The beginnings of the Diocese of Western Kansas are rooted in the beginnings of our sister diocese, the Diocese of Kansas. In 1803, the United States bought the land of what is now Kansas from France through the Louisiana Purchase, except for the extreme southwest which was owned by Mexico. The Kansas territories were populated mainly by the Kansa Native Americans until 1827 when Fort Leavenworth opened as the first permanent settlement of white Americans.
In 1837, Bishop Jackson Kemper from New York arrived at Fort Leavenworth with a handful of missionaries armed with the Gospel of Christ and faith that God was going to break into this beautiful land. The end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 saw the rest of modern-day Kansas taken by the United States and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 opened the Kansas territories to further settlement. With the establishment of the territories pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers came in and began to fight over whether Kansas would eventually enter the Union as a free state or a slave state. This period of unrest gave Kansas the nickname 'Bleeding Kansas'.
Into this era of violence the Episcopal Church established congregations in the small towns that were popping up in the eastern side of the territory. In 1859, the Episcopalians of the Kansas territories, though small in number, came together for their first convention and organized the Diocese of Kansas. The new diocese elected a bishop who, worried about the small number of Episcopalians and about the violence of 'Bleeding Kansas' turned them down. Episcopal oversight was given by Bishop Henry Lee of Iowa until another bishop could be found.
The State of Kansas entered into the Union in 1861 as a free state and in 1864 Bishop Thomas Vail of Iowa was elected and accepted the position as first bishop of the new diocese. Upon coming to Kansas Bishop Vail set up a girls school and a hospital in the capital city of Topeka. The Eastern priests who came to Kansas didn't last long in the harsh Kansas environment so Bishop Vail created the Kansas Theological School to help train local men to the priesthood. In 1868, the bishop sent a missionary to Salina inquire about opening a Episcopal Church there. While the missionaries didn't think there was much interest. A community of faithful developed and in 1870, Christ Church was formed, later that year it was accepted into the Diocese of Kansas. Bishop Vail died in 1889 and during his episcopate expanded the number of churches from 10 to 83. At that time the Diocese of Kansas encompassed the entire state.
The second bishop of Kansas, Elisha Thomas, set up St. John's Military School in Salina, Kansas which still exists today but is not an entity of the Diocese of Western Kansas. In 1895, Bishop Millspaugh, the third bishop Kansas and the first bishop to be consecrated on Kansas soil, suggested that due to the enormous size of the Diocese of Kansas the diocese should be split in two with the Diocese of Kansas taking the eastern 40% and the Missionary District of Salina taking the western 60%.
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church, after approving the formation of the Missionary District of Salina, chose The Reverend Sheldon M. Griswold of New York to be the first bishop. Bishop Griswold came to Salina and once there decided to make it his See City, the city where the bishop would have his official seat.
During the episcopate of Bishop Griswold the congregation of Christ Church built a magnificent building from Kansas limestone which was opened in 1908 and became Christ Cathedral, it remains the Cathedral of the diocese to this day.
For the next 68 years the Missionary District of Salina shared God's word and faithfully administered His Sacraments until 1971 when the General Convention, at the request of the District, agreed to turn the Missionary District of Salina into the Diocese of Western Kansas. William Davidson, the Sixth Bishop of the Missionary District of Salina became the First Bishop of the Diocese of Western Kansas.
In 2010, The Right Reverend James Adams, Fourth Bishop of Western Kansas, resigned and later that year the Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Hutchinson, KS, Father Michael Milliken, was elected to succeed him. On February 19, 2011 Father Milliken was consecrated the fifth bishop of the Dioceses. The Chief Consecrator was The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church. Along with becoming the bishop of the diocese, Bishop Milliken also remained the Rector of Grace Episcopal Church until his resignation in December 2014. Bishop Miliken retired from the Episcopacy in November of 2018. The Sixth Bishop, Mark Cowell was consecrated on December 1, 2018 at Christ Cathedral in Salina by the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church, Michael Curry. Bishop Cowell is a halftime Bishop tending to two congregations. The first in his hometown of Larned and the second in Kinsley. Bishop Cowell commutes two to three times to the diocesan office in Hutchinson.
In his 1916 Convocation address Bishop Griswold said, "Lay-people...must be our most active missionaries unless we are to remain a small religious body in Kansas regarded as peculiar in habit and narrow in thought and sympathy." Bishop Milliken has taken those words to heart and is working to empower lay people to boldly lead in proclaiming God's Good News on the Plains.