The Rt. Rev. Joseph Cruikshank Talbot
Missionary Bishop of the Northwest
“Bishop of All Outdoors”
1860 – 1865
The Rt. Rev. Ozi William Whitaker
Missionary Bishop of Nevada and Arizona
The Rt. Rev. Wesley Frensdorff
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada
A Brief History of the Diocese of Nevada
This part of the country has been inhabited for about 14,000 years. When the first Spaniards arrived, there already were Native Americans of what would become the Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe tribes.
The United States annexed what is now Nevada in 1848 after their victory in the Mexican-American War. The northern part of the state became part of the Utah Territory, and the southern tip was in the Arizona Territory. In 1859, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church elected the Rev. Joseph Cruickshank Talbot to be the Bishop of the Northwest. His vast mission district included both of these territories.
With the discovery of silver at the Comstock Lode in 1859, there was a tremendous population boom in Virginia City. As a response to this sudden surge in wealth, Congress created the Nevada Territory out of the Utah Territory.
The Rev. H. Sweatman was the first Episcopal priest to hold services in the Nevada Territory. According to a contemporary account, Mr. Sweatman came into the Territory on business and was persuaded to hold services in the U. S. Court House on September 1, 1861. Two years later on March 4, 1863, he was killed in Humboldt County. In 1862 the American Church Missionary Society assigned the Rev. Franklin S. Rising to Virginia City. He stayed until 1866. In 1862 St. Paul’s was built. On October 11, 1863 Bishop Talbot consecrated the church. He was assisted by the Rector and the Rev. Ozi W. Whitaker, who later became Missionary Bishop of Nevada and Arizona. The first Sunday School was started May 11, 1862 and under Mrs. Whitaker grew to 400 children. Bishop Talbot presided at the first confirmation service in Nevada in 1863.
In the 19th century, Nevada’s economy was based on mining, agriculture and the railroad. The agricultural areas depended on a source of water and good land. Many churches started in these areas are still active today. Mining has always had boom and bust cycles. With the discovery of ore, a new community would spring up almost overnight; once the ore played out, the community would shrink almost as quickly. Some of Nevada’s Churches founded in mining communities remain active today. Others closed and their furnishings and buildings were transferred to other churches and communities.
In 1864, at the height of the Civil War, President Lincoln faced reelection. In order to help assure his winning, the Republican-controlled Congress passed a special law to allow Nevada to become the 36th State even though it did not have the required minimum population. Hence, the state motto, “Battle Born”.
Since Statehood, Nevada’s population has doubled or tripled every 20 to 30 years. Agriculture and mining declined with the onset of the Great Depression. To make up for lost revenues, the State of Nevada decided to allow some things that were illegal in the rest of the country. Nevada legalized gambling in 1931. Nevada also legalized no fault divorce at that time—becoming the first State in the Nation to do so.
In 1971, the Episcopal Church instituted a program to make all of the former Missionary Districts into self-supporting dioceses. They called the program Coalition 14, after the 14 newly-created dioceses. The Episcopal Church pooled the money that had formerly gone to the Missionary Districts and gave it to Coalition 14 to divide. They also decided to reduce the amount given by 10% per year for 10 years. In order to compensate for the reduced income, the Diocese of Nevada voted to raise the Diocesan Asking for the parishes by one percent per year to a maximum of 25% of income. After this time, Nevada continued to receive grants from the Episcopal Church. As a requirement to receive the grants, the Church stipulated that our Diocesan Asking continue to be 25%.
The Missionary District of Nevada became the Diocese of Nevada in 1971. Shortly thereafter, the Diocese elected the Rev. Wesley Frensdorff to be their Bishop.
St. Paul the Prospector, Virginia City and St. Christopher’s, Boulder City
Total Ministry was instituted in Nevada in the late 70’s. There were two main reasons, the first being that many small parishes in Nevada could not afford financially to support a rector. The second is the understanding that we are all called as ministers; it’s how we live into the vows we make in our Baptismal Covenant. Both reasons have played an important role in the development of Total Ministry.
Working on the foundational belief that everyone has been given a Spiritual gift, people throughout the State participated in conversation and study to discern their gifts. The Diocese developed classes to educate and empower people to be ministers. The role of priest was primarily sacramental so that churches could gather for Holy Eucharist on a more frequent basis. Other ministries traditionally performed by priests, such as teaching, pastoral care, and preaching, were shared among the members of the congregation in accordance with their identified gifts. Those called to ordained ministry entered the canonical process. Even today, many of our clergy are not seminary trained and not all of our parishes are served by paid rectors.
Total Ministry has been described using other names including Ministry of all the Baptized, but the essence is the same. In Nevada, we now use these two terms interchangeably.
Total Ministry, or Ministry of all the Baptized, has seen many changes and improvements over the last 46 years. We have not always been successful. The model and process in each parish has not been uniform. What has been consistent is the desire to live out our baptismal vows.
Currently the identification of gifts for ministry begins in our congregations with a class on Basic Discipleship. This is followed by a workshop in Gifts Discernment. These are followed by education specific to the identified ministries. For those who identify a call to ordained ministry the process continues with the Commission on Ordination and Licensing.
In 2001, The Church of the Holy Spirit in Bullhead City, Arizona left the Diocese of Arizona and joined the Diocese of Nevada. This change was supported by both Bishops. Bullhead City is just across the Colorado River from Laughlin, Nevada. The parishioners of Holy Spirit have been very active in our Diocese. They did not have this kind of connection in Arizona because of their location.
Spanish-language services began in Las Vegas when a former Roman Catholic Priest and his wife walked door to door to invite people to come to church. The first service was held on November 11, 2007. From the 22 people who first attended, we now have eight Spanish-language services each week in Southern Nevada.
On April 30, 2011, Reynelda James, an Elder from the Paiute tribe, was ordained as a Deacon in Wadsworth, Nevada. Deacon James used a Native context to complete her discernment and formation process. She is the first Paiute to be ordained in our Diocese.
The Dedication and Consecration of Trinity Episcopal Church in Reno as our Cathedral occurred during our Diocesan Convention, on October 6, 2017.
Nevada is the only domestic diocese to experience steady growth over the past decade. Building on the foundation of our rich history and tradition, we look forward to our future.