FIFTY YEARS AGO
short stories of events and times of the formation of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, collected by the Rev. S. Albert Kennington, Diocesan Registrar-Historiographer
Beginning January, 2018, the Coastline will include monthly remembrances from fifty years ago – stories of the birthing of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast as well as of the people and events that touched our lives. I was a lay delegate the first time at the January 1968 convention of the Diocese of Alabama. I was a 25 year old bachelor English teacher from Atmore. I soon realized that I had arrived when the Episcopal Church as I knew it was ending, and, more importantly, that I had arrived in time for important new beginnings. I’ve written most of these vignettes from memory although I've attempted to ascertain the facts. As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of our diocese, I hope you find them good reading. SAK+
The 137th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Alabama met January 25-27, 1968, in St. Paul’s Church, Selma. The Friday business session met in the local National Guard Armory. Upon calling the morning session into order, Bishop Charles C. C. J. Carpenter announced that he would retire at the end of the year after a thirty-year episcopate. He then asked Bishop George M. Murray to take the chair. In his remarks, after his tribute to Bishop Carpenter, he spoke of possibilities ahead. Among them was the possibility of creating a new diocese in south Alabama and the Florida panhandle. He asked the convention to join him in studying the several possibilities and to invite the Diocese of Florida to do the same in the year ahead.
The 125th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Florida met during these same days in St. Christopher’s Church, Pensacola. Bishop E. Hamilton West reported to his convention that Bishop Murray had informed him that he would raise with the Alabama convention the possibility of forming a new diocese and had asked for Florida’s participation in considering this.
Each convention established a committee to meet jointly and separately to study and consider the matter and report to each respective 1969 convention.
So it was that fifty years ago this month, the idea that became the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast began.
The 1968 Alabama convention was historic in two other ways. Among the delegates were fifteen women--the first to be seated after the previous convention voted to allow women to serve as delegates. In the Saturday morning convention service, Bishop Murray presided and used The Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. The General Convention of 1967 had authorized this service for trial use throughout the Episcopal Church, and this was its first use in the Diocese of Alabama.
In the Episcopal Church and in American life, the rights and participation of women and of people of color were becoming recognized, albeit reluctantly, by many. Familiar liturgical forms were being reshaped and tested. The movement for civil rights and the war in Viet Nam, both increasingly controversial and deadly, touched every home.