator. Her work and that of an Indian assistant was financially supported by the Women's Auxiliary of the Diocese of Western New York. St. Mary's the Virgin Mission Church was erected in 1896 and within a year Father Bellam had baptized forty Indians. After Bellam left Wadsworth to found St. Paul's Church in Sparks, traveling missionary Archdeacon A. Lester Hazlett presided over baptisms and marriages. Miss Taylor retired in 1909 due to ill health and soon after was tragically struck and killed by a train. A disastrous fire destroyed St. Mary's two days after Christmas 1911. The first resident priest, Percival S. Smithe, lost most everything in the fire and took up residence at Wadsworth. Bishop Robinson traveled to the East Coast, where he secured funds to rebuild the church in 1912. Several resident priests served St. Mary's Mission, including an American Indian in 1918. Thereafter until 1942, eleven of the thirteen assigned to lead the mission were lay women and deaconesses.

Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation straddled the Nevada–Oregon border 250 miles NNE of Reno. It recorded a baptism by Bishop Ozi Whitaker in 1883. Little was attempted to provide religious leadership to the estimated several hundred Paiutes and Shoshones on the reservation, until Bishop Thomas Jenkins appointed Deaconess Alice Wright, his friend and longtime Indian missionary from Nixon, to be McDermitt's first resident worker. She served in that capacity as the sole Episcopalian presence at St. Anne Mission from 1932 to 1940. One of the most celebrated persons to serve the Indians at Fort McDermitt was a Welsh actor, Gareth Hughes, who had a career on Broadway and in American silent movies. He became a star in Hollywood and appeared in forty-five films before he left what was described as his “bizarre and lavish” lifestyle to suddenly devote himself as a missionary to the Paiutes. He called himself “Brother David” and dressed, when necessary, in clerical garb for liturgical events. He was regarded by Nevada's Bishop William Fisher Lewis as uncannily able to connect and identify with the Indians in a way no other white man had before. Brother David began his work at McDermitt in 1942. He was reassigned to the Pyramid Lake Indians in Nixon and nearby Wadsworth in 1949, but he also continued to minister at McDermitt, 250 miles away, until 1955, at which time he was reassigned full-time to McDermitt. He was forced to retire in 1956, however, due to ill health. Hughes later moved to a cottage among his Hollywood friends, where it is said he performed a number of baptisms and funerals. He died at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in 1965, but he was buried in Reno at the Masonic cemetery. To his death he considered his work among the Paiutes to be his most gratifying years. He is well-remembered by his Paiute parishioners to this day.

Churches in the Railroad Towns

Towns even as small as Wadsworth built along the route of the Central Pacific Railroad proved more stable than many of the mining camps. Elko had only four Episcopal communicants in 1891, but in three years its resident vicar, William Henry Houghton, had increased the congregation to forty and presided over the building of its small frame St. Paul's Church in 1893, at the corner of Idaho and Fifth Streets. Houghton and his successors provided services for a small churchless Episcopal group forty miles north in the mining town of Tuscarora. This mission continued to be part of St. Paul's responsibility until its demise in 1928. Another mission of St. Paul's clergy was St. Luke's Church in Clover Valley south of Wells. The Rev. Percival Sargent Smithe became St. Paul's vicar in 1905 and also founded a mission (St. Andrew's, 1905) in Battle Mountain. Rev. Lloyd Brant Thomas was St. Andrew's first resident priest and served there until his promotion to St. Marks in Tonopah in 1907. Verdi, on the California–Nevada border, warranted only a tiny chapel with monthly services. It was destroyed by fire in 1816 and was never rebuilt. Smithe served four years in Elko before being assigned to Reno to organize a statewide Episcopal Sunday school system.

Ernest H. Price was ordained a deacon at St. Paul's in Elko in 1912 and became a priest the following year and served until 1918 before reassignment to Fallon. After several interim vicars, Fathers Seth Canfield Hawley and Frederick Charles Taylor served the church for fourteen years until 1937. The building suffered fire and water damage, but the congregation continued to make improvements to the church and rectory as the number of communicants increased with the growth of the city. St. Paul's did not become financially self-sufficient until 1947 and was declared a parish with the appointment of its first rector, John Nelson Brockman. Brockman worked five years and was succeeded briefly by Rev. Ralph Alla Stevens, who had transferred from recently established St. Timothy's in Henderson in 1951. He was followed by Wesley Frensdorff in 1954. Frensdorff had begun his Nevada ministry fresh out of seminary as a deacon at St. Mary's in Winnemucca.

The first Protestant Episcopal service in Reno was led by Bishop Whitaker in the school house at First Street between Sierra and West Streets on October 16, 1870. Whitaker personally organized Trinity Church Mission in January 1873 with the appointment of six vestrymen and Rev. William J. Lucas as minister. The mission comprised a temporary place of worship (the local county courthouse) for fifteen adult communicants, a rectory, and a Sunday school with seven teachers and sixty pupils. He ordered construction of a church at the corner of Sierra and Second Streets. Its architecture was a combination of Norman and early English Gothic. Whitaker formally opened the unfinished church in August 1875 and elevated the congregation from a mission to parish status. The church, which escaped by only a few yards the great fire of 1879, was completed and consecrated in June of that year. Protestant Episcopal churches suffered severely during the state's economic decline over the next twenty years. Because Reno's economy was less dependent on mining than that of most other towns, Trinity Church's membership more than doubled while its annual income continued to decline. Samuel Unsworth became rector in 1894 and served twenty-six years in the post. His longevity and general knowledge of the church in Nevada led Samuel P. Davis to invite Unsworth to author a history of the Protestant Episcopal Church for Davis's 1913 History of Nevada. Unsworth taught Latin and Greek at the University of Nevada and was occasionally accorded the title “Doctor.”

Episcopal Governance

After Bishop Talbot, two other bishops exercised jurisdiction in Nevada and adjacent states. Abiel Leonard succeeded Whitaker as bishop of Nevada and Utah in 1888. Nevada was considered so large and desolate that the 1898 General Convention divided Nevada's parishes and missions. Abiel, residing in Salt Lake City, was assigned the churches in eastern Nevada and Bishop William Hall Moreland of Sacramento had pastoral responsibility for western Nevada. Although he visited the Reno-Sparks area often, the Solomon-like cutting in half of Nevada's Episcopal jurisdiction proved unworkable. In 1908 the former schoolmaster of Racine College in Wisconsin, Dr. Henry Douglas Robinson, was chosen as bishop of the Missionary District of Nevada. According to Episcopal chronicler Thomas Jenkins, this refined, cultured, and handsome bishop was bested by the rough, uncouth and lawless Nevada that “killed him all too soon.” He was succeeded in 1914 by the Rt. Rev. George Coolidge Hunting, who had been seasoned to the rigors of Nevada by years of missionary service there and in Utah. He recognized that the churches built in the mining towns such as Eureka, Virginia City, and Austin had become stately shells virtually empty of worshippers. He focused his limited financial resources on acquiring property for missions in promising agricultural areas, such as Fallon. He received high praise from chronicler Jenkins as a vigorous missionary and tough-minded administrator who dealt severely with those disloyal and recalcitrant clergy among the clerical drifters so often found in the western mission field. In spite of his otherwise robust health, Hunting succumbed to pneumonia and died within days in 1924. Thomas Jenkins succeeded him in 1929 until William F. Lewis took over in 1942, as the Nevada economy began to recover. William Godsell Wright became bishop of the Missionary District of Nevada and presided over its early ecumenical relations with Roman Catholics and other Protestants between 1960 and 1962. Wesley Frensdorff came to St. Mary the Virgin Church in Winnemucca as a seminarian in 1951 and was ordained a priest there several months later. St. Paul's in Elko called him in 1954 and he served there until 1959 before accepting posts in Olympia, Washington, and Salt Lake City, Utah. Frensdorff was elected the first bishop of the newly constituted Episcopal Diocese of Nevada in 1972. Succeeding him were Stewart Clark Zabriskie (1986–1999), Katharine Jefferts Schori (2001–2006), who later became the twenty-sixth presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, and Dan Thomas Edwards (2008–present).

Northern Nevada Churches in Modern Times

By 1924, the state had no more than five stable parishes, in Carson City, Elko, Tonopah, Las Vegas, and Reno. The other once-flourishing churches were now missions served by a traveling vicar, archdeacon, or deaconess. Trinity Episcopal Church at Second and Sierra Streets in Reno was physically moved to Eighth and (what is now) Center Street in 1923, where it was set aside to serve university students and was renamed St. Stephen's Chapel. For the next six years it continued to serve both the students and the Trinity congregation, after which time the Trinity congregation moved to the south bank of the Truckee River at Island Avenue. The initial plan was to erect a cathedral starting with a crypt topped by a temporary bell tower. For reasons not entirely clear, Bishop Thomas Jenkins and the Trinity leadership decided to abandon the cathedral project, and the church reverted to parish status. In 1948 the main body of the church was erected over the crypt, where the church had been meeting since about 1929. Its mixture of Spanish and English Gothic design was the work of celebrated Reno architect Frederic J. DeLongchamps. The flooding Truckee River spilled into the crypt in 1950 and measures were taken quickly to ameliorate the effects of future floods. A full service parish house and hall was completed in 1959. By then, Trinity had grown to comprise 686 communicants and a Sunday school with 384 pupils. It continued to grow under the leadership of Rev. V. James Jeffery, who served as the church's rector from February 1973 to September 2005—the longest continual such tenure in Nevada's Episcopal diocesan history.

A number of Episcopalians living in the northern part of Reno during the 1930s chose to worship at St. Stephen's Chapel rather than at Trinity. In 1940, Bishop Jenkins restricted its use solely to university students who organized themselves as the Canterbury Club, with their pastor, Father Henry Thomas, as their campus minister. By the 1950s the student interest in St. Stephen's Chapel had virtually disappeared, and the presiding bishop, William Fisher Lewis, decided in 1954 to make it a parochial mission serving Reno's north side. He purchased a four-acre parcel on West Seventh Street as a future site for St. Stephen's. The chapel at Center and Eighth Streets was demolished in the 1960s to make way for Interstate 80, and a new St. Stephen's Church was erected on West Seventh Street in 1957. The church's architecture reflected the simplicity of the Reformed tradition and stood in marked contrast to the classic Gothic style of Trinity Church.

In the fast-growing southern edge of Reno, in 2010 St. Catherine of Siena Episcopal congregation continued to meet temporarily in the Roman Catholic Manogue High School chapel. Several miles north of downtown Reno, Lemmon Valley supported the Little Church in the Valley, providing for the liturgical and pastoral needs of Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Sparks was the result of a wholesale migration of Wadsworth's railroad shops and personnel twenty miles west to Sparks in 1905. Irish-born widower Rev. Thomas Lloyd Bellam had been pastor at Wadsworth since 1893, and as vicar of St. Paul's he became the oldest Episcopal priest in the state. The original Sparks church structure was located on Lincoln Street (later Pyramid Way) on what was called the O'Sullivan tract and was consecrated in 1908 by Nevada's recently appointed bishop, Henry Robinson. Father Bellam retired in 1919 after twenty-eight years of priestly service in Nevada. His successor, Father Henry Sanborn also was assigned to be chaplain at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 1937 the church came under criticism from Bishop Jenkins for its lack of “continuous church teaching with prayer Book [sic] practice.” He closed St. Paul's for several years and rented out the vicarage. Between 1937 and 1941 very few religious services were conducted there. Bishop William Fisher Lewis succeeded Jenkins in 1942 and took steps to energize St. Paul's. The parish made great strides under its several new vicars and built a new church in 1964 at 1135 Twelfth Street. It did not, however, receive parish status with a full time rector until 1968. By 2010 it enjoyed the service of two priests and supported a wide variety of pastoral, liturgical, and outreach services.

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in nearby Fallon dated from 1906 and in 2010 had the service of two priests and two deacons. St. John's in the Wilderness Episcopal Church shared the site of the venerable Camp Galilee on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe near Glenbrook. It took the name of the long-since closed church of the same name in Goldfield. It is a growing congregation of eighty-five families from both the Nevada and California sides of Lake Tahoe. It is served by two priests and two deacons. Further north, at Incline Village, is St. Patrick's Episcopal Church. Its rector and two priests also provide campus ministry to students at nearby Sierra Nevada College. One facility within the church, but with a separate entrance, is the Tahoe Memorial Columbarium—an arrangement of recessed niches for cremated remains. It is the only such location on Tahoe's north shore, and it is available to the public.

St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Carson City was organized as a parish (rather than a mission) in 1863. An unusual feature of St. Peter's was that its New England–style church was erected within five years of the parish organization. It was located on a site purchased from Jewish merchants Francis Mandlebaum and Abraham Klauber in the heart of what is now Carson City's historic district, at the corner of Division and Telegraph Streets. By 1875 the congregation numbered 62 adult communicants and had nearly 200 pupils in its Sunday school. The vestry purchased the church's first pipe organ in 1891 at a cost of $1,700—more than the rector's annual salary. In the same year, the first rectory was also made available for the free use of the resident priest. Over the next twenty years, eight rectors came and went, with only two serving more than two years. The reasons for the short tenures are not clear, but three of the priests were later deposed. With the departure of Father Charles H. Powell in 1909, parish morale was so low that the vestry voted to close the church for nearly a year.

The vestry took two democratizing actions in 1913 and 1915. It abolished the practice of renting pews and accordingly removed the attached nameplates. In addition, it granted suffrage to women church members when they were voting for wardens and vestry members. St. Peter's had remained only marginally self-supporting from its beginnings, and the vestry occasionally begged to be given mission status. Lack of funds sent four rectors packing over a period of five years. Upon departure of the latest, in 1924, the church closed again for several months. From 1920 to 1957 the struggling parish received aid from the church's national missionary society and local bishop as an “aided parish.” During this period, two of St. Peter's rectors provided a stable combined tenure of twenty-six years. By 2010, the 147-year-old parish enjoyed a rich variety of ministries. Having undergone several enlargements, the worship facility was also Nevada's oldest Episcopal church building still in use. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Churches in Southern Nevada

Founded in 1905, Las Vegas had among its early promoters and publicists Charles P. “Pop” Squires. Members of the Protestant Episcopal Christ Church Mission, established in 1907, often met in the Squires home prior to the arrival of a clergyman, Harry Graham Gray, who began to finance a church building. The new structure at 212 Carson Street with a capacity of seventy-five was dedicated March 8, 1908. Its bell, hung in 1909, was the first to ring from a church tower in Las Vegas. The congregation fell on hard times over the next fifteen years until the Holy Communion service was reinstated in 1924. The church was served by twelve clergymen up to Theodore H. Kerstetter in 1939. In 1941, Sister Hilary, M.D., and Sister Esther, members of the Order of the Holy Nativity from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, were stationed at the mission. These were among the first members of an Anglican/Episcopal religious order of women assigned to a western American church. It was elevated to parish status with Reginald G. Rosson named as its first rector in 1946. In 1953, Jessie Hunt, widow of real estate mogul Leigh Hunt, donated an acre of Maryland Street (now Maryland Parkway) to Christ Church for a new home. The downtown church property was sold for $105,000. A parish hall, Sunday school wing, and lastly a new church building and chapel completed the 2000 Maryland Parkway facility in 1962. During this rebuilding period, one rector died suddenly of a heart attack and another, T. Malcolm Jones, was murdered. Its sixth rector, Karl E. Spatz, served for twenty-six years.

Christ Church priests routinely served Boulder City, Goodsprings, Moapa, and Searchlight into the 1930s. In 1937 Bishop Jenkins wrote that Goodsprings had a chapel and a good Sunday school, while Searchlight was “up and down,” receiving occasional services from the priest at Boulder City. Rev. Arthur S. Kean of Christ Church had conducted the first liturgy in Boulder City in fall of 1930, and two years later St. Christopher Church was erected at the corner of Utah and Arizona Streets. Its uniquely carved rhyolite altar had been brought to Boulder City from the inactive St. John's in the Wilderness Church at Goldfield. St. Christopher's suffered for over a decade with rarely a resident priest until 1943. In 1954, it was elevated to the status of a parish with newly ordained David K. Wilson stabilizing the church as its rector for over five years. Over the next two decades, church women organized a multiplicity of fund-raising projects to furnish a rectory and a parish hall and kitchen. The church's interior was largely destroyed by fire in 1978 but was quickly restored.

All Saints Episcopal Church at 1401 West Washington Street in North Las Vegas was founded in 1960. It was arguably the fastest growing Episcopal congregation in Nevada. Its three deacons, six priests, and support staff served a wide range of ethnic groups, including special ministries to Filipinos and Hispanics. Several other Episcopal churches organized to serve a growing constituency in expanding Las Vegas. They included Grace in the Desert, St. Luke's, St. Matthew's, and St. Thomas Episcopal churches. The Episcopal African Christian Fellowship met at Christ Church.

Henderson's Episcopal Church presence was simply a mission in 1944 and nearly died with the closure of the Basic Magnesium plant that sustained the area. An organizational meeting of St. Timothy's Church took place in 1946, and a church building at 43 Pacific Avenue was partly completed for its first service in 1949. A new vicarage was added in 1960 as Henderson was poised to become one of the fastest growing cities in the country. In 2006 the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany was dedicated at 9041 South Pecos Road in Henderson by Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. It was the most permanent in a series of shelters for the congregation that had included a hospital, a middle school, and a police station. North of Las Vegas, in Pahrump, Rev. Julie Platson, two assistant priests, and a deacon served St. Martin the Desert Episcopal Church in 2009.

Total Ministry

The concept of “total ministry” is embedded in the tradition of discerning the spiritual gifts of every baptized person in a congregation and using them to the fullest, individually and as part of a team ministry. Bishop Wesley Frensdorff introduced this relatively new pastoral strategy in 1972. It was particularly appropriate for implementation in a state with many small mission churches unable to support full-time clergy or support staff. Frensdorff encapsulated his dream of a church where there was no clerical status or class of Christians—in short, “a ministering community rather than a community gathered around a minister.” His successor, Bishop Zabriskie, built on Frensdorff's dream, encouraging a variety of new congregational and diocesan lay ministries. The Frensdorff School of Christian Formation in northern Nevada is a lively expression of total ministry continuing education, utilizing local and regional resources as staff.

Since 1989, Desert Spirit has been the diocese's quarterly journal, communicating local ministerial activities to a statewide audience. In addition to the traditional youth and young adult ministries, the diocese is one of five major ecclesiastical bodies constituting the Religious Alliance in Nevada (RAIN), which advocates for social justice issues before the Nevada State Legislature and in the public forum. It is a member both of the Sierra Interfaith Action for Peace and of Family Promise, which provides food and shelter to at-risk families who are restructuring their lives and fortunes. By design, the diocese has no cathedral, and the current bishop, Dan Thomas Edwards, resides in Las Vegas. The Episcopal Church in Nevada numbers approximately 6,000 communicants in thirty-four missions and parishes, including one in Bullhead, Arizona.

Other Episcopal Churches in Nevada

There are several churches across the state that are titled “Episcopal” but explicitly maintain no affiliation with the Episcopal Church U.S.A. Some of these congregations have a relationship with the Anglican Church in North America or the Federation of Anglican Churches. St. Paul's Charismatic Episcopal Church in Henderson disclaims affiliation with all of these groups and is part of the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. The Episcopal churches in Nevada that are not in communion with the Episcopal Church U.S.A. exemplify the national and worldwide disputes within the Anglican and Episcopal traditions over ordination of women and gay priests as well as consecration of gay bishops and the blessing of single sex marriages.

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