An Episcopal mission church for Hattiesburg was born in February, 1964 by Bishop John Allin.
An organizational meeting of the proposed mission members was held at Trinity on May 15, 1964. It was at this meeting that the name “Church of the Ascension” was chosen for the mission, and it was proposed that, with the Bishop’s approval, the first service be held on the first Sunday in June. On June 7, 1964, the first service was held at St. John’s Lutheran Church with 73 persons in attendance. The founding group that formed the mission included 79 communicants with 18 baptized persons. On July 16, 1964, Bishop Allin officially dedicated the mission.
The Rev. Colton M. Smith was called to be the first vicar of the Church of the Ascension in 1965.
As the growth of Hattiesburg was westward, efforts were pushed to purchase a site for the church in the western part of the city, and relatively close to the university. A three-acre plot on South 37th Avenue and Arlington Loop was procured. On August 6, 1967, the first service was held in the new building with 68 persons in attendance. Bishop Allin officially dedicated the building on October 22, 1967.
After the Rev. Smith, Ascension was served by the Rev. Thomas J. Henry, the Rev. Michael Bell, the Rev. Ralph Kelly, the Rev. A. D. “Bo” Lewis, and the Rev. Lee Winter.
During the Rev. Winter’s tenure, Ascension began the process of developing a building program. The new church building was completed and consecrated by Bishop A. C. Marble, Jr. on October 27, 1994.
When the Rev. Lee Winter accepted a new call, the Rev. Paul Pradat came to Ascension and left in November, 2003.
The mission was initially formed to serve the University of Southern Mississippi, as well as the people of Hattiesburg. The vicar was also the Episcopal chaplain on campus, administering to the needs of students and faculty at the University. On August 1, 2004, the chaplaincy was separated from the vicar’s position when the Rev. Bill Barfield became the first full-time chaplain to the University.
The Rev. Dr. Susan Bear accepted a call to be vicar in November 2004, and, as Ascension was designated a parish in 2006, she became the rector. She would serve the church until her retirement in June of 2019.
In 2014, Ascension launched a year-long celebration of the church’s 50th anniversary, and although many changes have taken place in these years, Ascension continues to be a loving church that has a central and unifying concern for outreach.
In June 2017, Bishop Seage dedicated our new building – the Grace House – as our education and administration building. The Grace House offers a welcoming space for education for all ages, meetings (both church and community), and social functions on the fabulous activities porch. This was the perfect last step to complete our gorgeous campus that anchors the University Heights Neighborhood.
The Church of the Ascension is now in transition as we await the person God has planned to lead our parish. Even though we don’t currently have a permanent priest, we welcome guest priests regularly, and often celebrate prayer services together. We trust Ascension will soon welcome a caring, knowledgeable priest to lead us into our next chapter.