Pilgrimage series shares stories of Western North Carolina’s historically black episcopal churches

Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina
Posted Oct 7, 2022

St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Asheville

Journey into the stories of historically black churches with the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina’s Barrier Breakers: The Pilgrimage, a series that takes participants on the road to visit, listen and reflect.

Audio recordings of the stories of parishes in Asheville, Morganton, Lincolnton, Rutherfordton, Tyron, Murphy and Franklin seek to share the history of black episcopal churches in the Western North Carolina region. Some parishes include multiple locations of interest.

The stories have been collected through a series of interviews, parish visits and conversations. Those participating are invited to listen, reflect and continue learning.

“I believe that the journey of faith with Jesus is an adventure into God’s bold, wildly imaginative, joyful, and merciful mission of redemption and reconciliation,” said the Rt. Rev. José McLoughlin, bishop of the diocese of Western North Carolina.

The website, barrierbreakerspilgrimage.org, offers a map and the recording for each location. The pilgrimage is intended to be done in person, but photos on the website make the pilgrimage accessible from the comfort of home as well.

St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Murphy

Barrier Breakers was launched in February 2021 as a featured video series for Black History Month. The series aimed to amplify black voices and featured short interviews with five people of color in the Diocese of Western North Carolina.

Those featured included; Forney “Skeet” Happoldt, the first child of color to attend the diocesan summer camp, Brianna Richardson, a young adult leader for campus ministry, Bill and Diane Mance, original members of the diocesan Commission to Dismantle Racism, and Pam Hemphill, a catalyst in beginning the conversation on building beloved community in the diocese.

The project received a positive response from the diocese and beyond. Many noted that the project was not only an opportunity to listen to the voices of people of color but uncover histories in the region that help tell the story of how the diocese came to be. The project aligned with the ongoing mission of the Diocese of WNC to build Beloved Community and dismantle racism through acknowledgement and understanding of the history of this region and The Episcopal Church as a whole.

“As a diocese, we are committed to living by the words of John 13:34, ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ It is with love that we will create a beloved community,” McLoughlin said.

For decades, the Episcopal Church has extolled a consistent message of education on the systemic sin of racism and taken action to eliminate racism wherever it exists — our institutions, communities, churches and in ourselves.

Visit diocesewnc.org or barrierbreakerspilgrimage.org for more information.