The Living Church

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The Living ChurchMay 27, 2001Bishop Duvall Looks Forwardto 'Lying Low' for a While by David Clothier222(21) p. 7, 16

As he prepared to retire as Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast, the Rt. Rev. Charles F. Duvall talked about the evangelism and the growth of the church in south Alabama and northwest Florida. Eight new congregations began during his 20-year tenure and the diocese has also experienced growth among existing parishes.

The final months of his time as diocesan bishop haven't always been as pleasant. Bishop Duvall has had to deal with the departure of the majority of four congregations and their clergy from the Episcopal Church. Two of the clergy were priests he had ordained.

"The biggest surprise in the last couple of years is the unwillingness of those agreeable to my theology to believe that my theology is enough reason to remain in the Episcopal Church," he said. "I was frankly surprised. I did not think it would happen in this diocese."

The bishop added he was in agreement with those who left concerning some of the directions and stands the Episcopal Church was taking, but "I was not moved to leave. They were. Those who left claim that some of the actions of the General Convention in 2000 in Denver pushed them over the edge. My personal opinion is that they were already prepared to leave."

The negative effect of these departures has been considerable, according to Bishop Duvall. "It took a lot of spiritual and emotional energy to work through my own surprise and disappointment," he said. "It has taken time to deal with these issues, meeting with the continuing groups (in each parish) and making decisions. I did not have time to spend on other (diocesan) matters. It's been costly."

Of the four churches directly affected, the most difficult situation has been Christ Church in Mobile. There, the majority of the congregation voted as the other three did to leave the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and affiliate with the Episcopal Church of Rwanda. Christ Church also claimed all of its property, citing the fact that the parish was founded prior to the formation of the Diocese of Alabama, which had jurisdiction before the Central Gulf Coast. The decision was controversial in that baptized members who were non-communicants were allowed to vote. The case has been brought before civil court in Mobile and was scheduled for a May 29 hearing.

The remaining defections were in the Florida portion of the diocese and included St. Andrew's by-the-Sea in Destin, St. Francis of Assisi in Gulf Breeze, and St. Mary's in Milton. In each of these cases, the clergy and congregations who left the Episcopal Church also left the property behind, and in the case of Gulf Breeze and Milton even changed names, to Messiah and Grace Anglican churches, respectively.

As one of his last acts as diocesan, Bishop Duvall, with the advice and consent of the standing committee, recently released the clergy from the affected churches in Mobile, Gulf Breeze and Destin of their priestly obligations and authority after giving them six months in which to change their minds. They were inhibited by the bishop during this six-month period. The priest in Milton, who left only after the diocesan convention in February, is in the six-month period and is inhibited.

To Bishop Duvall, the good news is all four remaining congregations have "good, strong nuclei and have attracted back some members who had fallen away over the last year or two." Each has interim clergy and retains parish status.

As for his retirement plans, Bishop Duvall said, "I'm going to lie low for a year, unless the new bishop asks me to do something, to give him some space. I want to enlarge my repertoire of stories and venue. I have accepted invitations to preach and teach outside of the diocese and hope after a year, if the new bishop will allow me, to be on his 'rent-a-bishop list.' I'm looking forward to the pleasure of teaching and preaching without the responsibility of being the one in charge."