A Brief History of the Episcopal Church of the Advocate

The Episcopal Church of the Advocate was born of the vision of our Bishop Michael Curry and the health, vitality, and generosity of spirit of the three established Episcopal parishes in Orange County — St. Matthew’s in Hillsborough and The Chapel of the Cross and Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill. The mission was established in order to respond to the growing population in Orange County and to provide a church home to those drawn to be part of a new church community of the liturgical and sacramental tradition.

In the summer of 2002, The Rev. Lisa Fischbeck was called by a committee of the rectors and wardens of the three sponsoring churches to be the “gathering priest” for the mission, on the model that she would call together, largely from among the three sponsoring churches, the people who would lead and be that new congregation. She worked among the three sponsoring churches for nine months, preaching, teaching, and offering studies on the Acts of the Apostles, mission, and Christian householding.

By the end of 2002, a small group of 10 people from the sponsoring parishes formed the original “Steering Committee” for the new church, meeting in the living room of one of the members. Another small group began to meet regularly in another home to pray for the Mission — which, at this stage, was referred to simply as “the Orange County Mission.” During the summer of 2003, the congregation began to form around three events: Evening prayer with singing and a picnic at a home of a St. Matthew’s parishioner north of Hillsborough, a hymn sing at the Unity Center for Peace, and our first celebration of the Holy Eucharist at the historic St. Mary’s Chapel in Hillsborough.

Discussions ensued regarding a name for the Mission. Those who were planning to be a part of the new congregation offered their suggestions, which were presented to the Bishop, who clearly discerned that we should be called The Episcopal Church of the Advocate. The “Advocate” has threefold meaning: 1) Jesus our mediator and advocate before God. 2) The Holy Spirit the advocate and guide who works within and among us. 3) The people of God, called to be advocates for the love and Way of God in the world in which we live.

While the Steering Committee began to make decisions regarding Christian Education, location for services, and other basic issues, another group began meeting for hymn singing and discussion of how this new church would use music in the liturgy. The Advocate’s “launching” service was held with clergy, acolytes and combined youth choirs from the three sponsoring churches, at The Church of the Holy Family, on September 21, 2003, as part of a celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Anglican/Episcopal Church in Orange County. The “Launching Congregation” consisted of 45 people of all ages, of households from each of the three sponsoring churches, and some from other parishes, including St. Philip’s and St. Stephen’s in Durham, St. Andrew’s in Haw River, and St. Bartholomew’s in Pittsboro.

The People of the Advocate worshipped the first year at the Unity Center of Peace Church of Chapel Hill. The Rev. Kym Lucas joined as a part-time assisting priest during this period. Services began at 5:00 pm, with a light meal or snacks following the service. Christian Education followed the meal.Adult Christian Education was held in the worship space, with all children grouped together in one Sunday School class upstairs.The size of the congregation continued to grow.In January of 2004, the Advocate was granted “full mission status”, becoming a “mission in union with the Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina” at the Diocesan Convention, amid much celebration and with many representatives of the Advocate in attendance. The initial vestry of four was also formed at this time.

In May 2004 the Advocate began to rent full-time office and gathering space at Ephesus Place, a large apartment on Ephesus Church Road. In August, 2004, due to space constraints at the Unity Church, the Advocate began to hold Sunday worship at the Chapel Hill Kehillah, a Reconstructionist Jewish synagogue located on Mason Farm Road near the UNC Hospitals. We continued to worship at 5 PM, and began a full dinner fellowship following the liturgy. Kym Lucas was soon called to serve as a rector at St. Ambrose Church in Raleigh, and in the fall of 2005, Rev. Liz Dowling-Sendor became Priest Associate to the Advocate, working with us until May 2008.

Throughout this time, the Advocate has had a ministry of cultivating and supporting people in their vocational discernment. In addition to commissioning people to their work and ministry in the world each Epiphany, the Advocate has sponsored three people for ordination to the priesthood and has supported one or more people in the ordination process each year as they serve as interns from their Dioceses or field education placements from the Duke Divinity School.

2008 was a pivotal year in our life together. We began to rent an office and gathering space at 403 West Weaver Street, giving us a public presence and a literal sign for all who pass by to see. From that location we are able to host English as a Second Language Classes, Theology On Deck, monthly Taizé services, and more. In 2008, we also signed a contract on 15 acres of land on Homestead Road. The Homestead Site holds great promise for our future life and ministry, and anticipation of owning the site has prompted us to think and to “vision” more intentionally about our mission and ministry as a Christian community. Through that reflection we realize that we are a community rooted in the ancient traditions, but clearly born in the 21st century.

From the start, we have been clear that we are a mission that welcomes people of every kind of household and every stage of life and faith and doubt. We enjoy worship that is innovative, participatory, sacramental and celebratory. Our worship is “unplugged”, with no amplification, and we love to sing a cappellaWe are also a Christian community that takes seriously the call to be a community — with table fellowship every week and seasonal small groups to encourage our mutual care. And we are a Christian community that takes seriously the call to engage with the community and world around us. In 2005 we embraced the Core Values of Compassion, Justice and Transformation, and those values have guided our community engagement ever since. We are strongly committed to preserving and sustaining the environment and working to bring an end to racism and other injustices in our community and in our world. From the start we have participated in the work and ministry of the InterFaith Council and with Club Nova, a Carrboro-based program for severely and chronically mentally ill adults. We have also been involved from the ground up with the Orange County Organizing Committee, working to develop a broad-based organization of congregations and other non-profits to take collective action in the name of justice and the common good in Orange County.

We are a congregation of about 160 people from 80 households, with average Sunday attendance of about 75. And while the Advocate continues to receive significant financial support from the three sponsoring parishes and the Diocese, the Advocate’s own financial health has improved with growth. We are on track – with much prayer and hard work – to become financially independent of the three sponsoring parishes by the end of 2013, ten years from our launching.

We are thankful for the continued prayers, care, and support of a variety of friends, the three sponsoring parishes, the Diocese of North Carolina and our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry. The Advocate is truly a mission of and for many.

Thanks be to God.