Bishop’s Address of 1953

The Rt. Rev. Middleton Stuart Barnwell
Given at Calvary Episcopal Church, Americus, Georgia
April 14, 1953

We, of the Diocese of Georgia, come together again to review the work of the past year and to plan for the year to come. We come with a Prayer to God to forgive our many failures, and with thankfulness to Him for the many blessings which He has showered upon us. To me, it has been a very encouraging year, and I believe that this feeling of encouragement is shared by all of us here. We have passed through one more General Convention of the Church, which met in the city of Boston last year without suffering any appreciable harm, we have pledged and are paying our increased quota to the National Council for work throughout the world.

So far as our own work in the Diocese of Georgia is concerned, your increased missionary giving has made it possible to make some decided progress. The cost of missionary work has greatly increased in the last few years due entirely to inflation, and we have been able to make some small needed readjustment in the matter of salaries. We have been able to assist with some building through the diocese, instances of which I shall mention later, but there are needs here which we have not been able as yet to touch. When we come to consider our budget for the coming year of 1954, which was tentatively worked out by the Executive Council last week, which will come before you tomorrow for your discussion, you will see not very many changes have been made from last year. Our general cost of doing business will remain practically the same, but we are planning to spend at least five thousand dollars more on Advance Work than we are doing now. Some of this increase I hope can be secured from savings in operating costs as the aided missions throughout the diocese take on larger shares of ministers salaries. Any money so saved can of course he used for the development of new work, and is equivalent to increased giving for advance. We need a minimum of six men in the field right now, and good men are hard to steal from other dioceses. We are pretty much forced to depend on the men we can produce from the diocese, and in past years we have not done so well in this as we should have. Last year I lost two promising graduates of the Virginia Seminary from causes which were beyond our control. As you know we have a good crop of men in the seminaries now, and more are offering. If we do not suffer more losses, I anticipate that in another year we shall be in much better position.

Looking at the Diocese as a whole, I can see almost everywhere concrete evidence of an increase in missionary interest and loyalty. Our people generally, are beginning to see Georgia as a state in which the Church has many wonderful opportunities for growth.

But, sometimes it seems strange to me how slowly information travels. I was talking the other day to a churchman whose family have been churchmen for generations, and he was surprised to learn that the work in the Diocese for which I am responsible, is financed by and through the missionary giving of people like himself. He told me that he had been holding off on missionary giving as much as possible, because there was so much work to do here in Georgia. We must not make the mistake of taking it for granted that other people in the Church knew as much about its management as we who are gathered here. We are a picked group. Most of us are regular church attendants and read some church paper. But the great mass of our people are still ignorant of many things which are commonplace to us, and we should become as it were, voices crying in the wilderness, passing on the facts of Church life to many who love the Church, but walk as yet in darkness. I believe that the increase we have seen in our giving for missions is due to the efforts we have made to spread knowledge abroad. There are no people more generous than ours to all good causes of which they know. Our own little paper The Church in Georgia goes into practically every home in the Diocese, but I fear that not all of them are read. Each issue carries the story of the growth of a parish or mission, and anything we can do to encourage the spread of this paper, and the reading of it will go toward the strengthening of our missionary endeavor. One of our great national papers carries at its mast-head these words: “That the people may know!” The increasing spread of missionary knowledge is all that is needed for these few glowing sparks to be kindled into flame.

In regard to our diocesan paper I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the Rev. Robert Peeples and his wife, for their labors In this undertaking. Occasionally a typographical error creeps in, especially in columns of figures which are always difficult to proof-read, and for these, when they misrepresent your missionary giving we are deeply regretful; but nevertheless the over-all composition of this paper is very much better than many which come to our desk from other dioceses, and we are grateful to all whose freely given labor makes this possible.

There have been few clerical changes. The Rev. William Bassill has taken charge of Dublin, Cochran and Hawkinsville, the Rev. Clifton White has left Valdosta for Lakeland, Florida, and his place is being taken by the Rev. Michael Kippenbrock who comes to us on May 1st from St. Thaddeus’ Church in Aiken, South Carolina. We graduated two men from the Virginia Seminary last June, but unfortunately neither one was able, for very good reasons, to return to Georgia. This might have been serious but for the fact that we have been fortunate in securing the services of the Rev. Royal K. Tucker and the Rev. S. Alston Wragg, retired clergymen, to take charge of Moultrie and Tifton. Mr. Baxter moved from Americus to St. Alban’s Fleming and Mr. Jenkins went from Moultrie to Americus to take his place. The Rev. Nathaniel Reid, formerly a clergyman of the Methodist Church, has been, ordained to the dioconate, and is serving as assistant minister at St. John’s Savannah. We have one man in Seabury-Western Seminary at Evanston, Ill., we will have one, and perhaps two at Sewanee next year, if the Board of Trustees decide they can integrate one fine young Negro into the life on the Mountain, and we will receive one graduate from the Virginia Seminary this coming June, and will have three more coming out the following June and two or three more the June following. There appears to be no shortage of clergy so far as the immediate future is concerned. I have four or five applications pending from business men and professional who wish to become permanent deacons, remaining in their present employment, but serving the Church without salary on Sundays and whenever they can. This is a provision made by the last General Convention, and will I believe prove of much value to the Church in years to come.

You will remember that I told you a year ago, that if you pledged your quotas for missions we could undertake some much needed advance work. You did pledge your quotas and more, and I will now report on what has been done, and what has been undertaken.

A new church has been built at Fleming for about forty thousand dollars, and a rectory has been bought there for twelve thousand. A new rectory is being built at Waynesboro for $12,500.00. A new church and rectory have been been built at Cochran. A new parish house is being furnished at Douglas by remodeling the old rectory and a new rectory has been purchased. A new church has been finished at Statesboro. We are ready to let the contract for a new parish house at Bainbridge, a new rectory already having been bought. Plans are well advanced for a new parish house in Moultrie, a new church and parish house at Cordele and a $6,000.00 parish hall planned at Quitman.

The work at Fleming has gone beyond our fondest expectations. Fleming is a rapidly growing development south of Augusta. Last September we bought a rectory with a down-payment and a F. H. A. loan and Mr. Baxter volunteered to go there to make a beginning. From that time until this Easter services were held in the public school cafeteria. On Easter Sunday we held the first service in the new church. Since the first of this year Fleming has been entirely self-supporting, and is applying to this Convention for admission as a parish. This is due in part, to the willingness of the rectors of the Augusta churches to transfer their old members living in the new area to the new church, but primarily it is due to the vision and leadership of the Rev. William Baxter who gave up the rectorship of an old established parish to embark, with a wife and family upon what we might call a frontier enterprise. It has paid off, and for this we are grateful to Mr. Baxter and all concerned. We owe some money on this new endeavor certainly, but we now have a missionary income which justified us in assuming this indebtedness, and which will enable us to pay it off in a few years. This is also true of the other advances we are making to Waynesboro, Douglas, Moultrie and Bainbridge.

It is a fact that we live and work in one of the most rapidly growing and developing areas in the United States. Because of this we should take courage and go forward with confidence.

I believe that all of you are familiar with the situation at the University of the South in regard to the admission of Negroes to the Graduate School of Theology. We are part owners of this University, and to some extent are responsible for the development of its policies. Much has been said about the situation-being a hypothetical one inasmuch as no Negro has applied for admission, but this is no longer true as we have one of our own Negro boys graduating from Lincoln University this June who is desirious of entering the ministry.

I am not a Sewanee man, and I know very little of the conditions which would have to be faced by a Negro entering the school. I know that he would be welcomed by all who are connected with St. Luke’s seminary, but I do not know how he would be received by the commmilty at large and by the younger men in the liberal arts college. I do feel very strongly that we should have some way in which to educate our Negro students in this part of the Church.

This is the 1953 Convention of the Diocese of Georgia. One year from now, you will be electing a new bishop for the laws of the Church require that I should retire at the age of seventy-two, which age I shall reach in September 1954. Personally, I shall be very glad to retire, and turn the affairs of the Diocese over to a younger man. At that time I will have been a bishop for twenty-nine years and in the ministry for forty-seven. I know what St. Paul meant when he wrote of “the care of all the Churches”. I had them on my mind for years before many of you clergymen were born. In the work of the Church I have twice been to England to attend the conferences at Lambeth, and as Field Sec’y and missionary Bishop I have worked in this country from Southern Florida to Seattle, and from Kennebunkport, Maine, to San Diego, California, and in almost every large city in between. I was the bishop of Idaho for nearly ten years and will have been the bishop of Georgia for nearly twenty. It has been a full life and a happy life, and life owes me nothing. But I have reached the point where I am glad to lay it all down, and rest beside the weary road and—as the old Christmas hymn says—hear the angels sing. And I think I shall go fishing, of which I have always talked a lot, but of which I have done very little. Someone else will take over the work to which I have given the best years of my life. And I have not the faintest interest in WHO it will be. There are hundreds of men in the Church who will make you a good bishop. I should say, after studying it for twenty-eight years, that being a bishop does not require the highest grade of mentality. Nor does it require pulpit eloquence. In the long run, this is a distinct drawback. Dioceses are built up by slow, steady, plodding and patient work, and there are no exceptions to this rule. If I had the time, and the inclination, I could name you many dioceses which were ruined by having brilliant men as their bishops, and which have come back to life by the patient work of men whose names the Church has seldom heard.

And furthermore, do not think that you are giving a man a nice easy and exalted job when you make him a bishop. I think that a bishop should be either a celibate, or a man who is very unhappily married, for if he does his job in a diocese such as this, he is going to live on the highway. He goes to his office when he can. He fills the relentless week-ends with five hundred mile trips to Thomasville, Albany, Blakely, Bainbridge, Americus, Moultrie, Quitman, Valdosta and a score of other places, and in between he tries to make friends with his wife and others who live in his own home town. I have had almost every kind of a job which this church can give to a man. I was a country missionary in the Bluegrass of Kentucky; I worked in the slums, and in the fashionable districts of Baltimore: in a mill town in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and in a city parish in Birmingham, Alabama. I was Field Secretary for the National Council in the Eighth Province which is everything west of the Rocky Mountains; I was a Missionary Bishop of Idaho, with annual trips all over the United States, and I have been the Bishop of Georgia now for eighteen years. I have tried them all, and the happiest job in this Church is in a small parish, where you love your people and they love you. What you are going to do when you elect a man as your bishop is to take some contented clergyman who has developed a fine parish and has his work well in hand, and turn over to him a job that is far from finished, and which never will be finished; a job with horizons forever beyond his reach; a job which he can never do to the satisfaction of all concerued; a field forever filled with untouched opportunities and needs forever beyond his capacity to meet them. As I told the people up in Fond du Lac when I preached Bill Brady’s consecration sermon, you consecrate a man as bishop, and then go home and leave him with an unknown diocese on his back and he looks up and says “My God, what can I do with this Diocese, and he goes out to live on the highway, and he learns to pray as he drives, and he gets up his sermons as he moves from place to place, and they grow thinner and thinner and at long last he sits down and looks up again and says “My God, look what this diocese has done to me!” There will never come a time when he can look on his work and say “It is finished.” All that he can ever say is “I am finished!” There may be other kinds of bishop’s jobs, in Rhode Island or Delaware for instance, but there is no other kind here. All down along the forseeable future Georgia is going to be a pioneering missionary enterprise. Robust health and good driving ability are not among the least things you should seek.

I am not worried in the least about who you are going to get, but I am speaking in this vein because I am worried about how you are going to get him; of how you will prepare yourselves for the job of electing him a year from now. The new law, requiring bishops to retire at seventy-two is on the whole, I think a good one, though sometimes it results in the loss of the services of very useful men. More often however it enables you to get rid of a man who is slowing down physically if not mentally, and this is particularly good in a missionary diocese such as ours. But there is another way in which it works, and this I think is something to be watched. In the old days you did not know when he was going to die and were caught unawares but now you all know how old your bishop is, and you can see the dead-line approaching a long way ahead, and it is only human for you to be thinking of your friends in the ministry and to see what you can do to get then elected as your next bishop. This is very apt to lead to caucusing and electioneering in advance; to the development of rival groups and all sorts of dissension and a divisive spirit, and if this sort of a situation develops in Georgia between now and next Spring, I shall consider myself to have failed in one of the major objectives I have had before me theseveighteen years, and that is to develop a spirit of unity among our brethren. And if one of these competitive groups succeeds in electing its candidate, he will take office with a resentful minority to be won over. We have seen this thing happen in some dioceses very near to us. But another worse thing can happen, and that is what happened in Georgia eighteen years ago when the Convention dead-locked twice over two men, either one of whom would have made you a better bishop than you got, and both of whom are now doing magnificent work as leaders of other dioceses. I came here from Idaho, not because anyone in particular wanted me, but because none of you were able to get the man you DID want, and I was already a bishop, and the cost of consecrating a new one would run to fifteen hundred or two thousand dollars. It took a lot of time and may I say a lot of patience before this division was healed. I beg of you with all my heart not to come to the next convention with various groups of you lined up for various men. This is not even fair to the men whose names you intend to present for such work cannot be done without at least their knowledge, and it sets them before the convention at least as silent candidates for the job.

And finally, in this connecton, please do not make your first consideration whether or not the man you support does or does not wear certain kinds of vestments when he celebrates the Holy Communion, or bows his head in the creed at the name of Jesus. As a little boy I always did, and I do not believe it hurt me at all. Some low churchmen are stiffer ritualists than a lot of high ones. I once knew an old Virginian who bent over BACKWARDS when the name of Jesus was mentioned. Such things as these concern God Almighty not at all. He does not care whether a bishop is a Penguin, as I was called up in Fond du Lac, or a Peacock, as I called them. What God wants is a man who will spend himself to the uttermost for the building of the Church and the extension of faith in Christ Jesus throughout the world. It have known both Penguins and Peacocks who made fine bishops in the Church of God, and I have known of both who were utter flops!

We need to come to the next convention with a lot of information about many men, but without advance electioneering and commitments. We shall have knowledge of many men, but we must come with open minds and hearts so as to give the Holy Spirit a chance. Then when the election is over, no matter how we voted personally, we may believe that God gave us a man, and we can unite behind him front the very first with loyalty and love. To do otherwise may well set the work in Georgia back for many years.

I mentioned this matter at the last meeing of the Executive Council and one man told me that this was a counsel of perfection. Why certainly it is. I have faith in you and I believe you will rise to meet it. The most priceless thing we have today is the Unity of the Diocese. It is this which has enabled us to go forward. It is a thing of much more importance than the man we happen to elect. Unified, behind a poor bishop we have gone ahead. Divided, behind the best of them, we shall fail.

With your consent, I plan to do two things. First, I am going to ask our Chancellor, than whom there is no better in the Church, to study the canon law covering this subject and to place in my hands a complete outline of the way in which this next convention should be handled. I have never retired from the ministry before and need expert guidance. Nor have I presided before in a convention where a bishop was being elected. I also plan to appoint a committee at this convention to receive the names of any men you care to suggest, to study their records in other relationships and to place the information they secure at your disposal. I would suggest that they receive names from now until the first of next April, and that they place the names suggested and the information secured in the hands of delegates to the next convention not less than two weeks before the convention meets in May. In this way you may come to the time of choice with full information as to those who are to be voted on. This is in principle, the way in which the House of Bishops elects missionary bishops, and I do not know of any way in which we can improve on it. I am hoping when the time comes to elect that we shall depend less on eloquent nominating speeches than on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I pray for God’s continued blessing on the work of this diocese, in the sure and certain hope that it will he given. When, with open minds and hearts we sit in quiet and wait to hear God Speak, we never go astray.

May God continue to he gracious to us and grant us peace. Amen.