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Last of a legacy: Mississippi Episcopal bishop will retire in February

Photo Courtesy of Catherine Adams

Family and friends of the Rt. Rev Duncan M. Gray gather to celebrate his retirement. Gray can be seen just under the “N” in the congratulations banner.

When the Rt. Rev. Duncan Montgomery Gray III was elected the 9th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, he knew he wasn’t leaving Oxford for good.

“Oxford will be our final home, or at least until our kids drag us somewhere else,” Gray said.

Gray’s time as the bishop of Mississippi is coming to a close.  After 15 years, Gray will retire in February, and the Rt. Rev. Brian Seage will take over as the 10th bishop of Mississippi.

Gray said that one of the reasons he was retiring was that he felt like the church needed someone with more energy to take over the job.

Gray, a University of Mississippi graduate, was elected the 9th Bishop of Mississippi in May of 2000 while he was serving as the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church here in Oxford.  He had been in Oxford for 16 years.  He is the third Duncan M. Gray to be ordained bishop for the state of Mississippi and the second out of Oxford.

“My grandfather (Duncan M. Gray), father (Duncan M. Gray Jr.) and I have all served as bishop for this state.  My grandfather was the fifth, my father the seventh, and I was the ninth,” Gray said.

The Gray’s are no strangers to controversy while doing their job.  Gray’s father was the priest at St. Peters in 1962 during the integration crisis on campus.  Gray also had the opportunity to serve as bishop during the time in which the Episcopal church tackled its view on homosexuality.

“I had the job of holding the church together as we moved through the controversy of sexuality,” Gray said.

Successfully keeping the church together for the most part is one of Gray’s proudest accomplishments as bishop.

“We had people leaving the church and some churches leaving the diocese,” said Gray. “I was just happy we negotiated through that and held the church together.”

Gray is also proud of the work that was done by the diocese to help after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“We did it not just to rebuild the church, but to rebuild the coast in general.” Gray said.

According to Gray, the diocese of Mississippi helped about 350 lower income families get mortgages on their homes that had been destroyed in the storm.  He said the rebuilding of the churches was important, but most importantly, he was proud of how his people helped make sure those affected by the storm were kept safe and taken care of afterwards.

Gray, like most people, wishes the storm had never happened.  Eight days prior to Katrina, he and the diocese held a tent revival at the Duncan M. Gray Episcopal Camp and Conference Center.  An event planned for 1,500 people saw over 2,200 show up to hear the bishop lay out his goals and plans to revive the church.

Gray laid out 20 goals for the church and how they planned to meet those goals.

“There was singing, and worshiping, and great fun had by all.  It was amazing, we had so many people come that we ran out of food,” Gray said.

Unfortunately, Katrina hit barely a week later.

“After Katrina hit, the goals took a backseat to the rebuilding effort.  We completed about a third of them, so that’s kind of a regret,” Gray said.

Gray was back in Oxford this past weekend to attend a retirement party hosted by St. Peter’s.  It was one of three retirement parties coordinated by a diocesan committee, one for each region of the state.  In charge of the party in Oxford was associate professor of nutrition and hospitality management at Ole Miss, Dr. Kathy Knight.

“The committee asked for three churches to host the events.  Since St. Peter’s is what Gray considers his home church, we applied to host it,” Knight said.

The committee notified St. Peter’s about three weeks ago that it would be hosting.  After being notified, Knight and her committee at St. Peter’s got to work.

“The bishop and his wife had asked that each party had some local flavor to it, so we recreated the Grove in the Parish Hall,” Knight said.

They didn’t stop there though.  In honor of the success Gray’s tent revival had in 2005, Knight coordinated to have tents set up throughout the hall as well.

“There was music, food and friends all there.  It was a lot of fun,” Gray said.

Gray’s retirement isn’t all parties, however. He is still the head bishop of the state until February, and is also tasked with helping train Seage to take over the job when he leaves.

“My job is to train and orient him, so when I walk out the door he is ready to hit the ground running,” Gray said.

According to Gray, the timing of the entire process was very deliberate.

“I decided to retire in the fall of 2012 and announced it in 2013.  Brian was elected in May of 2014 and got the approval of the bishops and standing clergy in the national diocese in July,” Gray said.

Seage was ordained as bishop in September and will serve as bishop coadjutor (assistant bishop) until Gray retires.

“I feel really blessed to be following such a healthy and spiritual life and someone who practices and lives his faith every day,” Seage said.

Seage has been extremely grateful of Gray over the past few months, which he has called, “crazy.”  He is ecstatic that he has a teacher who is willing to teach it to him slowly and explain everything.

“He would notice at times during meetings that my eyes would be swimming and my head spinning, and would take a minute to make sure I fully understood every thing.  It’s like trying to learn four years of something in about six weeks” Seage said.

When Gray retires from being bishop, he won’t be finished working in the church.  He has recently accepted a job in New Orleans working as a part-time member of a clergy there.

“It’s courtesy for the previous bishop to kind of clear out for a while and let his successor set his own course,” Gray said.

Gray plans to live there for about a year and then return to Oxford where he hope to continue his first love, working in the church.

The Grays can’t wait to be back in Oxford.  Their son Duncan M. Gray IV is an assistant principal at Oxford High School, and their other son Peter just recently became rector at a church in Greenwood.

“The truth of it is, you travel a lot in this job.  I haven’t seen much of my wife these past 15 years. I’m ready to be around my family,” Gray said.

During his visit this past weekend, Gray and his wife met with an architect in order to go over plans for repairs on their house in Oxford.  It is the same house they bought when they moved to Oxford in 1984. They never sold it.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams

Duncan Gray and wife Kathy Gray (seated) take a photo with their family at Gray’s retirement party in Oxford. Duncan Gray cited one of his reasons for retiring was wanting to spend more time with his grandchildren.

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