Bishop’s Address of 1848

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



Again am I permitted at this annual meeting of our Ecclesiastical body to rejoice with you at the continued and increasing prosperity of our Diocese. If, at some points, our Churches have suffered from the depressing effects of emigration, and an absorption of property into a few hands, at other and more points have they been steadily enlarging their number of Communicants, and planting themselves upon a firmer and more permanent basis. With one or two exceptions, our Parishes are entirely freed from Church debt, and our Diocesan Missionary Treasury is in better condition than it has been for years. Every thing promises a season of decided enlargement in our operations, and of increase both of Parishes and Clergymen. May the counsels in which we are about to engage be so overruled by the guidance of the Holy Ghost as that these prospects may be more than realized, and we be enabled to say at its close, that God has been with us of a truth.

Much of this prosperity is owing, under God, to the adhesion of our Clergy to their places of labour. Instead of perpetually shifting their Parishes, they have been, for the times in which we live, uncommonly permanent. During the past year, no Clergyman has transferred his Canonical residence from the Diocese, and but very few changes have taken place within it. Our larger Churches are, with one exception, occupied by the same Rectors who filled their pulpits at my election, and I trust the bond may continue until Death shall call away the incumbents to the rest of their Lord. Permanence in his field of labor is much more an element of ministerial success than is commonly supposed, and it should be a very important and providential development of circumstances that would induce a Minister of the Gospel to forego its advantages. Let me dwell, for a little while, upon this topic, as it needs very earnest consideration and a much deeper incorporation into the spirit of our minds than it has obtained.

The distinctive feature of our Church, in its external organization, is its Episcopacy, and our American branch of the Church of Christ has thought the permanence of the relation between the Bishop and his Diocese to be of such paramount importance, as to determine, by legislative enactments, that there shall be no transference of a Bishop from one Diocese to another, and has surrounded his resignation with checks of the most stringent kind. The second order of the Ministry has been left more free to act, according to its inclination and sense of duty, but still the spirit of the Church, as manifested in its view of the relation of Bishop and Diocese, must more or less shadow forth her view of the relation of Pastor and people. Although for very wise and sufficient reasons she has not undertaken to regulate by law the separation of a Minister from his people, except under very peculiar circumstances, yet has her legislation in regard to the Episcopal office, exhibited her sense of the sacredness of the ties which unite the Pastor and his flock. Her voice has been uttered, at least indirectly, against any frequent or rash severance of the Ministerial relation, and her whole spirit forbids the supposition that her sanction is given to the frequency of change which is beginning to render the Pastoral tie a matter merely of convenience or of interest. By not forbidding the change of the relation, she has declared, that there are circumstances which make it not only expedient, but proper, while at the same time, by making the Episcopal tie almost irrevocable, she has pronounced against a too ready dissolution of the relationship which binds her lower Ministry to the Flock over which the Holy Ghost has made them overseers.

In this, her solemn judgment, the Church is acting in strict accordance both with Scripture and the highest reason. Scripture teaches us that it is the Holy Ghost who guides the Church in her Ministerial arrangements, moving the smitten creature to take upon himself the sacred office, and then leading him into his field of holy labor. The Minister theoretically places himself under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and moves neither forward nor backward, neither to the right hand nor the left, save as he may discern the pillar of cloud and of fire, lifting and settling itself. Wherever the Holy Spirit places him by those marks and tokens which he has given us for judgment, there should he abide until the same Divine presence as palpably directs him elsewhere. This is the theory, but how little is it regarded in practice; and every day are we called upon to witness in the Church the most hasty abandonment of a Flock upon grounds altogether insufficient. The merest matter of convenience is enough to determine a point of eternal importance, and souls are weighed in the balances with earthly considerations that should never be permitted to conflict with their interests. No wonder that with such a contradiction of the whole theory of Scripture and of the ordination offices of the Church, there should be a lack of blessing upon their ministrations, and that our Zion should be called to mourn, in her length and breadth, the unsteady growth of her principles and the slow development of those fruits of the Spirit, which stand very much connected with a permanent Pastoral relationship.

The highest reason, too, is in harmony with this Scriptural view of the Pastoral office. Our Lord knew what was in man, knew how much he was a creature of affection and of sympathy, and in the arrangement of the Church linked the Ministerial office as closely as possible with the hearts of his creatures. While our Holy Religion, from its incipiency to its consummation, is a religion of love, no where is that love more manifest than in the intimate connexion which has been established between the Pastor and his people. The offices of Christianity stand connected with all the tenderest associations of human life, and their administration brings the Pastor into contact with his people at all those moments of joy and sorry which become the treasures of the heart. From the cradle to the grave, there is nothing in the family circle of most solemn and interesting which is not associated with the Minister of the Parish, and as he advances in age, he becomes the depository of feelings and of affections which never can be given to another. There gradually cluster around him an interest and a love which are the growth of years, and which swell his influence far beyond any mere improvement of his powers or his experience. His people no longer sit in judgment upon an aged Pastor, as he goes in and out among them, bearing them before the Mercy Seat, but they look upon him as children upon parent, and listen to his counsels with hearts warmed towards him by the holiest affection. They no longer consider whether he is the eloquent orator or the accomplished scholar-he has been their friend, their guide, their counselor in times when their hearts were buoyant with joy or smitten with grief, and they feel resting upon them all associations which disarm criticism and make his very presence pleasurable. Those who are now the chief actors upon the scene in which he has labored, were children whom he received from their mothers’ arms, and introduced into the congregation of Christ’s Flock-whose religious education he has directed in the Sunday School-whose plans of life he has counseled and assisted-whose weaknesses and infirmities he has borne and covered. Complete confidence has been bestowed upon him-such confidence as nothing but time and experience can gain-and his plans and even wishes are readily adopted and cheerfully carried out. Such influence as this no man should lightly give up-he can gain it no where else, for it takes almost a lifetime to gain; and he severs, in a whole generation, feelings and associations which they can never create again in an equal degree. The increase in influence is not merely in proportion to the duration of a Minister’s connexion with a Parish, but after a certain confidence has been gained, it increases with a rapidity that can scarcely be estimated by the Minister himself.

During the last Convention, I admitted in Christ Church, Savannah, to the Holy Order of Priesthood, the Rev. Thompson L. Smith. This was my only official act during the session of the Convention, and is recorded here because it occurred subsequently to the delivery of my annual address. Mr. Smith is acting as Missionary to the congregations in Cass and Floyd counties.

On the 15th of May, I commenced my annual visitation of St. Paul’s Church, Augusta. I found every thing in a very prosperous condition, and confirmed twelve persons, thus adding to the Church many interesting members.

On the 11th June, my usual services were begun in Trinity Church, Columbus. I officiated several days for this Parish, and confirmed six persons. At a subsequent visitation in the first week of April of the present year, I confirmed six more. This Church continues to flourish under the ministrations of the Rev. Mr. Cairns, and it has become necessary to build additional pews for the accommodation of the increasing congregation. Upon both occasions of my presence with this people, I had occasion to witness the justice of the remarks made in the opening of my address, in the rapidly increasing confidence with the steady ministrations of its Pastor is gaining for him, not only in, but out of the borders of the Church.

Early in June, I visited St. James’ Church, Marietta, attended the examination of the Female Seminary in connexion with that Church, and confirmed two persons. I was very much gratified with the proficiency of the pupils in their various studies, and felt that any recommendation I had publicly given of this Seminary was amply redeemed by what I witnessed upon that interesting occasion.

I did not, at this time, proceed any further West in my visitation, as the stations in Cass and Floyd were without a Missionary. Nor have I yet thought it expedient to visit them, as Mr. Smith has too recently taken charge of them to be in readiness for any Episcopal services. I shall take an early opportunity of giving them a thorough visitation.

Early in August, I visited Emmanuel Church, Athens, and confirmed three persons, two of whom were student in the University of Georgia. One of these has since become a candidate for the Ministry in this Diocese, and is pursuing his studies in the Theological Seminary of Virginia, while another has been deterred from a like dedication of himself to the service of the Church only by circumstances altogether beyond his control. We trust that in due time his way may be clearly opened for the fulfillment of his heart’s desire.

It is with the deepest regret that I learn by a communication from Dr. Stevens, that his connexion with Emmanuel Church and the University will soon cease. In this rupture of his Pastoral and Professional connexion, our beloved brother, after long and prayerful consideration, has believed himself to see the guiding hand of the Holy Ghost, and however much we may lament his loss, we cannot but feel that it may well be so, when we remember how long and pertinaciously he has been called to take charge of the interesting congregation which was gathered and watched over by that faithful Minister of the Gospel, whose praise is in all the Churches-the Rev. Dr. Bedell. Not only will our brother be a sad loss to his own little Flock, but our University and the State will feel that one of their most useful sons and brightest ornaments has been taken from them. Let our prayer for him be that the Spirit of his Master may rest upon him in double measure, and that he may find grace and strength sufficient for the very responsible charge which has been laid upon him. May he always remember that without Christ he can do nothing-that with him he can do all things.

From Athens, I proceeded to Grace Church, Clarkesville, and spent several days in visiting the families of this increasing congregation. I found no candidates for confirmation at Clarkesville, but this is owing, in some measure, to the nature of the Flock, of which Mr. Mower has the oversight. Being almost entirely a summer congregation, and made up of families removing into the Parish from other Churches of the Diocese, the official acts connected with these families are performed at other points anterior to their connexion with Grace Church. The increasing number of families which is settling in this neighborhood already admonishes the Parish of the want of new sittings, and it cannot be long before something will have to be done for the accommodation of the swelling tide of population which is setting towards that beautiful and healthful region of the country. This is another instance of the complete success of perseverance in the maintenance of the Church through almost unexampled difficulties. It was not until two Missionaries had abandoned the Parish almost in despair, that any evidence was given of its probably prosperity, and now one Church can scarcely contain the accumulated worshippers.

Late in September, I left the Diocese for attendance upon the General Convention which assembled in New York in October last. The session was an unusually protracted one, and although there was not much positive legislation, yet many principles were adjusted which will be of future importance to the church. You will bear with me while I tough upon two of these, and shew you their bearing upon the harmony and interests of the Church.

A very serious defect was found to exist in the judicial functions of the House of Bishops, which, while it had power to try and sentence one of its members for any violation of either the Moral or Canon Law, seemed not to possess the right, at least by positive enactment, to reconsider, or modify or reverse that sentence. Having assembled as a Court, and performed its functions and adjourned, it was supposed impossible for the same body to reassemble for reconsideration or reversal. To prevent any discord upon a subject as delicate as this, the Convention passed a Canon (the second, of 1847) by which the Bishops of the Church are entitled, under certain conditions, for which I refer you to the Canon, to remit and terminate or else modify any judicial sentence that may have been imposed by Bishops acting collectively as a Court. This settles a very vexed question, which might, at some future time, have given the church infinite trouble and vexation.

Another principle was likewise settled, which gave rise to long and exceedingly able debates in the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies-debates conducted, very much to the credit of that House, with infinite good temper and Christian courtesy-establishing the relation between indefinite suspension and jurisdiction. It was decided, and justly, in my opinion, that the jurisdiction of a Bishop was not voided by a sentence of indefinite suspension, and while a Canon was passed requiring in all future sentences, where the penalty of suspension was inflicted, that it should specify terms and limits to the sentence, provision was made for the particular case which brought up the discussion of the principles. It was enacted that the Convention or Standing Committee of a Diocese having a Bishop laboring under a disability to perform Episcopal offices, might invite any Bishop, Assistant Bishop or Missionary Bishop to perform Episcopal offices in that Diocese. By the same Canon, the Convention of such Diocese may place it under the full Episcopal charge and authority of the Bishop of another Diocese, or of a Missionary Bishop, until such time as the disability be removed.

The General Convention also manifested, by its modification of the sixth Canon of 1844 and the ninth of 1841, a disposition to render the Ministry of the Church more accessible to men of strength of natural understanding and aptitude to teach, who may not have been able to obtain, from untoward circumstances in early life, all the learning of the schools. I confess that I am glad to see the Church legislating in this direction , for while I value scholarship and education in the Ministry most highly-while all my natural tastes and early predilections are that way-I feel that there is something wanting in the Church which a Ministry of this sort may apply. The Church should never hamper herself with laws which may disable her from using all the talent and earnestness which may lie in her way, but should stand prepared, acting under the general tone and spirit of her institutions, to embrace and work up, for her edification and the glory of her Lord, everything of zeal and devotion that may develope [sic] itself among her sons, however humble their position in life or untoward the circumstances of their boyhood. Many a burning spirit has been lost to our Ministry by the large requisitions which our Canons made of learning and of age. The relaxation to which I allude in the two Canons, has reference to the age of the parties claiming the privileges of those Canons.

The debates in the Missionary Society were also protracted and interesting, and as I took an active part in them, I feel desirous to place before you the views which I advocated, and the reasons of those views. As difficulty had long existed both in the foreign Committee and in the Board of Missions, with respect to the management of the Constantinopolitan Mission, an effort was made, in which I heartily concurred, to modify the organization of the Committees to be raised, having a Bishop at their head, for the conduct of such Missions as were under the superintendence of a Foreign Missionary Bishop. This would have brought our Foreign Missionary Bishops, in their correspondence and operations, in immediate connexion with their Peers, and if the Committees had been organized in good faith, would have given those Bishops a co-operation in which there would have been no sacrifice of conscience on either side, while harmony would have produced increased efficiency. I did no perceive any difficulty in the adjustment of the details of this arrangement, for it would have been only necessary to carry out the principles upon which the Missionary contributions are now permitted to be made, to secure to each Mission its proper share of the funds of the Church. As at present organized, every Parish and every individual has the privilege of designating the particular Mission to which its funds shall be appropriated, and by adhering to this principle, and dividing the unappropriated monies in equal proportion among the several Missions, no collision could take place, and the same Treasurers could manage all the fiscal concerns of the Society. I fear that unless some such plan is adopted, there will be increasing difficulty in our Missionary operations, which may lead to unhappy results. There is but one way of acting harmoniously, where radical difference of opinion exists, and that is by so regulating our organizations as to allow the fullest scope for individual conscientiousness that is compatible with their practical working.

Upon my return to Montpelier in November, I had again the pleasure of finding an interesting state of religious feeling among the pupils of the School, which terminated in the confirmation of eight of the pupils and one of the teachers. Our School has continued, through the Ecclesiastical year, to be always as full of pupils as we could desire, and with the increase of public favor and patronage. I regret to say that no interest has been taken by the Church generally in our request for a Chapel, and I shall have to ask of the Rectors of the churches to give me a collection in each of their Churches for this purpose during my visitation of the current year.

In the month of December, I visited a part of Middle Florida, and found that at its annual meting in the early part of December, which I was unable to attend, the Convention had wisely exonerated me from my provisional charge of the Diocese. During the three years in which I had charge of the Diocese, I had been entirely unable to visit any of the remoter Parishes, and could see no prospect of ever being able to do so. Meanwhile, the provisional charge which was vested in me, prevented those Churches from procuring Episcopal services from other Bishops without the long previous delay of correspondence with me-a correspondence lying frequently for weeks at my residence, while I was absent in remote parts of my Diocese. Under these circumstances, a return to the old arrangement was decidedly the part of wisdom, and general invitations have been extended to the Bishops of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina to perform Episcopal services at such times as may be convenient for them. It will give me pleasure to render such services as may be in my power.

The last Sunday in January, I visited St. Stephen’s Church, Milledgeville, and spent some days in the Parish very pleasantly. I found our Brother laboring under great discouragements, but not at all inclined either to faint or grow weary in his labors. Our flock at that point continues very much the same, having neither increased nor diminished during the interval of my visitations.

During the month of April, I was occupied in the visitation of the Eastern part of my Diocese, St. Simon’s, St. Andrew’s, and St. David’s, Glynn county. The two former of these Parishes I found suffering from emigration to a lamentable degree, and while the Rev. Mr. Brown still maintains his post upon the island, it is with extreme difficulty that a proper compensation can be raised for his services. The absorption of property into a few hands upon the island, has likewise very much diminished his white congregation. The change was very marked since my last visitation. The negroes upon the island continue to form a very interesting portion of his flock, and he cannot be too highly commended for his laborious devotion to their spiritual wants. He presented seventeen candidates for confirmation, four of whom were white and thirteen coloured.

St. Andrew’s Parish is, for the present, without a Rector, Mr. Smith having resigned his charge of the united Parishes of St. Andrew’s and St. David’s, and removed to Cass and Floyd counties. This Parish is in a very depressed condition, arising mainly from the great emigration of the original members of the congregation and from the consequent impoverishment of the town. It is also laboring under the pressure of debt, but I have reason to believe that an effort will be made the next Fall to relieve itself from its embarrassment, and once again become an active and working Parish. Let it have, my Brethren, your sympathy and prayers and brotherly aid.

St. David’s, Glynn county, is in a more prosperous condition. Although without a Pastor, it is not for lack of interest or means that they find themselves in this condition. They make a very liberal offer of support, and are preparing to build a Parsonage for the accommodation of any future Rector. This is a very interesting field of labor, and calls loudly for some pious and well learned man to occupy its borders.

During Passion Week, my time was spent with the Churches of Savannah, and Easter Sunday I confirmed in Christ Church fifteen persons, seven of whom were from that Parish and eight from St. John’s. These Churches are both increasing in strength, and growing, I trust, in spirituality and in power.

I spent on night with the Rev. Mr. Williams, and preached for his interesting charge upon the Ogeechee. I know no field of labor in the Diocese more worthy of the zeal and devotedness of a Christian heart than this, and trust that our Brother may be long spared to feed these servants with the bread of life. I have still to lament that so few of our Ministers are willing to enter upon this service, and nothing can be said to the masters of their obligations and responsibilities so long as we find the Clergy of the Church declining this work. It is indeed an arduous and self-sacrificing labor, calling for infinite faith and patience, bur having with it the promise of rich blessings and the assurance of a certain reward.

The first Sunday after Easter was spent with Christ Church, Macon, when I had the happiness of admitting into connexion with the Church, through confirmation, four persons, who will, I trust, prove a rich blessing to the cause of Christ. This Parish is in a state of growing prosperity, and is beginning to feel straitened in its present borders.

During the past year, I have transferred no Clergyman from this Diocese, and have received the Rev. Mr. Harlow from that of Kentucky. This makes the present number of Clergy canonically connected with the Diocese of Georgia twenty-four.

Since our last Convention, Mr. Wesley P. Gahagan has become a candidate for Orders, and is pursuing his studies at the Theological Seminary of Virginia, and Mr. Geo. McAuley has been transferred from the Diocese of New York. These, with Mr. Perdue, are our candidates for Orders.

The subject of an Ecclesiastical Gazette was carried up to the last General Convention with your consent and approbation. It was most respectfully received by that body and referred to able Committees of both Houses, but owing to the absorbing interest of the topics which occupied the attention of that assembly, the Committees were not convened, and therefore made no report in the case. At some future day, it is not improbable that the matter will receive the sanction of the Church.

Nothing has been sent down for your consideration as a Conventional body, save a proposition to alter the first article of the Constitution of the Church, so as to substitute the first Wednesday in September for the first Wednesday in October as the time for holding the session of the General Convention.

All which is respectfully submitted, with the prayer that the Great Head of the Church may so direct and prosper you in all your consultations, that they may conduce to the glory of God and the extension of the kingdom of the Redeemer.

Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia.

The above address was transcribed from the Journal of the Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church meeting in 1848.
Every effort was made to transcribe the text as is with no updating of the style or correction to errors in the text.