The Bishops’ Crusade – 1965

From the May 1965 issue of The Episcopalian
A PDF file of the original article and photos is online here


Crusaders in Georgia
Twelve twentieth-century apostles go to work in the Bible Belt

By Jeannie Willis

The highway patrolman went through all the usual motions—pull over, show me your license, where do you think you’re going?

“To a church meeting, Officer,” cut no ice.

The patrolman—don’t they all? —strolled to the rear of the car, planted a foot on the bumper, and started to write a ticket. Then he noticed the sticker on the bumper. “Is this ‘Bishops’ Crusade’ the thing I’ve been hearing so much about on TV?” he called out to the driver, Gwinn Nixon didn’t need to be asked twice. Indeed, it was the same “Bishops’ Crusade the officer had been hearing about. Being both a prominent Episcopal layman and a lawyer, the driver wasn’t going to miss an opportunity like this.

As this is a true story, we must add that the officer kept right on writing. But it was a warning, not a ticket, which he eventually handed to Mr. Nixon.

Mr. Nixon was one of over 1,700 people who attended that church meeting. Held in the modern Aquarama on Jekyll Island in Georgia, this particular gathering was the conclusion of the annual diocesan convention, as well as the beginning of a significant evangelistic mission on the part of the Diocese of Georgia.

People began arriving as much as an hour early, some of them coming from as far as 200 miles across the state. And many, like Mr. Nixon, hurried, because none wanted to miss the impressive service during which the Rt. Rev. Albert Rhett Stuart, Bishop of Georgia, commissioned twelve bishops to conduct the Bishops’ Crusade.

This ceremony keyed the Crusade and emphasized the duality of it. Following the colorful procession of all the diocesan clergy and the guest bishops came the simple, silent prayer for each missioner by name:

“Gray of South Carolina; Wilburn of West Virginia; John of Mississippi; William of South Florida; William of Tennessee; James of South Florida; Girault of Louisiana; Chandler of Montana; John of Tennessee; Edward of Kansas; Iveson of Louisiana; William of Fond du Lac.”

The Most Rev. Howard Hewlett Clark, Archbishop of Rupert’s Land and Primate of Canada, preached the sermon. He pointed out that it was the privilege of these twelve bishops to be the apostles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and summarized the purposes of the Crusade in a provocative and challenging way.

More than 1,100 people came forward to the dramatic altar-in-the round and received the Holy Communion in an atmosphere that was highly charged with the seriousness of the undertaking and the awareness that the results of the Crusade were in God’s hands, not theirs.

For five days following that meeting, Southern Georgia echoed with a dozen episcopal voices preaching the Gospel. All of the bishops were presenting the facts about God’s love, explaining atonement and redemption, sin and repentance. Old-fashioned and basic.

But the packaging of the messages, and the answers to questions, were purely twentieth-century. Humor and slang and good, clear, contemporary language were the media. At night the bishops addressed congregations in churches or auditoriums. By day they spoke to clubs, school and college assemblies, youth groups, ministerial alliances; appeared on radio and TV on panels and “meet-the-bishop”-type seminars; addressed workers in factories, knitting mills, and railroad yards.

In sixty sermons and as many more formal and informal addresses to groups of all sizes, the bishops preached the Glory of God. In an almost subliminal way, all made the point that there are fundamentals of Christianity that need not be Fundamentalism. Always stressing the Crusade theme, “because He loves us,” each told in his own way of that love and what it means.

The bishops proved three points: (1) good preaching does happen in the Episcopal Church; (2) evangelism does go on in the Episcopal Church; and (3) the Gospel is still and yet Good News.


Heads out of the Sand

Twelve bishops had been invited by Bishop Stuart to come to southern Georgia for a five-day preaching mission. Each would locate in a city or town for the full period and conduct the mission from either a local Episcopal church or from a community auditorium.

Simple as that sounds in summary, the Bishops’ Crusade involved more than a year’s work on the part of dozens of persons. Organization was careful and coordinated. Under one General Crusade Committee five subcommittees served, each dealing with a specific area: spiritual preparation, services, finance, promotion and publicity, and follow-up. Each of these had a counterpart in the twelve areas which were designated as preaching stations.

The Bishops’ Crusade is a supremely fine example of the use of contemporary communications for spiritual purposes. There was none of the ostrich in the planning. Full use was made of every possible means of promotion and publicity, and the whole experiment cost less than $10,000.

Yet while all of this was being done, Bishop Stuart kept up a continual pounding, making it clear right from the start that spiritual preparation was imperative. “In preparation for this Crusade, it is crucial for our people to be in front of the altar saying their prayers.” He also stressed forcefully and frequently that “the purpose of this Crusade is not to foster our Episcopalianism but to bring the Gospel to the people of South Georgia.”

To accomplish this goal, the diocese used roadside billboards, bumper stickers, posters, stacks of calling cards in motels, signs of every description, radio, TV, and newspaper advertising, a diocesan-wide telephone campaign by the churchwomen; everything, in short, anyone could think of.

What makes all of this striking is that it was never allowed to escape from the framework of theology. “We aren’t engaged in a program of propganda and pressure. We can use all kinds of ways to promote the Crusade, but whatever we use, it is simply for the Glory of God,” reminded Bishop Stuart.


Back to SPG

As a graceful gesture to history and a reflection of the yeasty concept of Mutual Responsibility, all the offerings from the sixty preaching services—about $5,000—have been sent to the Church of England’s Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The SPG, as it is called, was chartered in 170 “for work in the colonies.” A Church of England clergyman came to Savannah with James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia, in 1733 to establish what is the present-day Episcopal Church in Georgia.

His successor was the Rev. John Wesley, who in 1735 was “missionary to Georgia,” and rector of Christ Church, Savannah, where he is said to have established the first Sunday School in the United States. His brother, Charles, served as a chaplain in Oglethorpe’s army, and founded Georgia’s second Anglican parish, in Frederica.

The third parish created in the colony was St. Paul’s, Augusta, During the War Between the States, Confederate Episcopalians met there. One of the resolutions they passed urged “missionary labour coextensive with the limits of fallen humanity, and if foreign missionary work proved impossible due to the Blockade, donations were nonetheless to be collected and “securely invested.”

This same St. Paul’s was one of the preaching centers for the Crusade. Guest speaker there was the Rt. Rev. Wilburn C, Campbell, Bishop of West Virginia, and it is an understatement to say that he took Augusta by storm. Fulfilling a brutal schedule of early morning services, sermons, speeches, interviews, and personal appearances, he unfailingly radiated concern and curiosity about everyone and everything.

After putting in a rigorous nonstop sixteen-hour day, he still welcomed all comers to a question-and answer session in the parish house every night.

There, eyes still twinkling, humor still exuberant, Bishop Campbell came to grips with the practical problems people have in trying to live their faith. Not one to evade touchy or difficult questions, he spoke candidly and movingly about everything from Open Communion to the wearing of hats by women in church (“God is more concerned about what is in your head than with what is on it”).

By the end of his visit, the image of St. Paul’s as a stately and historic shrine to the past and a present home for the prosperous was no longer recognizable. Although not many non-Episcopalians attended, the important thing was that some had.

Those few could not help but see that the image was false, and that St. Paul’s is outgrowing any such stereotype under the cure of their capable young rector, the Rev. C. Edward Reeves, Jr. Episcopalians who came to the Crusade experienced a significant deepening of their faith, and the simple exposition of that faith by Bishop Campbell, night after night, led in many cases to a rededication to Christ.

At another St. Paul’s, this one in Jesup, the Rt. Rev. William H. Brady, Bishop of Fond du Lac, was crusading for Christ, in sharp contrast to historic St. Paul’s, Augusta, the church in Jesup is a strikingly modern one. Bishop Stuart has described it as “a meetinghouse—a house where God meets His people.” Jesup was a static town until a few years ago, when a new industry moved in. By dint of hard work and faithful efforts, the mission there became a parish. It now has 270 communicants and shows a steady growth and a deepening perception of the mission of the Church. Everyone gives everyone else the credit for this; we venture to say, however, that much of the credit goes to their rector, the Rev. Peyton E. Splane, Jr., a man of quiet zeal and humility.

The Crusade in Jesup differed from that in Augusta in detail but not in essence. As was true in all the smaller stations, peripheral projects were not available in the same quantity as in the larger centers. Bishop Brady, however, had no free time; every minute was scheduled with counseling, visiting, teaching.

And every night, the preaching. It was superb, simple, easy to understand, an exposition of the Good News and its application to today and to each person there. It was teaching-preaching, in the best sense.

And in still another St. Paul;s, this one in Albany, the Rt. Rev. Chandler W. Sterling, Bishop of Montana, was initiating Georgia’s “Year of Evangelism” in memorable fashion.

Bishop Sterling preached, colorfully and colloquially, and made several TV appearances during the week. A young Woman reports that she and her children saw one of these and “were spellbound. He played the piano and told the story of the Good Shepherd in today’s language.”

He spoke at a local high school with such success that the students didn’t want him to stop. He did, though, then invited them all to a special service for teen-agers the next afternoon after school. Over 100 attended, and many returned again that evening.

In a song session preceding the sermon that night, Bishop Sterling led the congregation through a rollicking rendition of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” a tune that he predicted would be included in all future hymnals. On a second chorus, the congregation clapped hands in time to the music, prompting the bishop to observe, “This is the first time you’ve heard that in the Episcopal Church in 400 years!”

In the other nine preaching centers much of the same was happening. Georgia, with some 900,000 Southern Baptists, suddenly was aware that the 10,000 communicants of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Georgia were there. For every one of the five nights an average of over 3,000 people attended an Episcopal evangelism mission somewhere in the diocese. And every morning sizable groups turned out in over fifty churches throughout the diocese for the daily celebration of the Eucharist which Bishop Stuart had urged as a necessary part of the Crusade.

A combination of exhaustion and exhilaration—in just about equal parts—best describes the condition of everyone in the diocese, come February 4 and the last night of the Crusade. Technically the Crusade was ending, but to all intents and purposes, this was only the beginning. Questionnaires were sent out within a few days, all around the diocese, asking for detailed evaluations from both clergy and lay participants. On April 3, a diocesan-wide Evangelism Conference met, with each of the twelve centers reporting. The Conference also outlined plans for a Day of Evangelism, when everyone in the diocese will be visited. Not asked for money—just visited. On June 6, Whitsunday, there will be a diocesan-wide corporate Communion, with emphasis on evangelism. In October, a second wave of preaching-teaching missions will be held, this time using Georgia clergymen as missioners,

“Many people who didn’t actually come to the services saw the Church put before the public in a wonderful way, commented the Rev. John L. Jenkins, chairman of the Diocesan Department of Evangelism, and of the Follow-up committee. “When people are willing to offer themselves to be used by God, wonderful and unexpected things seem to happen.”

Attendance was never phenomenal, but likewise never poor. The Ven. Alfred Mead, Archdeacon of the Diocese, estimates that well over 15,000 persons attended the evening services. This of course does not include the many more thousands who heard, saw, or met the bishops on their extra-ecclesiastical daytime rounds.

Two images were shattered in the Crusade. One, remarked on by many, was summarized by a priest in Dublin, “The Crusade has forever changed and improved the Church’s image: [it is now that of a] vigorous, concerned Church.”

The other was felt, if not so neatly capsuled, South Georgians realized that bishops can be witty, winning human beings, as well as Christian crusaders, and that joy of interior spirit does not preclude a jolly exterior.

Long before any results were in, any statistics added up, people were saying “Next time . . .” The sentence was completed differently in each case, but the gist was ever the same. And what on first hearing might seem to be a criticism of “this time” was, on second thought, a genuine tribute. If there were no other results at all—if nothing had come of this except the determination to do it again—it represents a landmark in evangelism in the Episcopal Church.

Specific things did come of the Bishops’ Crusade, however. Everywhere Georgia Episcopalians seemed to be more alive and more aware of each other, as well as of the whole Church. This spirit will be served, in part, by the specifics of a well-publicized “Ten Commandments for Successful Follow-up.”

In addition, St. Alban’s in Augusta reports that it already has candidates for an Inquirers’ Class. The rector of Christ Church, Valdosta, held an Information Class the Monday after the Crusade which was attended by some fifty-five persons, seven of whom were non-Episcopalians.

And a new mission was born. Bishop Stuart says of it: “Hinesville, Georgia, is a community which was not served by the Episcopal Church. A group of people there gathered themselves together and drove to the Crusade at St. Paul’s, Jesup, some miles away. As a result, a petition of some forty names was sent to me for recognition as an organized mission.

“I have responded to this by designating them as St. Philip’s Mission, Hinesville, under the care of the Rev. Alfred Chambliss, who is the vicar of St. Andrew’s, Darien, about thirty miles away.

The spring of the Year of Evangelism in the Diocese of Georgia has brought remarkable results. The rest of their Year will doubtless bring equally Good News.