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Our History

The Seal of Our Diocese

The Diocese of Florida, seven parishes strong, officially formed on January 17, 1838, and was received into union with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church on September 7, 1838. The Diocese of Florida has forged ahead over the past 186 years and remained focused and true to God’s call. The call to live and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in community, Eucharist, and servanthood ministry is never realized without great sacrifice or great thanksgiving for all that has been accomplished.

The Episcopal Diocese of Fl

orida works to serve God’s people in North Florida while remaining steadfast and directed by the Holy Spirit. Over the past 183 years and beyond, living and proclaiming the gospel in community and servanthood ministry will continue to be the call into the future, thanks be to God.

The Seal of Our Diocese

The central figure in the seal of the Diocese of Florida is St. John the Evangelist. He holds in his left hand a chalice and the Book of Common Prayer in his right hand, which indicates that it was in this Diocese that the first Anglican Prayer Book services in the continental limits of the United States were held aboard John Hawkins’ ship anchored in the St. Johns River off Fort Caroline in 1565.

Above St. John’s head are seven golden stars representing the seven churches that organized the Diocese in 1838: Christ Church, Pensacola; Christ Church (now Trinity Church), Apalachicola; St. John’s, Tallahassee; St. John’s, Jacksonville (now the Cathedral); St. Joseph’s (now St. James’, Port St. Joe); St. Paul’s, Key West; and Trinity, St. Augustine.

St. John, wearing an alb, stands with three palm trees on either side, suggestive of the subtropical latitude of Florida. The eagle with wings outspread in the lower third of the seal is one of the symbols of St. John. The eagle is holding an orange branch with the blossoms, the state flower of Florida.

Previous Bishops

The Right Reverend Francis Huger Rutledge

First Bishop of Florida

The Right Reverend Francis Huger Rutledge

Francis Huger Rutledge became the First Bishop of Florida thirteen years after the diocese was organized. Educated at Yale and the General Theological Seminary, he then moved to Florida, where he was rector, first of Trinity Church, St. Augustine, then of St. John’s, Tallahassee. In 1851 he was elected and consecrated Bishop of Florida. For seven years, The Right Reverend Francis Huger Rutledge served as bishop and as rector of St. John’s. Under the leadership of Bishop Rutledge, the diocese grew from ten congregations to fourteen in the first ten years after he became its bishop.

Bishop Rutledge was one of the four clergymen present at Convention in February 1866, but he was ill most of that year and he died on November 5. “We may well remember him,” said the senior member of his clergy in a funeral sermon,” as one of those whose good example we thank God.” When we want to point to a good man for our children to emulate, the reverend minister continued, “we will pronounce, in emphatic tones, the name of Rutledge, our first Bishop.”

The Right Reverend John Freeman Young

Second Bishop of Florida

The Right Reverend John Freeman Young

John Freeman Young (1820-1885) became the Second Bishop of Florida in 1867. The first ten years of his Episcopate, Bishop Young wrote in a pastoral letter in 1882, were “mainly a struggle for life”, but with the end of the depression of 1873 and the beginning of a wave of immigration into Florida, the diocese began to grow very rapidly. In Bishop Young’s last ten years it expanded from twenty parishes and missions with fourteen clergy at work to forty-eight congregations ministered to by thirty-six clergymen.

Bishop Young did much of the work of planting new missions himself. Traveling the length and breadth of the state on horseback, in buggies and carts, by steamer and sailboat and sometimes on foot, he started missions wherever he found a few Episcopal families. He organized in Key West the first Episcopal Church exclusively for black people in Florida and also a Spanish-language parish for Cuban immigrants. He visited Cuba twice, in response to a petition that the Church be established there, and Cuba became an important missionary field for the Episcopal Church in the United States.

Bishop Young died in 1885. He had greatly enriched his diocese and his church.

The Right Reverend Edwin Gardner Weed

Third Bishop of Florida

The Right Reverend Edwin Gardner Weed

The Third Bishop of Florida, and the first to be consecrated within the boundaries of the state, was The Right Reverend Edwin Gardner Weed. He was a native of Savannah, a confederate war veteran and a graduate of the University of Berlin and the General Theological Seminary. He had served the Church of the Good Shepherd, Augusta, as its rector through his ministry, for fifteen years, before he was called to Florida. He was consecrated in St. John’s Church, Jacksonville, on August 11, 1886.

Travel was a major part of his life throughout his episcopate. He was on the road as much as eight weeks at a time, and in one of his earlier years as bishop he spent just eighteen days at home.

Bishop Weed died on January 18, 1924, after seventy-seven years of life and thirty-eight as the Bishop of Florida. He was remembered by his contemporaries best of all perhaps, for his personal relationship with people – his friendship and cheerfulness. “Perhaps the American Church has never before known a more approachable bishop,” wrote the rector and wardens of St. John’s, Jacksonville; and, said another one of the clergy of the diocese, “He was a shepherd who knew his sheep. He would always ask you about some incident in your life …that you had told him (about) on a previous visit. He was a real Pastor.”

The Right Reverend Frank Alexander Juhan

Fourth Bishop of Florida

The Right Reverend Frank Alexander Juhan

Under Bishop Juhan’s labor and leadership, 11 missions became parishes in 10 years, and 16 new missions organized. The number of clergy at work grew from 38 to 58, and the membership of the church almost doubled. The Right Reverend Frank Alexander Juhan, sometimes called “the young people’s bishop,” was himself the youngest diocesan in the Episcopal Church when he was consecrated in 1924. He was to be the Bishop of Florida until 1956, when would retire as the Church’s senior active bishop. By then he had been bishop through Florida’s “boom and bust” of the 1920’s, the Great Depression, World War II and ten years of recovery after the war.

The first five years of Bishop Juhan’s episcopate were a time of prosperity for the state and growth for the diocese, but the end of the Florida real estate boom and the onset of the Great Depression brought on more than a decade of hard times and retrenchment. In the early 1930’s the budgets were cut and so was the money sent to the National Church and Bishop Juhan’s salary, the salaries of missionaries and other clergy, the number of clergy at work in the diocese (from thirty-one in 1929 to twenty-five in 1934) and the founding of new missions. The number of congregations in the diocese slipped from seventy in 1929 to sixty-two in 1933 and sixty in 1937. By then, however, the depression was beginning to loosen its grip on the diocese and in 1941, Bishop Juhan was able to say to his people, “It should be evident to all … that the diocese had definitely stepped forward during the past three years.” But he reminded them that America was then looking out at “a world that is filled with darkness and disaster.

Bishop Juhan retired in 1956, raised money for his beloved University of the South and died there in 1967. He was praised there as “Sewanee’s guardian angel” and, in Florida, as “a man of humor, a man of courage. a man of compassion, a man of sport, but most of all a man of God, founder of new missions, builder of new parishes, pastor of the pastors of men and servant of the servant of God.”

The Right Reverend Edward Hamilton West

Fifth Bishop of Florida

The Right Reverend Edward Hamilton West

The Right Reverend Edward Hamilton West served the Diocese of Florida as its chaplain in charge of students work at the University of Florida from 1936 until 1941, as its bishop-coadjutor from 1948 until 1956 and as its diocesan until his retirement on December 31, 1974. Bishop West led the Diocese of Florida during troubled times and times of progress. The accomplishments of the diocese under Bishop West’s leadership were impressive, with 15 missions becoming parishes and 17 new missions founded. The clergy staff grew from 58 in 1956 to 74 in 1970. The diocese gave up 18 of its clergy, nine of its parishes and thirteen of its missions to help create a new diocese, the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast. That made the Diocese of Florida a more urban diocese that it had been, and Bishop West asked it to try “to bring Christ to the cities and the cities to Christ.” The diocese, with its cathedral taking the lead, undertook to rehabilitate one of the most challenged areas in Jacksonville.

The Right Reverend Frank Stanley Cerveny

Sixth Bishop of Florida

The Right Reverend Frank Stanley Cerveny

The Sixth Bishop of Florida, the Right Reverend Frank Stanley Cerveny, was called to the diocese in July 1972, to be dean of St. John’s Cathedral. Bishop Hamilton West had asked for a coadjutor because he intended to retire at the end of 1974. On February 23, 1974, Dean Cerveny was elected bishop coadjutor. He was consecrated as Bishop in the Church of God on May 23, 1974. The consecrator was the Presiding Bishop of the Church, the Right Reverend John Elbridge Hines, and co-consecrators were Bishop West and Bishop John Vander Horst, the Bishop of Tennessee. On January 1, 1975 Cerveny became the Sixth Bishop of Florida and on January 17 he was installed as Chief Pastor of this Diocese, which now unites over 30,000 Episcopalians in more than 70 congregations stretching from Jacksonville to Tallahassee and the Gulf, and south to Gainesville and Palm Coast.

During his episcopate, the Diocese increased church membership, built heavily used Camp Weed and the Cerveny Conference Center centrally located lakefront acreage near Live Oak, and established the Episcopal Foundation for support of extended ministries within and outside the church. His commitment to witnessing the Gospel in both word and action in daily led Bishop Cerveny to take his sabbatical in Madrid, where he served as a worker priest at a Roman Catholic mission.

Bishop Cerveny’s long friendship with the Bishop of Cuba led to a Partners in Mission and Companion Diocese relationship, a continual exchange of visitors, Cursillo candidates from Cuba, and establishments of a Cross of Nails chapter in Havana, enhancing Floridians lives with the witness and vitality of the Cuban church.

At the end of 1992, Bishop Cerveny, 59, resigned to become Executive Vice President of the Church Pension Group headquarters in New York City, joining the managerial team “ministering to ministers” as he put it.

The Right Reverend Stephen Hays Jecko

Seventh Bishop of Florida

The Right Reverend Stephen Hays Jecko

Stephen Hays Jecko was elected Seventh Bishop of the Diocese of Florida on December 11, 1993, and was ordained and consecrated on May 7, 1994 at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1990 he became Assistant to the Bishop of Florida. In this capacity his primary focus was as Chair of the Commission on Ministry while serving as the bishop’s liaison with all the related functions in the ordination process, as well as evangelism, stewardship, Christian education, youth, renewal, social ministry and the Diocesan companion relationship with Cuba. He designed the Vocational Deacon Formation program and the Canon 9 process for the Diocese of Florida.

During his tenure Bishop Jecko served as a Trustee of the University of the South, Chair of the Board for Episcopal Children’s Services, and as a member of the Board of Episcopal School of Jacksonville. He is author of Spiritual Renewal & Ministry in A Local Church (doctoral thesis), and Home Fellowship – A Manual for Leaders, and is listed in Who’s Who in Religion, 3rd Edition.

Following retirement in January of 2004, Bishop Jecko was invited to serve the Diocese of Dallas as Assistant Bishop, working with Bishop James M. Stanton. Bishop Stephen Hays Jecko was taken home peacefully to be with the Lord on June 7, 2007.

 

The Right Reverend Samuel Johnson Howard

Eighth Bishop of Florida

The Right Reverend Samuel Johnson Howard

The Right Reverend Samuel Johnson Howard was consecrated as the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Florida on January 29, 2004.

In his 20 years as bishop of the diocese, Bishop Howard spearheaded a variety of initiatives that expanded and advanced the diocese’s ministry across the region. But one of his most important accomplishments took place at the very beginning of his episcopate, where he played a leading role in keeping the Diocese of Florida in the Episcopal Church despite organized efforts in the years prior to leave. About 20% of clergy and 10% of laity left the diocese during that period, leaving many congregations facing financial and existential threats.

Bishop Howard then led initiatives to recruit clergy, rebuild congregations and raise money to lead parishes out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Over time, this in part included the formation of the Diocesan Foundation and raising more than $15 million to fund Diocesan programming.

During his episcopate, several other programs and initiatives were created or advanced. For example, he founded the Bishop’s Institute for Ministry and Leadership, which provides educational opportunities for laity and clergy to grow their knowledge, pursue ordination or licenses, and strengthen competencies in ministry and leadership. Bishop Howard also implemented college Chaplains programs, began the Initiative for Evangelism and Growth, and created or supported several innovative outreach programs. This includes prison ministry and Hispanic ministries, which both grew significantly under Bishop Howard’s leadership. In addition, he served as the Chancellor of the University of the South, Sewanee from 2012 to 2018.

Bishop Howard retired in Fall 2023 and continues to reside in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife and longtime ministry partner, Marie.