A BRIEF HISTORY OF ST. GABRIEL'S
St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church began with St. John's Episcopal Church --- the oldest church in Rutherford County still standing. St. John's was built in the late 1840's with slave labor. Whites worshiped on Sunday morning, and blacks held services on Saturday evening. Only the white attenders were recorded as members of St. John's.
In the late nineteenth century, the whites outgrew the St. John's building, so they moved down Main Street, and built a new church, St. Francis, where their descendants still worship. With the whites gone, the diocese deconsecrated the St. John's building and rented it for a while, later selling the property.
The blacks were left without a place to worship and for the next fifteen years or so, they met in homes around New Hope, the original black community in Rutherfordton. Finally, in 1913, construction began on a new church building for the black faithful. In 1915, the building was completed, and the bishop consecrated it as “St. Gabriel’s Mission for Colored, under St. Francis’ Parish.” An early white priest-in-charge was Hibbert H. P. Roche, whose sister, Cecilia Millicent (Mrs. Francis) Hincks, was an active member and served many years as treasurer.
The first black priest-in-charge was Eugene Lenoir Avery, 1935-1942. Father Avery was followed by another black priest-in charge, Rev. Quintin E. Primo, Jr. (1942-1943), who later became suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago from 1972 to 1985.
St. Gabriel's was built right in the heart of New Hope, and for many years it served as the religious, cultural, and social center of the African-American community in Rutherfordton. Community meetings, parties, dances, and dramatic productions were all held in the parish hall of the church. Children and young people played in the parking lot in front of the church, as well as, at the basketball court and tennis court.