A brief history of the diocese

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THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN FLORIDA

                                                                             

The first Convention of the Episcopal Church in Florida was held in Tallahassee on January 17, 1838.  At that time there were seven congregations in the entire state.  They were: Trinity Church, St. Augustine; Christ Church, Pensacola; St. John’s, Tallahassee; St. Paul’s,  Key West; St. John’s, Jacksonville; Christ Church (soon to be renamed “Trinity”), Apalachicola; and St. Joseph’s, St. Joseph.   In the absence of a diocesan bishop the Rt. Rev. James H. Otey, Bishop of Tennessee was invited to perform episcopal duties.  In 1851 the Rt. Rev. Francis Huger Rutledge was consecrated as the first bishop of the Diocese of Florida and he served until his death in 1866.  He was succeeded by the Rt. Rev. John Freeman Young and he was succeeded by the Rt. Rev. Edwin Gardner Weed in 1886.

Somewhat over half a century after the first Convention at St. John’s, the Church had grown enough to be divided into the Diocese of Florida and the Missionary Jurisdiction of Southern Florida. At the time of the division in 1892, there were five parishes, 40 organized missions and 11 mission stations in the new Jurisdiction.  Its primary Convention was held on February 21, 1893 at Holy Cross Church in Sanford, presided over by its first Bishop, William Crane Gray.  In 1914 the bishop of North Dakota, the Rt. Rev. Cameron Mann, was translated to the Missionary District of Southern Florida.

Despite devastating freezes, a plague, the Spanish-American War, and World War I, the Church continued to grow in Florida.  Only a few short years after World War I, there were enough healthy congregations for the Missionary Jurisdiction of Southern Florida to apply for admission as a diocese.  In September, 1922, the Diocese of South Florida was formally admitted, and on January 16, 1923, the primary Convention of the new diocese was held at St. Luke's Cathedral in Orlando, with the Bishop Cameron Mann presiding.  When Bishop Mann died in 1932 he was succeeded by the Bishop Coadjutor, John Durham Wing who, unlike his two predecessors,  was not a born churchman  nor was he the son of a clergyman. 

During the next four and one half decades, the Church grew rapidly, especially after World War II.  In the 1950s alone, 74 new congregations were started in the Diocese of South Florida, and 25 of these had become parishes by 1966.  Presiding over much of this growth was Bishop Henry I. Louttit, who assumed the mantle of diocesan in 1950.  Bishop Louttit was assisted successively by two able Bishops Suffragan, Martin Bram and William F. Moses.

At the time the Diocese applied to General Convention for division, there were 204 congregations served by about 250 priests and three bishops.  The Special General Convention of 1969 approved the request for the division of South Florida into three dioceses, and in December of that year, Bishop Louttit, Bishop of South Florida presided over the primary Conventions of each new diocese -- Southeast Florida, Southwest Florida, and Central Florida -- for the purpose of electing their Diocesan Bishops.  The two Suffragan Bishops, James L. Duncan (SE) and William L. Hargrave (SW) were elected to be Diocesan Bishops in the areas in which they had been living and serving.  Bishop William H. Folwell was elected to succeed Bishop Louttit whose retirement coincided with Bishop Folwell's consecration in Central Florida.

In the early 1970s, that portion of the Diocese of Florida from Apalachicola west became a part of the newly created Central Gulf Coast Diocese, which also includes the southeast half of Alabama.  Thus, it has come about that the fledgling Church of 7 congregations of 150 years ago is now comprised within five dioceses.

On December 10, 1988, John W. Howe was elected Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of Central Florida and was consecrated April 15, 1989.  Bishop Howe became Diocesan Bishop on January 1, 1990.  On June 1, 1995, the Rt. Rev. Hugo Pina-Lopez, retired Bishop of Honduras, became Assistant Bishop of the Diocese and then Assisting Bishop on January 1, 2001.  A number of other retired bishops were an invaluable resource to Bishop Howe and the Diocese including  the Rt. Rev. Herbert D. Edmondson, retired Bishop of Jamaica; Archbishop Reginald Hollis, retired Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Canada and Archbishop of Montreal;  the Rt. Rev. John Lewis Said, retired Suffragan Bishop of Southeast Florida; the Rt. Rev. James Adams, retired Bishop of Western Kansas; and the Rt. Rev. Dorsey Henderson, retired Bishop of Upper South Carolina.

At the 31st Convention of the Diocese, held at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando (January 29, 2000), the delegates unanimously approved a new vision for the Diocese of Central Florida which called for the revitalization of existing congregations and the establishment of fifteen new congregations in the first ten years of the new millenium. At the 34th Convention of the diocese, held at Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park (January 25, 2003), the diocese kicked off “From Strength to Strength” - a capital campaign to fund the new vision approved in 2000.   This campaign raised more than $800,000 toward the campaign goal and, in addition, over $5 million was raised in various congregational campaigns.   Between 2004 and 2009, the Diocese welcomed four new missions, expanded Hispanic ministry in two missions and organized Hispanic worshipping communities in several parishes.  

2004 was a time of tumult for the diocese with virtually all members of one congregation voting to leave the Diocese and a majority of members of another congregation following suit.  At the 35th Annual Convention, the Diocese formally affiliated with the Network of the Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, an affiliation which ended formally five years later.  In 2008, members of five congregations and their clergy leaders disaffiliated from The Episcopal Church and thereby from the Diocese of Central Florida; the remaining members of those congregations called clergy in charge and picked up where they had left off, howbeit with diminished resources and numbers.  A sixth congregation purchased their existing church property and facilities in 2012.   On April 15, 2008 Bishop Howe issued a Pastoral Letter which became the basis of a new vision for the Diocese.

At the 42nd Annual Convention in 2011, Bishop Howe called for the election of a successor.  At a Special Convention held on Saturday, November 19, 2011 at Trinity Preparatory School, Winter Park The Reverend Canon Gregory Orrin Brewer was elected to be the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Central Florida.  Bishop Brewer was consecrated March 26, 2012.

On January 26, 2013, Bishop Brewer presided at the 44th Annual Convention at All Saints Episcopal Church, Winter Park.  In his address to the Convention, Bishop Brewer presented a plan for his episcopacy which focuses on: strengthening relationships with one another so that we may become, more deeply, a diocesan family; raising up new leaders both clergy and lay; taking a look at our neighborhoods and facing the missionary challenge before us; taking our place within the councils of the Episcopal Church; and moving into a time of discernment, praying and asking God for His leadership and His missionary strategy.  On February 8th and 9th he convened  the members of the Standing Committee and the Diocesan Board along with personnel from the diocesan staff  to begin to work on a strategic plan of action based on the points from his Convention address.

The Diocese of Central Florida is comprised of five deaneries - Central, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest.  At this writing, there are a total of 14 Missions and 73 Parishes.

2/18/13

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