First Bishop of the Diocese of East Tennessee from Jan. 1, 1985, to Jan 1, 1992.
The Rt. Rev. William Evan Sanders was consecrated a bishop of the Episcopal Church on April 4, 1962, and he served the statewide Diocese of Tennessee as coadjutor from 1962 to 1976, overseeing the mission, clergy and congregations throughout the state and assisting diocesan Bishop John Vander Horst in the pastoral care and administration of the diocese.
Bishop Sanders became the eighth diocesan bishop of Tennessee in 1977. During his tenure, he called for an in-depth study to consider restructuring the diocese to respond to the growth of the church and the state. The study led to the decision to create three dioceses along the three historic “grand divisions” of the state, with Middle Tennessee as the continuing Diocese of Tennessee. The diocese of West Tennessee was established Jan. 1, 1983, and East Tennessee was born on Jan. 1, 1985. Sanders chose to remain in East Tennessee, where he and his family had lived throughout his episcopate, thereby becoming the first bishop of East Tennessee. He retired on Jan. 1, 1992.
Bill Sanders was born in Natchez, Miss., on Dec. 25, 1919. His family moved to Nashville, where he was active in the Church of the Advent and attended Nashville public schools. He earned a bachelor of arts from Vanderbilt and a master’s of divinity from the School of Theology at University of the South, Sewanee. He also earned a master’s of sacred theology from Union Seminary. In 1959, Sewanee awarded him an honorary doctor of divinity degree in recognition of his ministry at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Memphis. He served on the Sewanee Board of Trustees from 1962 to 1992, and on the university’s Board of Regents 1973-79. He also served on the St. Andrew’s Sewanee School board from 1983 to 1992.
Sanders’ parish ministry was in Tennessee: He was a deacon at St. Paul, Chattanooga, and in Memphis, he was assistant and then dean at the Cathedral Church of St. Mary from 1946 to 1962. He married Kathryn Cowan Schaffer in 1951. They had four children, and he said they shared a joyous life until her death in 1999. Sanders moved to Nashville the following year. He has said he was blessed a second time when in 2005 he married Marlin Jones Phythyon, who has three daughters.
Sanders was chair of the Dispatch of Business for the House of Bishops from 1973 to 1985. He served as president of the Episcopal Church’s Province IV and as a member of the presiding bishop’s Council of Advice. He was on the Board of Examining Chaplains from 1976 to 1982, and he represented the Episcopal Church on the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches. He attended three Lambeth Conferences – the once-a-decade gathering of the world’s Anglican bishops – in 1968, 1978 and 1988.
Bishop Sanders has said he felt the primary focus of his ministry was to give pastoral support and leadership to the clergy and laity in their congregations and in the diocese, and that this involved helping them deal positiively with the controversial issues before the church – including prayer book revision, the civil rights movement and the ordination of women.
He said the ultimate purpose of the division of the diocese was to advance the mission of the church in each grand division of the state: in evangelism, in church growth and in outreach ministries to people and their communities. The program and budget of the diocese reflected this priority of mission as did two major programs during his tenure. The first was Venture in Mission, in which the statewide Diocese of Tennessee gave particular support to church growth, urban ministries and companionship funding for the Anglican provinces in Costa Rica, Haiti and Central Africa. The other was the Opportunity Fund program of the Diocese of East Tennessee, which provided funds for a new diocesan center, congregrational development and social ministry.
Bishop Sanders was the first president of the Appalachian Peoples Service Organization, which drew together Episcopal dioceses whose geography included areas of Appalachia. He also was chairman of the ecumenical organizaton CORA, the Commission on Religion in Appalachia, which was formed by representatives from 17 Christian bodies across the region.
Bishop Sanders expressed his commitment to cooperative ministries through his tenure as president of the Tennessee Council of Churches and of Knoxville’s Association of Christian Denominations.
Upon his retirement, the Diocese of East Tennessee recognized this work by establishing in his name a scholarship fund for minority students. For six years following his retirement, he served as president of the Knox Housing Partnership, which coordinated the development of good, affordable housing for low and moderate income families.