Bishops’ Addresses of 1984


My Brother in the Episcopate, my brothers and sisters of the Clergy and the Laity: I welcome you to this one hundred and sixty-second conven­tion of the Diocese of Georgia.

For the fifteenth time I come to address an Annual Convention of the Diocese. Barring some wholly unforeseen and highly unlikely occasion, it will be the last time I have this privilege. In preparation for tonight’s address I have read, among other things, the addresses I delivered to the fourteen conventions previous to this one. To paraphrase the words of the great classical scholar and poet A.E. Housman, since my first address to you, I have improved in some respects and deteriorated in others; but I have not so much improved as to become a great bishop nor so much deterior­ated as to fancy that I have become one.

Paul ReevesYet, in these fourteen years at least I have learned a number of things: Learned from experience – experience of what seemed to me to be successes, and of what seemed failures – experience interpreted by prayer, by reflexion, and by the counsel of good and wise friends, as well as by opposition. Now I try to pass on to you some of these things.

To avoid sentimentality at the same time as I try to be honest will be difficult. Nor will this be my Valedictory, for, God willing, I have another year to work with you as your Bishop; and there will be another oc­casion for a farewell.

The Liturgical Movement, focused in the Episcopal Church on Prayer Book Revision, has brought to us a mixed bag of bane and blessing. I have no doubt that the gain has outweighed the loss. Much of the anguish that many of our people have suffered and still do suffer can be blamed on the process of revision that was used; but more of the blame lies with the sometimes unfair and often unskilled presentation at the local level. Many of us have to acknowledge also an innate resistance to change. I not the least.

The Ecumenical Movement is having its ups and downs. COCU – the Consultation on Church Unity – in which our Church participates, albeit half-heartedly, seems to have lost its momentum, and in the form in which it was emerging, I for one cannot mourn the loss of momentum. Our conver­sations with the Roman Catholic Church were proceeding well until our Church deviated from most of Anglicanism in allowing the ordination of women priests. As do many of you, I pray that this progress can be resumed.

It must be added that one of the gravest scandals, and one in which most of us unthinkingly acquiesce, is our taking for granted the existing divisions in Christ’s Body, the Church. He Himself told us that His will was that His Church be one; any serious efforts at reunion, even at cooper­ation, are in the right direction. But we often overlook the root problem. The new Archbishop of Boston, Bernard Law, identifies this root correctly as sinfulness which expresses itself here, as everywhere, in division. Abp. Law has said that the only way to unity is through holiness. Too much and too long have we relied on seeking a least common denominator, rather than facing the pain of self-examination, genuine penitence and enthusias­tic dialogue, that could lead to at least the beginnings of the reunion of Christendom.

If you read Church publications, you are seeing frequently the phrase, “The Servant Church”. In our own part of Christendom renewed in­terest in the Diaconate has illuminated this concept and institution that exists primarily to serve those outside its own fold.

This concept flies in the face of entrenched parochialism and in­stitutionalism, both of which attitudes foster understanding of the Church as a club of like-minded people dedicated to the care and nurture of its own, however willing to admit to its ranks those who seek it out and qual­ify for entrance.

No doubt the care and nurture of our own so often has been so half­hearted and inadequate as to make us feel that we have no time or energy for outsiders; but we need to face the fact that lack of time and energy generally is the result of a half-hearted commitment of a majority of our members, who are content to give a minimum of their interest, their time, and their financial means to God their Lord. Far from asking too much, the Church timidly and cheerfully accepts whatever scraps and leftovers its people offer.

More of The Servant Church I will say later; at this point I would express my feeling that in this area we once again are in danger of fall­ing into the trap that so often has snared us, which is concentration on one truth to the neglect of a complementary truth. There is indeed a Ser­vant Church, or, in ecclesial terms, a Diaconal Church. But there is also the Priestly Church, and by this I do not mean an institution administered by priests.

It would take too long tonight to give even an outline of the Bib­lical development of the understanding of the Priestly Office of the Church It began at Sinai with the word of God to Israel: “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), and it carries through to the First Epistle of Peter (2:9): “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, God’s own people”.

In developing the concept of “The Priesthood of All Believers”, the Reformers were right if they meant that the one Priesthood of Christ is present in all the members of His Body in their togetherness, but incorrect if they meant that each Christian is himself a priest.

What then is the Priestly Office of the Church in which all the mem­bers of the Church are concerned, privately and corporately, passively as well as actively? In Biblical thought, Priesthood and Sacrifice are always linked, whether it be the priesthood of the old Temple or the High Priest­hood of Christ. The one and only Christian priesthood is Christ’s; ours is a derived priesthood, exercised in and through His Body, the Church. In this there is also the ministerial priesthood, that is bishops and priests who are ordained for particular functions within the Body.

If this seems abstruse and overly theological, it is – because it is a fumbling attempt to describe the presence of Christ in His Body, the Church, in which and of which we are members: But members in the sense of limbs or organs or cells, not members in the sense or those who have joined an organization and are free to leave it.

Regarding the sacrificial priesthood of the Church, let me suggest one powerful model which you see every time you are present at Eucharist. You see, but probably do not notice, the preparation of the chalice at the offertory: First, wine is poured in, then a little water. Why this piece of unneeded ceremonial?

Whatever ancient cultural customs are retained here, the Church would have us understand a striking symbolism. The wine represents to us the sacrifice of Christ; the water – less in quantity, and weak in quality – represents our own small sacrifice. But once the water is mingled with the wine, it becomes inseparable from it, offered up with it, given back in Communion – our small, weak sacrifice now eternally joined to the one, pure perfect sacrifice of Christ our Lord.

The traditional silent prayer of the priest as he mingles the water with the wine tells the story: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”

But from this powerful, even staggering, piece of symbolism I omit­ted the first step: The water must be brought by someone, and offered for God’s blessing and use. No offering – no Consecration, no Communion.

Here it is that God offers to us unbelievable dignity, the dignity of co-operating with Him. It is as if He says to us: I have done for you almost everything that can be done; I left one little thing for you to do, and unless you do it, my great work will be incomplete.

How then are we to see the mission of the Church today and tomorrow? What is the mission of our diocese? What is the mission of your congrega­tion? What is your mission as a Christian?

Here the Catechism gives us some instruction (page 855, BCP):

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.

I think these answers put together in a clear way the connection be­tween the Servant Church and the Priestly Church, and our individual and corporate responsibilities.

The world is one, God’s world. We are to be as concerned with human beings in Russia and Zaire as we are with humans in the next country, and as concerned with humans in the next county as we are with those who used to seem to be at a safely remote distance, and as concerned with people six blocks from our church as with those across the world. God’s world is one, however much Satan has divided it.

We live in a strange time, some say an apocolyptic age. There is a sense of urgency produced by our knowing immediately what is happening all over the world as well as by our knowing how near we may be to the destruc­tion of civilization as we have known it. We do not know how much time we have.

At the same time, we do not know but that things will go on for an­other ten thousand years. If they do, Christians then will think of us as part of The Early Church, closer in time to the Apostles than to them.

However: these things proved to be, our task, our mission, is given, and is clear. Here I quote from Louis Bouyer’s remarkable book THE CHURCH OF GOD:

“We may define the Church’s mission in the world (or the Church’s mission to the world) by saying that it is not destined to serve the world as it is at present, but to serve men in it, so that they may be saved not from their created condition, willed and brought about by God, but from their condition at present, alienated by sin, which comes down to wresting the physical cosmos itself, in them and by them, from the domination of the evil one … in a word, what we expect in this world is not that the world, with our body, vanish or be annihilated, but that they, together, be transfigured – transformed from top to bottom by the resurrection, wherein they are clothed by the glory of God. And we prepare ourselves for it, we prepare the world for it, by struggling against the power of sin, first in ourselves, by living faith in Jesus Christ … But faith cannot be living unless it “works through love”, and, thereby, tends to be spread to others. In other words, the mission of the Church in the world is to proclaim Christ, to make him live in people’s hearts by the power of the Spirit, and thereby to prepare the transformation, the transfiguration, of the entire world.”

The Servant Church ultimately serves best when it carries out its Priestly function, namely, the sincere offering and sacrifice to God of it­self, the world, and the cosmos.

Too large an order? I think not, if we put it in terms we under­stand. And I can think of no better expression than that contained in the story of the feeding of the multitude, the only one of our Lord’s miracles that is reported in all four Gospels, which may point to its unusual and universal significance. I read from the account in the 14th chapter of Matthew:

“When it was evening the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves’. Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat’. They said to him, ‘We have only five loaves here and two fish’. And he said, ‘Bring them to me’. Then he ordered the crowds to sit on the grass; and, taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowd. And they all ate and were sat­isfied.”

The Servant Church and the Priestly Church. Sometimes today it seems that we are in a lonely place and the day is over. We see the hun­gry multitude, some hungry for food for their bodies, more hungry for food for the spirit. And we say with the disciples, ‘Let them look for them­selves’. Naggingly, our Lord suggests in so many ways that the job is ours; then, like the disciples, we point to the seeming scarcity of our resources. And again He says: ‘Bring what you have to me.’ I sometimes ponder the meaning of His instruction to the crowd to sit down. Courtesy, maybe, or more likely that this was to be an orderly process, that He had enough time. Then, looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke. The nations, our own included, do not often look up to heaven and bless: This is the work of the Priestly Church, offering sacrifice to God of what we have.

To bring to Him what we have, materially and spiritually, individ­ually and corporately, this will be enough if we bring it to Him for His blessing.

I end by calling to mind a prayer that Jesus and His disciples re­cited on the night before He suffered and died for us. This is a modern version of the Passover celebration, but there is no reason to doubt that substantially these words go back to the time of our Lord.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who didst choose us from all peoples to proclaim Thy unity throughout the world and to sanctify our lives by observing Thy commandments. In Thy love Thou hast given us, O Lord our God, holy days for gladness and sacred seasons for rejoicing, even this feast of un­leavened bread, the season of our freedom whereon we worship Thee and remember the Exodus from Egypt.

How manifold are the favors which God has bestowed on us. He has commanded us to establish His kingdom throughout the world, so that all men may form a single band to do His will with a perfect heart.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord, redeemer of Israel and of all mankind. May God in His mercy permit us to witness the days of the Messiah and to inherit everlasting life. May He who makes peace in His high places, may He grant peace to us and to all Israel: And let us say, Amen.

I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.


The following Address was immediately followed by the first address of Bishop Harry Shipps as Bishop Coadjutor
The full text of Bishop Shipps’ address is online here: Reeves’ 1984 Address