History of the Diocese
Missionary Bishop of the Northwest
“Bishop of All Outdoors”
1860 – 1865
Missionary Bishop of Nevada and Arizona
1869 – 1888
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada
1972 – 1985
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, a vast mission district that included both 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 on September 1, 1861. Two years later 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.
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 Nevada legislature decided to allow some things that were illegal in the rest of the country, legalizing 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 the former Missionary Districts self-supporting dioceses. It was called 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. It was 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.
Total Ministry was instituted in Nevada in the late ’70s. 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. Those called to ordained ministry entered the canonical process. Even today, some of our clergy are not seminary trained and not all parishes are served by paid rectors.
Elected Bishop in 1986, the Rev. Stewart Zabriskie was recognized nationally as a leader in the Total Ministry movement and was noted as a speaker and workshop leader. Bishop Zabriskie was also the author of Total Ministry: Reclaiming the Ministry of All God’s People. Following his death in 1999, he was memorialized for “building a family in the diocese and remembering the names of everyone he had met – even the names of the little children,” according to Sister Julian Hope of the Sisters of Charity in Boulder City.
The first woman and the ninth Bishop of Nevada, Katharine Jefferts-Schori was elected in 2001 to lead the Diocese of Nevada, followed by her history-making 2006 election as the first woman Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and Primate in the worldwide Anglican Communion. In Nevada, she was known as a leader with outstanding pastoral and administrative gifts. A pilot, Bishop Jefferts-Schori traveled extensively throughout the diocese, and is the author of “A Wing and a Prayer.” She was featured on the cover of Time Magazine as a woman who is changing the world.
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 Rev. Dan Edwards was elected the 10th Bishop of Nevada in 2007. Bishop Edward’s leadership focused on evangelism, which led to an 18.7% growth in the diocese, while every other diocese in the country shrank. He was a catalyst for broad-based community organizing through Nevadans for the Common Good, an ecumenical organization that won statewide legislation to benefit the marginalized. Bishop Edward’s community engagement approach was designed to build relationships and empower people in the pews to find their voice. He also worked to draw far-flung urban and rural parishes into a sense of common identify as a diocese. And he was able to reduce the burdensome diocesan assessment to 23%. Bishop Edwards retired in 2018.
With financial support from the diocese, 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.
- Joseph Cruickshank Talbot, Missionary, Northwest Diocese (1860 – 1869)
- Ozi William Whitaker, Missionary, Nevada and Arizona, (1869 – 1886)
- Abiel Leonard, Missionary, Utah and Nevada, (1888 – 1903)
- Henry Douglas Robinson (1908 – 1913)
- George Coolidge Hunting (1914 – 1924)
- Thomas Jenkins (1929 – 1942)
- William F. Lewis (1942 – 1959)
- William Godsell Wright (1960-1972)
- Wesley Frensdorff (1972 – 1985)
- Stewart Clark Zabriskie (1986 – 1999)
- Katharine Jefferts Schori (2001 – 2006)
- * Jerry A. Lamb, Assisting (2007)
- Dan Thomas Edwards (2008 -2018)
- *Jim Waggoner, Assisting (2019-present)