Ascension Episcopal Church Consecrated on Ascension Day (May 18th), 1882 -
139 Years of History
A Brief History of Ascension
CORNER OF TOWNVILLE AND SOUTH 2ND STREETS
CURRENT HOME OF THE BLUE RIDGE ARTS COUNCIL
Ascension as we know it today is a relatively new parish, having been first established with a full-time priest in 1977. Its mission antecedents, however, go much further back in history. In the turbulent decade of the 1850s, immediately preceding the Civil War, what we now know as Oconee County was little other than farmland and forest, with small towns at Walhalla and West Union, and was considered part of Pendleton District, Pendleton being then the most thriving town in the area. Seneca did not yet exist. The Rector of St. Paul's in Pendleton, the Rev. Andrew W. Cornish, began to hold semimonthly services at the plantation of Ransom Calhoun in what we now know as Oconee County. Thus the Episcopal Church was one of the earliest church presences in the area, together with a large German Lutheran population which founded Walhalla, approximately ten miles northwest of Seneca, at about the same time.
Seneca City was founded in 1873, and in 1876 Father Cornish's successor at St. Paul's, the Rev. Henry T. Gregory, transferred eleven St. Paul's communicants to organize the Seneca City Mission. A building program was begun, utilizing land donated by Dr. O. M. Doyle at the corner of what are now Townville and South 2nd Streets. The "Chapel of the Ascension," the first church building erected in Seneca, was consecrated on Ascension Day (May 18th), 1882.
For the ensuing 95 years, priests assigned to St. Paul's in Pendleton, and subsequently to Holy Trinity in Clemson, provided worship, liturgical, and other services at Ascension in Seneca. As the mission church's first century drew to a close, however, it was apparent that congregational growth had reached a point where a full-time priest, and full status as a parish, were appropriate. Therefore, in July, 1977, the Vestry called the Rev. Frederick C. ("Fritz") Walker to be Ascension's first full-time rector. Through his leadership, Father Walker brought Ascension from mission to parish status, a process completed in December.
That same congregational growth, and the positive prospects for continued growth, also rendered the old mission church facility inadequate, and the congregation undertook a building campaign to erect a new facility. Through the generosity and sacrifice of parish members, six acres of land were purchased on Northampton Road; the land was consecrated and construction begun in May, 1982; and the new church was completed in 1985. A children's picnic and play area, a columbarium in the Nave, and an outdoor memorial garden were added in the early 1990s.
Father Walker retired in 1994. Following an extensive search, the Rev. James R. Neill III was called to be our rector in 1995. Under his leadership, and again with great generosity and sacrifice from the congregation, a new building plan was executed, 1998 - 2001, expanding the Nave and Narthex; adding classrooms and a chapel; improving administrative facilities; and adding an entirely new parish hall with seating space and a modern kitchen which have vastly enhanced our abilities to conduct or host social activities for ourselves and the community. Father Neill retired in June, 2005 (article found on the Internet- author and source unknown).
The Rev. Wayman Henry was assigned as Ascension's interim rector, until the search committee selected the Rev. Carol Phillips Marshall as its full-time rector in 2009. During her leadership the Labyrinth, Outdoor Chapel and Community Garden were built. Rev. Marshall retired in July, 2019. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the church remained active by hosting a Zoom service each Sunday. The bishop then allowed us to re-open by following the CDC guidelines.
In March, 2021, Ascension called the Reverend Dr. Joel G. Hafer, a retired priest from Hendersonville, NC. Rev. Hafer, our Priest-in-Charge, celebrates the Holy Eucharist Rite II Episcopal service for Ascension each Sunday at 10AM. Please come worship with us, or join us on Zoom, and meet Reverend Hafer and his wife Anne. He also conducts a Service of Healing with the Eucharist on Tuesdays at noon. Reverend Hafer is in the office on Mondays and Tuesdays and would welcome a visit or telephone call. He is anxious to meet all of you.