Diocesan Profile » History

At a Glance…

Our Diocese has been served by the following bishops:

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1st George Dunlop 1881–1888
2nd John Miles Kendrick 1889–1914
3rd Frederick Bingham Howden 1914–1942
4th James Moss Stoney 1942–1956
5th Charles J. Kinsolving III 1956-1971
6th Richard M. Trelease, Jr. 1971–1988
7th Terence Kelshaw 1989–2004
8th Jeffrey Neil Steenson 2004-2007
9th Michael L. Vono 2010-2018

The Early Days

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The 1859 General Convention passed a resolution creating the “Jurisdiction of the Missionary Bishop of the Northwest.” It was an enormous district, composed of the following states or territories: New Mexico, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Joseph Cruikshank Talbot was consecrated its missionary bishop on Oct. 21, 1859. Talbot was the only one ever to serve as Missionary Bishop of the Northwest. He referred to himself as the “Bishop of All Outdoors.” Talbot first visited the territory of New Mexico 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.

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In 1874, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved the formation of the Missionary District of New Mexico and Arizona (both made states in 1912) 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 stepped down in 1877 and was succeeded by George Dunlop, who is counted as the first diocesan Bishop of the region that went on to be known in 1920, during Bishop Howden’s term, as the Missionary District of New Mexico and South West Texas. Then in 1952, during Bishop Stoney’s term, it became known as the Episcopal Diocese of New Mexico, and later as the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande.

More Recently

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Bishop C. James Kinsolving served from 1956 to 1971. By the end of his tenure, he had been forced to deal with a number of issues arising out of the tumult of the late 1960s and early 1970s. On the whole, however, the Diocese fared well during his administration, and demonstrated considerable growth.

His successor, Bishop Richard M. Trelease, was a strong supporter of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the 1982 Hymnal, as well as women’s ordination. The result was a doubling of diocesan clergy, and yet unfortunately, a decrease in the number of confirmands and communicants. Bishop Trelease’s ministry ended abruptly in 1988 with his resignation for health reasons, urged by the Presiding Bishop.

The election of Bishop Terence Kelshaw in 1989 represented a conscious departure from the Trelease era. A British evangelical, Kelshaw quickly set about reversing many of Trelease’s policies and instituting his own. He decentralized some of the financial decision making of the Diocese into the hands of the four deaneries, and also set a conservative agenda for the Diocese. Funds were withheld from the national Church, which mirrored the Bishop’s and many others’ growing alienation. By his retirement in 2005 the Diocese was perceived as one of the most conservative in the Church. He left The Episcopal Church for the Anglican Church of Uganda.

Bishop Jeffrey Steenson followed. Steenson had been Bishop Kelshaw’s Canon to the Ordinary for five years. Steenson differed from his predecessor in a number of respects. While a theological conservative, there was great hope that his “kinder and gentler” conservative style would usher in a new era. For this reason, Bishop Steenson’s decision to resign as Bishop after just three years, renounce his orders in The Episcopal Church, and seek priestly ordination in the Roman Catholic Church, was greeted with a mixture of sympathy, consternation, and anger.

History - Rev Vono

In October 2010 the Reverend Dr. Michael L. Vono, Rector of St. Paul’s Within the Walls, Rome, Italy, was consecrated the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of the Rio Grande. Among his achievements is the purchase and renovation of The Bosque Center, which houses the Diocesan offices and provides retreat and conference facilities to the Diocese and greater community, and the revitalization of Camp Stoney into Bishop’s Ridge to provide ministries throughout the year. He reorganized decision-making processes to be more participatory. Bishop Vono will leave behind a legacy of improved unity, organization, and stability in the Diocese.

The Diocese Today

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Our early days as a mission territory are still an essential part of today’s character. We remain a diocese of enormous geographic size and diversity, with few cities and vast areas of sparse population. Poverty, isolation, and poor education are widespread. There are strongly held differences about the role of the church, rural/urban, southern/northern divides, changing views of sexuality, liturgical differences, church funding, and the role of laity. Yet the beauty of the land and the allure of a Hispanic, Native American, and Anglo populace and culture still draw many to the Land of Enchantment.