Bishop’s Address of 1849

By The Rt. Rev. Stephen Elliott
First Bishop of Georgia

Brethren of the Clergy and Laity:

It is with sincere gratitude to the disposer of all human events, that, at the close of another Ecclesiastical year, I am permitted to consult with you in reference to the temporal and spiritual welfare of that portion of  Christ’s Church which has been allotted to my care.  There is one heavy draw-back, however, to the pleasure which generally attends these reunions, arising out of the absence of so many familiar faces, whom disease and accident and domestic afflictions have kept away from our sacred meeting.  May the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, be with them in their hours of suffering, and while he fills us with wisdom and spiritual understanding for the performance of our active duties, enable them to glorify their Lord in bearing patiently all that he may send upon them.

We cannot look out upon the world, under the aspect it has worn for the last fifteen months, without feeling that God is indeed troubling the nations.  How the events which are almost daily startling us by their suddenness and importance stand connected with the great chain of Apocalyptic prophecy, this is neither the time nor place to discuss; but considered in a practical point of view, they should fill us with fervent thanksgiving for our exemption as a Nation and as a church from such disturbing influences, and with sober watchfulness  lest that day come upon us as a thief in the night.  Especially should the Ministers of the Church, the watchmen upon the towers of Zion, watch to see what the Lord is saying to the nations, and make it plain to those who look to the Priest’s lips for knowledge, and who seek the law at his mouth.  It is not for us, my beloved brethren in the Ministry, who are entrusted with an inspired book of unfulfilled prophecy, to suffer such movements, religious and political, as are shaking the world from its old foundations, to pass unregarded and unstudied.  And while I would earnestly deprecate any rash or presumptuous application of passing events to the yet unfulfilled prophecies of the Bible, I commend those prophecies to your especial study and meditation at this moment.  If the wisdom, which cometh from on high, be faithfully sought in your communings with him who was in the spirit in the Isle of Patmos, you need not fear being misled by crude interpretations, or carried away by unhallowed theories.  The promise is yours for unfulfilled prophecy as for every other part of the inspired writings, that it is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Besides the call to the study of prophecy, which these rapidly occurring and widely spreading movements make upon the Ministers of the Church, they likewise warn all who profess themselves the servants of Christ to arm themselves with the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, and to be prepared to work while it is called to-day.  We know not how soon, my beloved brethren, whether of the Laity or Clergy, we may be involved in this shaking of the nations, and be obliged to witness for Christ under circumstances giving us no time for preparation either in knowledge or spiritual wisdom.  Now, while the hand of the Lord is yet withheld from us, is it our duty to “cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light,” so that when the distress of nations shall reach us, we may be found ready to rejoice in tribulation, if need be, for Christ’s sake.  The wars and rumors of wars, the perplexity of nations, the famine, the pestilence, the heresy, the schism, that are coming to us daily upon the lightning’s wings, are calling us to humiliation, to godly fear, to special prayer, to fresh devotion to our work.  May we all receive the warning, and rejoice that it has been given us through God’s mercy and grace.

During the session of the last Convention at Marietta, I baptized an adult, and confirmed two persons.  These official acts are noticed here because performed after the delivery of my last annual address.

I commenced my official acts for the Ecclesiastical year, which has just closed, at Augusta, where I remained several days, and confirmed one person.  This Parish continues in a very flourishing and increasing condition, and although suffering just now from the distressing accident which has befallen its esteemed and devoted Rector, it has passed through too many hours of darkness to permit any depression to rest upon it from this temporary trouble.  The blessing of the Lord has rested so largely upon it, that it may well say “shall I receive good of the Lord, and shall I not receive evil?”

On Sunday, May 28th, I consecrated St. Philip’s Church, Atlanta, upon which occasion I preached the consecration sermon.  This is a small, but neat Church edifice, erected at a moderate cost, but yet quite large enough to accommodate any congregation that may be formed even in that rapidly increasing town for many years to come.  The Rev. J. J. Hunt is the Missionary at that point.

And here let me observe, that the policy which has been pursued at Atlanta in erecting a small, but cheap Church, is that which should guide us in carrying forward a weak Diocese, like ours.  It is not likely that the Episcopal Church will increase rapidly in any of the towns or villages of a Diocese so unaccustomed to its forms or usages, and in many places so prejudiced against its teaching.  Our progress must necessarily be slow, and a generation must elapse before we can expect to have even a fair hearing before the people.  In the mean time, that generation must be made acquainted with the Church, must learn that she unites truth of doctrine with all her other recommendations, and that she is not obnoxious to the charges which are so freely lavished upon her.  Cheap Churches, erected at as many points as we can maintain Missionaries, are the means, under God, for the removal of this intense prejudice—leaving it to a future generation to build edifices more suitable to the growth of the congregation and the increase of the Church.  From six to eight hundred dollars will suffice to complete such Church buildings as we need at present—thus avoiding debt upon the building, and reserving the funds of the Church for the support of our Missionaries.

Early in July, I commenced my visitation of the Churches lying beyond the Chattahoochee, spending several days at Marietta, preaching and attending the examination of the School connected with the Parish.  It gives me great pleasure to state, that this Parish is making a very sure increase, and now feels strong enough to cast off our Missionary care, and take her place among the Churches which feel that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”  The examination of the School satisfied me of its continues efficiency and blessedness.  I confirmed one person upon this occasion.

On Wednesday, July 5th, I held service during the evening in the parlour at the Rowland Springs, where a small congregation was collected for the occasion, and on Thursday, July 6, officiated at the Church of the Ascension, Etowah valley, Cass county.  Only a small congregation was collected, as the notice had been very short, and it was an important moment with the Farmers.  The Church I found in good repair, but I regret to say that the parsonage has suffered somewhat from decay and ill usage.  Uninhabited as it has been for several years, much of this was unavoidable, but a part was evidently the result of wanton aggression.  Mr. Smith, the then Missionary in Cass and Floyd counties, held regular services at this point, and his report will give the result of those labors.  I was not called upon to perform any official acts at this Church.

On Friday, the 7th July, I officiated, according to appointment at the house of Mr. George, a Candidate for Orders in the Diocese.  Many of the neighbors were gathered together to witness, for the first time, the services of the Church, and the admission of three persons by confirmation into the Church.  Seldom have I enjoyed a service more, or been more gratified than I was upon that occasion.

On Saturday, July 8, I commenced a series of services at Rome, in Floyd county, during which time I baptized a child, and confirmed one person.  Throughout these ministrations in Cass and Floyd counties, I was accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Scott of Marietta, and the Rev. Mr. Smith, the acting Missionary.  During this visit to Rome, a plan was adopted for the Church edifice, which has since been progressing as rapidly as the collection of funds would admit.  Since this visitation, those counties have been without a Missionary, in consequence of the transfer of Mr. Smith to Emmanuel Church, Athens.

            During the first week in August, I paid my visit to the Church at Athens, and officiated on Sunday, August 6.  Owing to the condition of the Parish, it being in the act of separating from its late Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Stevens, there were no candidates for confirmation.  At a meeting of the Vestry held during my visit, a call was made of the Rev. Thompson L. Smith as Rector, which resulted in his acceptance of the place, and his resignation as a Missionary of the General Church.

On the second Sunday of November, I held the usual autumn confirmation in the Chapel at Montpelier, when seven persons were confirmed, four of whom were pupils of the Institute.

On the first Sunday in March, 1849, I preached in St. Stephen’s Church, Milledgeville, confirmed two persons, and administered the Holy Communion.  This congregation maintains its original number of communicants.

Easter week was spent with Trinity Church, Columbus.  I found the Rev. Mr. Cairns upon a bed of intense suffering, which so affected his nervous system as to induce a dangerous condition of fever.  I could not leave him in such a state of pain and danger, and remained with him and his people a fortnight.  I found a very interesting class of fifteen candidates for confirmation, and it would have been still larger, had the Rector been enabled to prepare his people up to the day of my arrival.  But prostrated as he was upon a bed of anguish, he could only commend such as he had previously prepared to the prayers of the Church, and the laying on of hands.  With this interesting condition of his Parish was mingled the chastening hand of God, and I was called upon to commit to the earth the remains of one of the original communicants of the Parish, a devoted and whole-hearted woman,* who, from the beginning, had consecrated herself and her affections to the Church and its children.  It is but meet that she should be remembered here, as this now flourishing Parish owes much to the energy and single-mindedness of this earnest woman. [*Miss Mary Collidge].

      It was my purpose to have visited Apalachicola immediately after the close of my services at Columbus, but my detention at that point, and our approaching Convention, warned me not to wander too far from home.  I regret this the more, as a large class was awaiting confirmation in that place.

On Sunday, the 6th May, I visited Zion Church, Talbotton, and found the Church edifice at that station sufficiently advanced to admit of services being held within its walls.  It is a very beautiful Gothic Church, in fine keeping as far as it is finished, and reflecting great credit upon the taste and architectural skill of the Rector, the Rev. Richard Johnson, who designed and superintended its whole construction.  When completed it will be an ornament to the Diocese.  Mr. Johnson has collected a very respectable congregation, three of whom were confirmed as the first fruits of his labor.

I have not been able from circumstances beyond my control to visit the Churches in Savannah, and upon the seaboard, during this Spring.  I will endeavor to make it up at some future time by laboring among them for a season.

During the past year, I have transferred the Rev. W. B. Stevens to the Diocese of Pennsylvania, the Rev. Owen P. Thackara to the Diocese of Rhode-Island, and the Rev. Wm. J. Ellis to the Diocese of Alabama.  The two last named Clergymen had not been laboring within the limits of our Diocese for a year or more before their transference.  I have not received any Clergymen into the Diocese upon letters, although the Rev. Mr. Cleveland, of Vermont, has served the Parish of St. David’s, Glynn county, during the winter.

Since our last Convention, Mr. J. H. George, a Minister of the Presbyterian Church, Mr. B. E. Habersham of Elbert county, and Mr. James D. Gibson,  a Licentiate of the Methodist Church, have been received as Candidates for Orders.  Mr. Terry has been transferred as a candidate from the Diocese of Virginia.  These, together with Messrs. Gahagan, Perdue and Macauley, seven in all, make up our number of Candidates for Orders.

This influx of young men into the Ministry of the Church, a matter which has long lain near my heart, and which God seems to have brought about, suddenly as it were, and in his own good time, leads me to draw your attention to the subject of our Diocesan Missionary funds, and to urge upon the Ministry and the Laity an earnest co-operation in their increase.  We cannot expect the Parishes in the act of organization, or for a few years afterwards, will do much towards the support of the Ministry.  The congregations collected through this Diocese conceive themselves to be conferring a sufficient favor, if they receive and attend upon the ministrations which are offered them.  The sum appropriated by the Domestic Committee of our General Missionary Society is but a pittance, and can go but very little way towards the maintenance of our Ministers.  We must depend upon ourselves, therefore, if we desire the Church to extend her borders; and I trust that our Parishes will make it a matter of special effort to increase our annual income, so that the Missionary Committee may likewise increase the number of Missionaries.  It is casting a heavy burden upon the Missionary Committee to expect them to be active in the duties assigned them as your representatives, and yet deny them the means of sustaining that activity.  It is but natural that they should catch the spirit of the Church, and sink with them into a lethargy, which shall be satisfied with things as they are, and despair of any future progress.  Besides laying upon that Committee the labor of superintending the whole work of the Diocese, you likewise impose upon its Treasurer the necessity of unceasing struggle to supply the wants of the Missionaries.

All this can be prevented by a little foresight; and I would urge upon the Parishes which are able to contribute towards this fund, and which of them is not able to contribute something, to see that a fair proportion of their collection is made to circulate through this channel.  It is but a poor generosity which sends its contributions to distant Dioceses, or even to the Heathen, while its own Missionaries, brethren with whom we are accustomed to take sweet counsel, are left hampered and embarrassed in their work.  I fear not to speak plainly in this matter, because you all know my deep interest in Missions at large; but it is necessary here to say, that the Missionary Committee cannot consent to enlarge its work, until it can see its way clearly to a prompt meeting of the liabilities it may incur.

It is nothing less than cruelty, cruelty felt in the keenest manner by a man of sensibility, to subject a Missionary to pecuniary embarrassment, who has gone forward in full confidence that you would sustain him in his labor and work of love.  Five hundred dollars a year to support a man, oft times with a wife and family, who is obliged to maintain a respectable appearance, and is necessarily subjected to extraordinary expenses of which a layman can know nothing, is but little at best—but when that little is paid irregularly, there are but few who can make it sufficient for their absolute wants.  There is no service upon earth so poorly recompensed as that of a Clergyman.  Educated generally in the highest manner, gifted for the most part with talents which would have well served him in other occupations, forbid by the Canons of the Church to undertake any work which may interfere with the sacredness of his Holy office, you are yet satisfied to give such men a salary which would be scoffed at if offered to a competent clerk in any store of respectability, and even that is given grudgingly.

It were better for the Church to say at once to her Ministry, that they must imitate to the letter those who founded the early Christian Churches, and go forth depending upon Him who feedeth the ravens—for then, at least, they would incur no liabilities, and would understand from the very beginning their position in worldly matters.  And it is no answer to all this to say, that it is paid in the end—for before the end comes, who can tell the anxiety of mind, the personal harassment, the pecuniary obligation, to which that Missionary has been subjected, nay, perhaps, the actual injury which his work has suffered from a cause honestly beyond his control.  If the love of Christ did not constrain the Ministry of the Church, we should all be tempted, from the highest to the lowest, to leave the world to itself, and give it up to its idols.  And if these remarks are true here in this Diocese, which has been liberal to a high degree, by comparison, leave you to infer what is the state of things elsewhere, where that liberality has not been dispensed.

Commending you, Brethren of the Clergy and Laity, to that Lord who has promised to be with his Church always even to the end, I invite your attention to the necessary business for which we are convened.


Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia.