History of the Episcopal Church in Nevada
The boundaries of the Diocese of Nevada roughly coincide with those of the State, but this has not always been so. Initially, Nevada was part of a huge area of the country called the Northwest. The first of Nevada’s ten missionary bishops was The Rt. Rev. Joseph Talbot whose tenure began in 1860, predating President Buchanan’s signature of the 1861 Act of Congress which organized the Territory of Nevada. In 1864, as a means of stemming the flow of mineral wealth to the coffers of the confederacy, Nevada was granted statehood.
During these early years, Nevada was frequently combined administratively by the Episcopal Church in the same missionary district as Utah. In 1929, during the tenure of Bishop Thomas Jenkins, Nevada became a separate missionary district. In 1940, Bishop Jenkins summarized those earliest days when he wrote:
First Episcopal Church in Nevada
In 1862, St. Paul’s, the first Episcopal Church in Nevada, was built in Virginia City at a cost of $30,000 and was consecrated on October 11, 1863, by Bishop Talbot. The first Sunday School was started May 11, 1862, under the direction of Mrs. Whitaker, the wife of The Reverend Ozi William Whitaker. At its peak, the Sunday School welcomed 400 children on its rolls. Following the retirement of Bishop Talbot in 1869, Ozie Whitaker became the first Bishop of the recently organized Nevada territory. His successors include Henry D. Robinson, 1908-1913, George C. Hunting, 1914-1924 (for whom Hunting Lodge at Camp Galilee is named), Thomas Jenkins (1929-1942), William Lewis, 1942-1959 and William Wright, 1960-1972.
Expansion and Mission
During the rest of the 19th century and into the early years of the 20th, the Episcopal Church expanded throughout Nevada. The planting of new congregations and the construction of new church buildings was tied principally to the expansion of the mining industry and the resulting growth of population centers. Forty-five missions and parishes were founded and occasional services were held in dozens of other tiny communities. Of the latter, most are now ghost towns; of many, no trace remains.
In Nevada, as in most other Episcopal mission fields during the 19th
century, women missionaries and deaconesses either began the mission
work alone or shared in it extensively. This was especially true of parishes
among the Paiute people of Pyramid Lake, north of Reno, during the early
The Paiutes fought fiercely against invasion and dispossession, a losing struggle culminating in the Paiute War fought sporadically throughout the 1860s. As a result of the Grant Peace Policy which assigned tribes to different churches for education and (it was hoped) pacification, the Pyramid Lake Paiutes were assigned to the Episcopalians in the 1870s. At the turn of the 20th century, nearly all were baptized, thus becoming members of the Episcopal Church.
In 1992, St. Mary’s Church, Nixon, celebrated its centennial with many members returning and participating. Currently, there is a small but active congregation; even those who are not active routinely turn to the church for pastoral care at times of need or celebration. Although mission work was begun long ago on reservations at Moapa, northeast of Las Vegas, and at Fort McDermitt near the Oregon border, no Episcopal presence remains and no other formal outreach to Nevada Native Americans has taken root.
Lake Tahoe and Camp Galilee
Bishop Lewis, who presided over the Diocese in the 1940's, is especially remembered for the acquisition of property on the shores of Lake Tahoe in a beautiful rustic pine-covered setting which became known as Camp Galilee. For over fifty years, it has been important to the diocese as a summer camp and conference center. Renovations over the last few years have allowed the camp to be used for winter meetings and conferences as well. While still in need of additional refurbishing and development, the camp holds a special place in the hearts of many Episcopalians, both Nevadans and those from other states who have experienced its beauty and serenity.
Diocesan Status/First Diocesan Bishop
In 1971, Nevada achieved separate diocesan status. The Rt. Rev. Wesley Frensdorff was elected the first diocesan bishop and was consecrated in 1972 in Las Vegas at the Sahara Hotel & Casino. During his tenure, Bishop Frensdorff introduced the concept of Total Ministry – “the ministry of all the baptized” – the responsibility of every Christian to live out his or her baptismal covenant in ministry to others.
The length and breadth of the Diocese of Nevada, the vast distances between parishes, and economic issues have been important factors in stimulating and supporting the development of this concept. His commitment to Total Ministry continues to bear fruit in our Diocese and other Dioceses around the world.
Canon Jim McGrew and his wife Pat became close friends of Bishop Frensdorff and his wife, Dee. Jim (a longtime delegate to General Convention from our Diocese and Secretary of Province VIII), continues to serve in the Reno office of the Diocese located at St. Stephens.
Bishop Stewart Zabriskie, the second diocesan bishop for the Diocese of Nevada, was elected in 1987. He devotedly supported Total Ministry development throughout his leadership in our Diocese and by taking the message of its potential to other Dioceses around the country and to Australia.
The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
In October, 2000, the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Bishop of the Diocese of Nevada and was consecrated in 2001. Bishop Katharine brought a new energy and vitality to the Diocese. Among her many accomplishments administratively was her recommendation that the Standing Committee and the Diocesan Council be separated to enable each body to better conduct its business and unique responsibilities. This has worked to everyone’s benefit. Bishop Katharine’s many national and international contacts brought a sense of the larger body of the Church to this diocese as well as resources, grant opportunities and programs previously unknown. Perhaps Bishop Katharine’s greatest gift to this diocese was her ability to listen and then offer empowerment and support of each baptized person to find his or her ministry and pursue it – joyfully, energetically, and, above all else, spiritually – an updating and uplifting of the concept of Total Ministry that was begun decades earlier in the Diocese of Nevada.
In June, 2006, Bishop Katharine was elected as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States at the General Convention. While Nevada’s Episcopalians certainly celebrated the joy of this election for the national church, the Diocese once again finds itself in the discernment process for a new Bishop.