Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande

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Diocese of the Rio Grande
Diocese of the Rio Grande seal.jpg
Ecclesiastical province Province VII
Congregations 60
Members 11,188
Rite Episcopal
Cathedral Cathedral Church of St. John
Current leadership
Bishop Michael Vono
Location of the Diocese of the Rio Grande
Location of the Diocese of the Rio Grande

The Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande is the Episcopal Church's diocese in New Mexico and southwest Texas, the portion of the state west of the Pecos River, including the counties of El Paso, Reeves, Culberson, Jeff Davis, Brewster, Presidio, Terrell, Hudspeth and Pecos. The total area of the diocese is 153,394 square miles (397,290 km2). According to the 2006 parochial report, there are 57 active congregations within the diocese.[1] The see is based in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the diocesan cathedral is the Cathedral Church of St. John.

The 1859 General Convention of the Episcopal Church assigned New Mexico to the jurisdiction of the Missionary District of the Northwest under Josiah Cruickshank Talbot. Talbot first visited the region in 1863, during the abortive attempt by Padre Jose Antonio Martinez of Taos to ally himself and his Roman Catholic congregations with the Episcopal Church.[2]

In 1874, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved the formation of the Missionary District of New Mexico and Arizona and appointed William Forbes Adams as Bishop of the new mission. He first traveled to Albuquerque in 1875, when nine people attended the first Episcopal worship service at the Exchange Hotel on the Plaza, on March 4, 1875. Adams resigned in 1877 and was succeeded by George Dunlop, under whose presidency the first convention of the Missionary District of New Mexico and Arizona was held, again at the Exchange Hotel, in 1880.[3] Dunlop is counted as the first diocesan bishop of the region that went on to be known from 1920 as the Missionary District of New Mexico and South West Texas; from 1952 as the Episcopal Diocese of New Mexico (later the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande).

The election of Terence Kelshaw in 1989 inaugurated a period of change not unmixed with controversy for the diocese. Kelshaw was a theological conservative and declined to support ventures and projects whether at local, national or international level that were not in alignment with conservative views. He was particularly vocal on the importance of traditional values in matters of sexual morality. Kelshaw gradually withdrew from the life of the national church and, by the time of his retirement, Rio Grande was widely regarded as among the most conservative dioceses in the Episcopal Church. The extent to which Kelshaw's episcopate saw the development of a staunchly conservative approach in a sizable proportion of diocesan life was evident at the convention held to elect his successor, where the nominees included Martyn Minns, the high-profile conservative Rector of Truro Church (Fairfax, Virginia) who would go on, in June 2006, to be elected Missionary Bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a missionary initiative of the Anglican Church of Nigeria primarily comprising congregations that have disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church.

Steenson shared his predecessor's theological conservatism, though unlike Kelshaw, he came from an Anglo-Catholic background. He voiced repeated and increasing concern about the direction of the Episcopal Church, and ultimately determined he should resign his position and orders, and become a Roman Catholic. He resigned [4] in September 2007, and was subsequently received into the Roman Catholic Church. He has since been ordained deacon in December 2008 by Bernard Cardinal Law, the archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, and priest in February 2009, by Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe.[5] Steenson is now a faculty member at the University of St. Thomas and at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, Texas. In 2012 Steenson was made the founding Ordinary for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter for former Anglicans seeking corporate reunion with the Roman Catholic Church.

Following Steenson's resignation, ecclesiastical authority in the diocese passed to the Standing Committee, which since March 2008 has been assisted by William C. Frey, retired Bishop of Guatemala and Colorado, who was appointed assisting bishop pending the election of a new diocesan. Concurrently with Frey's appointment, the Standing Committee also announced that the 7th Bishop, Terence Kelshaw, had joined the Anglican Church of Uganda.[6]

The departure from the Episcopal Church of the two previous bishops was a blow from which recovery seems certain to be slow. Following a lengthy period of consultation, an election convention was held on April 24, 2010, and elected Michael Louis Vono, then rector of St. Paul's Within the Walls, Rome, Italy, as ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande. After receiving the required consents, his episcopal ordination took place on October 22, 2010.[7]

Bishops of the Rio Grande[edit]

Style and Name Dates
1st George Dunlop 1877–1888
2nd John Miles Kendrick 1889–1914
3rd Frederick Bingham Howden 1914–1942
4th James Moss Stoney 1942–1956
5th Charles James Kinsolving 1956-1971 (Bishop Coadjutor 1956)
6th Richard M. Trelease 1971–1988
7th Terence Kelshaw 1989–2004
8th Jeffrey Neil Steenson 2004–2007
9th Michael Vono 2010


See also Davis, Evan, History of the Diocese of Rio Grande, The Institute of Historical Survey Foundation, 2007.

External links[edit]