St. Cyprian Episcopal Church of New Bern Celebrated Re-Opening after Years of Restoration

St. Cyprian Episcopal Church of New Bern Leadership
St. Cyprian’s Vestry Sr. Warden Shirley Guion (front), and Jr. Warden Angelyn Dixon (left) next to The Reverend Margaret Pollock, Advisor with Advisors Carrie Gallagher and Harry Gormley (photo by Norman J. McCullough).

St. Cyprian Episcopal Church of New Bern celebrated the re-opening on Sept. 23, 2022. The evening sunlight shown through remarkable, original stained-glass windows which surround the church. The Vestry invited its parishioners and the community into St. Cyprian for a Eucharistic Service with The Reverend Margaret Pollock honoring “The Feast of Cyprian of Carthage, Bishop and Martyr” for whom the church is named.

The evening service was very successful for over 70 guests. Members of the Christ Church altar guild provided vestments and altar linens, service pieces and candle holders. Original St. Cyprian’s service pieces were retrieved from storage. Volunteer Crucifer, servers, bearers, and readers supported Reverend Pollock in the service. Christ Church Choir members scattered throughout the congregation and encouraged everyone to participate in the service hymns. Organist Clifford Badgley inspired the guests in song and accompanied Dan Palimetakis, soloist.

Episcopal Church of New Bern Music
Photo by Norman J. McCullough

Almost speechless, Vestry leader, Sr. Warden Shirley Guion, welcomed guests. In early planning, she felt the community needed to re-open St. Cyprian. “Our parishioners and their families have worshipped in this church, the church has hosted family events, and the community has been in St. Cyprian for events. It is time to re-open.” Her joy was evident in her welcome and her beautiful voice during the service. Lifelong parishioner and Jr. Warden, Angelyn Dixon, worked with Mrs. Guion to plan the service and welcomed guests as they arrived. With Secretary, Mae Whitford, and Treasurer, Chrlyn Dixon, the church’s Vestry has held firm their belief that St. Cyprian would once again be a home to the community.

What did Guests see?

Guests could see, as they entered the church, the impact of Hurricane Florence. Pews at each side of the crucifer-formed church are set back. The altar was beautiful with the choir pews, bishop’s seating, and pulpit ready for the service. With support from the East Carolina Episcopal Diocese Trustees, a new HVAC system was recently installed. The cleaning and regular housekeeping has been supported by an anonymous donor. The Christ Episcopal Church Trust grant funded much needed electrical updates, plumbing and restroom repairs and other projects to secure the building. Ongoing restoration efforts are visible. The baptismal font alcove was recently repaired after damage from a leak in the bell tower – new plaster walls and ceiling and fresh paint. An electrician restored wiring for the lighting and the control panel – new outlets and switches were installed throughout the church and Undercroft.

Guests also had the opportunity to see the plans for an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant addition that is planned. This addition has been drafted by architect Charles Francis with input from the Vestry and the Church Advisors. In the new year, fundraising will begin, and by mid-2023 more complete plans will be submitted for City of New Bern review and approval. Success in fundraising with lead donors, grants and contributions will support the start of construction. When completed, the addition will provide a street-level entry lobby with restrooms and an elevator with access to all three levels – ground, church, and Undercroft. Many residents are familiar with this needed solution as they watch the ongoing construction of New Bern City Hall’s ADA compliant entry and service building.

Why is the restoration of St. Cyprian’s needed?

Episcopal Church of New Bern
Photo by Norman J. McCullough

St. Cyprian was founded in 1866 as a house of worship for African Americans who had previously worshipped at Christ Episcopal Church. In New Bern’s Historic District, St. Cyprian is one of New Bern’s “historically black churches”. It is one of less than five historically black churches in the East Carolina Episcopal Diocese. St. Cyprian’s operated out of its original building, a wood frame structure that stood near the entrance of Cedar Grove Cemetery. In 1910, construction of a new brick church started and two years later it opened for worship to members of St. Cyprian.

The Church played a significant role in the history in New Bern – at the time of “The Great Fire of 1922”, it served as a hospital to African Americans who were turned away from the restricted St. Luke’s Hospital. Mrs. Shirley Guion, Senior Warden of St. Cyprian’s, tells the story about the people and families who were cared for, and the baby born within hours of the fire. As Mrs. Guion says, “this pointed to a long-time need and led to religious leaders and the parishioners of St. Cyprian leading the way to found Good Shepherd Hospital to serve the African American community”.

Episcopal Church of New Bern
Photo by Norman J. McCullough

St. Cyprian’s is one of fewer than 20 historically Black Churches in the State of North Carolina. The original stained-glass windows have survived the test of time. Guests had the opportunity of seeing these remarkable windows during the service.

Welcome back, St Cyprian Episcopal Church.

By Carrie Gallagher