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 summer of 1968, Charles Farmer Duvall was a 32 years old parish priest. He and Nancy Rice Duvall had been married 11 years and had three children: Ann 10, Charles 8, and Ted 7. For six years, he had been rector of St. James’ Church, James Island, just outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Three of his fellow clergy in that diocese were David Barney, Matt Currin, and Jack Murray. These South Carolina clerics had no thought that a few years later, they would serve together in a new diocese yet to be formed along the central coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and that Charles Duvall would become the second bishop.
Of that summer fifty years ago, Duvall wrote, “The 60s were times of struggling with civil rights and integration. One of the manifestations of those issues was a movement called ‘kneel-ins’, a variation of the ‘sit-ins’ at lunch counters. The vestry and I talked a lot about how we would react if a group of black persons showed up and asked to worship with us. Few on the vestry wanted to welcome them, but I persuaded them at least that it was prudent to seat them.
“A group did come. They were seated, and after the service they left quietly. We hadn't solved the issue of churches opening to mixed membership, but we had acted with courtesy and restraint. Later in the 70s, I served a congregation in Fayetteville, NC, that had black members. Change is often hard, but it comes to us all. My Mother used to quote the old saying: ‘Nothing in life is constant but change.’”
The summer of 1968 was long and hot. The heat of anger burned throughout the nation. Not all of this was from the fires of riot-torn cities. It was found in many hearts in small communities and homes.
My own recollection of that summer is that friends and neighbors (to use a favorite Duvall expression) chose our words carefully in conversation. Racial and political biases were sometimes thinly veiled by polite words that did not quite hide sinister emotions. As a vestry member in my home town, I recall talk about “What if some of them come?” At the same time, I was a high school teacher living through the first years of school integration. Many white churches and white schools were fearfully and angrily defensive.
Meanwhile, the special committees in the dioceses of Alabama and Florida appointed to consider the creation of a new diocese continued their assigned work through that summer. In the Florida diocese, summer youth camps continued at Camp Weed near St. Teresa, and Alabama youth gathered again at Camp McDowell in Winston County (integrated four years before).
In 1968, a 390 feet wharf was built at Beckwith Lodge on Weeks Bay, although the use of this place in some future new diocese was not then in sight. At the time, it was a small cluster of cinder block buildings with rustic accommodations intended for use by Episcopalians in south Alabama for day gatherings and overnight stays for folks willing to rough it. The property had been given to the Diocese of Alabama in 1931 by Mrs. Mary Belle Cameron Beckwith, widow of the fourth bishop.
Twelve years later, on his 45th birthday, Charles Duvall accepted his election as second bishop of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast. His 20-year episcopacy included his active interest in Beckwith. He and Mrs. Duvall now live in happy retirement in their native South Carolina.
A few weeks ago from this printing, a box of his papers arrived at my front door. They include his sermons on various occasions – ordinations and celebrations of new ministries, dedications of new churches and new church facilities, funerals, Good Friday meditations, addresses on other occasions, and several academic papers. All of these papers are now filed in the diocesan archives in the Duvall Center in Pensacola.
His official addresses to the annual conventions of the diocese and his annual diaries are published in the Journal of the diocese for all the years of his episcopacy. They, too, are on file in the diocesan archives.
I thank Bishop Duvall for his contribution to this article, for the recent gift of his papers to our diocesan archives, and for his continuing friendship. SAK+