Story by Paula Hickey Oliver
John Maury Allin was a native of Helena who became successful within the realm of religion. Allin served in Episcopal churches in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi before being elected Presiding Bishop of ECUSA in 1974. He was a highly educated man who served during a turbulent time within the Episcopal Church.
Born in 1921, Allin received a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Master of Divinity from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. He was ordained a deacon in 1944 and priest in 1945. St. Peter’s Episcopal Mission in Conway, Arkansas was his first pastoral assignment. While in Conway, he also taught psychology at Arkansas State Teachers College, now known as the University of Central Arkansas.
Allin married Frances Ann Kelly, also of Helena, in 1949. Together they raised a son and three daughters.
The next few years were spent in Louisiana and then in 1958 Allin agreed to serve as president and headmaster of All Saints School in Vicksburg, MS. His progression of leadership within the church began in 1961 when he began an appointment as Bishop Coadjutor the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, a position he held until 1966. It was that same year that he was consecrated as the Sixth Bishop of Mississippi. During his time in Mississippi, Allin earned two additional degrees, a Master of Education and Doctor of Divinity.
Allin was not afraid to tackle controversial social issues. Many church observers considered Allin to be a religious conservative, but he thought of himself as a liberal, at least by Mississippi’s standards. During his time as bishop of the Diocese of Mississippi, and at the height of the civil rights movement, Bishop Allin made the unpopular choice of helping found the Committee of Concern. This was an alliance between civic and ecumenical leaders that raised money to rebuild more than 100 black churches that had been damaged or destroyed by white supremacists.
When Allin was elected Presiding Bishop in 1973, the church was going through a time of change and considerable turbulence that began in the mid-60s with the Presiding Bishop John Hines. Allin was chosen as a steadying force within the church and faced the tumultuous era with a talent for compromise and an ability to promote reconciliation. During this divisive time, various factions were beginning to press for inclusion of blacks and women.
Allin had been openly opposed to the ordination of women, and even offered to resign four years after being elected Bishop. He eventually came to accept it as inevitable.
His offer of resignation was turned down and Allin invoked a “conscience clause” that allowed the nation’s bishops to ordain women, or not, based on their personal beliefs. Ironically, Allin eventually helped female postulants find a bishop to ordain them.
It was also under Bishop Allin that the Office of Black Ministries was established at the church headquarters. He insured more secure funding for the Episcopal black churches, St. Augustine’s, St. Paul’s and Voorhees and initiated affirmative action hiring within the church.
He is also remembered as the spark behind Venture in Mission, a fundraising campaign aimed at strengthening missionary work across the country. The program raised $150 million.
Allin retired in 1985 and served for a time as vicar of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Kennebunkport where his friend George H.W. Bush served on the church vestry.
He eventually retired to Mississippi and died from lung cancer in 1998.