The Living Church

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The Living ChurchJuly 16, 2000Building on the Past by Carolyn McLendon221(3) p. 9-10

When the Rev. Duncan Montgomery Gray III was ordained and consecrated as Bishop Coadjutor of Mississippi [TLC, July 9], he was following in the steps of both his grandfather and father.

Duncan M. Gray served as Bishop of Mississippi from 1943 until 1966 - a time of war and of returning service men who needed to make the difficult adjustments to a normal life of work and family. In the 20-plus years the first Duncan Gray served as the diocese's fifth bishop, he was to see the rise of a new and very different generation of young people, the Baby Boomers; the rapid escalation in the numbers of women in the workplace; and increasing awareness and government involvement in assuring equal civil rights for all Americans, no matter their skin color.

Duncan M. Gray, Jr., was rector of St. Peter's Church in Oxford, the home of "Ole Miss," the university which was the scene of a major riot and armed federal troops when the first black student was enrolled. It was his calling to step forward to help quell that riot, to "stand tall" in the face of hundreds of angry Southerners and to preach racial reconciliation. As the seventh Bishop of Mississippi, from 1974 to 1993, he continued to be a state leader in endeavors designed to promote harmonious race relations and ensure justice and equality for all persons. He was a strong administrator for the rapidly growing Episcopal congregations and created a harmony in the diocese which is recognized nationally.

"Duncan Gray III is one of our top priests," said the Rt. Rev. Alfred C. Marble, Jr., Bishop of Mississippi. "He is like his grandfather and father in his ability to look ahead and also to look backwards so that his judgments rest on what has gone before and what he expects to come. His analytical mind is tempered with compassion and centered in Jesus Christ. Duncan has a spiritual depth which will serve him and the diocese well in years to come."

That the new Bishop Gray enjoys the respect of his peers - the other members of the clergy in Mississippi - is obvious in that at the election of the bishop coadjutor [TLC, March 19] from the first ballot he received the clergy majority. He was elected on the third ballot in less than two hours.

As bishop coadjutor, Bishop Gray will work in areas assigned to him by Bishop Marble, which include pastoral care and responsibility for all mission clergy and their families; oversight for missions during interim periods; supervision and oversight of the commission on ministry and all aspirants, postulants and candidates for holy orders; and oversight of other committees.

Like his father, Bishop Gray III has served as rector of St. Peter's in Oxford. It is there that he and his wife, Kathy, have reared their two sons, Duncan IV, 20 and Peter, 17. Both sons will be in college this fall. Mrs. Gray is an English teacher who has worked extensively in teaching English as a second language.

Ministering to youth has always been an important part of Bishop Gray's priorities as rector in Oxford. "How do we speak to a culture that is increasingly secular?" he said. "Young people today - Generation X - do not necessarily have the background in Christian literacy that earlier generations had. As this new generation was growing up, they did not necessarily learn stories from the Bible or their Christian heritage. They are a generation or two removed from immersion in the basics of the Christian faith."

Bishop Gray contends that Episcopalians have always been good at deepening the faith of people who come from other traditions. But he believes that is no longer enough. Now we have a generation of people who must be taught the basics of faith. "To put it another way," he said, "we need to start with Christianity 101, to teach the elementary doctrines and provide knowledge of the basic tenets of the Christian faith. We can no longer assume that young people know the details of the nativity or the passion of our Lord or much else in between.

"Young adults today have less institutional loyalty than previous generations. They may choose a church not because of denomination but because they like the choir or because it is near their home or has a convenient hour of worship. And that is not all bad," he said. "Many of today's young adults feel an organized church is not necessary; that they can have a personal relationship with God without the trappings of organized religion.

"It will be the job of the church in the 21st century to make every effort to provide these young adults with basic knowledge of our rituals - the answers to their questions of why we believe as we do and the meaning behind our rituals. We must effectively answer such questions as "Why is the church important to the individual's faith journey? Why can't I simply do my own spiritual thing?"

Bishop Gray does not find the Generation X group less spiritual than older generations. He noted that they feel a direct spiritual access to God. They feel a tremendous freedom to try new approaches to spirituality. "It is for these people that the church must go back to basics and proclaim the ancient truths in language, models and images that can be heard, understood and invite a response," he said.

Another area in which Bishop Gray sees dramatic changes in Mississippi is the increased migration of laborers and their families from Latin America. "This is one of the waves of the future," he said. "It is very important that the Episcopal Church be pro-active in helping these people to establish their homes in Mississippi and to find a welcoming church." Services in Spanish and help with English as a second language already have beginnings in the Episcopal faith in Mississippi. He said these efforts must be increased tremendously.

That Duncan Gray III is the third member of his immediate family to be elected bishop coadjutor is rare. However, each of the Bishops Gray have assumed leadership at different periods in the 20th and 21st centuries. When his grandfather became bishop, the 50-year-old bishop coadjutor was not yet born.

The various shades of Gray are unique to Mississippi, but each is well placed to color most effectively his times. o

Carolyn McLendon is the editor of The Mississippi Episcopalian.

Bishop Duncan M. Gray III looks to the task of reaching a new generation in the Diocese of Mississippi.'It is for these people that the church must go back to basics and proclaim the ancient truths in language, models and images that can be heard, understood and invite a response.' Bishop Duncan Gray III on Generation X