The Early Years: 1835-1877
A handicap to the growth of the Episcopal Church in pioneer territory was the type of clergyman who sought his future in the West. Too often he was incompetent, having failed to make a success of his ministry in the East. He viewed the broad horizons westward as an opportunity to make his fortune, rather than planting the seeds of Faith.
It is possible that the Rev. Amos Baldwin was one of these Christian adventurers. He had been sent out to the west by the General Board of Missions to propagate the Faith. It is known that he stayed for six weeks in Albion, about 1821, and reportedly organized a congregation. Records, if there were any, disappeared as well as the congregation.
Illinois was not, however, without priests of the Episcopal Church. The Rev. John Batchelder was active in Jacksonville. The parish of Trinity in that city had been organized in 1832, and he had come as its Rector in 1833. The Rev. Palmer Dyer, filled with missionary spirit, had come out from Syracuse, New York, to establish a congregation in Peoria, to be known as St. Jude’s. He arrived in 1834 to find no organized religious society in Peoria County. That same year, the Rev. James C. Richmond had begun work in Rushville (Schuyler County), and Beardstown (Morgan County). On his way to Peoria, the Rev. Mr. Dyer had held a service in Chicago. Now the Rev. Isaac Hallem was settled as Rector of a congregation of 12 communicants, called St. James’ Church.
According to a report from Dyer, there were “friends of the Church” in Springfield and Alton, and in certain southern and western parts of the state, desiring Episcopal services. So it was that on March 9, 1835, the Rev. Messrs. Batchelder, Dyer, and Richmond with six laymen from Peoria, Rushville, and Beardstown, met in Peoria to organize a new Diocese. The Minutes of this Convention place the session in the “Episcopal House of Worship”. In reality, these men gathered in an upper room of a tavern, or hotel.
The Diocese began with a total of 28 communicants in congregations in Jacksonville, Peoria, Rushville, Beardstown, Chicago, and Galena.
The Rev. Mr. Dyer was intimately acquainted with Philander Chase, the retired Bishop of Ohio, who had settled himself as a farmer in Gilead, Michigan. He had faced frontier problems in Ohio, living with his family in a log cabin. This was the man chosen to be the Bishop of the fledgling Diocese. He made the journey, establishing his home some miles northwest of Peoria. He did make some visitations, in one of which he organized St. Paul’s, Springfield.
Bishop Chase had decided to establish a seminary to train young men for ministry in the West. After his brief stop in his new Diocese, he journeyed to England to raise funds to build a college that he called “Jubilee”.
He asked Bishop Jackson Kemper, whose missionary jurisdiction included Missouri, to visit the southern parts of the State, while he was in England. Through Kemper’s efforts, the Rev. Joseph L. Darrow was appointed missionary in Madison and St. Clair counties. He established a parish in Marine, and held services in Collinsville. The Rev. Samuel Chase, a son of the Bishop, was busy in Springfield.
Not until 1841 was there an “Abstract of Parochial Reports”. By that time congregations were listed in Springfield, Collinsville, Alton, Mt. Carmel, and Albion. In the whole Diocese there were 257 communicants.
Bishop Chase was past 50 years of age when he undertook the enormous task of spreading the Episcopal Faith throughout the vast State of Illinois. By 1851 he found his labors so great, and his health so poor, that he asked for assistance. Henry J. Whitehouse, a priest from New York, was elected as Coadjutor, and upon Chase’s death in 1852 succeeded him. The Diocese grew under his leadership, but in 1874 a second Bishop was needed, resulting in the election of Edward M. McLaren, elected in 1875. Bishop Whitehouse had died.
The Convention of 1876 set up the mechanics by which a division of the State into three Dioceses was to be accomplished. As early as 1872 there had been talk of such a division, and attempts made to bring it about, all of which seem to have failed.
On April 23, 1877, the Primary Convention of one of the new Dioceses, Quincy, met in the city of that name. There was dissension over the geographical distribution of parishes, so Bishop McLaren could not give his immediate consent to Diocesan formation.
On July 24, 1877, a number of clergy and laity in the southern part of Illinois, who had been at the Convention setting three Dioceses apart, met at St. Paul’s Church, Alton to consider the question of division.
Meanwhile, Bishop McLaren had been busy. He wrote to the Rev. David W. Dresser, Rector of St. Paul’s Church, Carlinville, and chairman of the Alton meeting, that he would consent to the establishment of a Diocese of Springfield, provided there was agreement on boundary lines. The McLaren plan embraced the territory lying south of the Counties of Woodford, Livingston, Ford, and Iroquois, and east of the Illinois River. Sufficient funds to support a Bishop would be necessary.
The General Convention, which met in October, 1877, in Boston, approved of the division. The Diocesan Convention also approved.
On December 18, 1877, the Primary Convention of the new Diocese of Springfield met in that city.
It was attended by 13 clergymen and 31 laymen. Bishop McLaren presided. The necessary Diocesan officers were elected.
On the first ballot, the Very Rev. George Franklin Seymour, Dean of General Theological Seminary, New York, was elected the Bishop of Springfield.
The Seymour Episcopate: 1877-1906
In an elaborate ceremony, June 11, 1878, he was consecrated in Trinity Church, New York. A year later he presided over his first Synod on May 6 and 17, held in St. Paul’s, Springfield.
The 49-year-old prelate faced a challenge that might have discouraged any priest newly elected Bishop. The first parochial reports of any value appear in the Journal of 1880, reflecting the condition of the new jurisdiction. They showed that the six largest parishes, communicant strength, were: St. Paul’s, Springfield, 276; The Redeemer, Cairo, 151; St. Matthew’s, Bloomington, 131; St. Paul’s, Alton, 126; Trinity, Jacksonville, 116; Trinity, Lincoln, 112. There were 41 parishes and missions served by 13 clergymen. They had spiritual oversight of more than 1,500 communicants.
Bishop Seymour told his first convention of 1879 that he was aware of the problems, especially financial, facing his people. In his first address he stated, “We are among the poorest, if not the poorest Diocese in Christendom.”
Much was accomplished during his Episcopate of nearly 30 years. Upon his death in 1906, statistics show that there were 24 parishes and 27 missions, for a total of 51 congregations. From communicant strength of 1,523 in 1877, there was now a record of 3,443. The clergy list had grown from 13 to 38. A Diocesan Fund for support of the Episcopate had been established, as well as funds for the aged and infirm clergy, and for the education of candidates for Holy Orders. A Board of Trustees was busy as an administrative unit of the Diocese. An Orphanage was opened. A private school for young women, called St. Agatha’s, in Springfield, flourished for many years. Private day schools in Pekin and Mattoon were opened.
On the 10th anniversary of the erection of the Diocese of Springfield, the Bishop spoke feelingly about the future:
The missionary region of Illinois, that is the territory where the Church does not exist, or has just been planted, and does not show itself above the soil, is embraced in the thirty counties which form the southern portion of the State. This is familiarly known as ‘Egypt’. With the exception of three parishes and a few feeble missions, the Church has no foothold … Our Diocese is essentially rural … it is not probable, scarcely possible, that our portion of the State of Illinois, embraced with the limits of the Diocese of Springfield, will ever build up a great city, which will become a financial centre. Hence we are not likely to have during our lives and those of the coming generation any base of supplies from which we can make large drafts to sustain and push our work.
Yet, he foresaw a bright future. He presented evidence:
1) The Diocese had more than doubled in every element; 2) There were three times as many clergy as in 1878; 3) Sixteen churches had been built or purchased; 4) three day schools were in successful operation; 5) the endowment of the Episcopate now had more than $1,000 in it, and was growing; 6) an Orphanage had been established in Springfield, and a girl’s school; 7) properties in the amount of over $75,000 had been acquired by the Diocese, vested in the Bishop as Trustee, and from which an income would help financially; 8) eight rectories had been erected or bought; 9) five lots had been secured and paid for to be occupied by church buildings; 10) only $4,000 had been received from outside sources for Diocesan work; and 11) new churches had been erected at Cairo, Carrollton, and Havana, the two latter paid for and consecrated.
An event of the 10 years between 1890-1900 was the beginning of Church work among the black population of Springfield. Such work had been in successful operation at Cairo for several years.
Bishop Seymour was a nationally recognized figure among those who strongly supported the Catholic Faith. The growth of the Diocese of Springfield spiritually was linked to this Faith. He left a strong Diocese for the times at his death in 1906.
His Episcopate could certainly be summed up in a headline of a Chicago newspaper (the Times) at the time of his election in 1877: “Mitre done worse!”
The Seymour Episcopate should not be concluded without mentioning an attempt to divide the Diocese in the early 1890’s, which failed, with the subsequent election of an assistant-Bishop. At the request of Bishop Seymour a committee was selected to consider the possibility of dividing the Diocese because of the extensive territory. The project was turned down by General Convention because there was not sufficient money to pay a Bishop.
If the Diocese could not be divided, perhaps an assistant-Bishop could be elected, and with a promise of expanded financial aid, the Very Rev. Charles Reuben Hale of Trinity Cathedral, Davenport, Iowa was chosen on May 17, 1892. He would be assigned the southern portion of the Diocese. He would become known as the “Bishop of Cairo”. He would serve for a short eight years. Much progress was made in his jurisdiction during his Episcopate. Bishop Hale was a godly man, gentle in disposition. He was a linguist, and was active in reconciling the Old Catholic Church with the American Episcopal Church.
When he died at Christmas time in 1900, he was genuinely mourned.
The Osborne Episcopate: 1904-1916
Nine priests were nominated. After 42 ballots, with no decision, the clergy retired to the choir room to confer. The laity remained in the Cathedral and sought a way out of the impasse. As a result, the Rev. Edward William Osborne, Rector of the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Boston, emerged as the unanimous choice for the office. The fact that he belonged to a monastic Order seemed to arouse no feelings. He felt it was the Divine Will that he accept his election as Bishop-Coadjutor.
Born in India, he had done missionary work in that country and in Africa.
He immediately began a thorough examination of the condition of the Diocese when he succeeded Bishop Seymour in 1907, following the Bishop’s death. What he found astonished him as well as the whole Diocese who heard his first formal address. He said, in one place:
A number of churches need a broom and pail badly…the Vestry rooms are used as depositories for odds and ends …few altars have frontals, or sufficient supplies of altar linens … broken and oddly-paired cruets should not be permitted … unfermented grape juice which I found in two places is not wine, and must never be used.
He even found priests who kept records of their services in their pocketbooks!
An outstanding project of his Episcopate was certainly the encouragement he gave to establishing Episcopal work on the campus at the University of Illinois. A corporation was set up to supervise such activity. Bishop Osborne envisioned a Chapel for students and faculty, rather than a Parish Church. He lived long enough to see his dream become a reality.
Two more important works during his Episcopate must be recalled. The influx of English people to work the mines of southern Illinois presented a ready-made constituency for missionary work. In addition, there were Italians as miners, who were lapsed Roman Catholics. By a “grant-in-aid’ from the national Church he was able to open work in several mining communities, and provide a settled ministry. Until these coal mines closed down a few years later, the work of the Church was about the only spiritual effort made by any denomination.
Then there was his interest in providing a vocational school in Springfield for young black persons, called the Lincoln Institute. It was a success for a number of years, but eventually failed because the blacks refused to support it.
Toward the end of his service as Bishop he was often absent from his Diocese for months, due to asthmatic attacks. In 1916 he resigned and moved to California. There he lived on until his death in 1926.
The Committee on the State of the Church reported in 1916 that there was “general indifference to spiritual things”. When some delegates to the Synod suggested the need of a Billy Sunday (a noted evangelist of the time) or a John Wesley, the Committee retorted, “Let us keep our heads!” There were financial problems facing the Diocese when Bishop Osborne resigned, a legacy which was to haunt his successors. When he assumed the Episcopate in 1906 there were 51 parishes and missions, with 3,443 communicants. When he resigned in 1916, there were 46 parishes and missions, with 3,590 communicants. There were 45 clergymen at work in 1906, contrasting with 26 in 1916.
The Sherwood Episcopate: 1916-1923
His approach was conciliatory and humble. He submitted a “platform” with four “planks”. He put emphasis on urban work, especially in the East St. Louis area, where he felt problems were as great or greater than in rural localities. He had a well developed sense of humor. For example he warned his clergy and laity in 1917:
The man who believes that we will become the dumping ground for inefficient and silly Priests whose highest thought is to ‘say Mass’ and call themselves ‘Catholics’, will, in time, we trust, revise his opinion.
In just two years he could happily report to the 1918 Synod that all arrears in assessments had been paid up, and the Diocese was solvent. He also pointed to clergy stipends being increased in 33 out of 49 congregations, eleven of them over 100 percent!
There were two innovations Bishop Sherwood brought to Synod sessions. The first was introducing the new clergy who had come into the Diocese, giving them words of welcome and encouragement. The second innovative plan was to commemorate the deaths of lay people in conjunction with those of the clergy.
In 1920, the Bishop pointed out that there was still the vast field in southern Illinois that had not been entirely reached by missionaries of the Church. There were 25 counties where the Church had no representation, and only one self-supporting parish in 45 out of 60 counties comprising the whole Diocese. He felt that if the Nationwide Campaign for funds had been more successful, there might have been more encouragement in spreading the Faith to these areas.
He was pleased to note in 1921 that Diocesan receipts were equal to the receipts for each year between 1914-1916. For the last three years, moreover, the Diocese had given more per capita than any other Diocese in the Province of the Mid-West.
The Bishop was always concerned about the financial problems of his clergy, due to their small salaries. He pointed out to the Synod of 1922 that the average salary, including a house, was, in 1917, $1,222 a year. In 1922 it was only $1,960.
Delegates traveled from all corners of the large Diocese to Bloomington on May 16, 1923 to hear continuing good reports of Diocesan progress. There were, for example, only two vacancies, those at Centralia and Elkhart. Echoing his remarks when he first became Bishop, he said that a study of population figures indicated rural areas were losing out to urban centers, so that more concentration should be put on the county seat towns and smaller towns, as well as in urban sections around St. Louis, rather than in the open country.
This Synod of 1923 was to be his last, for before the year ended he was dead. Said the Rev. J. F. Langton, Rector of Trinity Church, Jacksonville:
He was an administrator, constructive, a statesman-Bishop. He was a preacher of power and rare winning charm. He was a man of God, a spiritual power …Missionary zeal was the dominant note in his life …He was so lovable, so easy to approach.
And a Springfield paper stated editorially:
He was an indefatigable worker, a brilliant preacher, broad of mind …He raised a large endowment for the Diocese and very successfully financed the chapel and social work at the University of Illinois …Geniality was one of his outstanding characteristics.
The White Episcopate: 1924-1947
Since he had this background he knew intimately the problems that were ever present. Increased emphasis on mission work was an early priority.
The historian faces some difficulties in a short review of the accomplishments in an Episcopate of 33 years. Mention can be made of the purchase of an old home in Springfield for Diocesan offices and Center. The establishment of a Bishop and Council helped modernize the administrative structure of the Diocese. By 1914 the Diocese finally reached independence from any aid of the national Church. The Bishop was also instrumental in pushing for, and receiving funds for the work at the University of Illinois from the Dioceses of Quincy and Chicago.
Although independence from outside financial aid had been accomplished, financial problems still dominated Diocesan considerations. Said the Bishop in addressing the 1932 Synod:
I am deeply humiliated and spent sleepless nights of anxiety over our financial situation. I will be compelled, then, to talk ‘money’ during my visitations.
He also stressed the fact, as had his predecessors, that Springfield was essentially a “missionary Diocese”, and he expected this to be so for years to come. There were only 12 really self-supporting parishes and between 45 and 50 more or less dependent parishes and struggling missions, besides several hundred scattered communities of record in different towns and villages. However, he refused at the outset to close up weak missions, blaming the clergy for any failures.
Yet, in 1936 delinquent parishes and missions had paid at least 86 per cent of what they owed in assessments. The Church-wide Forward Movement program was an aid to this financial improvement. Payments from those places who were having financial problems were reduced to their ability to pay.
At his last Synod in 1947, Bishop White looked back at his long Episcopate and noted:
The mission fields are being supplied with priests, and parish churches have clergy who have great vision …the Diocese has no debt, and for years we have paid in full all our promised obligations to the National Church.
After his retirement—forced upon him and others in his age group against his vehement protests—Bishop White remained in Springfield. When he died in 1956 at the age of 89 he had become a beloved figure.
The Loring Episcopate: 1947-1948
He did succeed in visiting the upper portion of his Diocese. During his brief tenure work in Havana and Petersburg took on new life. He confirmed 239 persons, something of a record for the short time he functioned as a Bishop.
Before his Consecration, he had undergone an operation to relieve his hypertension. It would appear he never successfully recovered from it.
He is buried under the High Altar in the Cathedral. In his very brief Episcopate he had given the Diocese a new vision and a new hope. He was, indeed, as the inscription on the floor of the Sanctuary, over his crypt, reads:
“A Great Priest Who in His Ways Served God”
The Clough Episcopate: 1948-1961
The high level of your spiritual and intellectual leadership has been and will continue to be, an inspiration to us in our daily living …For six years you have shared our joys and sorrows, and have been, in every way, our father.
The Diocese as a whole looked forward with earnest hope for the future, because the Church had grown steadily with increases in communicant strength, and in baptisms and confirmations.
One of the projects close to Bishop Clough’s heart was work among young people. A large acreage east of Decatur was purchased for a summer camp to be named after the first Bishop of Springfield. Such a purchase was made possible by the sale of the Orphanage of the Holy Child, across the street from the Cathedral.
The Orphanage had been established by Bishop Seymour, soon after he became head of the Diocese. In the years that followed it operated successfully, moving into a modern brick building just a short time before it was sold. There were only five or six children left when the time came to cease its operation.
The new Bishop was cheered by the news at the 1949 Synod which indicated that of 15 missions stations which had been closed, only four remained closed. Two of these, Carlinville and St. Luke’s, Springfield, would soon be supplied by priests. The only work among blacks in the Diocese was now being done in the struggling congregation of St. Luke’s. However, Bishop Clough was a strong supporter of blacks, so much so, that on one occasion he refused to schedule a big dinner at a local hotel because they would not serve his black friends.
In 1952 he said in his annual address:
The possibility of my having to use a tea-cup and saucer instead of a chalice and paten, as I did on one recent visitation, is becoming remote.
During his Episcopate, budgets were increased, closed missions re-opened, missionary salaries increased, travel allowances for mission priests increased, church buildings restored and renovated, and new parish houses built.
He made a strong plea for increased mission work in 1956:
It sometimes happens, however, in the best of Diocesan barnyards that clerical hens drop a missionary egg and flutter off and expect the Bishop to hatch it. If the Episcopal hen does not hatch it quickly enough there is much clucking under the apple tree … There is, perhaps, a reasonable limit to the number of nests on which a Bishop can sit effectively.
According to the 1960 Census, only counties in the metropolitan area of Chicago had shown increased populations. In contrast, 39 of the 60 counties comprising the Diocese of Springfield showed a decrease in population. Yet, in the face of this depressing news, nine priests were working in southern Illinois where there had been only three in 1957.
A new project for the department of Promotion was instituted toward the end of Bishop Clough’s Episcopate. This was CAP (Canvass Assistance Program). It provided lay help in parishes and missions for fund-raising programs. Twelve laymen were recruited and trained by a professional advertising man, Paul Baker of Bloomington. He was later to become an effective priest in the Diocese.
Bishop Clough was frequently hospitalized during the last two years of his life, suffering from Hodgkins Disease. He died on September 9, 1961 after a long illness, at the age of only 56.
Burial was at his birthplace at Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts.
In 1964 a memorial window was placed in St. Paul’s Cathedral, paid for from a Diocesan-wide offering.
The Chambers Episcopate: 1962-1972
Father Chambers came out to Springfield before he accepted his election, meeting not only with Diocesan officers, but with leading clergy and laity, and visiting churches in the southern portion of the Diocese. Returning to New York, he pondered and prayed, and finally felt that he had been truly called.
On October 10, Congressman John V. Lindsay of New York inserted in the Congressional Record, a speech he had made praising the work of the future Bishop, especially in regard to city hospitals.
In elaborate televised ceremonies, Father Chambers was consecrated in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Springfield, October 1, 1962, in the presence of 16 Bishops and clergy from different sections of the United States.
It was reported that the ratio of communicants in the Diocese to its population was one to 273 in 1950, and in 1960, one to 340. This indicated that the Diocese had the lowest in ratio of all American Dioceses.
The trend was reversed during the Chambers’ Episcopate. This was largely accomplished by a professionally-conducted fund-raising campaign for $500,000, which was oversubscribed. The money was spent in four areas: 1) mission development; 2) college and university work; 3) upgrading Camp Seymour; 4) constructing a Diocesan Center. As a result mission stations were opened and more clergy came into the Diocese. A new student center was built at the University of Illinois. The old house on Second Street was torn down, and a one- story, functional Diocesan Center erected.
One of the many gifts received by the new Bishop, was a simple, wooden pastoral staff. The Bishop called it a “real shepherd’s staff”.
A home for the Bishop and his successors was purchased in a beautiful residential section of Springfield, a large house formerly occupied by a Governor of Illinois.
The Deanery system was reorganized. A group hospitalization plan was finally adopted. An innovation was the presentation of the Treasurer’s report before delegates came to the Synod to approve a budget.
A major project was undertaken under the national Church’s Mutual Responsibility Program, when the Diocese “adopted” the South African Diocese of LeSotho.
In his address to the 1965 Synod, Bishop Chambers pointed out that there were 39 clergy at work in the Diocese, and 41 congregations. This was, he said, a 500 per cent increase over the preceding three years. There were also more candidates for Holy Orders. To provide for a better selection of men for the Ministry, a Commission on the Ministry was established in the 5th Province, and the Diocese took a leading role in the establishment of what came to be shortened to BACAM.
Inner-city work in the East St. Louis area, in conjunction with the neighboring Diocese of Missouri, was a major project during the Chambers’ Episcopate. It flourished for a time, but eventually faded in Diocesan importance.
In 1967, Bishop Chambers announced pridefully that 2,155 persons had been confirmed and 126 persons received from other communions, surpassing the previous five-year period. Four new missions had been opened at Morton, Rantoul, Olney, and Effingham. Full-time resident priests had brought joy to Episcopalians in Anna, Centralia, Salem, and Wood River. College assistant chaplains had been placed at Champaign, at SIU, Carbondale, and NIU at Normal.
It was the 1968 Synod that took the significant step of removing restrictions on women, and 18-year-olds (1969), serving on vestries and as Synod delegates.
Of historical importance surely was the stand taken by Bishop Chambers in joining a handful of his brethren opposing the so-called “Black Manifesto”. A special Convention had met in South Bend, Indiana and had voted $200,000 for work among black Episcopalians. The Bishop felt that the measure had been passed only after pressure from a militant black organization. Some of his colleagues labeled him an “arch Conservative”, but his opposition, he was careful to point out to the national press, was based on ideological grounds.
Yet, he was always sympathetic to the problems of the black communities. He permitted the United Front of Cairo, a militant lobbying group, to occupy a room in the Diocesan Center for a time as offices during the sessions of the Illinois Legislature.
When some of his priests asked permission to celebrate what was called a “Circus Mass” that had been conducted at South Bend, the Bishop refused his consent. He was distressed at what he felt was a watering down of the Holy Eucharist. He was willing, however, to approve liturgical practices of an advanced kind, only of they did not conflict with the Faith.
The major event of 1971 was the calling of a special Synod to elect his successor. He had stated that he would retire in 1972. On October 7, 1971, seventeen candidates were considered by the Synod, finally resulting on the sixth ballot, in the selection of a mid-Westerner, the Venerable Albert William Hillestad, an Archdeacon, and Rector of St. Andrew’s, Carbondale. He virtually learned “the ropes” under Bishop Chambers, and was thus better prepared than many priests are to assume the office of the Bishop.
The Hillestad Episcopate: 1972-1981
Much was accomplished in the five years he has served the Diocese. A restructuring of the administrative units was done. There wass a warm, family feeling between the Bishop and his people, which was translated into Diocesan growth, physically and spiritually. He was honored by his election as President of the 5th Province. The Bishop s brought more lay people into the programs of the Diocese.
The Beckwith Episcopate: 1992-2010
The Beckwith Episcopate addressed several challenges within the Diocese as well as in the wider Church. These included issues of sexuality, ecumenical cooperation, clerical education, stewardship, and evangelism. Consecrated February 29, 1992 at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Springfield, Illinois, Bishop Beckwith was the third longest serving Bishop of the Diocese at the end of his tenure.
Bishop Beckwith advocated traditional and orthodox beliefs regarding both Christian marriage and ordination of partnered homosexual persons. The larger diocesan community largely expressed conservative views, while some parishes, and some individuals within parishes, were more comfortable with developments in the larger church. Bishop Beckwith and the diocese rejected as contrary to scripture and Christian tradition the consecration of partnered homosexual persons to the episcopate and the blessing of same sex marriages. These decisions were largely supported within the diocese but there was significant dissent as well. Both advocates and dissenters expressed strong positions creating some division within the diocese.
The diocese accepted the ministry of women at all levels: diaconate, priesthood, and in the episcopate.
Vision 2000, a 21st century plan for comprehensive renewal in worship, evangelism, stewardship, Christian education, and pastoral care within the Diocese, pushed back against difficult demographic changes. By 2006, diocesan statistics showed a 19% drop in membership and a drop in Sunday School attendance from just six years earlier. Congregations in Sparta, Collinsville, Fairview Heights, Caseyville, Greenville, and Olney closed. Diocesan stewardship suffered. Efforts to develop additional yoked ministries and an East St. Louis mission fell short. However, early in Bishop Beckwith’s episcopate, new work was established in O’Fallon (St Michael’s) and a building constructed. A new Day Care building was constructed at St Thomas’, Glen Carbon, and a major renovation of gathering and fellowship space at St Paul’s Cathedral. Five small churches in the Hale Deanery (McLeansboro, Harrisburg, West Frankfort, Marion, and Cairo successfully organized into a ministry cluster served by two full-time priests and two-part-time priests.
The Springfield School for Ministry was initiated to address the need for clerical leadership in small congregations. Bishop Beckwith established a goal of having at least one deacon serving each congregation, and expressed a belief that effective local ministry is linked to full-time resident priest. The rural and small town geographic isolation within the diocese, the nature of mission finances, and decreasing attendance made these efforts a challenge.
Bishop Beckwith emphasized faithful, consistent corporate worship to sustain connections to the larger Church and to nurture Christian identity. He repeatedly advocated for renewal programs including Evangelism Outside the Box, Making Disciples, Youth Quake, New Beginnings, and Happening, among others.
The Diocese of Springfield joined the newly-formed Anglican Communion Network. Several priests moved their Letter Dimissory to Springfield after the Diocese of Quincy left the Episcopal Church in 2008. Retired Bishops of Quincy, Keith L. Ackerman and Donald J. Parsons, became Assisting Bishops in the Diocese of Springfield.
Bishop Beckwith maintained strong ecumenical connections with the Central/Southern Illinois ELCA Synod including using a Lutheran minister in an Episcopal Mission and an Episcopal Priest in a Lutheran Church due to geographical overlap.
In addition to his Diocesan leadership Bishop Beckwith continued his service as a Chaplain USNR. In August, 1996, he was promoted to Rear Admiral (lower half) and retired from the Navy in 1999.