A Brief History of Ascension
Church pictures [click here]
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),
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 utdoor 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.