The Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast is a diocese of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, part of Province 4. The diocese was created in 1970 from portions of the adjoining dioceses of Alabama and Florida.Its territory encompasses the southern third of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle region, west of the Appalachicola River. Most of its churches are located in the Mobile, Alabama area and in a population strip along the Gulf of Mexico extending from Pensacola to Panama City, Florida; most of the remaining churches are located in Alabama, typically in towns with greater than 10,000 population. Historically, the diocese's congregations have favored low, or evangelical, churchmanship, with a generally more conservative theological and cultural tone than the Episcopal Church nationally.
Diocesan offices are located in Pensacola, while the cathedral is Christ Church Cathedral in Mobile, making it one of only a few dioceses in the Episcopal Church where the diocesan offices and cathedral are located in different cities and the only diocese in which they are located in different states.
A Brief History
The Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast was organized in 1970 by combining the southern part of the Diocese of Alabama and the western section of the Diocese of Florida. In both the Diocese of Alabama and that of Florida, the problems of adequately caring for parishes had become greater over time as congregations in Mobile and Pensacola, at the far edge of each diocese, had grown. Bishops George Murray (Alabama) and E. Hamilton West (Florida) agreed that joining the southern counties of Alabama with the western portion of the Diocese of Florida was the best solution to the problem. Meeting at Christ Church, Pensacola, on December 3–5, 1970, the Primary Convention of the new diocese adopted canons and elected officers with the Right Reverend George Murray becoming the first bishop of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.
In 1971 the new diocese included 25 parishes and 32 missions along with Beckwith Camp & Conference Center, a camp and conference center located on Weeks Bay on the Alabama Gulf Coast and Wilmer Hall Children’s Home in Mobile. The new diocesan offices at Wilmer Hall opened in January 1971. For 10 years Bishop Murray traveled throughout the diocese shepherding his flock, providing steady leadership during a period of great change in the Episcopal Church, not the least being the adoption of a new prayer book and the ordination of women. In 1979, shortly after celebrating the 25th anniversary of his consecration as Bishop, he announced to the Standing Committee his intention to retire.
Meeting at St. Paul’s, Mobile on November 14–15, 1980, a special convention of the Diocese elected the Rev. Charles Farmer Duvall, from South Carolina, to succeed Bishop Murray. The new bishop was ordained on April 11, 1981, in the Field House of the University of West Florida before 2,500 people who had gathered to witness and celebrate the consecration.
From Bishop Duvall’s ordination in 1981 the Diocese grew steadily. In 1981, for example, the Diocese counted 57 churches including 25 parishes. Twenty years later when Bishop Duvall retired, the Diocese had grown to 38 parishes and 25 missions. In addition to being an owning diocese of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, the Diocese owns and supports three other institutions for ministry: Beckwith Camp & Conference Center, near Fairhope, Alabama and Wilmer Hall Children’s Home and Murray House Assisted Living Facility, both in Mobile. The budget reflects that growth, increasing from $229,370 in 1981 to $1,992,114 in 2001. Several major programs were launched during Bishop Duvall’s tenure, including the Companion Diocese relationship with Guatemala and an annual medical mission to Guatemala; the Kairos prison ministry; and Happening for young people. Meanwhile, the Cursillo program which began under Bishop Murray continued to thrive. To improve access for the far-flung parishes of the Central Gulf Coast and enable the Bishop and his staff to better serve the people, the diocesan offices were relocated to downtown Pensacola in 1989. During Bishop Duvall’s episcopate, two successful fund drives raised money to enhance the capability of the Diocese to serve the people. The first, Venture in Mission, launched in 1983, raised $1.5 million, part of which financed construction of the Chapel of the Resurrection at Beckwith Camp & Conference Center. The second, Fulfilling the Vision, initiated in 1994 raised more than $2.5 million including $1 million for a conference building and a new motel-type building at Beckwith; $1,025,000 for new church development; and $325,000 set aside for continuing education in a "Vocations in Ministry" fund for continuing education for both clergy and laypeople.
On September 30, 1999, Bishop Duvall called for the election of a successor bishop. After a year-long search process, meeting at St. Stephen’s in Brewton, Alabama, on January 6, 2001, a special convention of the Diocese elected the Very Rev. Philip Menzie Duncan, II, dean of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, Texas, to succeed Bishop Duvall. The new bishop was ordained on May 12, 2001, at the Pensacola Civic Center, witnessed by a congregation of over 2,500 people.In 2015, Russell Kendrick, a native of the diocese whose first appointment as priest had been in the diocese, was elected as the fourth bishop.
The Seal of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast
To represent the Gulf Coast itself, an anchor, representing "hope" which played a large part in theformation of the new diocese, was placed against a background of water which consists of seven wavy bars alternating gold and blue. To raise the Christian symbolism to a more confident degree than merely that of hope, the dove of peace transcends below a bishop’s miter between two St. Andrew’s crosses and directly above the anchor as the "unifying chief" which will continue its reign over the anchor. With the diocese extending into the lower portion of Alabama and the upper portion of Florida, two St. Andrew’s crosses were used to represent the heritage of Alabama and Florida, both of which have the St. Andrew’s cross as a predominant symbol on their state flags. Also, with the cross of St. Andrew being a Christian symbol, it makes a unique attribute of representing at once the Church and the two states. Since the diocese was formed from two older areas, the new union was symbolized by placing the two crosses of St. Andrew side by side in a single field, the "chief" of the shield. The shield was designed by Professor James Waring McCardy of the University of the South, Sewanee, who is recognized as a top authority on ecclesiastical heraldry in America.