Fifty Years Ago
short stories of events and times during the formation of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast collected by the Rev. S. Albert Kennington, Diocesan Registrar-Historiographer
In the last days of the previous month, children in our nation awoke to a new vision of how life should be when a Presbyterian minister named Fred Rogers invited children and older folks to be his neighbor. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood became an American television icon of how life should be. All too soon, life in America became terribly different.
On March 21-22, 1968, the committees of the Diocese of Alabama and the Diocese of Florida appointed to consider the possibility of a new diocese gathered for a joint meeting in a motel in Ozark, Alabama. Alabama’s Bishop Coadjutor George Murray and Florida’s Bishop Hamilton West each made opening statements, and committee members took time to get to know each other and to discuss the work before them. The agreed upon agenda was exhaustive and probably exhausting. Here are some of the agenda items (imagine an existing diocese being so examined today):
- Minimum requirements for viable diocese, mission load and cost in each new diocese, legal questions, church institutions in each diocese, people’s willingness, what history tells us about this type of joining, what ecumenical advice is available, financial strength, how is decision on division reached, and election of bishops.
As the meeting went on, other items emerged, including these: specific financial statistics, legal angles of crossing State lines, information on clergy salaries, figures on population growth, and specific information on statistics based on different boundary lines.
Each diocese shared such information as it had, and the overall work was divided into specific task groups. A next joint meeting was planned for May in which the “feasibility” of a diocese might be decided. The matter of “desirability” would probably be delayed at least until Fall.
On the last day of this month, March 31, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson solemnly addressed the nation on television from the White House about the war in Viet Nam. He spoke of plans which began to limit the United States’ role in combat. He ended by announcing that he would neither seek nor accept the nomination of his party for another term as President.
Earlier that same day in the same city, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached in the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (the Washington National Cathedral). It was his last Sunday morning sermon.