Bishop’s Address of 1846

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

Brethren of the Clergy and Laity:

Scattered as we are over an immense area, separated from one another by distances which render a frequent inter-communion almost impracticable, we feel the importance of that canonical arrangement which annually convenes us that we may ask each other “what of the night?” and advise together of the things pertaining to Christ and his Holy Church.  May our present meeting be one of unmingled affection, and may the Holy Ghost, who alone can lead us into the way of Truth and make us to hold the Faith in unity of spirit and in the Bond of Peace, be present with us to fill our minds with wisdom from above and our hearts with the most excellent gift of Charity.

We all feel deeply the separation, nay the isolation of which I have just spoken, but none so forcibly experience its bitterness as those newly admitted to the cares and responsibilities of the Ministry.  Entering, for the most part without the slightest previous practical training upon this arduous work, a work which caused even Paul to ask “who is sufficient for these things?”  hurried from the scholastic retirement of the study or the Seminary to a scene of action upon which angels might fear to tread and to the decision of questions involving the highest interests of immortal souls, our Deacons are made to bear a burden almost too great for them under any circumstances, but intolerable when cut off from the sympathy of their brethren and the advice of their superiors.  With many, wisdom is learned through a bitter experience; with many more, it is never learned at all, and men, who under a more wholesome training, might have become wise to win souls, sink, after a few years of toil and anguish, under the weight of their ministry, or grow faithless of any spiritual results, resting in a cold routine of formal duties without life or even the hope of life, and this condition of things, met with throughout the whole extent of the Church, has forced upon me the question “How can this growing evil be remedied and how can the Deacons in a widely extended Diocese of Georgia, be spared this terrible ordeal of ministerial character?”

Our Ecclesiastical organization offers, I know, some remedy for this evil in the visitation of the Parishes by the Bishop, but this can only be partial because of the infrequency and hurried nature of those visits, and while wisely arranged, is yet not sufficient for the wants of the younger and more inexperienced clergy.  What they need for at least the term of their diaconate, is a wise counsellor for ever at hand who may direct them, out of large experience, into the surest paths for their feet and into the pracitcal wisdom which is necessary for winning souls to Christ.  As meeting some of the difficulties of the case and as calculated in some measure to relieve the young from the cares and responsibilities of a Parochial cure, two plans have suggested themselves to me, which deserve the consideration of those who may, by their position, be enabled to assist in the removal of this crying and increasing evil.  These I will present briefly and as leading me directly to my first official acts in the present ecclesiastical year.

The first of these is that the Rector of each of the more firmly established churches of the Diocese should take into his family as his son and into his Parish as his curate one of the newly ordained Deacons and without constituting him his regular assistant, should employ him in the duties specified in the ordination service for Deacons, giving him food and raiment wherewith he should be content, and allowing him sufficient time for systematic study and pulpit preparation.  The ordination service clearly points this out as the position of the Deacon and if the Churche’s view was fairly carried out, the arrangement would be of incalculable service to all parties, the Rector, the people and the Deacon.  To the Rector, as freeing him from many matters of detail which he must personally attend to unless relieved by such an adjunct.  To the people, by leaving their Rector more time for pulpit preparation and parochial visiting.  To the Deacon, by introducing him gradually into the practical work of his sacred office and accumulating for him a treasure of experience, without the bitter memory of blunders never to be remedied and of follies ever to be repented of.  Such an arrangement would also strengthen the Diocese by increasing the number of her Clergy and preparing for the Bishop a body of young men prepared to move at any moment to any part of the Diocese.  Already has the Rector of Trinity Church, Columbus, asked for such a curate, with the promise of an adequate support and there are at least three other churches in the Diocese which might advantageously adopt such an arrangement.  Its expense would be very trifling, and might be partly sustained from the offerings of the Lord’s table, if the Deacons entered upon it in the true spirit which becomes their order, a spirit of lowliness and humility and teachableness and self denial.  How much suffering would not a few years of such discipline save them in after life!

Even this, however, if carried out to its fullest extent would not remedy the difficulty in a Diocese like Georgia, and another plan has suggested itself to my mind as comprising within it some of the elements of a more efficient organization.  It is that the clergy of each portion of the Diocese, arranging it according to great natural divisions, should meet together at certain intervals and spend some days in strengthening and confirming each other by prayer and an interchange of thought and feeling.  These associations, if conducted discreetly and in order would coincide with those meetings in the English Church which are subordinate to Convocation and Episcopal visitation, such as those of the Archdeacons and Rural Deans and the assemblages of the clergy of the Peculiars.  They would also be in accordance with the practice of many of the Dioceses of the American Church, such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Virginia, where they have been conducted with signal benefit to the clergy and greatly to the increase and edification of the Church.  Such associations as these bringing the older and the younger clergy into frequent contact and communion would make the former feel the importance of a high and holy example and would return to the latter to their Parishes endued with fresh zeal and renewed energy for the work of the Lord.

This train of thought has been induced by a recurrence to my first official act in the past ecclesiastical year, the admission of four young men to the order of Deacons in the Church of Christ.  But one of these four has been during the year of his Diaconate, I allude to the Rev. Mr. Thackara, within reach of advice from an older and more experienced brother in the ministry.  Mr. Mower I was obliged to locate at one remote extremity of the Diocese and Mr. Ellis at another, both in highly responsible positions but cut off from the sympathy and forced to act for themselves in every emergency that might arise.  To say that they have acted prudently is to do them only scant justice; they have purchased to themselves a good degree and will all be prepared very soon to receive it.  The fourth, the Rev. Mr. Okeson, removed immediately to Indiana, where he has been laboring earnestly and successfully first at Evansville and now at LaFayette.— This ordination was held on the 11th of May, 1845, in St. Stephen’s Church, Milledgeville, during the sitting of our last Diocesan Convention, but subsequent to the delivery of my Episcopal Address.

Immediately after the adjournment of the Convention, I made my annual visit to St. Paul’s Church, Augusta, where I remained several days, engaged in services of various kinds, and on Sunday the 18th, confirmed eleven persons.  My visitation was closed on Monday evening the 19th.  This congregation in spite of a constant drain Westward, steadily increases in numbers and efficiency.

The early part of June was spent in organizing our school at Montpelier, which I am happy to say has prospered exceedingly during the past year and is at this moment, in point of efficiency, discipline and instruction beyond what it has ever been before.  It needs nothing but the steady support of the Church to make it most useful to the Diocese and the State.  Its corps of teachers is the best which I have been able to procure either in this country or in Europe, no pains and no expense having been spared for that purpose.  Its apparatus for Philosophical and Artistical instruction has been purchased from the best mechanicians and artists of London and almost every day is adding something to the facilities for improvement offered to the pupils.  The place has been very much beautified within the year and we are now engaged in finishing a fourth building, which will add very much to the convenience of the Institute.  These things we have been enabled to effect, through the excellent management of the Rev. Mr. Johnson, out of the ordinary income of the school, besides paying a portion of the debt which was found attached to the institute at its change of officers.  The remainder of that debt we can easily discharge out of the ordinary income of the school, if the Lord continues to bless us with the light of his countenance and to turn the hearts of his people towards us.

There is one object, however, connected with the Institute, which I conceive to be peculiarly the work of the Churches and which I am bold, in its behalf, to ask of them, as although a distinct church school, it has never received from the Church a dollar.  I allude to a Chapel which is now almost all that is wanting to make our establishment very complete.  Hitherto we have worshipped in a very common and open house, from which we are driven into our rooms alike by the heats of summer and the colds of winter.  This has continued long enough and it behoves the Church, in a spirit of liberality, to give to her children whoare training there one day to become mothers in Israel, a place of worship in which they may use the services of their Church in their beauty and perfectness.  It is mortifying when asked for the Chapel of the Institute, to be obliged to point to the meanest of our buildings as that in which God is worshipped.  I trust that the Rectors of Churches and the Laymen present in this Convention will pledge themselves before we separate, for such a sum as will authorise us immediately to undertake the erection of a neat yet commodious edifice for the worship of God.

As I have not found that my residence at Montpelier has interfered at all with my Episcopal duties, having performed, during the past year, including three visits to Florida, more service than ever in one year before, and having travelled near six thousand miles, I have determined to continue my residence at the Institute for the present and carry out, so far as I may be permitted to do so, the designs of its liberal founder and such other plans as may open before us as we proceed with its improvements.  Its central position affords me great facilities for movement in any direction at a moment’s warning and our strong corps of teachers enables me to devolve my personal duties, without difficulty, upon very competent substitutes during my absences.  I do not intend these remarks, however, to be construed into a pledge that I must remain there always, as the principle of action which I have laid down is to keep myself so untrammelled as to be able, at any moment, to assume that position which may, for the time being, be most for the benefit of the Church.  No other position appears to me to meet the office and duty of a Bishop.

In the latter part of June I visited the North-Western portion of my Diocese and on Sunday, June 22d, Consecrated the Church of the Ascension upon the Etowah River in Cass county.  This is a very neat Church Edifice, beautifully located near the banks of the river, with a glebe of some Fifty or Sixty acres of tolerable land, having a Parsonage and School House of very decent construction, and all I believe, paid for through the liberality of a very few individuals—The state of the Mission at this point will be reported to you by the Rev. Mr. Thackara.

On Sunday, the 29th June, I confirmed in St. James’ Church Marietta, nine persons, a very large class for so feeble a parish.  This Church, with its excellent Female Seminary, I understand to be in a very prosperous condition, for which the Church is indebted very much, under God, to the liberality and devotion of its Rector, the Rev. Thos. F. Scott.  Not only has he given his time and his talents to this enterprise, working night and day to further the designs of the friends of the Church in Marietta, but contributing largely of his own private means to the advancement of the same good work.  I feel sure that he will receive the reward he most covets, that of seeing the Church of his affections take deep root in the interesting field of his labors, and the School for which he is toiling so earnestly, spread light and knowledge among those who must one day be the mothers of the State.  Mr. Scott’s report will give you a detail of the condition of his Female Institute, it being left for me to say no more than that the experience of a year has entirely fulfilled the confidence which I expressed a year ago in its prospective usefulness.

My next absence from Montpelier was in the latter part of July and the beginning of August, when I visited Lexington, Oglethorpe Co. and Emmanuel Church, Athens.  At the former place I confirmed one individual, and found the condition of the Church the same as when I visited it two years previous.  No change had taken place in the number of our Communicants and the continued decay of the village forbade any attempt to organize a congregation or build an edifice.  The Rector of Emmanuel Church continues to serve them once a month.

On Sunday, the 3d August I confirmed six persons in Emmanuel Church, Athens.  Services were held in the Church several times during the preceding week and were well attended.  Of this Church I need say nothing as you now sit in it and are yourselves witnesses of its convenience and beauty.  Its growth in number has been steady and onward.

In October I visited Grace Church, Clarkesville, and found the edifice much improved since my last visitation and the Congregation very much increased and strengthened, indeed, as a summer Church, it is becoming one of the most interesting Parishes in my Diocese.  During those months the church is already becoming too small for its congregation and the rapid increase of emigration and settlement renders it probable that very soon it must be enlarged to meet the wants of the Parish.  A Parsonage with a few acres of land has been purchased during the past year and is now inhabited by the minister and his family.  I found one candidate for confirmation at this point of visitation.

On Sunday, the 2d November, I administered the rite of Confirmation in St. Luke’s church, Montpelier, when four persons were presented by the Rector, two of them young ladies belonging to the School and two others, gentlemen residing in the neighborhood.  For lack of accommodation, we have not hitherto encouraged the attendance of the neighbors at the Chapel of our Institute, but should we be enabled to erect a commodious Church, I feel no doubt that many families would feel it a privilege to be permitted to worship with us and unite with us as a Church.  This is an additional inducement to the Churches to respond promptly to the appeal made to them in behalf of a Chapel for our Institute.

On Sunday, Nov. 9, I admitted to the Holy Order of Deacons in Christ Church, Macon, Messrs. Wm. C. Williams who had been for two years studying under my roof in Savannah, and Thompson L. Smith, transferred to me as a candidate for orders from the Diocese of Virginia.  These Deacons are both engaged in the Eastern portion of my Diocese, Mr. Smith at Darien and Mr. Williams as Missionary upon the rice plantations on the Northern side of the great Ogeechee River.  This is our first distinct Mission to the Blacks entered upon in my Diocese, and gives promise, so far as it has proceeded, of being eminently successful in its results.  Mr. Williams is pursuing the right plan, identifying himself with his people as their Pastor and continuing with them during the whole year.  He will reap his reward both in this world and in the world to come.  Upon the same occasion in Christ Church, Macon, I baptized and confirmed an invalid adult, who has since closed his pilgrimage in faith and peace.

On the 16th November, I visited St. Stephen’s, Milledgeville, then under the charge of the Rev. Rufus M. White and confirmed three persons.  Unavoidable circumstances made the class smaller than it would otherwise have been, and the subsequent removal of Mr. White to Savannah, has cast a temporary shade over the prospects of St. Stephen’s, which I trust will soon be dissipated by the efforts of his successor.  I preached several times during my visit at St. Stephen’s.

On Sunday, the 7th Dec. I preached three times in the Churches of Savannah and thence proceeded to my visitation of East Florida, which consumed nearly all the remainder of the month of December.  Upon my return I spent two days with the Church of the Messiah at St. Mary’s, under the charge of the Rev. Mr. Shanklin, and on Christmas day I confirmed two persons and administered the Lord’s Supper to a considerable number.  Since my visit, a Church building has been contracted for and is in the course of erection, the money being nearly all in hand for the payment of its cost.  Mr. Shanklin continues to labor at this Missionary post and has abundant cause for encouragement and hope.

On Sunday, the 28th Dec. I preached in St. Andrews Church, Darien, but regret to say, that I have not been able to visit the group of Churches lying in this immediate neighborhood during the past year.  St. David’s, Glynn Co. has been without a Clergyman, owing to the inability of the Rev. Mr. Martow to fulfil an engagement entered into with him, and St. Andrews has been supplied only since the ordination of the Rev. Mr. Smith.  Mr. Brown continues to labor successfully and devotedly at St. Simons.  I baptised one infant in St Andrew’s Church, Darien.

The early part of January was spent in Middle Florida, in attendance upon the Convention of the Diocese of Florida at Tallahassee and in the visitation of one or more of the neighboring Churches.  Upon my return into Georgia I visited Albany, Baker County, where the Rev. Mr. Ellis had been laboring since the preceding May, and on Sunday, January 18th , I preached three times and baptised four infants.  I found a very convenient room arranged at this place for the accommodation of our worshippers and a very good feeling pervading the community in connexion with our services.  On Monday, the 19th, I visited the plantations of Messrs. Nightingale and Johnson about 18 miles from Albany, where I baptised Forty five persons, six of whom were infants, and confirmed sixty five adults, all the slaves of the gentlemen above named.  This was one of the most interesting confirmations I have held in my Diocese.  Every thing conspired to make it so, its unexpectedness, the deep interest of the master and mistress of this property, the earnestness of the candidates themselves and its being, in a measure, the first fruits of the labors of the Rev. Mr. Ellis among that class of people.  Two years ago, and these same people, who, under persevering instruction, were now voluntarily and gladly submitting themselves to the ordinances of the Church, had doggedly refused to even listen to the instructions which were offered them.  This should be an encouragement to our young men especially, not to faint nor grow weary too soon in their efforts with this class of people.

On the 15th Feb. 1846, I admitted in Christ Church Macon to the Holy order of Deacons, Dr. William Flint.  Dr. Flint is now absent from the Diocese, but will, I trust, yet feel himself at liberty to return and labor among us.

In March I made my visitation of Trinity Church, Columbus, and on Sunday, the 6th, confirmed fifteen persons on public and two in private.  I found this Church, after an interval of two years, in a very flourishing condition, there having been a large accession both to the congregation and communion during that lapse of time.—Reckoning the communicants upon the Alabama side of the Chattahoochie, who really belong to Trinity Church, having been always attached to that fold, this Church ranks, in point of number of its communicants as second only to Christ Church, Savannah.—This is a most rapid increase when we remember, that only ten years ago it was the feeblest Missionary station in the Diocese.  What room for encouragement to those who are always ready to despond respecting the progress of our communion.

From Trinity Church, Columbus, I proceeded to visit Western Florida and was back again at Montpelier towards the end of March.  On Sunday, the 29th of that month, I admitted in Christ Church, Macon, Mr. Gardner Jones, late a licentiate of the German Reformed Church, to the Holy Order of Deacons.  Mr. Jones is at present engaged in Teaching, but will be ready at any moment to take his post in the field of labor.

Passion Week was spent with my Churches in Savannah, enjoying with them that season of religious solemnity to every Christian heart.  On Easter day I confirmed in St. John’s Church nine persons, two of whom were from Christ Church.  The Rev. Rufus M. White is laboring very acceptably in St. John’s and Mr. Neufville still continues his labor of love among the people of Christ Church, with whom he has been identified for nearly twenty years.

On Sunday, the 19th April, I visited Christ Church, Macon, and confirmed in that Church twelve persons most of them in the very bloom of youth, devoting themselves as I trust, understandingly to the service of the Lord.  One of the features of this confirmation which made it peculiarly interesting to the Rector of the Parish, was the circumstance that six of them were young men, who came prepared to give themselves heartily to the advancement of the interests of the Church and to uphold the Rector in his arduous duties.

This act closed one of the most laborious years which I have spent since my entrance upon the Episcopate, for in addition to the immense amount of travel which I have enumerated, nearly six thousand miles, I have been engaged, during all the intervals, in assiduous attention to the interests of the school at Montpelier and in conducting a correspondence almost enough in itself to occupy the time of a single individual.  These things I mention not in a spirit of vain boasting, but to disabuse the mind of any who may suppose, that in retiring to Montpelier I was actuated by any expectation of greater ease or more rest.  I have long since learned that the only rest for a Bishop is that which remaineth for him in common with the other people of God.

Since my last Conventional Address, I have transferred the Rev. Mr. Okeson to the Diocese of Indiana and the Rev. Richard T. Brown to that of Virginia.  I cannot part from Mr. Brown without acknowledging the usefulness of his services while in Georgia and without confessing that much of the increase of St. Andrews Church, Darien, was due to his zeal and devotion.  I have received into the Diocese the Rev. Richard Johnson from South Carolina and have ordained eight Clergymen, Messrs. Thackara, Mower, Ellis, Okeson, Williams, Smith, Fint and Jones, all of whom remain connected with the Diocese except Mr. Okeson.  Our present number of Clergy is twenty-three.

Before closing this address I would again call the attention of the Churches of the Diocese to our Missions and to the Building Fund, upon which must very much depend the progress of our Diocese.  The larger Churches must abate none of their zeal and the weaker ones must remember that it is a number of small rills which make up a large and flowing river.  Let all, strong and weak, heartily unite in pouring into the Treasury of the riches wherewith God has blessed them and we shall be enabled to extend our borders in various directions where the way is opened before us, but which we cannot occupy for fear of embarrassment.  The renewal of the Building Fund is also important as giving me the means of assisting weak Parishes in the erection of Church edifices, and without being felt by the individuals who contribute to it, it is felt most sensibly and seen most strikingly in the beautiful edifices which it has helped to rear in the last few years.  The Church, in which you are now assembled, is one of the fruits of that arrangement

In conclusion, my beloved Brethren of the Clergy, I would say to you, that all our efforts for the permanent establishment of the Church of God must be unavailing unless we plant it upon the preaching of the cross of Jesus Christ.  The temptation lies heavily upon us to forsake that which God has instituted as his power and his wisdom unto salvation, and to place before immortal souls motives drawn from the earth, and arguments deduced from the reason or the fitness or the utility of things.  But no motive will be constraining enough to change the natural man into the spiritual save the love of Christ and no reasons can avail with the corrupted Heart save those which are advanced by the Holy Ghost, when he takes of the things of Christ and shews them unto men.  Unless these instrumentalities are faithfully used in the foolishness of preaching, and these agencies earnestly invoked in prayer, your labor will be all in vain and your words though full of reason and eloquence, but sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.


The above address was transcribed from the Journal of the Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church meeting in 1846.
Every effort was made to transcribe the text as is with no updating of the style or correction to errors in the text.