Fifty Years Ago | November 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
In the afternoon of November 3, 1968, the Sunday of All Saints, a tornado touched down in Bay Minette. Within a few roaring minutes, the 54-year old frame Immanuel Episcopal Church was picked up and dropped askew of its foundation. What remains of that rubble are Kodak snapshots; the pulpit; the lectern; the big lectern Bible; the chairs for the bishop and vicar; stained glass windows above the altar; the canonical registers; some Communion silver; and a spacious table in the parish hall made from the heart of pine boards from the old church—and a thriving, if small, congregation of Episcopalians who offer faithful worship and service to neighbors near and far.
On November 5, Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States. He would become the only president in U. S. history to resign from this high office.
Bishop George Murray and Bishop Hamilton West of Florida spent November 4-7, 1968, driving to every Episcopal church in the portions of Florida and Alabama being considered for the new diocese. This was mainly to assure Bishop West that there was enough strength in south Alabama to join with that section of Florida to make a diocese. In an interview recorded in 1999, Bishop Murray said this about these visits:
“So he and I decided to visit, all together, all of the churches in that portion of Florida that we were talking about and in south Alabama. We took a trip for a little over a week, as I remember it, to visit each spot--to see the church, to meet the clergy and learn something about the spot on the spot. I remember that he began to be better impressed than he started out being with what there was in south Alabama. I remember particularly that when we drove up Old Shell Road [Mobile] and approached St. Paul’s Church, he said, “I’m sure that is the local Baptist emporium.” And I said, “No, that’s St. Paul’s Church, Mobile - an Episcopal church.” Well, he began to be brought over to being in favor of the whole plan, and he said, “George, I think this could work.” He said, “I think maybe our committee will support it.”
On November 20, the Executive Council of the Diocese of Florida voted to recommend the new diocese.
On the evening of November 20, Bishop Carpenter was honored in Birmingham, first in a service in the Church of the Advent and then in a dinner in the Tutwiler Hotel. Some 900 persons attended, including several of his fellow bishops and other leaders in the Episcopal Church and civic leaders as well as the clergy along with many lay persons from throughout Alabama. In a special highpoint of the evening, Bishop Carpenter inducted all present into his own Order of the Kangaroo--his whimsical way of commending folks for faithful service.
Today, I am blessed to be the vicar of Immanuel, Bay Minette, and I still have my kangaroo from that memorable evening as a new Episcopalian with Bishop Carpenter.