What’s in a Name: St. Mark, St. Paul, Otey?


by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

In December, the vestry of Otey Memorial Parish petitioned the Diocese of Tennessee to confer upon the parish congregation a new name: the Episcopal Parish of St. Mark and St. Paul on the Mountain. Discussion about the naming of Otey Memorial Parish began in January 2019. The racially charged atmosphere of this past summer prompted the formation of a committee to give careful consideration to questions raised.

James Hervey Otey is the parish’s namesake. “Bishop Otey was a devout churchman,” said Karen Keele, who chaired the committee. Information from the committee’s research, Otey rector Rev. Rob Lamborn, and Otey records flesh out Bishop Otey’s story. Otey traveled widely starting many congregations, was instrumental in establishing the Diocese of Tennessee, and served as both the first bishop of Tennessee and first Chancellor of the University. The first building of the University and first place of worship was Otey Hall. Otey opposed seceding from the Union, but Otey supported slavery and owned from three to 16 slaves.

Also pertinent to investigating the parish’s name is history about buildings and worshippers.

In 1868, the University completed St. Augustine’s Chapel. Soon afterwards the University and local residents recognized the need for a parish church. The church consecrated in 1875 at the site of Sewanee Elementary School served both white and African-American parishioners who held services at different times. The white parishioners called their congregation St. Paul’s-on-the-Mountain. The African-American parishioners called their congregation St. Mark’s. The church provided schooling for both black and white children.

For reasons not entirely clear, according to Lamborn, in 1891 a new parish church was constructed across the street, a more durable, partially stone building. There was nothing to suggest the first church was in poor condition. The plan was for the white parishioners to worship at the new church and the African-American parishioners to worship at the old church. At the vestry’s request, Bishop Quintard, who succeeded Bishop Otey, recommended to the Diocese honoring Otey by changing the name of St. Paul’s to Otey Memorial Parish. The Diocese, instead, approved the name Otey Memorial Church. “The record doesn’t state whether or not this was intentional,” Lamborn said.

Nor do historical records reveal how parishioners from the two congregations felt about the naming or the more segregated worship practice. Soon afterwards, though, the St. Mark’s worshippers began calling themselves St. Paul’s. When the church fell into disrepair, the congregants repurposed salvageable materials and in the 1930s built a new church on Magnolia Avenue. Name: St. Mark’s.

In the 1960s, Otey chose to integrate. “Integration wasn’t 100 percent successful, though,” Keele acknowledges. “Blacks felt welcome at Otey, but they didn’t feel like they had a role.” St. Mark’s continued to serve worshippers until 1968, when the bishop closed the church at the congregation’s request.

The 1971 Otey Centennial Committee pondered the naming “inconsistency” and considered renaming the parish. As recently as 1979, records occasionally refer to Otey as St. Paul’s-on-the Mountain, Lamborn pointed out. Curiously, the St. Paul’s name referenced an entity that no longer existed in any official capacity.

What should Otey be called in 2021, the year of the sesquicentennial? “What it comes down to is how to best serve God,” Lamborn said. Keele noted naming a church after a person from the fairly recent past was unusual. Far more typically churches are named for biblical figures or events. The congregation—the worshippers—are typically known by the name of the church.

“From 1891 to 1962 the black and white congregations were segregated in worship,” Lamborn said. “The name changed before and changing it again would be a way to bring things together…We want to acknowledge and celebrate the history of the African-American and white congregants both.” Double names are not uncommon and usually result when two churches combine.

In addition to recommending the parish name change, the seven-member committee proposed a plaque on the church recognizing the building was dedicated to Bishop Otey, a street-side historical marker telling the story more fully, and changing the name of St. Mark’s Hall to Kennerly Hall honoring the African-American community leaders and educators John and Gertrude Kennerly.

The Diocese will vote on the request to change the parish name to St. Mark and St. Paul on the Mountain on Jan. 23.

2021 November
2021 October
2021 September
2021 August
2021 July
2021 June
2021 May
2021 April
2021 March
2021 February
2021 January
2020 December
2020 November
2020 October
2020 September
2020 August
2020 July
2020 June
2020 May
2020 April
2020 March
2020 February
2020 January
2019 December
2019 November
2019 October
2019 September
2019 August
2019 July
2019 June
2019 May
2019 April
2019 March
2019 February
2019 January
2018 December
2018 November
2018 October
2018 September
2018 August
2018 July
2018 June
2018 May
2018 April
2018 March
2018 February
2018 January
2017 December
2017 November
2017 October
2017 September
2017 August
2017 July
2017 June
2017 May
2017 April
2017 March
2017 February
2017 January
2016 December
2016 November
2016 October
2016 September
2016 August
2016 July
2016 June
2016 May
2016 April
2016 March
2016 February
2016 January
2015 December
2015 November
2015 October
2015 September
2015 August
2015 July
2015 June
2015 May
2015 April
2015 March
2015 February
2015 January
2014 December
2014 November
2014 October
2014 September
2014 August
2014 July
2014 June
2014 May
2014 April
2014 March
2014 February
2014 January
2013 December
2013 November
2013 October
2013 September
2013 August
2013 July
2013 June
2013 May
2013 April
2013 March
2013 February
2013 January
2012 December
2012 November
2012 October
2012 September
2012 August
2012 July
2012 June
2012 May
2012 April
2012 March
2012 February
2012 January
2011 December
2011 November
2011 October
2011 September
2011 August
2011 July
2011 June
2011 May
2011 April
2011 March
2011 February
2011 January
2010 December
2010 November
2010 October
2010 September
2010 August
2010 July
2010 June
2010 May