Since 1821, Christ Church has been a sacred place in the heart of North Carolina’s capital city.
We are the oldest Episcopal congregation in the Raleigh area, the “mother” parish of several other Episcopal churches in Wake County, and one of the three largest parishes in the Diocese of North Carolina. We have a proud legacy of preparing leaders for the Church, the Raleigh community, our Diocese and the wider world. That tradition continues to flourish as Christ Church approaches its bicentennial in 2021.
The history of Christ Church is long, rich and complex. Although our past has interested generations of parishioners, no book-length treatment of Christ Church’s history appeared until 1997, when the parish published Davyd Foard Hood’s To the Glory of God: Christ Church 1821-1996. One reason may have had to do with the challenges inherent in working with limited primary source materials, particularly those that document the life of the parish during the middle decades of the Nineteenth Century. For unknown reasons, the Vestry minutes of this period were lost in the concluding years of the Reverend Dr. Richard Sharpe Mason’s rectorate. As a result, we know little about many facets of church life during the antebellum, Civil War and Reconstruction periods. Another reason is that, until recent years, Christ Church did not document its own history methodically. Many of the most important sources for parish history before 1950 are in the hands of families who have worshipped at Christ Church across generations. Helpful as To the Glory of God is as a general outline of Christ Church history, there is much left to consider and write about.
The following brief account of the parish’s first 188 years is intended to provide an overview of the major periods in Christ Church’s history.
(Prepared by Martin H. Brinkley and John Ward, September 2009)
We the undersigned desirous of promoting general piety and godliness, and more especially well wishers to the Cause of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States have agreed and do hereby associate ourselves into a Congregation of said Church to be known by the name of “Congregation of Christ’s Church Parish” humbly hoping thus to effect much good to the glory of God.
Minutes of Christ Church Vestry, August 1821
The founding of Christ Church is traditionally dated to the afternoon of Wednesday, August 1, 1821, when a group of “the friends & members of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States” met at five o’clock in a Raleigh home and agreed to form a congregation “to be known by the name of ‘Congregation of Christs [sic] Church.’” The meeting elected a five-member Vestry that included John Haywood, State Treasurer of North Carolina, as Senior Warden; John Louis Taylor, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, as Junior Warden; and William Henry Haywood, Jr., later a United States Senator from North Carolina, as Clerk. The new parish was received into the Diocese of North Carolina at the Diocesan Convention in the spring of 1822.
Although the August 1821 meeting was the first formal act looking to the establishment of an Episcopal presence in North Carolina’s young state capital, it was the culmination of years of work by leaders of the infant Diocese of North Carolina and a supportive bishop from neighboring Virginia. By the time the Constitution of the Episcopal Church was adopted in Philadelphia in 1789, only a few communicants of the Church of England remained in North Carolina. Anglicanism, strongly associated with unpopular church taxes and royal rule, had nearly vanished from the state during and immediately after the Revolution. By the late 1780s only one Church of England clergyman, the Reverend Nathaniel Blount, resided in North Carolina. For nearly thirty years Anglicans in North Carolina made abortive attempts to organize themselves into a diocese. They succeeded in 1817, when the Diocese of North Carolina was admitted into the Episcopal Church at that year’s General Convention. Bishop Richard Channing Moore (1762-1841) of the Diocese of Virginia encouraged the North Carolina Episcopalians and provided with episcopal oversight for more than five years, regularly visiting churches in the coastal towns of Edenton, New Bern and Wilmington to preach and confirm.
The City of Raleigh had grown slowly since its founding in 1792, when the North Carolina General Assembly first purchased a thousand acres of land in central Wake County from Joel Lane and planned a capital city to serve as the seat of state government. By 1800, the population was only 669. A law requiring high ranking state officials to reside in the capital led future Christ Church parishioners, such as State Treasurer John Haywood, to move to Raleigh from eastern counties where the Church of England had been strongest during the Colonial period. After the formation of the Diocese of North Carolina, Episcopalians from other parts of the state raised funds for missionary work, for which Raleigh was an early target. Four clergymen (including the Reverend William Mercer Green, later first Bishop of Mississippi) acted as Diocesan missionaries, regularly visiting Raleigh to conduct services. Services led by these missionaries were being held as often as monthly by August 1821.
By 1820, leaders of the Diocese had become committed to establishing a parish in the capital. The Diocesan Convention resolved to hold the following year’s convention in Raleigh and to invite Bishop Moore to attend. In a letter to a friend written three months prior to the 1821 Diocesan Convention, Bishop Moore said he was “pleasing [himself] with the prospect of my trip to Raleigh[,] constantly bearing in mind the assurance … that one Convention in that place would secure the erection of an Episcopal Church. … I am willing to declare, that it shall not be my fault, if an Episcopal spire is not raised in the metropolis of the Diocese.” After Bishop Moore chaired the Diocesan Convention in Raleigh’s First Presbyterian Church on April 28, William Henry Haywood, Jr. wrote to his friend, the prominent lawyer and churchman Duncan Cameron: “Laudible and active exertions are making for the erection and support of an Episcopal Church in Raleigh by subscription. … The aid of friends of the Church in other sections of the State must necessarily be asked and all are confident in hoping it will be executed.”
The efforts of clergy and lay leaders from parishes of the Diocese of North Carolina at some distance from Raleigh, together with those of Bishop Moore of Virginia, were thus critical to the establishment of Christ Church. The strong desire of Tar Heel Episcopalians for a “spire in the metropolis” led to an intensive commitment of scarce Diocesan resources for that purpose between 1817 and 1821. The Diocese’s eagerness for a Raleigh church became more intense over the next two years, in the calling of the parish’s first rector and in provisions for a church building. The role Episcopalians from other parts of the Diocese and outside North Carolina, and that the Diocese itself, played in the foundation of Christ Church cannot be overstated. The organizational meeting of the parish on August 1, 1821, was the culmination of years of effort by persons who never expected to benefit directly from the presence of any Episcopal church in Raleigh. One hundred years later, in his address at the centennial celebration of the founding of Christ Church, the venerated Bishop of North Carolina, Joseph Blount Cheshire, emphasized this point: “[Christ Church] was the outgrowth of the church in other communities. A year or two ago a correspondent in one of our Church papers spoke of Christ Church, Raleigh, as the mother parish of the Diocese. It might with more accuracy be styled the ‘daughter parish’ of the Diocese.”
After six years with no resident bishop, the Diocesan Convention met in Salisbury in 1823 and elected John Stark Ravenscroft, a 45 year-old priest from Lunenburg County, Virginia as the first Bishop of North Carolina. Bishop Moore had supervised Ravenscroft through the ordination process. Moore’s recommendation of Ravenscroft to North Carolina Episcopalians, who were grateful for the Virginia bishop’s support of their fledgling Diocese, probably assured Ravenscroft’s election. Shortly after his consecration in May 1823, Bishop Ravenscroft accepted the Vestry’s call as the first rector of Christ Church. In agreeing to dual roles as Bishop and rector, Ravenscroft likely had his mentor in mind: Moore had served for years as both Bishop of Virginia and rector of Monumental Church in Richmond. When Bishop Ravenscroft moved to Raleigh in December 1823, the capital city became the seat of the Diocese, and two-year old Christ Church—which did not yet even have a building to its name—became one of the most prominent parishes in the state.
The problem of a building was soon addressed, once again through the assistance of a faithful Episcopalian from another parish in the Diocese. Mary “Jackey” Sumner Blount, the wealthy daughter of Revolutionary War General Jethro Sumner and the childless widow of Major General Thomas Blount, signed a will in April 1822 bequeathing a “large sum of money” (now believed to be approximately $16,000) in trust for “the Building of a Protestant Episcopal Church in the City of Raleigh.” Mrs. Blount, a parishioner of Trinity Church, Tarboro, likely was influenced to make this, the earliest such gift to an Episcopal church in North Carolina, by her rector, the Reverend John Phillips, who had been one of the four missionaries whom the Diocese sent to hold services in Raleigh between 1817 and 1821. Six weeks after Bishop Ravenscroft’s arrival in Raleigh, on expectation of Mrs. Blount’s legacy the Vestry began raising funds to construct a church building on land across from the northeast corner of Union Square, at the intersection of Wilmington and Edenton Streets. Services were held in rented quarters until the church building, a small wooden structure designed by William Nichols, State Architect and designer of St. Paul’s Church, Edenton, was finally consecrated in 1829 after lengthy delays.
The consecration of Christ Church’s first building was Bishop Ravenscroft’s last service as Bishop of North Carolina before his death in Raleigh in March 1830. After the Bishop’s funeral at Christ Church, he was buried in a brick vault under the chancel of the William Nichols church. Upon construction of the present Richard Upjohn church in 1848-52, Bishop Ravenscroft’s remains, wrapped in a shroud, were relocated to a vault under the chancel of the new church. For many decades the precise location of this vault was uncertain, leading to speculation that the Bishop’s remains had not in fact been moved at the time the present church was built. During an extensive renovation in 2001, Bishop Ravenscroft’s burial vault was accidentally rediscovered by workmen moving stones in an area that lay under the chancel floor. The present Bishop of North Carolina, the Right Reverend Michael B. Curry, led a service reconsecrating the vault, to the great joy of the Christ Church family.
A few months before Bishop Ravenscroft’s death, the Vestry had elected the Reverend George Washington Freeman, a former student of the Bishop, as rector. Dr. Freeman’s eleven-year tenure saw the parish engage for the first time in extensive social relief and outreach ministry work among Raleigh’s less fortunate citizens. A native New Englander, Dr. Freeman enjoyed the esteem of his parishioners, but his strong antislavery views portended a clash that came to a head in the later 1830s. The rector became concerned by the “worldly pleasures,’ and in particular the “dancing parties,” that so appealed to members of the congregation. Disagreement hardened over this and other issues in 1839 and 1840, leading Dr. Freeman to conclude that he and the congregation were no longer “of one mind.” Dr. Freeman resigned in June 1840. He enlarged on his views about dancing and the other disagreements that gave rise to his resignation in a published statement. This provoked Vestryman George Edmund Badger (1795-1866), a member of the Vestry, future United States Senator and Secretary of the Navy, to a publish a lengthy rebuttal criticizing Dr. Freeman for his “denunciations of the world … vague and indiscriminate, … against Brussels carpets and damask curtains, against satin and lace, against ribbons and feathers, and all the fashions of the day used or approved by what are usually called ‘worldly people.’” Dr. Freeman served parishes in Tennessee, New Jersey and Delaware before being called to serve as Missionary Bishop of the Southwest (1844-1858).
Christ Church has had twelve rectors in its 188-year history. Six of the twelve served the parish for a collective 156 years, with four serving an average tenure of thirty-two years each. The first of these long serving rectors, the Reverend Dr. Richard Sharpe Mason, began his ministry on Christmas Day 1840 and remained at Christ Church until his death in February 1874. A former college president in New Jersey and New York, Mason had previously served as rector of Christ Church, New Bern and was well known in the Diocese of North Carolina. When he arrived in Raleigh in 1840, the city, which had grown to a population of more than 2,200, had recently witnessed the opening of a grand Greek Revival state capitol, directly across Wilmington Street from Christ Church. Raleigh had also become the terminus of the recently completed Raleigh and Gaston Railroad, which connected the city to other important rail lines along the eastern seaboard. The city was riding the tide of an economic boom in which leading members of Christ Church played important roles. One was George Washington Mordecai, the first president of the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad and a widely respected lawyer and banker. Mordecai, born into a prominent Jewish family, was baptized at Christ Church in 1839. Soon elected to the Vestry, Mordecai’s benefactions were essential to Christ Church’s financial survival throughout the Civil War and Reconstruction.
By the early 1840s, the congregation of Christ Church had outgrown William Nichols’s frame church. The new rector, Dr. Mason, had returned to North Carolina from New York, where he had come under the influence of the Oxford Movement. Mason had supervised the construction of Christ Church, New Bern during his rectorate of that parish in the 1820s, and now had lofty hopes for his new church in the state capital. He found a vigorous and powerful supporter in Bishop Ravenscroft’s successor, Levi Silliman Ives, a New Yorker with pronounced high church views on ecclesiastical architecture. (In 1831, Christ Church had hosted a Diocesan Convention at which Ives, then rector of St. Luke’s Church, New York City, was elected to succeed Bishop Ravenscroft as the second Bishop of North Carolina.) The confluence of the personalities of these two clergymen with the Oxford Movement led to the construction of one of North Carolina’s most distinguished and beautiful church buildings.
With the Nichols frame church growing more crowded, in December 1842, Dr. Mason wrote to English-born Richard Upjohn, the leading Gothic Revival-style church architect in America and founder of the American Institute of Architects, about a design for a new church for the Raleigh congregation. Efforts to raise the funds for a new church had begun in the late 1830s, before Dr. Mason’s arrival, propelled by conditions in the existing building. The effort to procure architectural drawings languished, however, until 1846, when Bishop Ives approached Upjohn. For Ives, a strong advocate for the Episcopal Church in North Carolina, the prospect of obtaining a church designed by the celebrated Gothic Revivalist for the capital of his state was a matter of pride. With his design of Trinity Church, Wall Street (consecrated in May 1846), Upjohn had introduced Gothic architecture to the American church scene. Ives, who was married to the daughter of Bishop Hobart of New York, would have seen the work progressing on Trinity Church on visits to the city, and his ambition for Christ Church, Raleigh would have been kindled. He fully understood the potential of Christ Church as “the means of introducing a new style of church architecture in the South” (as Dr. Mason wrote to Upjohn). Thus, Bishop Ives conferred a remarkable legacy on Christ Church. It was another example of the vibrant connection between the parish and the Diocese of North Carolina.
Richard Upjohn’s plan for Christ Church is patterned after a Gothic parish of the English countryside, complete with garden setting and bell tower. Although the congregation had only 200 members in 1848, when Bishop Ives laid the cornerstone, Dr. Mason and his Vestry built a church that would hold more than 600, looking to a bright future for the congregation and the City of Raleigh. The work continued through 1850 and possibly into 1851. All funds were exhausted with the construction of the church building; nothing was left to complete the fitting of the interior. The Vestry’s solution was to sell pews in the new building, with the sale to be held on the day after Christmas, 1851. The sale was a success: Dr. Josiah Ogden Watson, Senior Warden and a prominent Raleigh physician, together with his Vestry colleagues George Washington Mordecai and Judge Duncan Cameron, purchased more pews than their families needed in order to expedite completion of the interior. Work proceeded throughout 1852 and, after a series of delays, the new church was finally consecrated on January 4, 1854. As a result of Bishop Ives’s conversion to Roman Catholicism near the end of 1852 (an event that caused uproar among the members of Christ Church and throughout the Diocese of North Carolina), his successor, Thomas Atkinson, third Bishop of North Carolina, performed the consecration service.
For unknown reasons (perhaps related to lack of funds following completion of the church itself), work on the detached bell tower that Richard Upjohn’s original plans had called for was not begun until 1859, with funds bequeathed to the Vestry by Dr. Josiah Ogden Watson “for the purpose of building a Steeple or Tower to the new church Edifice.” Senior Warden George Washington Mordecai awarded the contract for construction of the tower to John Whitelaw, a Scottish stonemason. For reasons that are now unclear, Whitelaw turned to a different quarry for the granite used in the tower. The tower stone is a cool grey, thrown into relief by the red stones used to outline the window openings, as compared to the warm tan color of the granite used for the church walls. The tower was completed in February 1861, just two months prior to the firing on Fort Sumter that opened the Civil War. The gilded weathercock at the tower’s peak, a common feature of English country churches, was included in Upjohn’s original design. (Local wags often enjoy repeating the saying that the rooster atop the Christ Church steeple was the only chicken left in Raleigh when General Sherman’s troops withdrew from the capital on April 28-29, 1865.) The tower was equipped with a single bell for more than a century until, in 1985, five bells cast by John Taylor & Company, Bellfounders, of Loughsborough, Leicestershire, were installed on an eight bell frame. Three more bells were added in the early 1990s to complete a full diatonic ring of eight. Changes are regularly rung by members of the parish’s own guild of bellringers and by visiting bands of ringers. The tower’s granite was repointed, strengthened and fully restored in 1995.
In 2000-2001, Richard Upjohn’s English country church, built and furnished for a total expense of $30,000, was meticulously restored at a cost of $3.1 million. A committee of dedicated parishioners, chaired by Florence B. Winston and J. Cross Williams and advised by church architect Terry Eason of Chapel Hill, supervised a massive and complex restoration project: The interior of the church was gutted, floor supports and walls were strengthened, and interior decorations which had been modified over the years since 1852 were returned to their original appearance. Electrical and HVAC systems were completely modernized. Every salvageable piece of pine flooring and paneling, and every pew, were returned to their original locations. It was the first extensive work on the church building since its construction. Today, one of North Carolina’s most beautiful churches is in superb physical condition and well equipped to serve future generations.
The beauty of Christ Church has been the subject of comment ever since its consecration by Bishop Atkinson in 1854. America’s leading landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead, traveled through the South in the early 1850s. In 1856 he published an account of his journey in which he told readers that “[a] church, near the Capitol, is very beautiful; cruciform in ground plan, the walls of stone, the interior wood-work of oiled native pine . . . .” Christ Church was one of the first buildings to be designated a “historic site” by the Raleigh City Council in 1968, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, and in 1988 was designated a National Historic Landmark. Over the course of fifteen decades, Christ Church’s rectors, Vestry members and parishioners have been faithful stewards of the architectural legacy conferred on them by Bishop Ives and Richard Upjohn.
The onset of war in April 1861 brought an end to two decades of relative prosperity and affluence in North Carolina. The state, which by careful attention to internal improvements had finally begun to cast off its image as the nation’s “Rip Van Winkle” state, was reluctant to join other Southern states in secession and was the next-to-last state to leave the Union. Once the fateful decision was taken, however, North Carolina dedicated itself completely to the Confederate cause, furnishing more troops to General Lee’s armies than any other state. Raleigh, with its rail terminus and location well behind the primary lines of battle in Virginia and inland from the coastal regions of North Carolina, was a convenient location for hospitals for wounded Confederate soldiers. Families fleeing homes in the eastern counties and southern Virginia came to the Raleigh area seeking safety. War-related deaths and injuries affected the lives of includely all members of Christ Church. One prominent loss was Brigadier General Lawrence O’ Bryan Branch (1820-1862) at Antietam. (The Raleigh Register reported that his funeral attracted the largest assembly of citizens since Henry Clay visited Raleigh in 1844.) Christ Church parishioners Dr. Charles Earl Johnson and Dr. Edmund Burke Haywood had leading roles as physicians with North Carolina troops (Johnson) and as supervisor of Raleigh’s hospitals (Haywood). The rector, Dr. Mason, and his wife Mary regularly visited sick and wounded soldiers, brought them to convalesce in the rectory, and corresponded with anxious parents.
The loss of the Vestry minutes for nearly fifty years—1826 to 1874—has deprived us of the best primary source for the life and ministries of Christ Church during the middle decades of the Nineteenth Century. Diocesan records show that the church continued to host Diocesan Conventions at regular intervals after 1821. One of the most important conventions took place at Christ Church on September 13, 1865, five months after the Confederate surrender, and gave the parish a role in preserving the Episcopal Church as a unified national church. A convention committee chaired by Dr. Mason considered Bishop Thomas Atkinson’s request for advice on whether he should attend the General Convention of the Episcopal Church scheduled for that fall in Philadelphia. The committee unanimously supported their Bishop’s desire to seek reconciliation between the dioceses in the South and those in the North. Bishop Atkinson was the only diocesan bishop from the former Confederate States to attend the General Convention of 1865. Warmly received by the northern bishops, who readily admitted him to their councils, Atkinson used his powers of quiet diplomacy to restore full relations between the northern and southern dioceses. His efforts, complemented by his personal dignity and humility, enabled the Episcopal Church to avoid a split along geographic lines.
The Vestry’s decision to sell pews to finance the completion of the Upjohn church’s interior, though a short-term success, laid the foundation for the impoverishment of church finances for the remainder of the Nineteenth Century. The effect of the sale was to place seating in the church in private hands, except for a small number of “free pews” available to visitors or members who did not own pews. As Raleigh grew after the Civil War, the number of persons joining Christ Church or attending services increased. There was real difficulty in providing seating to all who sought to worship in the church. By the 1870s the problem became acute, and was compounded by Bishop Atkinson’s preaching against the practice of selling or renting pews on grounds that it discouraged the interest of the “middle and lower classes of our population” in the Episcopal Church. Some members began to have philosophical objections to privately held pews in public churches. Christ Church found itself at a real disadvantage when it could not accept new members and guarantee them seating.
To finance the rector’s salary and operate the church, the Vestry in the 1850s had begun assessing the congregation on an annual basis. Loss of the Vestry minutes makes it impossible to determine on what basis the assessments were made. In the earliest known copy of the a list of the yearly assessments, dated 1872, the Senior Warden, Kemp Plummer Battle, later President of the University of North Carolina (1876-1891), and Dr. Thomas Devereux Hogg, a shareholder in the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad and the Raleigh Gaslight Company, were each assessed $200. A few other prominent parishioners were assessed between $100 and $200, while ninety-four parish families were levied upon for amounts ranging from $10 to $80.
The matter was resolved, in part, in late 1873 and early 1874, when a small group of Christ Church members withdrew and organized a free pew Episcopal church, The Church of the Good Shepherd, on the west side of the State Capitol. As the two Episcopal churches on or near Union Square, Christ Church and the Church of the Good Shepherd enjoy a close relationship that is celebrated each year, when a joint service is held at each church in alternate years on the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving Day.
Following Dr. Mason’s death in 1874, the Vestry elected the Reverend Dr. Matthias Murray Marshall as his successor. A native North Carolinian and graduate of the University of North Carolina, Dr. Marshall had served as a chaplain in the Confederate Army and was rector of Emmanuel Church, Warrenton when called to Christ Church. Dr. Marshall’s tenure, like Dr. Mason’s, lasted for more than thirty-three years and was marked by important transitions. In 1875, the parish’s communicants numbered 175. By 1906, the year of Dr. Marshall’s final parochial report to the Diocese, the number of communicants had doubled to 350. Expanded services and outreach accompanied this growth in membership. Gifts of handsome, costly stained glass windows and other memorials enriched both the setting and the spirit of the congregation’s worship. A lasting accomplishment of Dr. Marshall’s rectorate, largely complete by the 1890s, was the transition from private ownership and rental of pews to a free pew church.
The Vestry’s establishment of Saint Saviour’s Mission in 1891 began one of the most significant outreach ministries in Christ Church’s history. That year the Vestry erected a mission chapel on a lot located in northwest Raleigh’s factory district. The mission was intended to serve families who worked in the mills. The parish also founded a parochial school at Saint Saviour’s with income from a $5,000 bequest made to the church by Dr. Josiah Ogden Watson. Beginning in 1894, Dr. Marshall was helped by a series of assistants who also took charge of the work at Saint Saviour’s. For more than fifty years, Saint Saviour’s continued to be Christ Church’s primary outreach ministry. In the late 1940s, Saint Saviour’s was admitted into union with the Diocese as a parish separate from Christ Church, and left the downtown for new facilities on Six Forks Road. The Saint Saviour’s property was eventually sold to the City of Raleigh Housing Authority, which used the mission church and rectory as offices through the 1990s. In 2001, Christ Church renewed its connection to Saint Saviour’s by forming a nonprofit corporation, Saint Saviour’s Center, to lease the Saint Saviour’s property for an outreach ministries center. Today, Christ Church operates Saint Saviour’s Center in cooperation with White Memorial Presbyterian Church.
When Dr. Marshall informed the Vestry of his intention to retire due to ill health in January 1907, the Vestry called the Reverend Dr. Milton Augustus Barber, rector of the Church of Saint Athanasius, Burlington, to serve as Dr. Marshall’s assistant and to succeed him as rector. While his tenure (1908-1935) was not as long as his two predecessors’, Dr. Barber led Christ Church through a similar period of change and progress, manifested in a doubling of the congregation (from 350 to 675) and a major expansion to the church’s physical plant for which the Vestry exercised extraordinary dedication to the parish’s tradition of architectural excellence.
By 1910, the Christian education programs of a vibrant and growing parish were expanding. Mindful of the character and significance of Richard Upjohn’s antebellum masterpiece, the Vestry approached his grandson, Hobart Brown Upjohn, to design a parish house complementary to and respectful of the church, yet capable of housing Sunday School, meeting spaces, offices and a chapel. At his previous cure, the Church of Saint Athanasius in Burlington, Dr. Barber had worked with Hobart Upjohn in the design of a new church. Dr. Barber’s experience with Upjohn, like Richard Sharpe Mason’s with Upjohn’s grandfather sixty years before, proved of great value to Christ Church. The newly finished parish house, positioned off the northeast corner of the church in a complementing, yet subservient, location and connected to the sacristy by a cloister similar to that which connected the church to the bell tower, was dedicated by Bishop Joseph Blount Cheshire in September 1914. An illustrated article in the Carolina Churchman of December 1914 commented: “This splendid new building, with the stately church, forms one of the most impressive groups of ecclesiastical architecture in the South.” Hobart Upjohn’s work at Christ Church during this period also included the design of a grand memorial altar and reredos of Caen stone for the church, installed in 1915 in memory of Dr. Marshall. A decade later, the Vestry worked with Hobart Upjohn again to add a narthex at the west entrance of the church as a memorial to Dr. Richard Henry Lewis, Senior Warden for more than thirty-seven years and pioneering Secretary of the North Carolina State Board of Health. (Following Dr. Lewis’s death in 1926, the church adopted a system of rotating three-year terms for Vestry members that continues today.)
When Dr. Barber retired in 1935, a succession of three rectors had served Christ Church for nearly a century (1840-1935). During the next twenty years, the parish had the unusual experience (for it) of four relatively brief rectorates, none lasting longer than eight years. During this period, the Vestry drew on Dr. Josiah Ogden Watson’s $5,000 legacy to establish a permanent parochial school at Saint Saviour’s Mission. Ravenscroft School was named for the first Bishop of North Carolina and first rector of Christ Church. The school operated successfully at Saint Saviour’s for thirty years, during which the Vestry doubled as its board of trustees. In the mid-1960s, the Vestry permitted Ravenscroft to become a self-governing institution. In 1969 the school moved to a new 125-acre campus in north Raleigh. Ravenscroft currently enrolls more than 1,250 students in kindergarten through twelfth grade
During the years just prior to and immediately following World War II, residential development in Raleigh was becoming increasingly suburban. Many Christ Church parishioners left downtown neighborhoods with their grand Victorian homes, all located within a few blocks’ walk of the church, and moved to newer suburbs north and west of the Capitol. By the early 1970s, this migration away from downtown was complete, and few parishioners lived near the church. Other Episcopal churches in Raleigh, such as Saint Michael’s, Saint Timothy’s, and to a lesser extent Good Shepherd—all of which had been established in whole or part with cooperation from Christ Church—were located closer to members’ homes than Christ Church. These developments did not lead to any meaningful diminution in Christ Church’s membership, however. Instead, Christ Church became a “destination” church to which parishioners came to experience the beauty of its liturgy and music, the excellence of its educational programs for adults and children, and the vitality of its outreach ministries.
In August 1957, the Reverend Stephen Condict Walke, who had served as rector for five years, announced that he had received a call to join the staff of the national office of the Episcopal Church. His assistant, the Reverend Bruce Daniel Sapp, had come to Christ Church from Christ Church, Albemarle, North Carolina, the previous year. The Vestry named Mr. Sapp as interim rector effective September 16, 1957, the day after Mr. Walke’s departure. As discussion within both the Vestry and the parish proceeded in the weeks after Mr. Walke’s announcement, a groundswell of support arose for naming Mr. Sapp as the eleventh rector of Christ Church. The efforts of the search committee were discontinued, and on September 20, 1957, Mr. Sapp, at the age of thirty-two, began the longest rectorate in the history of the parish.
At the end of Mr. Sapp’s thirty-four year tenure, parishioners lovingly recalled their association with a man who even at the end of his ministry still professed to be an “amateur.” This self-description reflected an approach to ministry and life that enabled Mr. Sapp to reach across social and political lines and influence the lives and deeds of many who called for his counsel. His rectorate embraced years of significant social, political and economic change at Christ Church, in North Carolina and across the nation. Coming to Christ Church just three years after the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Mr. Sapp successfully guided the parish through the difficult years of desegregation in a conservative Southern state capital. A visible role for women developed slowly at Christ Church, as it did in the Episcopal Church as a whole, but by the mid-1970s Mr. Sapp had been successful at promoting women to positions of parish leadership. Parishioners first elected a woman, Dr. Eloise Cofer, to the Vestry in 1972. In 1977, Mr. Sapp asked Alice Cheshire Haywood to serve as Christ Church’s first female Senior Warden. In 1979, the parish sponsored a woman as a candidate for ordination to the priesthood.
The Episcopal Church’s adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, perceived as a challenge to tradition by many at Christ Church, required Mr. Sapp’s best efforts of persuasion and education to be understood as another evolutionary step in the development of the Episcopal Church’s liturgical practice. He proposed to celebrate the Eucharist as it would have been performed in 150, 500, 1450, 1650, the later nineteenth century, and the Trial Liturgy of 1972. Held on successive Sundays during Lent, the services dramatized the essential fact that while the manner of celebrating the Eucharist has changed again and again, its substance remains intact and constant. In the end, few parishioners left Christ Church or ceased attending as a result of the introduction of the “new” 1979 Prayer Book.
Working with committed parishioners, Mr. Sapp expanded Christ Church’s Christian outreach ministries to a level of vitality never before experienced. He engaged the parish in support for missionaries in Haiti. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Christ Church’s support was critical to the establishment and continued operation of the New Bern Avenue Day Care Center, which provided day care for youngsters whose families were not eligible for public assistance yet but did not have the means to afford conventional child care or kindergarten. Wake Relief, an interdenominational agency established at Christ Church in 1975, provided emergency food and clothing to poor and needy citizens of Raleigh on recommendation of the Wake County Department of Social Services. The project developed out of a challenge by Bishop Fraser for parishes to address the problems of hunger at the local level. Initially, both the food pantry and clothing closet were housed at Christ Church, in the basement of the Baker Wing. The clothes closet was later relocated to the First Baptist Church on the west side of Union Square. The food pantry is now housed at Saint Saviour’s Center and is a centerpiece of Christ Church’s outreach ministries at the former Saint Saviour’s location. Several Raleigh churches, including the Church the Good Shepherd, Saint Michael’s and Saint Mark’s Episcopal Churches, White Memorial and West Raleigh Presbyterian Churches, and Martin Street and Pullen Memorial Baptist Churches have provided financial and volunteer support to Wake Relief.
By the late 1960s, Christ Church’s expanded roster of parish activities could no longer conveniently be housed in the 1914 parish house and the former rectory. The survival of the downtown church and growth in membership demanded improved facilities and amenities. The expansion of the parish house and the construction of the Baker Wing in 1969-1970 met this challenge. Hobart Brown Upjohn’s deference to his grandfather’s church in his design of the parish house was a theme of this, Christ Church’s second major construction project of the Twentieth Century. Durham, North Carolina architect Archie Royal Davis preserved the integrity and setting of the Upjohn buildings in the Gothic Revival style and warm stone masonry of the 1968-70 Baker Wing, which houses Sunday School classrooms, youth and adult meeting spaces, and administrative offices. The Baker Wing was renovated in 2008 at cost of $1.3 million.
When Mr. Sapp announced his retirement in 1991, Christ Church was faced with the difficult task of calling a new rector for the first time since 1952. After a search of more than a year, the Vestry unanimously elected the Reverend Dr. Winston Breeden Charles, a native of Bennettsville, South Carolina then serving on the clergy staff of Saint James’s Church, Madison Avenue, New York City, as rector in April 1993. Dr. Charles came to Christ Church in August 1993 and served more than fifteen years, until his retirement in December 2008.
In 1970 the baptized membership of Christ Church was 1,288 persons. The parochial report for 1980 reflected a modest increased to 1,349 members. During the final decade of Mr. Sapp’s rectorate (1982-1992), however, baptized membership increased by thirty-three percent to 1,760. This trend continued throughout Dr. Charles’s rectorate, so that by the end of 2008 membership had increased to more than 2,600. During Dr. Charles’s tenure alone Christ Church added nearly 1,000 new members to its register. This growth was attributable to three primary factors. First, rapid increases in the population of the Research Triangle area throughout the 1990s and 2000s (a trend which continues today) greatly increased the potential “pool” of members from which Christ Church could draw. Second, Dr. Charles’s vigorous leadership and expansion of vibrant program offerings attracted many young families. Third, a significant urban renewal movement took place in downtown Raleigh, leading Christ Church to reflect on its identity as a “destination” parish. These factors continue to influence the growth and health of Christ Church today.
The Vestry hoped Dr. Charles would bring new perspectives and innovation to a traditional congregation that was experiencing strong growth in membership, and he did so. Over the course of his fifteen-year tenure, Dr. Charles introduced new worship services and programs designed to minister to a larger congregation. Christ Church experienced revitalization in the spiritual and liturgical quality of its worship services. Observances of Morning Prayer began on four weekdays. Weekday services to mark important feast days of the church not occurring on Sunday were regularly celebrated, and the choir began to present Choral Evensong services on Sunday evenings to mark points of transition in the church year. Beginning in September 1993, the rector instituted a late afternoon Sunday service less formal in character than the three morning services. In recent years this service has taken the form of a Contemplative Eucharist with Taize chant and special musical offerings, and has been popular with persons who are not Christ Church members. Dr. Charles helped to put worship and liturgy at the center of life at Christ Church, creating a focal point for an increasingly diverse parish community.
In 1994, Dr. Charles called the Reverend Nancy Jean Allison, rector of All Souls’ Church, Clinton, South Carolina, to be the first female priest on the staff of Christ Church. Ms. Allison brought strong leadership to adult education and the Christian social ministry of the parish, and instituted the Disciples of Christ in Community and Kerygma programs at Christ Church. Ms. Allison, who retired in April 2009, was an outstanding preacher whose sermons are remembered as a highlight of worship services by many parishioners. Another assistant, the Reverend David A. Pfaff (1992-1997), helped establish the Stephen Ministry program for pastoral care as well as the Lay Eucharistic Ministry, in which licensed lay persons take the consecrated bread and wine to homebound or hospitalized parishioners. Dr. Charles’s other priest assistants—the Reverends R. Scott White, Barbara Chaffee and John D. Rohrs—were beloved members of the Christ Church staff, each of whom made unique contributions to the life of the parish. During Dr. Charles’s tenure and today, Christ Church has been ably served by vocational deacons Albert L. Moore, the first African American clergyman to serve the parish, and David Crabtree, who is also the anchor of the evening news program at WRAL-TV, the Raleigh-based television station.
Early in Dr. Charles’s rectorate, Christ Church conducted an intensive long-range planning study known as Christ Church 2000, which occupied the time and talents of dozens of parishioners for more than a year. This coordinated examination of parish life, conceived by Dr. Charles early in 1994, was valued as an “opportunity for the congregation of Christ Church to explore in what directions God is calling us as a historic parish in downtown Raleigh, to dream about our future, to explore what we could preserve, amend and add.” A steering committee’s published report outlined the direction of Christ Church toward the year 2000. The practice of seeking congregational input on the direction of Christ Church and issues affecting the parish has continued into the 2000s, with two recent parishioner surveys in 2004 and 2007.
In 2000, the Vestry became aware that Richard Upjohn’s 1848 church was in need of substantial repair. As described elsewhere in this account, work began in the fall of 2000 to restore the church to its original condition. For more than a year, the congregation held services in the auditorium of the neighboring North Carolina Department of Transportation while a complete restoration of the church proceeded. Upon the congregation’s return to the church, the Vestry began the most intensive capital campaign in Christ Church’s history. The campaign, which ultimately raised $7.4 million, paid for the church restoration ($3.1 million). It also enabled the Vestry to gain control of most of the half block on which the church stands by purchasing the Capitol Apartments, Raleigh’s oldest apartment building. The parish currently operates the Capitol Apartments as a stand-alone investment property, but has hopes of integrating the property into Christ Church in the future, as resources permit. The capital campaign also funded a portion of the cost of an extensive renovation of the Baker Wing, which was completed in the summer of 2008. Under Dr. Charles’s leadership, the Vestry founded the Mary Sumner Blount Legacy Guild to encourage parishioners to join donors from prior generations in providing resources for the future of Christ Church through testamentary gifts.
The strong connections between Christ Church and the Diocese of North Carolina, and between Christ Church and the national Episcopal Church, are a theme of great importance in the history of the parish. Since the rectorate of Bishop Ravenscroft, bishops of the Diocese of North Carolina have cared for Christ Church, and the clergy and laity of Christ Church have participated in and supported the ministry of the Diocese.
This brief history has already emphasized the role played by the Diocese in the founding of Christ Church, Christ Church’s unique experience of having the Diocese’s first bishop as the parish’s first rector, and the vision of Bishop Levi Silliman Ives in urging Richard Upjohn to design one of America’s most architecturally distinguished church buildings for Christ Church. An equally important aspect of these relationships has been the strong commitment of individual Christ Church clergy and lay parishioners to leadership roles in the Diocese and the national Church. The following are a few examples:
- Since 1821, the Diocese of North Carolina has elected many Christ Church rectors and laypeople as deputies to the General Conventions of the Episcopal Church.
- Many of Christ Church’s clergy and laity have served on the Standing Committee and Diocesan Council of the Diocese of North Carolina. Christ Church’s last two permanent rectors, the Reverends Bruce Daniel Sapp and Dr. Winston B. Charles, both served multiple terms on the Standing Committee and in other Diocesan capacities.Our current Rector Search Committee co-chair, Sherwood H. Smith, Jr., has served on the Standing Committee in the past. Martin Brinkley, a past and current member of the Vestry, is now serving as Vice Chancellor of the Diocese and as a member of the Standing Committee.
- Christ Church clergy and lay members have served as Treasurers of the Diocese, trustees of the Diocese, trustees of various Diocesan institutions, historiographers of the Diocese, and as chairs and members of numerous Diocesan committees and bodies.
No Christ Church parishioners have served the Diocese more faithfully and with greater distinction in recent years than father and son Alfred L. Purrington, Jr. and Alfred L. Purrington, III. From the late 1920s until his death in 1997, the elder Mr. Purrington was a Trustee of the Diocese for more than fifty years and Chancellor of the Diocese from 1973 to 1983. He was a member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, deputy to the General Convention, and a member of the Diocese’s Commission on Constitution and Canons. The younger Mr. Purrington carried on his father’s example, serving as Vice Chancellor and Chancellor of the Diocese, deputy to the General Convention, member and chair of the Commission on Constitution and Canons, member of the board of directors of Penick Village (the Diocese’s home for the elderly in Southern Pines, North Carolina), and member of the board of directors of The Episcopal Church Foundation. The Messrs. Purrington rendered their Diocesan service in addition to serving numerous terms on the Christ Church Vestry and in a variety of leadership roles within the parish.
Davyd Foard Hood, To the Glory of God: Christ Church 1821-1996 (Christ Church, Raleigh, N.C. 1997).
Lawrence F. London & Saran M. Lemmon eds., The Episcopal Church in North Carolina, 1701-1959 (Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C., 1987).