Bishop’s Address of 1980


Bishop Garnier, My brothers of the clergy, my brothers and sisters of the Diocese, friends all: Greetings in the Name of Jesus Christ, Lord of the Church.

Our diocesan Convention’s coming when it does, as I prepare my Convention address each year I often have in the back of my mind recollections of the President’s State of the Union message. As this message seems usually to look only briefly at the present state, then more to the future, so tonight I find myself attending mainly to our future in this diocese.

Against the backdrop of a grim and uncertain international situation in which the atheistic materialism of Communism becomes more obviously menacing, and a discouraging, sometimes frightening, economic condition at home, the Church stands, as she has stood for two thousand years, at once a part of her world, but at the same time rooted in Eternity.

Paul ReevesThe diocesan statistics which you have received indicate that our diocese seems healthy as regards membership, activity, and finances. The budget you will receive tomorrow allows for modest expansion of mission work and of staff next Summer at Honey Creek. Our Camp and Conference thrives under new management.

The spheres of activity of the Church may be classified in several ways. One diagram names four functions: Worship, Nurture, Outreach, and Service. The Church is Christ’s Body, and these four spheres of activity may be seen as extensions of our Lord’s life here on earth.

First and foremost is Worship. The earthly life of Jesus Christ was one magnificent, triumphant act of worship. I do not mean His participation in the worship at synagogue and Temple; I mean that His life was one uninterrupted act of glorifying His Father.

So the Church has continued this act, imperfectly, of course, but, we hope, acceptably. Prayer and Eucharistic worship are offered daily around the world, and we take our part in this splendid offering. The past two decades have seen sweeping changes in the forms of Worship not only in our own Church, but even more dramatically in the Roman Catholic Church, and also in many of the protestant denominations. We now have a new Standard Prayer Book.

For some it incarnates changes in doctrine and attitude that simply are unacceptable. But at the same time it offers a richness and flexibility Anglicans never had before in an official Prayer Book; and here I reiterate my belief that the new Book can be used as the text of, and guide to, our worship in such way as to deepen the devotion and the understandings of our people.

For the majority of Episcopalians, the largest part of their connexion with the Church is in the context of Sunday worship. This means that there is an awesome responsibility laid on those who have in their hands the ordering of this worship. This means principally the clergy, but it involves also musicians, readers, acolytes, altar guilds, and those responsible for the upkeep and arrangement of the building.

Here conscience calls me to express three cautions which will not be unanimously accepted, but which I think are needed. The first has to do with the way liturgy is done. All clergy are not equally skilled liturgists, and a few may not accord worship as much importance as they should. The freedom and flexibility of the period of trial and experimentation has led sometimes to sloppiness, sentimentality, and what is seen by some people as irreverence – altho no doubt these things never were intended. The laudable move to involve more people in the services often has involved people who have received inadequate instruction as to what they are supposed to do or how to do it.

It is time that we – especially we clergy – take an honest look at what we are doing. Most of us need deeper study in the art of Worship – an art which, incidentally, did not begin when Prayer Book revision began. The hard-learned principles of worship are ancient, and like human nature these principles do not change, however much transitory expressions of the principles may – and should – change.

The second caution I enter regards music. There has grown up a body of music largely connected with the several so-called renewal movements which should be used with greater discrimination than it often is. Much of it simply is not suited for formal worship, however appropriate and effective it may he in informal settings. In some cases the meaning of the words will not stand the light of theological reflexion (a criticism which also can be made of some of the hymns in our hymnal.) Some of the music, however singable it may be, can hardly be seen as worthy of offering to God. For example, I know of few modern tunes of the Sanctus which express the awe that should accompany the singing the word, ‘Holy.’

Here again reexamination is needed; and I hope some skilled advice can be had to guide us.

The third caution has to do with education. Many of the problems we have had with the new forms of worship have come about because people have not understood why changes were made, and more basically, what particular doctrines really mean as expressed in the new Book, or for that matter, in the 1928 Book.

My observation is that where thorough teaching accompanied the introduction of the new Book, problems have been minimal. This is not to say that any amount of instruction can correct doctrinal error or put majesty into language where it is not present. But proper instruction can, I believe, put the worshipper in a position to use with profit whatever book is in his hand.

So yet another responsibility is laid on us clergy: to teach the full and true Faith of the Church; and there is a parallel responsibility laid on all our people: to take the time and make the effort to learn.

This leads naturally to the second, sphere of activity of the Church, that which I have called Nurture. As the early life of Jesus was a perfect act of worship, which the Church seeks to perpetuate here and now, so He nurtured the spiritual lives of His disciples. This He did in opening to them the deep meaning of the Scriptures, in teaching them to pray, and in helping them understand the real meanings of everyday experiences and relationships.

So, this second function of the Church is to provide and strengthen all the supports which can help us grow in the Christian life. Where we have failed in this area I believe the failure is due mainly to a failure to set clear and realistic goals and a corollary failure to put goals in a right order of priority. Too much church activity is an unthought repetition of what we’ve-always-done – here ‘always’ meaning ‘for the past five or ten years.’

We do not need to apologise for social activities that really foster Christian fellowship. But my experience is that a deeper level of fellowship most often grows out of shared activity that has as its object something other than sociability.

There are many activities which belong in the area of Christian Nurture, but tonight I will emphasize only two. The first is prayer. I recently read in an English publication a sentence that caught my attention: “Parish priests should consider that their greatest duty to their people lies in teaching them to pray.” This I believe.

Again we face the matter of priorities. What is the end and the aim of the Christian life? Too easily we assume that the answer is self-evident, and as a consequence fail to come to terms with the reality. Here, the children of this world are, as our Lord said, wiser than the children of light. [Luke 16:8]. Consider the clear aims of many irreligious people, their careful planning and their unremitting work to achieve these aims, whether their goal be money or power or fame or position or pleasure – and consider how often they achieve their goal, simply because they know exactly what they want and work, even sacrifice, for it.

In contrast, consider us Christians, how unsure we often are of our goals and how feeble our efforts to achieve them.

In the long run I may be of better service to you tonight if I do not try to spell out what your goal should be, but rather charge you with prayer and study on the matter. Nothing less than your salvation may hang on your finding the answer. None of this will be achieved apart from regular, disciplined, devout prayer; all of it can be done in and thru prayer. Learn, then, to pray.

The second element in Christian Nurture is knowledge of the Bible. This knowledge comes by use of all the ways the Church has learned -studying the Bible, pondering, puzzling, praying – always with the sure sense that here is the very Word of God. I mean reading according to a plan, and using the best helps available; I mean setting aside time to do this, and not grudgingly, but with faith and joy that God still speaks to those who listen.

Saint Jerome said it tellingly; “To be ignorant of the Scriptures is to be ignorant of Christ.”

Nor is all Bible teaching equally reliable. Too many Bible teachers have peculiar biases that do not reflect the truth as we have received it; so choose your teacher with care.
This leaves two spheres of activity, those I have called Outreach and Service. Much of the Church’s failure in these areas is the result of neglect of the first two, Worship and Nurture. It is difficult to communicate that which you do not know, to give that which you do not have. Activities are less demanding than disciplined prayer and worship. Once more, we need to get our priorities in proper order.

Let me read you three questions and answers from the Catechism in our new Prayer Book (p. 855)
Q: What is the mission of the Church ?
A: The Mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
Q: How does the Church pursue its mission ?
A: The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
Q: Through whom does the Church carry out its mission ?
A: The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

As we come to the beginning of our diocese’s program of Venture in Mission, we do well to reflect on these questions and answers. The spheres of Outreach and Service are part of this program. We go into Venture in Mission having considered it for two years. We go into it with the confidence that it will be successful. But by ‘successful’ I mean much more than reaching a financial goal; that ‘much more’ means coming to a new awareness of our responsibilities as individuals and as a diocese for Outreach and Service.

Outreach has other names – Mission Apostolate, Evangelism. They all express the sense of Christian responsibility to hold out Christ to the world. Outreach is needed as badly in Savannah as it is in the Sudan, as badly in Blakely as it is in China.

Times have changed, and so have some of the particulars of mission. When I was young I heard missionaries home from foreign fields. How well they succeeded may be seen in the fact that many of their mission fields now are flourishing churches, staffed by their own people. There are as many Anglicans in Uganda today as there are Episcopalians in the United States.

But the job is very far from complete, at home and abroad. It is reckoned that only about half of our fellow countrymen are church members, and that no more than a third of that half are committed Christians. The job of Outreach is far from complete.

Outreach – Mission – Apostolate – Evangelism – is achieved by you individually, and by the Church institutionally. To give to the support of missions does not free me from being a missionary, an evangelist. Many Episcopalians are put off by the more aggressive and emotional evangelistic approaches, especially when they come from fellow-Episcopalians. No doubt the exuberance of people who have had a new experience sometimes is intimidating. Some evangelists are insensitive to persons as they try to stamp everyone in their own mould. The offensiveness becomes all but unpardonable when it takes the form of marking as second-class fellow Christians who have not had a certain emotional experience.

On the other hand, the virtual secrecy with which so many Episcopalians shroud their inner lives is scarcely calculated to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. If we are not willing to witness to the power of God in our own lives it is likely to mean either that we have an exaggerated idea of what constitutes good taste, or else that we have not experienced the power.

In his Convention address on May 8, 1956, Bishop Stuart said: “It is high time the Episcopal Church rose from the dignified posture of waiting to be discovered . . . and went out into the highways and hedges seeking the souls for whom our Lord died.”

So much for the personal apostolate. Venture in Mission will be the tool by means of which we corporately can reach out. A third of the monies raised will go to mission work within the diocese. Our record of expanding our outreach has not been good. Now we hope to enlarge that outreach. This will be done by providing for the establishment of new work and also by strengthening existing work.

Of course the spheres of activity overlap. The small percentage of Venture-in-Mission money that will go to the Conference Center can be seen as strengthening the Nurture of our own people, and at the same time enhancing the facilities for reaching out to others.

Similarly, the third of the money that will go to Haiti will involve the overlapping of the spheres of Outreach and Service, helping our sister diocese in Haiti to do her work more effectively, and at the same time to serve those of any or no faith who simply need help.

The fourth sphere, that of Service, again is an extension of the ministry of Jesus. When He healed and fed people, He did not require them to sign up as disciples. His parable of the Good Samaritan made it clear for all time that our concern is to be with anyone who needs help.

No doubt much of this aspect of Christian ministry has been taken over by secular agencies and institutions, but we do well to remember that there remain ministries that the Church can and should perform where need is – resettlement of refugees, as one instance, down-town ministries as another. The question is asked: “How can you feed a billion hungry people?” The answer is: “One at a time.” Our service may have to be limited, but we must do what we can do.

Finally, I call you, as representatives of your congregations to join wholeheartedly in Venture in Mission, when the program begins next month, take your part. All of the clergy here, and many of the laity, are leaders in your congregations. Give leadership.

Everyone in this diocese will be asked to give, and to give generously. Some people see the Church as an institution that is trying to get their money. If you see it that way, it is easy to say, ‘No’.

But if you see the Church as yourself and other people united to continue the work of the Lord Christ here and now, it looks different, and saying ‘No’ becomes impossible.

Two hundred and forty-seven years ago – February 12th, 1733 – English colonists came ashore only a few hundred feet from where you sit tonight. With them was Dr. Henry Herbert, the first of a succession of English clergy to minister in the Colony of Georgia. From that time until the American Revolution our Church was supported by missionary funds from England. Had it not been for the faith and the generosity of those people whose names we cannot know, we would not be here.

To take this for granted and not to see in it our own missionary imperative would be parasitic.

Freely have ye received. Freely give.