Who We Are


Episcopalians are part of the communion of the autonomous churches comprising the Anglican community around the world.  Our foundations of faith are based on Scripture, -  written by people inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Reason,  -   whereby our members are encouraged to use reason to explore and comprehend God's works; and make responsible moral decisions under the guidance of scripture and in response to sincere prayer.  Tradition -This allows us to share the experiences of the early Christians and believers of every era, and preserves our hymns and prayers that keep our faith alive.  

Our Worship is a joyous response to God's love, and share our faith with other believers.  Our Worship Services are liturgical, in that we use formal rites of public worship using the Book of Common Prayer, which contains the order of service, and readings for the calendar of the Church year, The Bible for our readings, and the Hymnal for hymns, psalms, and chants.   

Our main sacraments are those of Baptism, usually in infancy, where water is poured onto the head of the child to symbolize the washing away of sins.  It is the sign of rebirth into the family of the Church.   Our other main sacrament is that of the Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) where the ordinary bread and wine become the sacramental offering for Jesus Christ's presence within us.   We as Episcopalians offer ourselves to God in repentance, love and faith - recalling Christ's death, acknowledging his sacrifice and renewing hope in heavenly banquet.  

      

Who and What We Are:  An Introduction to the Parish

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           The Episcopal Church of the Ascension  [hereinafter simply "Ascension"], located in the town of Seneca, is the only Episcopal Church not only in Seneca, but also in Oconee County.  The closest neighboring Episcopal parish is about nine miles distant in the town of Clemson, home of Clemson University.  Seneca is a city of about 8,000, the largest population center in the county, while Oconee County's population numbers some 70,000.  Oconee County traditionally considers itself the "Golden Corner" of Upstate South Carolina, a nexus where the borders of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia converge.

 

            Our congregation of some 223 baptized members comprises a wide variety of backgrounds.  Many are from other parts of the country, but there is a good representation of native South Carolinians.  A significant number, but far from overwhelming, are retirees from all forms of business, government, education, and the military who have chosen to live here for climatic, recreational, and other quality of life reasons.  Actively employed parishioners include medical doctors and other healthcare workers, lawyers, government and education employees, and a wide variety of business and professional enterprises.  Our youth group is small, but active; we hope that long-term growth in the congregation will also grow this important group.  Our parishioners are generous with their time and treasure, especially when challenged.

 

            We see ourselves as a loving and caring congregation, devoted to the wellbeing not just of each other, but of the community around us.  Our congregationally-adopted mission statement, "Disciples of Christ, called to serve neighbors near and far," expresses this sense of commitment to the furtherance of God's will among God's people, whether known or as-yet-unknown to us.  We provide a place for worship and liturgy, where the historical roles of scripture, tradition, and reason are played out in an atmosphere of combined solemnity and joy.  We believe that God has a place for our parish in His plan for the world, and we anticipate with sincere gladness the unveiling of that plan.

 

            Ascension has taken no formal votes or surveys which would define a parish stand on the controversies which currently roil the Episcopal Church.  We suffered only a small permanent loss of parishioners following General Convention 2003, but our parish tends toward a moderate-to-conservative outlook [though that is far from unanimous], and much of our congregation is not enthusiastic about the actions of the national church leadership.  Nonetheless, it is clear from informal gatherings that constitute such an important part of any parish's life that the vast majority of our congregation, whether conservative, liberal, or moderate (probably the single largest grouping), view the unity of the church as overriding adherence to any single doctrinal or philosophical argument.   The Vestry has formally endorsed the Windsor Report.

 

 Snapshot of Parish Operations

 

Membership

            Ascension's membership has been in the low 200s for a number of years, with an average Sunday attendance of about 50%, as reflected in the following table.  Two points in the table merit further comment:  (a) The year 2003 (and actually continuing into 2004) saw a major decrease in membership due to an unfortunate combination of factors, i.e., General Convention decisions, moves out of the area, and an inordinate number of deaths in the congregation.  (b) The smallness of our youth group is a recognized shortcoming.  As a parish, we hope to expand our Christian Education offerings, increase parishioner attendance, and attract all ages.  The youth group that we have does enjoy an excellent educational program, and we are pleased that our adult Bible class is growing.  Alpha and Beta classes are also offered, along with classes on marriage enhancement, church teachings, and topical books.  And of course confirmation and Lenten programs are offered at appropriate times.

 

 

2002

2003

2004

2005

Active Baptized Members

218

200

207

223

Increases in Membership

31

7

22

27

Decreases in Membership

9

25

15

11

Average Sunday Attendance

112

107

108

116

Baptisms

0

3

3

6

Confirmations

4

1

2

6

Church School Students (Youth)

12

5

7

6

 

Finances

            Ascension's parishioners are extremely generous in sharing their treasure, as well as their time and talents, both for routine parish operations and for special needs.  Some examples of the latter:

        The 1998 construction/renovation project cost approximately $750,000.  It was paid off by 2003, and the parish is free and clear of debt.

        In 2002 the parish found itself in arrears on its diocesan quota.  This was immediately made up by private contribution.

        A courtyard garden project was proposed in 2003 at an estimated cost of $9,000; it was immediately subscribed privately.

        An Endowment Board was established by the Vestry in 2004; by the end of 2005 the Endowment Fund totaled $50, 495.

 

With tight budget controls by the Vestry, annual expenses have remained fairly constant for the past three years.  In the words of our Treasurer, our balance sheet remains very strong and we are in good financial condition.   The following table reflects Ascension's basic operating budget facts and figures for the most recent three years:  (Some percentages will not add up to 100% due to rounding to the nearest tenth.)

  

INCOME

2003

%

2004

%

2005

%

Identified Pledges

$176,456

82.6

$165,474

77.7

$188,017

85.8

Plate Offerings

3,430

1.6

3,593

1.7

5,719

2.6

Other Income

33,875

15.8

43,888

20.6

25,466

11.6

Cost of Donated Stock

[57]

 

 

 

 

 

TOTAL INCOME

$213,704

 

$212,955

 

$219,202

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EXPENSES

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diocesan Quota

$16,800

8.4

$20,000

10.1

$31,528

15.8

Local Outreach

11,450

5.7

12,133

6.1

16,150

8.1

Administration

47,716

23.8

50,495

25.5

49,847

25.0

Church Expenses

5,391

2.7

4,384

2.2

4,176

2.1

Repairs/Maintenance

11,562

5.8

27,249

13.8

20,357

10.2

Loan/Principal Costs

15,022

7.5

0

 

0

 

Music Expenses

16,086

8.0

9,137

4.6

11,394

5.7

Clergy Expense

74,300

37.0

68,983

34.9

55,709

28.0

Contingency Fund

7,200

3.6

5,000

2.5

10,000

5.2

TOTAL EXPENSES

$200,526

 

$197,736

 

$199,161

 

 

 

Oconee County and the City of Seneca

 

Oconee County

Oconee County is the westernmost county in South Carolina, situated at the convergence of the state's borders with North Carolina and Georgia.  Commonly referred to as "the Golden Corner" for its natural beauty, the county primarily consists of foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with the Mountains proper occupying roughly the northern quarter of its area.  Besides the Blue Ridge, the other major natural features of the county are three manmade lakes -- Jocassee to the northeast, shared with North Carolina; Keowee in the east, partially shared with neighboring Pickens County and partially enclosed within Oconee County; and Hartwell to the west and south, shared with Georgia (west) and Anderson County (south).  The climate is a major factor in many decisions to relocate here: beautiful springs and autumns, mild winters, and bearably hot summers.  Recreational opportunities are many and varied, including fishing, hunting, boating, camping, mountain hiking trails, river rafting, and numerous golf courses.

 

            Generally peaceable Cherokee Indians were the first identifiable tribe to occupy the area, perhaps as much as a thousand years ago.  More aggressive Creek Indians raided the area in the 17th and 18th Centuries, and at some point during that time a band of Iroquois from what is now New York State settled in the area (from whom we get the name "Seneca").  Late 18th and early 19th Century treaties effectively removed the Cherokee from western South Carolina, and today the Native American presence has essentially disappeared except for the widespread use of Cherokee names ("Oconee" is believed to relate to waters).  The area was little but farming and forests until the 1850s, when a German "colony" founded Walhalla.  Industry came to Oconee in the 1870s with the completion of an Atlanta-to-Charlotte railroad, and the establishment of large textile mills in the 1890s.  The mills fueled the county's economy for nearly a century, but have mostly closed now, and are almost as much a memory as the Cherokee.

 

Although closures of large-scale employers such as the mills have had serious impacts on the county, other industries and businesses have arisen in recent years to absorb most of the impact.  In the 1960s Duke Power (now Duke Energy Corporation) began work on the Oconee Nuclear Station, one of the earliest nuclear power generators in the United States.  This process created Lake Keowee, and subsequently Lake Jocassee, drawing an influx of retirees, sports and recreation seekers, and others, creating large numbers of construction and service-sector jobs.  The worst effects of the plant closings were thus mitigated, and the county's population has actually grown from the pre-Lake census of 40,000 in 1970 to 66,000 in the census of 2000, and is estimated at about 70,000 today.  The population is approximately 89.1% caucasian, 8.4% African-American, 1.7% other ethnicities, and 0.8% biracial.

 

Oconee's economy is fueled by its lakes and related construction and recreational/hospitality businesses; a diverse industrial base of some 60 industries; and a large healthcare sector.  A small but very visible agricultural base still exists (poultry, forestry, cattle, and apples, in descending order of importance),  The county's five largest employers are:

School District of Oconee County                1,650

Duke Energy Corporation                             1,357

Oconee Memorial Hospital                           1,042

Itron                                                                     855

Square D                                                           550

 

The county is governed by a Council-Administrator form of government at the county seat in Walhalla.  A single integrated school district comprising 11 elementary, 4 middle, and 4 high schools, and a career center, is administered by a Superintendent  and an elected Board of Trustees.  Higher education is available within easy commuting distance at Clemson University and Southern Wesleyan University in Pickens County, and at Tri-County Technical College and Anderson University in Anderson County.

 

Oconee Memorial Hospital in Seneca is the only hospital in the county.  It offers a wide range of medical services, and is constantly investing in new facilities and technologies to enhance its diagnostic and treatment capabilities.  The nearly-100 physicians on its medical staff represent virtually all medical and surgical specialties.

 

Culturally, the Blue Ridge Arts Council (housed in the former Ascension mission church) seeks to promote awareness and growth of the arts, bringing together talent in creating art-learning workshops, hands-on classes, art education in the schools, scholarships, and gallery shows.  Oconee Community Theater (Seneca) and Clemson Little Theater (Pendleton) each provide diverse, high-quality stage productions that showcase the talents of local, nonprofessional actors and support staff.  Each stages 4 - 6 productions per season, and each also conducts youth workshops each summer.  The Brooks Center for the Performing Arts at Clemson University is an ultramodern facility which presents more than 75 performances per year, including touring stage shows, international symphonies and chamber ensembles, lectures, student productions, and youth and family programs.  Tickets are available to the public.

 

City of Seneca

            The City of Seneca was founded in 1873 as "Seneca City" at the point where new rail lines met, being built eastward from Atlanta and westward from Charlotte.  With a population of about 8,000 within city limits, about 12% of the county population, it is the largest municipality in Oconee County.  Some 63.3% of the city's population is caucasian, 33.8% African-American, and the remainder "other" ethnicities. 

              Seneca is governed by a Mayor - Council - Administrator form of government.  Although small in numbers, the city's administrative staff provides most services of a larger municipality.  The Recreation Department operates an excellent recreation program that offers activities and facilities for every age group.

              Many of Seneca's earliest structures are still in existence, and a very energetic, combined public-private "gentrification" program has been underway for a number of years.  Of particular note has been the reclamation of "Ram Cat Alley," with its upscale antique shops, trendy clothiers, arts and crafts, and restaurants.

 

Oconee/Seneca Cost of Living

            One of the distinct benefits of life in Oconee County is the relatively low cost of living.  Housing, with the exception of lakefront properties, is extraordinarily reasonable.  Lakefront properties are in fact very costly, and climbing, but to date no one is known to have lost money investing in them.  The following chart provides a "snapshot" comparison of Oconee with some of the major market areas east of the Mississippi:

 

 

Raleigh

Boston

Chicago

Atlanta

Miami

Oconee

Median Home Cost

$176,000

$187,000

$136,000

$140,000

$147,000

$97,500

Overall Cost of Living*

117

132

112

109

112

94

*US Average = 100 (All factors considered, including food, housing, and utilities)

 

Taxes

            Oconee County, and the State of South Carolina in general, have tax structures that are among the lowest in the country.  State income tax tops out at seven percent.  Sales tax in the county is five percent, with a one percent add-on hospitality tax in the City of Seneca.  Property taxes are difficult to compare to other states due to differences in millages, standards for assessment, and tax purposes.  However, anecdotal evidence from people who have lived in other states indicates that residential property taxes in South Carolina are typically half to two-thirds those for comparable properties in other states.