The Annual Conference of The Episcopal Churchmen of Tennessee is said to be the largest conference of its type in The Episcopal Church and possibly in the world-wide Anglican Communion. In this article we will examine some of the factors that make this true.
The first Annual Conference was held at the DuBose Conference Center in Monteagle, Tennessee, in September, 1947. It has been held there annually since then. The first four Conferences were held on Friday evening, Saturday, all day, and on Sunday until about noon. This proved to be too tiring. Alex Guerry of Chattanooga became president in 1953. He changed the format such that the Saturday afternoon session became a time for recreation. He also changed the Sunday morning program to include Holy Eucharist at All Saints Chapel at Sewanee followed by breakfast and adjournment. Also, he advised that the three featured speakers, Friday evening, Saturday morning and evening, should limit their presentations to fixed times.
After these changes in the program, the attendance increased dramatically. The Conference outgrew the room above the library, The Upper Room, and for the first time moved outdoors under the oak trees just beyond the swimming pool.
It was quite cold during the night sessions prompting some of the men to build campfires and bring blankets from the sleeping rooms. This led to consideration of a covered pavilion for the Conference. Alex Guerry had appointed me Treasurer of the Conference. At that time, The Episcopal Churchmen sponsored an Advent Corporate Communion for Men and Boys on the first Sunday of Advent. An offering was received which was sent to me as Treasurer. The annual offering was in the range of $2,000.
In the Spring of 1958, as Chair of the DuBose Board of Managers, I was visiting J. Earnest Walker, an engineer who was director of the DuBose Board at his residence on the grounds. In the evening, we discussed the building of a pavilion for The Episcopal Churchmen meetings. Earnest sketched a version of the pavilion using laminated arches.
Returning to Memphis, I consulted Louis Haglund, an architect and member of The Church of the Holy Communion. He formalized the plans and ordered the special lumber to be delivered to DuBose. That summer Ernie had the pavilion built in readiness for the Conference in September, 1958, when Alfred Sharpe of Nashville presided. I followed Alex Guerry as president of The Episcopal Churchmen in 1955 and 1956 and Alfred Sharpe followed me in 1957 and 1958.
With completion of the pavilion providing a quite adequate facility for large gatherings, the Conference grew rapidly in attendance. It developed a reputation for having three outstanding
speakers. These have included several of our Presiding Bishops. On Saturday mornings following the second speaker, the three Grand Divisions of the Diocese, and after 1982 and 1983 the three Dioceses comprising the State of Tennessee met separately with our Bishops. This gave each Bishop the opportunity to meet informally with the men of his diocese.
On Saturday afternoons, recreation events were increased to include tours of Sewanee grounds, golf, tennis, hiking, bicycling, running, nature walks and whitewater canoeing. In recent years, a
session was added late on Saturday afternoon with one of the speakers leading a discussion period. All of these factors contributed to the growth in attendance at the Annual Conference that has exceeded 600.
In the early years of the Conference the Men of St. Paul’s, Murfreesboro, instituted the custom of awarding cedar buckets, made at a factory in Murfreesboro, to the parishes and missions with the largest number of men in attendance and the highest percentage of their membership in attendance.
The Episcopal Churchmen of Tennessee was the organization of the laymen of The Diocese of Tennessee. After the creation of the two Dioceses in West and East Tennessee in 1982 and 1983, we continued with the laymen of all three Dioceses operating as one state-wide organization, but with separate officers for each of the three Grand Divisions.
The Laymen’s Conference continued at DuBose Conference Center until its closing in 2022. The 76th annual conference was the final event held at the center. In July 2023, a new chapter began as the conference moved to St. Mary’s Sewanee, the retreat center for the Diocese of Tennessee. The layment are happy to continue gathering on the mountain.
Parts of the history are taken with permission from MountainView, Winter 2009, the newsletter of the DuBose Conference Center.