Fifty Years Ago | June 1968
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
As the spring days of 1968 warmed into summertime, committees in the Episcopal dioceses of Alabama and Florida, appointed by their bishops, continued studying the possibility of creating a new diocese within their borders. They did so while fellow citizens of the United States, in increasing numbers across the land, made public protests against the nation’s involvement in the war in Viet Nam. Further, since the assassination in April of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., demonstrations for civil rights had erupted into riots in many of America’s cities.
Another terrible blow was about to happen.
On Wednesday, June 5, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. As a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, he had just learned that he had won the California and South Dakota primaries. Brother of slain President John F. Kennedy and former Attorney General of the United States, he died the next day. He was 42 years old and was survived by his wife, Ethel, and ten children. At the time of his death, Ethel was pregnant with their eleventh child.
Citizens who were not protesting or rioting were numb with grief and bewildered about what was happening to the country. Senator Kennedy was buried in Arlington National Cemetery near the grave of his brother after a morning funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. A slow train brought his body and his family to the nation’s capitol. Respectful, weeping spectators along the rail line watched the funeral train pass by at such a slow speed as to arrive in Washington after dark.
This writer remembers these days vividly, as well as the assassination of Dr. King, and wondering with great sadness, “What is happening to our America?”
One result of this assassination continues to be the assignment of Secret Service protection to presidential candidates. In the 1968 race, Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota won the Democratic nomination only to lose in November to former Vice-president Richard Nixon.
Within this somber context of American life, the work toward the creation of a new diocese continued. A month before, on May 10, the committees of the two dioceses, plus Bishop Weed and Bishop-Coadjutor Murray met at Camp Weed, the Florida diocese’s beachfront camp at St. Teresa on the Gulf coast south of Apalachicola.
The Alabama folks reported that as a result of area meetings, there was no consensus about a plan but that a majority of clergy were receptive to division of the diocese and that the Alabama churchwomen felt that a new diocese would make their reorganization easier.
Regarding financial matters, figures suggested that the remaining Diocese of Florida might have a deficit budget, although no such prediction was made for Alabama. To this, Bishop West indicated that the main question was whether the division would be the best way to further God’s work.
In the afternoon of this gathering, the diocesan committees met separately to consider the feasibility of a new diocese. In the evening, the committees met jointly and reported unanimous agreement that the proposed division of the diocese was feasible. A subcommittee was appointed to draft a common language to be offered in both dioceses to include these matters:
Purpose, boundaries, desirable features, possible problems, future growth, time table, viability by General Convention standards, strength of remaining dioceses, trust fund information and possible problems, and names and address of committee members.
The chair of each diocesan committee was authorized to check with the chancellors of each diocese for possible wordings of resolutions which might be presented to diocesan conventions in January. Even though these committees had agreed on the feasibility of a new diocese, neither had made a decision to recommend such action.
It was agreed that each diocesan committee was to meet separately for a while.
On June 20, the Executive Council of the Diocese of Florida received a report that a new diocese was feasible but no recommendation was made for action. Instead, the Florida council decided to await a decision from Alabama.