Episcopal worship in Sewanee
Sewanee’s first Episcopal service took place in 1858, one year after the University of the South was founded. Following the Civil War, services were held in Otey Hall, the first building of the University (named for the Rt. Rev. James Hervey Otey, first bishop of Tennessee).
By 1868, services had been moved to the University’s newly completed St. Augustine’s Chapel, at that time the only place of Episcopal worship on the mountain.
Founded as St. Paul's-on-the-Mountain
Not long after, the University administration and local residents recognized the need for a parish church; therefore, in 1870, Bishop Charles T. Quintard called a meeting that led to the founding of St. Paul’s-on-the-Mountain near the site of the current Sewanee Elementary School. From 1885 until the end of the century, there was significant growth in the parish at Sewanee.
The church began with about 60 communicants, and by 1900, membership had grown to more than 300. The last quarter of the 19th century was characterized by probably the most remarkable missionary endeavor ever attempted in this country by a parish.The church helped establish 29 area missions, many of which later became parishes or diocesan missions.
Otey Memorial Parish & St. Mark's Mission
The present church building was dedicated in 1891 as the Otey Memorial, while the St. Paul's building was used by Sewanee’s African-American congregation. By 1907, Claiborne Parish House and a rectory (now Brooks Hall) were added to the complex. In the 1930s the Black congregation constructed a church building on Magnolia St. using materials from St. Paul's. This church was known as St. Mark's Mission Church and was a vital part of the hub of Sewanee's African American community.
In the early 1960s, Otey became the first Episcopal church in Tennessee fully to integrate. Then in 1968 St. Mark's Mission merged with Otey Parish. Throughout the last century, Otey has continued to thrive by continuing to identify and respond to outreach needs within our community.
In 2014, Clairborne Parish House was rebuilt to better accommodate the growing ministries of Otey Parish, including Sewanee Children's Center which meets downstairs. The original flooring was reused in much of the building. The addition included a much larger kitchen and conference space. This space was named St. Mark's Hall to honor the Black congregation that became one with Otey Memorial Parish. The small chapel in Clairborne, used for classes and centering prayer, took the name St. Paul's-on-the-Mountain.
The historic buildings on the Otey campus provide wonderful spaces that enhance the life of the church. The history of the church continues to be the story of a vibrant community worshiping, serving the community, and learning together. In 2020-2021, we are celebrating our sesquicentennial year by reflecting on the past, present, and future of our parish.