Extended History

Established by the General Convention in 1818, the Diocese of Ohio was the first Episcopal diocese to be established outside of what had been the Thirteen Colonies. St. John’s, Worthington in the present-day Diocese of Southern Ohio was founded in 1804, making it the first Episcopal Church in the state. 

Philander Chase became Ohio’s first bishop in 1819, and built the diocesan headquarters, as well as Kenyon College and Bexley Hall Seminary (now Bexley-Seabury Seminary), in Gambier.

As the population of Ohio grew, so too did the number of Episcopal congregations. In 1875, the diocese was partitioned into a northern and southern half, which became the Diocese of Ohio and the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Thomas Jagger was elected as the first bishop of Southern Ohio and served from 1875 to 1904. During his episcopacy, Eva Lee Matthews and Beatrice Henderson founded a women’s religious order in Glendale, the Community of the Transfiguration. The sisters would go on to found Bethany School, which remains the only Episcopal school in Ohio.

Bishop Boyd Vincent, second bishop of Southern Ohio (1904-29), served on the General Convention’s 1910-13 joint commission to plan a conference on Christian unity. This work, which took Vincent to Europe and the Middle East, ultimately led to the organizing conference of the World Council of Churches in 1948. Vincent also began to expand the possibility of greater recognition and inclusion of women in church leadership.

During this time, the Episcopal Church in Southern Ohio took a leading role in state political policies and issues. Theodore Irving Reese, rector of Trinity, Columbus and later third bishop of Southern Ohio (1929-31), was appointed by the Governor of Ohio to the state arbitration board and became known for finding solutions to bitter labor disputes. Reese is remembered for carrying his membership card as a master machinist in the American Federation of Labor. In Cincinnati, the campaign to reform the Queen City’s notoriously corrupt political system was spearheaded at Christ Church by the Rev. Frank Nelson and other Episcopal civic leaders, including Charles P. Taft II. The city’s new charter was drafted at Christ Church.

Dynamic vision and generous giving to the wider church became Southern Ohio’s hallmarks under the leadership of its fourth bishop, Henry Wise Hobson (1931-59). Elected in 1930 at the age of 39, Hobson served as the first chairman of Forward Movement’s executive committee. Forward Movement was chartered by General Convention in 1934 and adopted by the national church as its banner for spiritual renewal in the depths of the Great Depression. Today, Forward Movement Publications, still based in Cincinnati, provides daily Bible readings and reflections, the Anglican Cycle of Prayer, and inexpensive theological and practical materials used by people all over the world.

It was during this time that William Cooper Procter, sometimes referred to as “Colonel Procter” because he served in the National Guard, became a significant figure in the history of the diocese. Procter, the grandson of William Alexander Procter, one of the two founders of the Procter & Gamble Co., and Charlotte Elizabeth Procter, was born in the Cincinnati suburb of Glendale on August 25, 1862. He was not only a savvy businessman, but a generous giver of his time, talent, and treasure who made significant contributions to the Diocese of Southern Ohio, to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital (now the Children’s Hospital Medical Center, of which the bishop of Southern Ohio is an ex-officio trustee), to Christ Church in Glendale, Princeton University and many civic organizations.

Mr. Procter died May 2, 1934, shortly after returning from a National Council (now the Executive Council) meeting. In addition to the William Cooper Procter Memorial Fund, the diocese is the beneficiary of the Charlotte Elizabeth Procter Fund that provides for the compensation of the bishop diocesan. The concept of such fund had been established in the late 19th century, but little funding had been forthcoming until Mr. Procter established this fund in his mother’s name. In 1952, Jane Eliza Procter deeded approximately 1,300 acres in London, Ohio, to the Church Foundation of the Diocese of Southern Ohio. This land became the Procter Camp and Conference Center, a center of diocesan life offering a retreat, camp, and event facility on 200 acres, with more than 900 acres leased to a local farmer.

In his history of the first 100 years of the Diocese of Southern Ohio, Flowing Like a River, Bishop John M. Krumm, the sixth bishop of the diocese, wrote:

The 1929 episcopal election was somewhat unusual, even for the Southern Ohio, which had a history of being turned down by its choices for bishop. The electing convention held in November of 1929 chose overwhelmingly on the first ballot for the Rev. Howard Chandler Robbins, a distinguished New York presbyter, who had recently resigned as dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and was serving at the time of his election as professor of pastoral theology at the General Seminary. Robbins declined, citing his recent appointment to the seminary faculty. Here is what happened next in Bishop Hobson’s own words: “Well, William Cooper Procter was a crackerjack on efficiency. He was outraged by the fact that they had spent all the time and money and the effort to elect a man who could not serve. He got 20 laymen together from all different parts of the diocese for lunch in Cincinnati. He said to them, ‘These clergy are the most inefficient people in the world, as a rule. Let’s make sure at this next election in January, that we at least have a man that can accept if elected.’ They talked quite a while and finally they said, ‘Well, let’s get some suggestions.’ So, Mr. Procter went to work: wrote to some bishops, seminary deans and other people. Then they divided up twenty or thirty names between them. They each went to see one man; some of them two. Mr. Procter was seeing three, I think. They went off between then and January, and visited these men in their home towns, talked to them and sized them up.

Many of the “bishops, deans and other people” had pointed toward Worcester, Massachusetts, and to the young rector of All Saints’ Church, then in his ninth year of service. Procter had chosen this visit as one he himself would make, and he immediately decided this was the man. So persuasive was Mr. Procter with his lay colleagues that the laity elected Mr. Hobson in January 1930 on the first ballot by a substantial majority. It required two more ballots for the clergy to agree with this choice. With Hobson’s election, the new bishop and William Cooper Procter began a collaboration that was to be decisive for Southern Ohio’s future.

The enrollment of William Cooper Procter in Hobson’s election was followed by an enthusiastic enlistment in the new bishop’s programs and policies. As early as 1907, Procter was listed as one of the deputies from Southern Ohio to the General Convention, and he served in that capacity at the subsequent conventions of 1910 and 1928. He was elected but unable to serve at conventions in 1913, 1916, 1931, 1934. From 1931 to 1934 he served on the National Council of the church. He accepted chairmanship on the committee on the General Conventions of 1910, and even chauffeured some of the visiting deputies. No bishop could have had a more generous and sympathetic layman than Bishop Hobson found in Procter. His support of the endowment of the episcopate was only the beginning of generous gifts to diocesan enterprises and to the nationwide interests of the Episcopal Church. The Procter endowment of a chaplaincy for the Episcopal Church at Princeton University, of which he was a trustee, was magnificent. In Cincinnati his gift of two and a half million dollars for the research center at Children’s Hospital established that hospital as a major center in the Midwest for pediatric study and treatment. Two major gifts in his memory were made by Mrs. Procter after his death in 1934: the gift of the Procter Farm near London, Ohio, and the establishment of the William Cooper Procter Endowment for creative and outreaching programs in the national church and Southern Ohio.

Cincinnati hosted the General Convention again in 1937, just months after the record-breaking January floods that devastated communities and churches all along the Ohio River. Hobson traveled from town to town to bring encouragement. There are wonderful pictures of him running with a bucket to help put out a fire that broke out in one flood-devastated town. That same year, he asked convention to let him demolish the diocese’s first cathedral, St. Paul’s Cathedral in Cincinnati’s West End and use the proceeds to equip an Airstream trailer as St. Paul’s Wayside Cathedral. He and his staff drove this amazing vehicle all over the rural stretches of Southeast Ohio, stopping in communities with no Episcopal church to preach, celebrate the liturgy and hold Sunday School and Bible classes.

Under Bishop Hobson, the diocese reached a number of fundraising goals, significantly expanding its ministry. A war relief campaign established in the diocese laid the groundwork for the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief, which would later become Episcopal Relief & Development. The people of the diocese generously contributed to restoring Episcopal structures and programs around the world that had been damaged by the war. Hobson’s episcopacy also saw major building campaigns and the financing of campus ministries at The Ohio State University, Ohio University and Miami University. The parishes on those campuses became models of parish-based campus ministry from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Hobson’s successor, Bishop Roger Blanchard (1959-70) is remembered for speaking out against an array of injustices. He is still remembered today with great love by people of many faiths and walks of life for his vision and great personal courage in seeking redress for the poverty and oppression of African Americans. When riots erupted in Cincinnati after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Blanchard gave up his sabbatical plans to attend the Lambeth Conference. Instead, he took an office in Cincinnati City Hall and led Cincinnati’s interfaith effort to improve race relations and economic justice. In 1970, Bishop Blanchard and diocesan convention launched the Institutional Racism Project, a 20-year effort involving a rigorous audit of the practices of the church. For two decades, this work engaged Episcopalians at the parish and regional level in analyzing and seeking to address the economic, political and spiritual dimensions of racism in their own congregations and communities. The project documented the almost total segregation of the diocese’s parishes and clergy deployment, and the minuscule representation of Black Episcopalians on diocesan staff, leadership bodies and commissions.

Blanchard also sought to replace the paternalism of 19th century missionary work with a new model of companion dioceses, grounded in the desire to learn from each other’s experience. In his 1961 Convention address, he invited the diocese to start a companion relationship with the Diocese of Brazil.

Bishop John Krumm, Southern Ohio’s sixth bishop (1971-80), was one of the first in the Episcopal Church to ordain women to the priesthood following the approval of women’s ordination by the 1976 General Convention. Krumm and his successor, William Grant Black (1980-92), continued the work of fighting racism and discrimination. Bishop Black and Archdeacon Morry Hollenbaugh advocated for the people of the Appalachian region within the diocese. Eleven of the poorest counties in Appalachian Ohio are within the Diocese of Southern Ohio. For several decades, Southern Ohio has been a leader in ministry in rural settings.

In his 1982 convention address, Bishop Black challenged the diocese to take the problems of alcoholism and chemical dependency seriously, and to develop written policies on alcohol use at church functions. In 1985, the Addiction Recovery Ministries Commission asked each vestry to adopt the printed policy on alcohol use at church functions and report back by Easter 1986.

With several bishops continuing to appoint African American clergy to senior staff positions in the diocese, starting with Archdeacon Lorentho Wooden, the context began to change. African American clergy directed major ongoing diocesan functions such as deployment. By 1978, nearly a third of the members of diocesan committees were Black. “When I walk into a meeting now and sit down, there is not the surprise that there was 10 years ago,” wrote George Cooper, co-chair of the Institutional Racism Project, in 1979. “Not the amazement that here comes a black person … but that this person probably does have something to offer to the process – as a person, not just as a black.”

In 1988, the diocese elected its eighth bishop from a slate of four nominees — two white and two Black, and chose Herbert Thompson, an African American priest from the Diocese of Long Island, on the first ballot. During his tenure (1992-2005), Thompson played critical roles in the community and the wider Episcopal Church, leading a summit on racism in Cincinnati and serving as chair of the Board of the Church Pension Fund. He spearheaded the donation of $1 million to the establishment of the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati. Thompson strengthened ties with other parts of the Anglican Communion by establishing relationships with the Anglican Church in Nigeria, New Zealand and the Windward Islands.

During Thompson’s episcopacy, the first Hispanic Missioner, Richard J. Aguilar, was hired, and the Procter Center expanded capacity with a hotel-like addition and overall revamp of facilities. A new Procter Center chapel was built thanks to a generous gift from Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati. Thompson also established a leadership training program called Southern Ohio Lay Leaders Initiative or S.O.L.L.I. Many diocesan leaders past and present learned how to enrich the diocese with their talents through S.O.L.L.I.

The witness of this diocese for inclusion, social justice and reaching out in fellowship to the worldwide Anglican Communion continued. Suffragan Bishop Kenneth L. Price, secretary of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, was the only American appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the international committee charged with receiving the Windsor Report. A son of West Virginia, Bishop Price continued the strong witness of this diocese on Appalachian issues and took leadership roles in speaking out with other judicatories on pressing issues within the state, such as the injustice of the death penalty and the need for a living wage.

Thomas Breidenthal, Director of Religious Life at Princeton University, was elected the ninth bishop of Southern Ohio (2007-20) in 2006. Bishop Breidenthal focused his episcopacy on transparency, leadership and connection. During his first diocesan convention as bishop, he disclosed his compensation, the first time in memory a bishop had done so. During his tenure, addressing climate change led to the endorsement of the Earth Charter and the formation of Ohio Interfaith Power and Light.

In 2010, Breidenthal announced that the time had come for the diocese to adjust its policies on the blessing of same-sex unions. General Convention resolutions had changed the terrain in the Episcopal Church, and he lifted the prohibition on the blessing of same-sex unions effective Easter, 2010. The first same-sex union was performed at St. Stephen’s in Columbus the following Saturday. In 2014, a marriage equality resolution was passed at diocesan convention allowing same-sex marriages in the Diocese of Southern Ohio as the State of Ohio lifted its prohibition.

In 2018, Bishop Breidenthal encouraged the diocese to focus on the churchwide initiative of Becoming Beloved Community. In 2021, the diocesan Task Force on Reparations made its first report to convention. Becoming Beloved Community continues as one of the most active and vibrant diocesan efforts.

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, congregations increased their presence on streaming platforms, making worship from home possible. Diocesan staff, commissions and committees adapted their work, meeting on Zoom and continuing their work online. The impact on in-person attendance and the vitality of local congregations is still being assessed.

In 2020, Bishop Breidenthal announced his retirement. “During my time in the hospital it became clear that, apart from the health issues that brought me there, I had a problem with alcohol,” he wrote in a letter to the diocese. “With the help of family and senior members of my staff, I checked myself into an excellent residential treatment program … It is time for me to focus on family and whatever God is calling me to next, but it is also time for me to give primary attention to my continuing recovery.”

In January 2021, the Standing Committee began the work of preparing for the election of the tenth Bishop of Southern Ohio.


Sources & authors:

The basic document was written by Ariel Miller for the 2006 General Convention held in Columbus.  Jon B. Boss contributed the history of William Cooper Procter and the Procter funds.  The Rt. Rev. John Krumm in his book Flowing Like a River is the source of information on the 1929 episcopal election.  Other information can be found in the Diocesan Archies.

Editors of both the long and short versions of this history are:

The Rev. Dr. George Glazier
The Rev. Dr. Jason Emerson