A Brief History of the Episcopal Church of the Advocate

The Episcopal Church of the Advocate was born of the vision of our then Diocesan 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 new 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 gather 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, Verna Dozier’s Dream of God, and Tom Breidenthal’s Christian Households.

By the end of 2002, 10 people from the sponsoring parishes formed the original “Steering Committee” for the new church. Another small group began to meet regularly to pray for “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, 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.

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 elsewhere who had become involved.

The People of the Advocate worshipped the first year at the Unity Center of Peace Church of Chapel Hill. Services began at 5:00 pm, with “simple savory snacks” following the service. Our 5 PM worship was an outward sign of our call to welcome those who would not be drawn to a more traditional time and place of worship. Christian Education followed the snacks.

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 an apartment at Ephesus Place on Ephesus Church Road for use as an office and gathering space. 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. We continued to worship at 5 PM, and began a full dinner fellowship following the liturgy. But we began to realize that having land and building would allow us more richly and fully to extend our hospitality and community engagement.

2008 was a pivotal year in our life together. We rented an office and gathering space at 403 West Weaver Street, giving us a public presence and a literal sign for all to see, and we signed a contract on 15 acres of land on Homestead Road and began the Special Use Permit process with the Town of Chapel Hill. We moved our Sunday worship back to the Unity Center of Peace in 2009, adding a “Morning Edition” of our liturgy, as well as a tailgate coffee hour in the parking lot.

With the extraordinary generosity of a few, and the sacrificial generosity of many, we raised more than $1 million to buy the land and meet the Town requirements. In the process, we cast a vision of how the land could serve as a shared resource with the community around us. We closed on the land in January 2011, and 10 months later, we first learned about the 19thcentury board-and-batten Carpenter Gothic church building in Germanton, North Carolina. St. Philip’s church found its way to the Homestead site in December 2012 and began its 16-month restoration and transformation into The Advocate Chapel.

The Easter Vigil 2014 was the first public liturgy in The Chapel. It was a glorious and festive celebration. But even as we settled in, we began to discern how to share what we had been given. The result of that discernment, so far, is the use of our Chapel for a variety of musical purposes, from cello lessons, to weekly music jams and monthly shape note singing. We also extended the collaborative spirit that bore us, by hosting and taking a lead in the development of the Piedmont Patch Collaborative and the Pee Wee Homes Collaborative.

In 2018 we celebrated our 15th anniversary by blessing the Pee Wee Homes, holding our first Advocate talent show, and becoming debt free.

From the start, we have been clear that we are a 21st century mission, rooted in the traditions of the Anglican/Episcopal Church. In 2005 we embraced the Core Values of Compassion, Justice and Transformation, and those values have guided us ever since. We welcome people of every kind of household and every stage of life and faith and doubt. With a God who creates, restores and transforms us, we enjoy worship that is innovative, participatory, sacramental, and celebratory. We love to sing. We are also a Christian community that takes seriously the call to be a community — with liturgical awareness, table fellowship every week and increasingly mindful mutual care. And we are a Christian community that relentlessly engages with the community and world around us. 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.