By Lance Hickey
North Asheville – As we continue to cover local churches in our area in our “Where We Worship” series, we focus our attention on a popular and historic North Asheville congregation, impacting many in northern Buncombe County.
Grace Episcopal Church, on Merrimon Avenue, originated in 1867. The congregation, then known as Beaverdam Mission, was an active center of religious life in North Asheville in the late 1800s, according to church historians.
The church opened its current, historic facility on May 31, 1905. One of the premier Gothic architectural buildings in Asheville, the church was designed by the late English architect Richard Sharpe Smith, an architect who also supervised the completion of the Biltmore Estate, according to the church website.
Father Gary Butterworth became the interim rector of the church in the fall of 2018. Butterworth replaced Father Gary Coffey who had led the congregation since June of 2001, before his retirement. Following a 31-year Naval career, Butterworth, attended The University of the South, a private Episcopal liberal arts college in Sewanee, Tennessee. Following his time at university, Butterworth has since been pastoring for 12 years.
Married to wife Christina, the Butterworth’s have two adult children. Father Butterworth will be serving the church as interim rector until mid-summer when the congregation will decide on its next rector, who will not serve on an interim basis. The Grace Episcopal Church search committee began a nationwide search several months ago and is currently narrowing down potential candidates, according to church leadership.
Service, also known as a Rite, began at 10:30 a.m. as parishioners filled the historic North Asheville worship center following a musical prelude. A procession of liturgical ministers and the church choir led by a minister holding a cross as they entered the sanctuary heading to the alter through the middle of the pews. Some in the procession of ministers and choir held candles as they entered. Father Butterworth then welcomed the congregation as service began and the church sang a hymn titled “While Shepards Watched Their Flocks.”
An acclimation from the Book of Common Prayer was then stated. The choir sang “Angels We Have Heard on High” as the congregation who stood to join in the musical piece.
A time came for the Reading of the Word as several ministers read aloud various Bible verses to the congregation. Parishioners followed the public reading with an offering of thanks stating, “Thanks be to God.”
Following more readings and short messages from Father Gary to the children and parishioners, the congregation stood to present the “Nicene Creed,” an ancient statement of faith believed to unite all generations of believers.
A time came for prayer and confession before the Invitation to Communion. Parishioners stepped forward to receive communion. Following several more hymns and a final blessing, the procession exited and service was dismissed.
Service at Grace Episcopal Church in North Asheville proved to be traditional in presentation. The congregation was tremendously welcoming to guests and anyone who would like to attend.
One of the congregation’s desires is for impact in the community. For more than a century, the congregation has served those in need. Currently, Grace Episcopal has a score of ministries impacting Buncombe County, including sponsoring the YMCA food produce truck giving fresh food to those in need.
The church also sponsors Hearts to Your Soles, providing shoes to the less fortunate, building a Habitat House for Habitat For Humanity, Room at the Inn and many more ministries devoted to serving the community. With its heart for serving, look for Grace Episcopal Church to continue to thrive, reaching many in the North Asheville community and leaving a lasting impact on our area.