By Christopher Epting
The Rt. Rev. William H. Folwell, second bishop of the Diocese of Central Florida, died at the age of 97 on Monday, February 7, at the Carolina Villages in Hendersonville, North Carolina. His wife, Christine, a registered nurse and tireless supporter of clergy and clergy family wellness, died a few years earlier and they leave three adult children.
Folwell studied civil engineering at Georgia Tech, served as a Civil Engineer Corps Officer during World War II and as an assistant traffic engineer in Miami between 1947 and 1949. He married Christine in 1949 and entered Seabury-Western Theological Seminary that same year, graduating in 1953 with a bachelor of divinity degree. He was later received his doctor divinity degree from that same institution in 1970.
After being ordained priest by Bishop Henry Louttit, Sr., Fr. Folwell served congregations in Plant City and Mulberry, Florida, before becoming assistant chaplain at St. Martin’s Episcopal School in New Orleans for a brief time. Returning to the (then) Diocese of South Florida, he served as rector of St. Gabriel’s Church in Titusville and for 11 years at All Saints’ Church, Winter Park.
While serving there, Folwell oversaw the restructuring committee which eventually effected the division of the diocese of South Florida into three – Central, Southeast, and Southwest. The transition was made smoothly as Bishop Louttit became the first Bishop of Central Florida and Suffragans James Duncan and William L. Hargrave became diocesans of Southeast and Southwest Florida, respectively.
Folwell was elected Bishop of Central Florida in 1970 and proceeded to lead the diocese brilliantly through an exciting time of charismatic renewal which spawned new life in the solidly catholic southern diocese. Prayer groups and Bible studies abounded and Central Florida became a leader in the renewal of the diaconate, training scores during the 1970s and 1980s at the Institute for Christian Studies.
Folwell was an animator of the Evangelical and Catholic Mission, a movement dedicated to strengthening the catholic witness of the Episcopal Church and reviving its evangelical zeal at the same time. As such, he was suspicious of early moves to ordain women to the priesthood, but never ceased to think and pray about the step and ordained the first woman priest in the diocese before he retired.
A consummate pastor and spiritual director, Bishop Folwell presided over spiritual and numerical growth in the Diocese of Central Florida and left a healthy diocese which proceeded to produce a number of bishops and cathedral deans — among them Bishops Christopher Epting (Iowa), Frank Gray (Northern Indiana), Barry Howe (West Missouri), Donis Patterson (Dallas), Dabney Smith (Southwest Florida), and O’Kelly Whitaker (Central New York) — as well as a vibrant diaconate and renewed laity exercising their spiritual gifts for the life and witness of the church. May he rest in peace and rise in glory and may his memory be a blessing to many.
The Rt. Rev. Christopher Epting is the retired Bishop of Iowa.