The Diocese of Southwest Florida was officially established in 1969, when the Diocese of South Florida was divided into three: the Dioceses of Central Florida, Southwest Florida, and Southeast Florida. The Diocese of Southwest Florida held its formative convention on October 16, 1969, at the Tides Hotel in North Redington Beach where St. Petersburg was selected as the bishop’s seat and The Rt. Rev. William L. Hargrave was elected as our first bishop. Since that time, four more Bishops have shepherded our diocese, each making their own imprint on the life of God’s people: The Rt. Rev. E. Paul Haynes (1975-1988), The Rt. Rev. Rogers S. Harris (1988-1997), The Rt. Rev. John B. Lipscomb (1997-2007) and The Rt. Rev. Dabney T. Smith (2007- present).
Bishop Smith’s episcopacy included several priorities such as: increasing parish vitality, advocating for Episcopal Schools both in the diocese and nationally, developing best practices for the education and formation of clergy and vestries, and creating and implementing a Ten-Year Master Plan for capital improvements to our 97-acre Dayspring Episcopal Conference Center and Camp. Under his leadership, DaySpring became a hub not only for Episcopal congregations and youth events, but also for faith groups and nonprofit organizations throughout the Southeast. Additionally, Bishop Smith was instrumental in the creation of two endowments (each now at $1 Million) that will sustain congregation-based ministries and DaySpring for generations to come.
For additional information on the history of our diocese and Bishop Smith’s episcopacy, please see The First Five Decades, an e-book created in 2018 as a part of our 50th Diocesan Convention.