Although the local Episcopal church celebrated its Golden Anniversary only recently, an Episcopal service was held in Newport well over 100 years ago.
Cocke County Historian Eddie Walker found the following notice in the Newport Plain Talk’s May 18, 1908 issue:
Rev. Grant Kauff of the Episcopal Church will hold Communion services Saturday morning, May 16, at 7 o’clock. Evensong and sermon at 7 p.m. at Odd Fellows Hall in the O’Neil Building. All cordially invited to attend.
According to Walker, “This was probably the first official service for the Episcopal Church in Newport. The O’Neil building was on Main Street, possibly one of the buildings that housed Parks-Belk when it burned in 1962.
Later attempts to start an Episcopal church here were made in the late 1950s with services being held in the Memorial Building and the Bob Hill building.”
The first worship service of today’s Episcopal Church of the Annunciation was held Dec. 10, 1967. At the time, the local congregation was simply called the “Newport mission.” Father James (Jim) Patrick, full-time priest at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Morristown celebrated Holy Communion that day. Father Patrick’s desire to start a Newport mission received approval from the Diocese of Tennessee on the condition that he find five families to be active members. He found ten.
Father Patrick was a good friend of Rev. Lou Schnupp of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Morristown, who had started a Catholic mission in Newport earlier that year. Annunciation’s first service was held at the Catholic mission, which was housed in the former home of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Fisher at the corner of Broadway and Belton Ave. After holding the Newport service at 8:30 a.m., Father Patrick then hurried back to All Saints’ for their morning mass.
Twenty-five people attended that first Sunday morning service. For several years, the Episcopalian and Catholic congregations shared space in the Fisher home, where services were held in the former living room area.
Newport’s mission was registered and named the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation on Jan. 27, 1968 at the annual Episcopal diocesan convention. There were 12 charter members. As a mission church, the Newport group received partial support by the diocese. Father Patrick served the group until July 1969.
Supply priests who also served Newport included W. (Bill) Zion and Millard Breyfogle.
Father Breyfogle’s Deacon was Frank Crenshaw, who was soon ordained to the priesthood on Jan. 17, 1970. He later became the first resident vicar and celebrated his first Holy Communion on Jan. 18, 1970. Father Crenshaw served through Sept. 27, 1971, after which he became the rector of St. James’ in Memphis. Later he went to upstate New York. He eventually retired to Newport.
Supply priests following Father Crenshaw included Father Miller, Father Bruce Green, and the Rev. Royden Mott, who served as parish priest until Feb. 25, 1973. On March 4, 1973, Father Royden served with Annunciation’s next new vicar, the Rev. Bill Burks, who served until Oct. 30, 1977. During these years, the Episcopalian and Catholic congregations continued to share space.
Rev. Burks was called to be rector of St. Mary’s in Middlesboro, KY. On All Saints’ Sunday, Nov. 6, 1977, the Rev. Roland Clarkson, All Saints’ assistant priest, assumed the duties of Newport’s supply priest and served here until June 25, 1978.
After nine priests and supply priests over a ten-and-a-half-year period, Episcopal Church of the Annunciation entered a new era, when the Rev. David Garrett celebrated his first Holy Communion here on July 2, 1978. Coming to Newport with Father Garret were his wife Virginia and their first child, Geoffrey.
Father Garrett served faithfully over 38 years. During the worst weather circumstances, he always conducted services, sometimes being a congregation of one, who prayed for his church, the community, and the world.
About 1981, Senior Warden Steve Thompson learned about the possibility of purchasing a former restaurant, Andy’s, through a foreclosure sale from United American Bank. The property was booked for $150,000.00. In 1982, the church purchased this property, moved in, cleaned, and held their first service on Pentecost Sunday, June 7, 1981. During the clean-up, a small cross was discovered on top of a support beam, an apparent sign that the building was destined to become a church. Bishop Sanders consecrated the building on Monday, Sept. 14, 1981, at 7 p.m. with over 240 people in attendance.
A steeple was added, and the spire was blessed on March 25, 1983. For several years, the church used the church’s former restaurant layout to hold BBQ fundraisers twice a year.
In December of 1987, under the leadership of Charles S. Runnion, Jr., treasurer, the original note on the building was paid off eight years early.
In 1992, the church adopted a project to renovate the church’s exterior. Bob Parrott, a Newport native and himself an Episcopalian, gave a concept drawing to work from. On July 31, 1992, a new steeple was added as a crowning touch, with the Newport Plain Talk reporting, “It doesn’t look like a restaurant now.” A cornerstone was laid in September 1992 during a special service.
In 1996, after being a mission church for nearly 29 years, the church’s finances were improved enough that funding from the Diocese was no longer required. Newport’s mission church petitioned the Bishop to become parish status in the diocese. Presented Nov. 6, 1997, the petition was approved and on Feb. 14, 1998, at the Diocese of East Tennessee’s annual convention, the petition was approved. Newport’s Episcopal Church of the Annunciation was now a full-fledged parish.
In 2003, another building project was adopted, this one to add a parish hall with easier access than the church’s basement, plus add a minister’s office, a possible office for the church secretary, and a vestry room. Bill Myers, Junior Warden, met with Parrott, who drew up a concept plan. A loan through the diocese was taken out, and ground was broken.
A former parishioner’s generosity enabled the church to renovate the basement to include classrooms, a nursery, a records room, and a storage room, as well as open space for activities.
After 38 years of service, Father Garrett retired. Father Jim Sharp answered the church’s call and began conducting services in Newport in 2016. He was ordained as a priest on Dec. 13, 2016, and celebrated his first Holy Communion on Dec. 18, 2016, at Annunciation.
Although Episcopal Church of the Annunciation’s membership numbers are not large, they have offered their parish hall to help other churches, such as Crossroads Community Church, as well as other ministries, including Celebrate Life, Families Anonymous, and Stepping Out.
In looking to the future, Senior Warden Dr. Tom Conway says, “The congregation hopes to stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before to further God’s kingdom and for them to become the shoulders that others stand on in the future by keeping their faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”