Faith is a strong characteristic of southeastern North Carolina. The quest for religious freedom was one of the main reasons European settlers migrated to this area in the 18th century. The founding citizens of Wilmington brought their own beliefs with them, created spiritual homes for a broad spectrum of nationalities and eventually built stunning architectural monuments, many of which are on the National Historical Register.
The history of churches in the Cape Fear area could fill several books. Many of the region's larger churches were occupied by British or Union troops, and historical commentary about those episodes conjure up dramatic pictures. Imagine, if you will, the courtyards of downtown Wilmington churches populated by weary soldiers for so long that their camp fires permanently blackened the steeples.
From the beginning, settlers here established a religious environment of respect, support and tolerance of each other's rights to observe beliefs. In the entire recorded history of Wilmington, there is no evidence of religious oppression. In fact, we find many examples of a congregation of one denomination coming to the aid of another, such as when the members of Temple Israel, the first Jewish Temple in North Carolina, freely shared their building with neighboring Methodists for two years after the Methodist church was destroyed by fire in 1886. In the aftermath of the Civil War, many white congregations offered financial and moral support to newly created black churches when black members decided the time had come to create their own houses of worship.
The grander houses of worship in downtown Wilmington date from the 18th and 19th centuries and, in addition to providing opulent settings for large congregations, figure prominently on historic tours of the area. One cannot view the Wilmington skyline without being instantly struck by the profusion of spires. The tallest and oldest, the 197-foot twin spire of First Baptist Church was toppled by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. After a full year of determination to rebuild the spire in its exact authenticity, it has been restored to its former beauty.
Visitors enjoy the fascinating history and architecture of many local churches and temples, including St. James Episcopal at the corner of S. Third and Market streets; St. Mary’s Catholic on Ann Street; Temple of Israel at the corner of S. Fourth and Market streets; St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran on Market Street; First Presbyterian on S. Third Street; and St. Stephen AME on Red Cross Street. If you want to know more about these and other historic churches, see our Attractions chapter or drop by the North Carolina Room at the New Hanover County Public Library in downtown Wilmington and ask for information.
Wilmington has interdenominational, non-denominational, Full Gospel, Episcopal, Holiness, Pentecostal and AME/AME Zion houses of worship. Other religions with a presence in the area include Jewish, Roman Catholic, Jehovah's Witnesses, Greek Orthodox, Christian Science, Islam, Lutheran, Quaker, Unitarian, Seventh Day Adventist, Unity, Eckankar and United Methodist. Meditation groups meet in various spiritual centers. You can get specific information about spiritual organizations, services and locations via the Yellow Pages, the "Religion" page in Saturday’s Star-News, public libraries, local chambers of commerce and visitor centers.
The Thai temple rises from the coastal forests of Brunswick County in Bolivia. The Buddhist Association of North Carolina has been building this temple for many years and has relied on community donations to complete the work. It represents an important addition to the region's religious and philosophical centers. Located on Midway Road between N.C. 211 and U.S. 17 Business, it's a bit difficult to locate, but you can call for directions, (910) 253-4526.
If you want to attend services while you're on vacation and you're wondering what to wear, here's some advice. Southern coast people don't dress up much for work and they love to wear casual clothes most of the time, but they generally dress for worship. Still, if casual clothes are all you brought, you will be welcome. People in our tourist-oriented communities are used to seeing visitors in vacation mode.
Wilmington and the southern coast area have an abundance of spiritual
resources in terms of bookstores. Mainstream Christian shoppers will find
Bibles, videos, tapes, music, gifts, books, cards and other religious items
in these local shops: