Bishop’s Address of 1847

by the Rt. Rev. Stephen Elliott
First Bishop of Georgia


Brethren of the Clergy and Laity:

It does not often happen that any Church is permitted to assemble in so much comfort and peace as rest upon us this day.  Truly has the Lord blessed us, and while we ascribe the glory to him, let us rejoice with trembling in the abundance of his goodness, and use the respite from trial and conflict which he has given us, in arming and disciplining ourselves for the mighty work which lies before us.  As a Church we have passed safely, under his guidance, through a struggling infancy, and begin to feel in ourselves the powers of a vigorous youth.  May our prayers continually ascend to the mercy seat for an equal increase of wisdom, of faith, of holiness, “so that we may grow up into him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ.”

During the past year our Diocese has been in a state of comparative rest.  In the kingdom of Christ, as in that of nature, there is necessity for a season of repose as well as of activity.  The condition of things, as exhibited at our last Convention, convinced me that a year of cessation from any active operations was needed to recruit our finances and revive the exhausted energies of our little band of Churchmen.  If has been my policy, therefore, for the past  year, to do no more than sustain our existing positions and permit the treasury of the Church to recover itself from its state of embarrassment.  This has been almost entirely effected under the very skilful  management of our Treasurers, and we are once more prepared to press forward in the enlargement of our borders and the extension of our principles.  With a continuance of the profuse liberality which the Church of this Diocese has manifested since my connexion with it, there can be no limit to its growth save that which may be caused by a lack of faithful preachers or decreed by the will of the Almighty.

Even during this season of repose, however, there has been much activity, and the completion of two new Churches, which are both entirely paid for, together with the organization of a third, for which the necessary funds are nearly all pledged, is a guarantee of the earnest desire which both Ministers and people have to press forward in the extension of the Church.  May there be no abatement in  this zeal until our ministrations shall be established in every quarter of the Diocese, and the Church stand ready, with open doors, to receive the weary and heavy laden of every portion of the State.—Not until this is effected, shall we be enabled to estimate our proper growth, for many, in every quarter, are deterred from uniting with us, because unable to enjoy the services of the Sanctuary.—Many too are lost to us from mere unwillingness to remain separated from Church connexion, and attach themselves to the religious bodies around them, because otherwise cut off from the Communion of saints.

Before the close of the last Convention, in Emmanuel Church, Athens, I admitted to the Holy Order of Priesthood, the Rev. Benj. F. Mower and the Rev. Wm. J. Ellis.  Both these Clergymen continue canonically connected with the Diocese, although for a time Mr. Ellis has been laboring among the Episcopalians of Russell co., Alabama.

Immediately upon the close of the Convention, I made my annual visit to St. Paul’s Church, Augusta, and on Sunday, the 17th May, confirmed nine persons.  This Church is taking a deep and enduring hold upon the affections of the people.

On the 26th of July, I confirmed in St. James’ Church, Marietta, four persons, and was glad to find this young Parish in so flourishing a condition.  And truly they deserve it, for with a mere handful, at times reduced almost to extinction, they have persevered in their labor of love, and are now in possession of a Church, a Parsonage, a Glebe of twenty acres of land and a School House free from any incumbrance.  Besides this, they have relinquished the stipend granted them from the Missionary Society of the General Church, and are themselves contributing one half of the amount of their Rector’s salary.  I dwell upon these things, because while it furnishes an example of proper conduct to weak Parishes, it teaches the lesson that we should never despair of the success of Christ’s Church, tho’ she may be called to pass through days of darkness and be threatened, to the eye of sense, with extinction.  The voice of her Lord is the same to day as it was of old: “For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee.”

This period of gloom and almost hopelessness every new Parish must encounter and overcome.  Upon the first introduction of the Church into any neighbourhood, many motives concur to make it acceptable with the people.  Its novelty, the education of its clergy, the desire of having an edifice that may ornament the rising town, the hope of attracting settlers by the introduction of a form of worship most current among the rich and educated of the land, gather around it a number of adherents who are seeking their own and not the things of Jesus Christ.  For a time this flatters the hopes and enlarges the expectations of the Missionary and he fancies that his course will be one of rapid and unchanging success.  But the scene soon changes; the novelty is past, the worldly objects are obtained, false friends fall away, persecution begins its bitter work and the Pastor and the people are permitted to perceive and understand their real and permanent strength.  And now ensues the real struggles—the struggle of faith and of endurance—a struggle which never ends but in one way, if her ministers and members are true to themselves, the complete triumph of the Church.  During my brief connexion with this Diocese, several churches have already passed with triumphant success, through this ordeal of Faith, and it is to encourage those, who may be now struggling for existence or who may hereafter be forced through this terrible yet necessary experience, that I adduce their sufferings and final deliverance.

The Churches of Macon and Columbus stand most prominently forth as instances of this truth, because they may now be looked upon as having overcome their difficulties as being strong in the faithful souls that meet around their altars.  But a few years since and they were planted by a very feeble band of Christians, who determined to worship God in the way which they deemed scriptural.  Macon was the scene of the earliest attempt, but after two or three years of labor every thing was utterly prostrated under the effects of one of those whirlwinds of religious excitement which are brought to bear so systematically upon our efforts.  All but the really true were swept away, and the little band which our Missionary could gather at its close was so disheartened that for a time all effort ceased, because it seemed to be in vain.  But the rock was there—the corner stone was unmoved—the foundation of Prophets and Apostles could not be shaken, and another Missionary was summoned to repair the breaches of our Zion.  And nobly, and earnestly, and successfully did he labor, and now that he has worn himself out in the service of his Master, truly might he say to the flock over which the Lord had made him overseer—that flock of his own gathering and nursing and feeding, “Ye know from the first day that I came among you, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind and with many tears and temptations.  And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you and have taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.”  May the Lord watch over them and give to his youthful successor grace to water the seeds of piety which have been so richly sown and crown him with an abundant increase.

If possible, the Church in Columbus has had even more to encounter and vanquish.  Deluded by a fictitious prosperity and under the influence of such motives as I have described, a very expensive Church was constructed, so that when the revulsion of commerce and the reaction of feeling took place, the feeble congregation found itself exceedingly diminished in numbers and staggering under a load of debt which it seemed impossible either to bear or liquidate.  Odium likewise took the place of popularity and our people were called upon to pass through scenes of mortification and suffering which non can understand but those who have felt the bitterness of hearing the Church of their love mocked and taunted and threatened with the hammer of the Sheriff.  But faith and energy—the strength which the Lord supplies—were more than conquerors in this hopeless struggle—and after having passed through many a conflict—the fires of persecution and the deep waters of affliction—our brother and his people are now rejoicing in a stability of which they once scarcely dared to dream, and, as a Church, in a freedom from pecuniary embarrassment of which they once scarce entertained a hope.  May they in all humility, ascribe the glory and the praise to him who is Head over all things to the Church.

And as with these Churches, so will it be with every one of those which are now struggling for establishment.  If true to themselves they must and they will succeed.  Truth is mighty and will prevail—mighty in its power over the conscience—mighty in the confidence which it gives to weakness—mighty in the oneness and harmony of its operations, but above all, mighty in the promises which God has given it of ever enlarging dominion.  Its champion feels that his cause can never be vanquished.  He may fall—the crown of martyrdom may be his—for there can be a martyrdom even now worked out through care and disappointment, and embarrassment and calumny—but the truth will flourish only with the livelier vigor, and sheaves shall be borne rejoicing from his grave, which they shall gather that have followed his track of suffering and tears.  “Faint not then,” sons of the Church and champions of the Faith—“neither grow weary, for they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength—they shall mount up with wings as eagles.”

On the Sunday before the Annual Commencement of the University of Georgia, I preached a sermon before the Graduating Class, and during the same visit, performed service several times in Emmanuel Church.

On the third Sunday of August, I admitted the Rev. Mr. Shanklin to the Holy Order of Priesthood in the chapel attached to St. Luke’s Church, Montpelier.  This ordination, and the preaching which followed it, was the commencement of one of the most interesting revivals of religion among the pupils of the Institute, which I have ever been called upon to witness.  The Rector of the Parish—the Rev. Mr. Johnson—had been faithfully and quietly sowing the seeds of truth for a year in the hearts of these young people, and at last it  pleased the Lord, under the ministrations of our newly ordained brother, to awaken many of them to a sense of their lost condition out of Christ.  So soon as this outburst of feeling manifested itself, the Rev. Mr. Johnson and myself felt ourselves called upon, as the guardians of so many very young persons, to act with the utmost caution and prudence in the management of their spiritual experience.  Although the feeling was deep and almost universal, we permitted no suspension of their duties or labors.  We acted upon the principle, that if the work was of the Holy Ghost, no performance of the duties of life would check its progress, and that what was to endure, if sound and true, through all the trials and temptations of life, had better be nurtured under the same severe discipline.  And we found no cause to repent our course, for while we were gratefully conscious that there was no daily excitement goading the feelings of these children, and disabling them from discerning what spirit they were of, we were rejoiced to perceive that the work only spread and deepened, and assumed the shape of a daily searching of the Scriptures, and of a deep self-examination into the motives of their action and into the hope which many of them expressed in Christ their Saviour.  After many weeks of probation—after a most careful and anxious examination of their grounds of faith, and after consultation with their parents, eighteen of these young persons were confirmed, and sixteen admitted to the Communion of the Church.  These services were not performed until October and November, but I mention them here in connexion with the circumstances which led to the blessed result.  Up to this time, we have no reason to believe that any one of these young persons was deceived in her repentance or faith.  They are all steadfast, consistent young Christians, growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord.

Early in September, I visited the Church of the Ascension, in the Etowah Valley, Cass county; and on Sunday, the 13th September, admitted the Rev. Owen P. Thackara to the Holy Order of Priesthood.  The congregation which attended this service was a very large and attentive one, and I am convinced that its decency and solemnity produced a deep impression upon the audience.  In the afternoon, I confirmed one person, and preached again in the evening at the swelling of the Hon. Wm. H. Stiles.  I regret to inform the Convention that the Rev. Mr. Thackara has been compelled to abandon his mission in Cass and Floyd counties from ill health, and to retire for a time from the active duties of the Ministry.  The Rev. Mr. Brown, of Virginia, has been invited to take charge of them.

The counties extending North-West from Marietta are opening a wide field of Missionary operation for the Church.  Episcopalians are gradually flowing in with the tide of emigration, and although at present scattered, are yet beginning to be numerous and influential.

Besides our station on the Etowah River, which is well located—Rome, Cassville, the new town of Cross Plains, and points even beyond that, are offering themselves for our occupation.  Now is the time to press forward—to exhibit the Church in her integrity, and to gather congregations that shall grow with the growth of the country.  But we must have suitable Missionaries and the means for their support, and our own Diocese must supply them.  The wretched condition of the Missionary Treasury of the General Church teaches us how wise we were in not depending much upon foreign aid, and the extreme difficulty of procuring Clergymen warns us to labor to fill up and increase our ranks from the young men of our own Congregations.  Is this point, my Clerical Brethren, made enough the subject of your prayers and of your efforts?  Do you from time to time, urge it upon the pious youth of your flocks, to devote their hearts and then their lives to the propagation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  While the call must come from the Holy Ghost, you may be the ordained instruments for making that call, and if you are dumb upon this most vital matter for the Church, small, forever small, will be the company of the Preachers.  Let me entreat you to labor much among the young men of your flocks, and although they may seem careless and thoughtless, pray for them, and let them know that you do it, that God may make them chosen vessels for bearing his salvation to a sinful world.  Many of us were as careless and thoughtless as they are, and why may not God deal as mercifully with them as with us, if you be as faithful in your pastoral duties as were those who guided us, under the workings of the Holy Ghost, into this ministry, whereof we are now partakers.  Let us remember the rock, from which we were hewed, and the pit whence we were digged, and it will give us more faith and more hope for the young and careless sons of the Church.

Early in December, I visited St. Mary’s, with the intention of consecrating the Church recently erected in that place, but found it too unfinished for consecration.  On December 6th, I ordained, in the temporary place of worship in St. Mary’s, the Rev. William C. Williams to the Priesthood; and in the afternoon, confirmed ten persons.  On the 8th, I confirmed another person in her chamber, to which she was confined by illness.  I found our little congregation at St. Mary’s rapidly increasing, as was manifested by the number offered for confirmation.  Since my visit, the Church has been finished, paid for, and is now ready for consecration.  Mr. Shanklin resigned the Parish soon after my visit, and Mr. Woodward took charge of it as Rector.

On the 11th, 12th and 13th December, I preached in St. David’s, Glynn county, and St. Andrew’s, Darien.  These Parishes have formed an union, and have secured the services of the Rev. Thompson L. Smith, who gives them alternate services.  There were no confirmations in either of these Parishes.

Passion Week was spent with the Churches in Savannah, and on Easter Evening the services of the week were closed, with a confirmation in St. John’s Church of twenty-three persons, two of whom were from Christ Church.  I subsequently confirmed two others in their sick chambers.

During the next week, I visited the Mission upon the North side of the Great Ogechee River, under the charge of the Rev. William C. Williams.  A neat country Church has been erected by some of the Planters of that side of the River, which was sufficiently completed for service, but not for consecration.  I officiated in it on Sunday, the 18th April, when eight candidates were presented for confirmation, the first fruits of the earnest labors of their Missionary.  Mr. Williams is pursuing the only plan which will be of any service with this class of our population, identifying himself as their Pastor and Guide.  The impression is, that the negroes are averse from the services of our Church.  It is a great mistake, except so far as that aversion may have arisen from ignorance or neglect.  Let a Clergyman of the Episcopal Church settle anywhere in the midst of them and make himself comprehended among them, and minister at their sick beds, and be with them in their moments of temptation and affliction, and prove himself their friend and teacher, and very soon will they welcome him to their hearts with the same true and warm affection with which they now cling to those who labor among them.  It is my earnest hope that our Episcopal Planters will take the matter into consideration, and make arrangements for the employment of Missionaries of their own Church, so that Master and Servants may worship together in unity of spirit and in the bond of peace.  It would tend to strengthen very much the relation of Master and Slave by bringing into action the highest and holiest feelings of our common nature.  There should be much less danger of inhumanity on the one side or of insubordination on the other, between parties who knelt, upon the Lord’s day, around the same Table and were partakers of the same Communion.  At present these is an almost entire alienation of religious feeling between the Master and the Servant, and the want of sympathy gives rise to uncharitableness and faithlessness in the sincerity of their profession.  A more intimate knowledge of each other’s religious experience would promote a harmony and a sympathy alike delightful and profitable.  Mr. Williams remains winter and summer in connexion with these plantations.

Sunday, the 25th April, was spent with Christ Church, Macon, upon which occasion ten candidates were presented for confirmation. This Parish is now under the charge of the Rev. Mr. Shanklin, Mr. Bragg’s health having forced him to relinquish for a time the services of the Sanctuary.

Since our last Convention, I have transferred the Rev. Dr. Flint to the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and have received the Rev. William Johnson from the Diocese of Alabama, and the Rev. J. A. Woodward from the Diocese of Virginia.  I have admitted five Deacons to the Order of Priesthood, the Rev. Messrs. Mower, Ellis, Shanklin, Thackara, and Williams.  I have received as candidates for Orders, Mr. Joseph Stiles, Mr. Frederick Elwell, and Mr. William J. Perdue, but regret that Mr. Stiles’ extreme ill health has forced him to request that his name should be withdrawn from the list of candidates, with which I have complied.

The extension of our Diocese renders some organ of communication necessary between myself and the Clergy and Laity of my Diocese.  This has been generally arranged by the adoption of some existing religious newspaper as the channel of intercourse.  But as no one newspaper is very generally taken in my Diocese, there being subscribers among both Clergy and Laity to almost every one of them, I have determined to suggest to this Convention an incipient movement, which I trust may lead to the establishment, by the General Convention, of an Ecclesiastical Gazette, which may answer for the wants of the whole Church.  My wish is that a series of resolutions, embodying a memorial to the General Convention, may be passed by this Convention, which will bring the matter directly to the notice of the whole Church.

It is not my intention to indulge in this place in any tirade against the religious newspapers of the Church, although I am free to say, that I consider them, as at present conducted, anything but beneficial either to its piety or respectability.  My object is merely to point out the shape and advantages of such a Gazette, as I think now necessary for the growing wants of the Church.

I should desire to see it established under the authority of the General Convention, and to be placed in charge of some publishing House, who shall be pledged to admit nothing in it except the official documents of the Church, General and Diocesan, and such Church notices and advertisements as may serve to keep the Statistics of the Church complete before the Clergy and Laity.  The official documents of thirty Dioceses will be amply sufficient to fill its pages and to supply it with constant novelty.  The advantages to be obtained through such an organ, would be the following:

1. It would furnish the Clergy and Laity of the Church with the official documents and

Statistics of the Church in a convenient shape and at a moderate expense.  Instead of shelves groaning with Pamphlets, through which we must rummage for every item of intelligence, one newspaper filed and indexed would instantly supply any desired information.

2.  It would free those who did not choose to be partakers in it of all the senseless bickering which is making the Church a bye-word to the nation.

3.  It would produce more charitable feelings throughout the Church by a perusal, not of one side only, but of every side of every question, which the Bishops in their official documents, or the Dioceses in their Conventional proceedings, might deem worthy of agitation.  At present our religious newspapers are all one-sided, and present the views, not of those clothes with authority in the Church, nor yet of their incorporated bodies, but of irresponsible individuals.

4.  It would gradually mould the members of the Church into that harmony and peace which ought to characterize the body of Christ.

5. It would save the Clergy and Laity the heavy charge which now falls upon them, if they desire to become acquainted with the condition of the Church, of taking in three or four religious newspapers.

Trusting that the Lord may preside over our Councils by his Holy Spirit, I commend you, my dear Brethren, to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost.

                                                                                    STEPHEN ELLIOTT, Jr.

                                                                    Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia.