The Diocese of Dallas

Texas was a vast, uncharted territory and Dallas an untamed frontier outpost when the first Anglican pioneers visited Texas in the late 19th Century. These early missionaries founded parishes, ministered to the population and established the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, which was one of the success stories of the Episcopal Church in the 1890s.

During the 20th Century, the diocese went through two major periods of growth followed by two major periods of solidification. As the population increased, its size was whittled down and now includes what is commonly known as North Texas. The diocese also appears to be entering its third major period of growth, as the post-World War II generation matures and looks for spiritual nourishment.

In many respects, the founding of the diocese is also the story of an incredible churchman. Bishop Alexander Garrett established the first parish, the diocese itself and was bishop for its first 50 years.

He arrived with his family during a blue norther on December 31, 1874, booking a room above a saloon in downtown Dallas. The windows of his room would not close, resulting in wintry blasts which chilled his family during a long night. His son Tommy became ill and never recovered. He died from exposure a few months later. Also that night, gunshots rang out from the saloon below the Garretts', which resulted in a man's death.

Undeterred, the good priest went about the business of conducting worship services, visiting the sick, marrying and burying people and keeping up the spirits of the often-dispirited people of God on the edge of the frontier. Bishop Garrett's wobbly, horse-drawn carriage was a common sight in late 19th Century Texas as he roamed throughout North, Central and West Texas planting the seeds of the kingdom of God. Bishop Garrett called his area "The Big Pasture."

One year after his arrival, the small downtown Dallas parish called St. Matthew's was deemed the Cathedral Church of the Missionary District of the Episcopal Church.

Twenty years later, on October 22, 1895, the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church granted diocesan status to the parishes of The Big Pasture. The 13 parishes which petitioned the national church were St. Matthew's, Dallas; St. Stephen's, Sherman; St. Paul's, Gainesville; St. John's, Corsicana; Holy Trinity, Bonham; St. Andrew's, Fort Worth; Holy Comforter, Cleburne; All Saints, Weatherford; Holy Cross, Paris; St. Luke's, Denison; St. James', Texarkana, Good Shepherd, Terrell and Heavenly Rest, Abilene.

Bishop Garrett was also a civic leader in Dallas and one of the most powerful voices in the national church. When he died on February 18, 1924 at the age of 92, the diocese contained 54 churches, the St. Matthew's Home for Children, All Saints Hospital in Fort Worth and - perhaps the ministry closest to his heart - St. Mary's College, a major educational institution in Dallas at the time.

The growth of the diocese was a major success story for the Episcopal Church in the late 19th Century. Although it was the dominant denomination on the Eastern seaboard, many religious observers felt it would not translate westward and was too strongly identified with defeated English colonizers. But Bishop Garrett's success showed that Anglican worship was needed on the frontier and, in a way, proved to Easterners that Texas and other westward states had been at least partially civilized.

In 1919, the national church began a major effort to strengthen its position in the United States and the second Bishop of Dallas - The Rt. Rev. Harry Tunis Moore - proved to be an able administrator on both the local and national levels.

The diocese became the most important organization within the church and put all mission work under the direction of diocesan bishops. In Bishop Moore's words, "A strong parish will not make a strong diocese, but a strong diocese will make strong parishes and strengthen the missions, which are the feeding lines of the church."

Bishop Moore, who also served as dean of St. Matthew's Cathedral, had a particular enthusiasm for youth ministries and established youth fellowships in every parish, along with summer camp programs. He guided the Dallas diocese through two World Wars, the inflation of the 1920s and the Depression during his 22-year episcopate from 1924-1946. His leadership skills were strongly tested during the Depression years.

The saga of St. Mary's College demonstrates the difficulties. In 1917 the college incurred a debt of $250,000 when it built Garrett Hall, which provided dormitory rooms for students. The stock market crash of 1929 all but eliminated the chance of retiring the debt. By now, competing colleges had been established in North Texas and, with its massive debt, St. Mary's was forced to close.

Its assets were transferred to the Cathedral, which also faced great difficulties. In those years the Cathedral found itself unable to even meet the payments on the interest of the debt, let alone the principal. Yet it would do so through a most notable appeal to individual contributors that remains an important part of that parish's history.

In 1929 the Cathedral left its gothic structure in downtown Dallas for the grounds of the former college at the intersection of Ross Avenue and Henderson Street, where it remains today. Despite the loss of St. Mary's College and the near loss of the Cathedral, the diocese and the individual parishes managed to survive the Depression years.

During World War II, mission work was put on hold as the diocese ministered to servicemen and their families and dedicated whatever funds and materials it could to the nation at large.

In the post-World War II boom years, growth began in earnest. On September 4, 1945, Bishop Moore consecrated a small parish in North Dallas - St. Michael and All Angels - which today is the largest Episcopal parish in the nation. Bishop Moore liked to refer to "St. Mike's," calling it "the child of my old age."

Bishop Moore successfully and skillfully guided the church through severely troubled times. A big, good-natured man with great "people skills," he held the diocese together and, amazingly, even doubled the size of the diocesan endowment fund. Bishop Moore, at age 70, retired in 1946 and was succeeded by The Rt. Rev. Charles Avery Mason, a clergyman who burned with missionary zeal.

Bishop Mason took full advantage of the post-World War II growth. Within 10 years, every sector and facet of diocesan life had doubled numerically and 30 new parishes and congregations had been established.

His address to the clergy in 1946 typified his attitude toward his calling: "Work until you are exhausted, then kneel in the presence of our Blessed Lord and say, 'My Jesus, I can do no more,' but having said it, get up and work again. You have all eternity to rest."

Although wracked by personal illness from the early 1950s until his death in 1970, Bishop Mason never ceased to push forward. In all, 83 new congregations were established during his episcopate and the diocese and its churches went on what has often been called the "edifice complex" period of its history. In addition to large structures and parish halls, Camp Crucis was developed during Bishop Mason's watch (1946-1970), as was St. Phillip's School and Community Center in South Dallas.

The severe deterioration of Bishop Mason's health forced him to call for the election of a successor in 1969. His unanticipated death in March of 1970 left the diocese without a leader. A special convention was called in April at which The Rt. Rev. A. Donald Davies was elected. He was consecrated in June 1970 during an impressive service at the Dallas Apparel Mart.

An adept administrator, Bishop Davies set about reorganizing and strengthening the business infrastructure of the diocese. Beginning with a deficit budget in 1970, he introduced the assessment plan to support diocesan ministry. One by one he set his sights on the individual ministries of the diocese and went about strengthening them. Major new buildings were added to Camp Crucis and the Bishop Mason Retreat and Conference Center. Two retirement centers were added to the list of assets and St. Phillip's was renovated and its mission dramatically advanced.

The Anglican School of Theology and the Episcopal School of Dallas were established during his episcopate (1970-1982) and an important Hispanic ministry was begun.

Perhaps the most-remembered event, however, was the division of the diocese into the Diocese of Fort Worth and the Diocese of Dallas. Bishop Davies left Dallas to become the first Bishop of Fort Worth.

Compiled by Jim Goodson from:
The Episcopal Diocese of Dallas - A Centennial Narrative History by The Very Rev. C. Preston Wiles, Ph.D.