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Remembering Bishop Duvall: Recollections of friends and neighbors

Written and compiled by the Rev. S. Albert Kennington, Registrar-Historiographer and Secretary Emeritus

The Right Reverend Charles Farmer Duvall, II Bishop of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, retired, died on October 8, 2020, in West Columbia, South Carolina. He served as Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast for just over twenty years (1981-2001). Bishop Russell Kendrick was homilist in his burial service at the grave in the cemetery of Old St. David’s Episcopal Church in Cheraw, South Carolina, on October 13, 2020.

Bishop Duvall is survived by his wife of 63 years, Nancy Rice Duvall; his daughter, Ann Duvall Barwick (husband Daniel); his sons Charles Farmer Duvall, Jr. (wife Ellyn) and Theodore Wannamaker Duvall (wife Katherine), six grandchildren and other relatives.

At the request of Bishop Kendrick, I am honored to gather and record these recollections with the help of loving friends.

A native of South Carolina, Charles Duvall grew up in Cheraw where his father was the third generation owner of the Cheraw Hardware & Supply Company. After attending public schools there, he graduated with a B. A. degree and honors from The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. After graduation, he and Ann Warren (Nancy) Rice of Charleston were married. The newly-weds made their home in Alexandria, Virginia, where he attended Virginia Theological Seminary from which he graduated in 1960 with a M. Div. degree.

Ordained deacon in June, 1960, and priest in March, 1961, he served Holy Trinity, Grahamville, together with missions in Cross Bluffton and Hilton Head Island, and then St. James’, Charleston. After serving Holy Trinity Church, Fayetteville, North Carolina, he returned to his native state to serve the Church of the Advent, Spartanburg, until his election to the episcopate.

He was elected Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast on November 15, 1980, in a special convention of the Diocese in St. Paul’s, Mobile. He accepted his election three days later on November 18, 1980, (his 45th birthday) in Mobile at a dinner meeting with the Standing Committee of the Diocese. Of the original 15 member Nominations Committee which nominated him and others, four members survive today: Vince Currie, Kit Caffey, Catie Strickland, and the Rev. Albert Kennington, each of whom contributed to these recollections.

Bishop Duvall was ordained and consecrated to the episcopate on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, April 11, 1981, in the Field House of the University of West Florida, in Pensacola. The Most Reverend John M. Allin, XXIII Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church was principal consecrator, with the Right Reverend George M. Murray, I Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast, and the Right Reverend William A. Beckham, VII Bishop of Upper South Carolina as co-consecrators. A congregation of some 2,500 gathered for the occasion (still the largest gathering in the history of our diocese). A choir comprised of some 300 diocesan wide choristers plus 60 children choristers led the music accompanied by organ, brass, and handbells. Some two dozen Episcopal bishops were in procession and in the sanctuary. In the procession of ecumenical clergy were Protestant, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholic clergy, including the Roman Catholic Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee and the Archbishop of Mobile. Following the service, a festive reception gathered with refreshments on the Field House lawn.

The diocesan office continued to be housed at Wilmer Hall Children’s Home in Mobile for the first eight years of Bishop Duvall’s episcopacy. The office was moved to the renovated Greyhound Bus Station in Pensacola in September of 1989. The move was made after several years of consideration. He dedicated the new headquarters as Diocesan House later that year. Soon after he retired, it was renamed Duvall Center in his honor.

As will be said below, stewardship was a main interest and strength of his leadership. In his preaching and teaching, he affirmed the Biblical tithe as a minimum standard of Christian giving, also affirmed by General Convention, and he taught the diocesan standard of percentage giving to the support the church at every level. Two capital funds campaigns during his tenure provided additional resources for the work of the diocese.

He frequently described himself as a preacher-teacher. He developed a popular style of telling Bible stories during his parish visitations and at other times. His sermons were proclamations of the Gospel. Church growth and congregational development were priorities as diocesan programs. Six new congregations were opened in the Diocese during his tenure: Redeemer, Mobile; Holy Spirit, Gulf Shores; Christ the King, Santa Rosa Beach; St. Augustine’s, Navarre; and two churches in Panama City Beach: St. Patrick’s and Grace. He confirmed over 10,000 communicants. Even though a significant percentage of members and the clergy of five congregations withdrew from the Episcopal Church in the last years of his tenure, the actual number of communicants in the Diocese when he retired was greater than the count at the beginning of his episcopacy. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Cursillo as a means of Christian growth although he moved to make Cursillo a more transparent experience. He also supported other programs of Christian learning and growth, especially the Education for Ministry program from Sewanee.

He was an ardent supporter of Camp Beckwith and other opportunities for youth including Happening, Jump Start, and Winter Woods.

He was an enthusiastic supporter of Wilmer Hall Children’s Home in Mobile and of the development of Beckwith Camp and Conference Center. In 1997, Murray House Assisted Living residence was opened in Mobile as the newest ministry of our diocese; it was named in honor of our first bishop, the Rt. Rev. George M. Murray.

Although Bishop Duvall saw being the chief pastor of his diocese to be his primary calling, he kept the eyes and efforts of the Diocese looking beyond ourselves, notably in supporting St. George’s College in Jerusalem and in our companion diocese relationship with the Diocese of Guatemala as well as in supporting ministries through General Convention.

He valued close ecumenical and interfaith relationships. He continued his predecessor’s support of the Mobile Christian Jewish Dialogue. He and the late Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb led an effort called Celebration 2000 which brought together some 4,000 Christians to a Sunday afternoon gathering in Mobile in January, 2000, to witness the beginning of a new millennium of the Gospel.

In August of 2000, while Bishop and Mrs. Duvall were out of the Diocese on sabbatical leave, clergy of two parishes made public their decision to leave the Episcopal Church and that sizable numbers of their parishioners were leaving with them. For several years before this, conflict had rumbled throughout the Episcopal Church over matters of human sexuality and, as some argued, faithfulness to Scripture. Bishop Duvall was known for his conservative convictions in these matters and also of his resolve to remain within the Episcopal Church and do his best to keep his clergy and people with him. The action of these priests, especially when he was known to be away from the Diocese, was particularly hurtful to him, but he returned to duty and gave himself to the task of ministering to the laity in these congregations who were committed to staying faithfully within the Episcopal Church. Before the year ended, two more congregations took the same action; early in 2001, a fifth congregation followed.

Altogether, seven priests were released from Holy Orders and some 1,370 communicants withdrew from the Episcopal Church. In two of these instances, litigation followed to settle property disputes, and in both instances, the courts held for the Diocese. All of this made for a solemn end to Bishop Duvall’s long and distinguished episcopate, but through this ordeal, he did not waver in his love for the priests and lay folks who left him. Nor did he shrink from defending the stewardship of the Diocese for the property and other assets entrusted to Diocesan care and use.

His honors and service beyond the Diocese include receiving honorary doctorates from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1982 and The University of the South, Sewanee, in 1986. He served as a member of the Kanuga Conference Center Board of Directors (1987-1993); chair of the North American Region Committee of St. George College, Jerusalem (1994-1997); member of the Board of Regents, The University of the South, Sewanee, (1995-2001), and chair of the Board of Directors of the Episcopal Media Center (2003-2006).

For a while after he retired, the Duvalls continued to live in their Pensacola home, but in time, they returned to their native South Carolina as they had long said they would. Friends and neighbors in our Diocese enjoyed visits with them when they returned for special occasions and otherwise stayed in touch with them across the miles.

Two of these visits are notable. In the 35th Annual Convention of the Diocese meeting in Christ Church, Pensacola, on February 18, 2006, Bishop Duvall preached in the closing Eucharist of the convention at the invitation of Bishop Philip Duncan. This was less than three years after the highly controversial ordination and consecration of the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay and partnered bishop, the Rt. Rev. Eugene Robinson. The import of Bishop Duvall’s strong and passionately delivered sermon was to uphold the highest standards of love in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, including love for people with whom we differ, and to declare his steadfast loyalty to the Episcopal Church. As I recall this, I think of the powerful witness of Bishop Duncan and Bishop Duvall offering their best for the strengthening of the Diocese they both loved and served. It was a good day.

The other occasion was quite different. He and Nancy came in October of 2014 to Beckwith for an overnight retreat with retired clergy and spouses. Bishop and Kathy Duncan joined the gathering as did several veteran lay leaders and diocesan staff members. Of course, Charles gathered the group for Bible stories in the morning, and after lunch, most of went for a sail on Mobile Bay on the schooner Joshua then anchored at Point Clear. It was two days in paradise with cherished friends. Nancy Kennington and I were blessed to be chairs of the Chaplains to Retired Clergy and Spouses at the time.

In this our Jubilee year, before Covid19 changed our lives so drastically, friends and neighbors across this diocese had looked forward to a festive celebration in December when Bishop and Mrs. Duvall and Bishop and Mrs. Duncan would be with us along with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. That this will not happen is a part of our grief.

Bishop Duvall would not have us grieve as those without hope, but instead savor sweet memories of happy and hard times in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection from the dead through our Lord Jesus Christ. And so, we commend him to God’s never failing love and mercy.

Testimonies from lay and clergy members of the Diocese during his episcopate enrich our recollections.

From Lee Henderson, who grew up in St. James’, Eufaula; memory from his teen years in the mid-1990s at Camp Beckwith and Happening:

Less than one minute in and I am teary. Five minutes in and I am laughing. I, as a long-haired teenager, listened to this man speak simply and directly of God's love unlike anyone that I had heard before. It was always a big deal when he showed up, but he was, to us, simply, "Bish." He told us these stories. And he created change in my life - a turning point to the way I perceived others unlike myself - the personal realization, thankfully at an early age, of our implicit bias. The theme that, "We are One in the Spirit: Prejudice Hurts Everybody." His emphasis that compassionate love, not just love alone, will always overcome fear and hatred. And if you'll listen to this story, then you'll find that he's also correct about the manner in which you should treat your mother-in-law!
Eternal peace, Bish. Thanks be to God.

From Catie Stickland, St. Mark’s, Troy, and member of the Nominations Committee of 1980:

I’m saddened to hear of the struggles Charles contended with in his last months yet happy with the assurance that he is now free of suffering and in the strong arms of our Lord. Charles loved us and his life showed that to me personally. During a walk we took at Blue Lake during an Episcopal Churchwomen’s Conference I shared some heavy burdens with him. I don’t remember what he said but I’ll never forget his tone. In his lovely South Carolina vernacular, he absolved me completely of all my guilt. It was freeing and it was lasting. His pastoral care was his greatest gift to me. I remember him stopping, turning over a small amount of soil and saying “Let’s bury this here and now.” What a strong message that was to me then and echoes to me still as I navigate my way in this life as a Christian who lives in a complex world. I hope this helps. It’s so very little, and I could say more about his wonderful stories, his laughter and the joy he showed in his role as Bishop. We all benefitted from his many gifts.

From Kit Caffey, St. Paul’s, Daphne; Registrar-Historiographer Emeritus; former President of the Standing Committee; and member of the Nominations Committee of 1980:

I first met Charles and Nancy Duvall in the summer of 1980 when they came to Pensacola for a meeting with the Nominations Committee preparing for the election of the second bishop of our Diocese. I was a member of this committee. He was one of the finalists in the committee’s selection process. The other finalists had met with the committee a few week-ends earlier. The Duvalls could not attend the earlier gathering because the date coincided with their daughter’s wedding. When Charles told the committee of this conflict, he offered to withdraw from our process. The committee declined his offer and admired his recognizing his daughter’s wedding as his higher priority.
In November, he was elected to be our next bishop. When he was ordained and consecrated the following April, members of this committee, by his invitation, were his official presenters. This is how I had opportunities to get to know Charles and Nancy from the beginning of their life with us.
One of his main strengths was his understanding and conviction about Christian stewardship. He believed, preached, and practiced the Biblical tithe as our standard for giving. He led our diocese - from the pews up - to understand what he sometimes called “second mile” giving - or “giving until it feels good.” In 1983, after careful groundwork in our congregations, our diocesan convention authorized o