Bishop’s Address of 1994


The Rt. Rev. Harry Woolston Shipps

Harry, Bishop in the Church of God, Servant of Jesus Christ, to the Church, called to be saints, gathered in the Diocese of Georgia in the year of our Lord 1994: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God for all of you. I remember you always in my prayers and “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4: 1-6.

Harry Woolston ShippsI speak to you tonight of things on my heart so that Paul’s admonition in Ephesians may be advanced—to equip the saints “for the work of ministry,’ for building up of the body of Christ” as “we are to grow up in every way unto him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.” Endeavoring always to “speak the truth in love.”

First, as you have read in the diocesan newspaper, The Church In Georgia, our diocese ranks second of the Episcopal Church’s 99 domestic dioceses in the percentage of our membership that is in attendance on an average Sunday morning. Also, our stewardship in dollars per household is the second highest amongst all of these dioceses.

What remains is for us to decide if 56% attendance and our present fiscal commitment fulfills the call of the Gospel.

I am proud to hold up to you the stewardship of St. Barnabas’, Valdosta, where the average Sunday pledge amounts to $37.76 and Trinity Church, Statesboro, which averages an 88% attendance.

I always am proud to say, as I travel around the Church, that I am the Bishop of Georgia.

I believe the establishment of the Pro-Cathedral Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Savannah will enhance diocesan stature and unity. Seeing the church gathered with its bishop around the altar increases the visibility of our Eucharistic fellowship. I am grateful to Dean William Willoughby of St. Paul’s and his Vestry for their warm welcome and hospitality.

In our diocese we have a rich history which is not always well manifested. A single volume, THE HISTORY OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN GEORGIA by Henry T. Malone of the Diocese of Atlanta, records our history up to 1957. It would be a significant contribution to our knowledge of who we are — where we have been, and where we are going — if someone would undertake a second volume recording the history of this diocese from 1957 to this date. Would it be possible for someone to offer a grant for undertaking such a project?

One of the greatest assets we have in our diocese is the Georgia Episcopal Camp and Conference Center, or “Honey Creek.” Twice this past year I have been host to church leaders from beyond the diocese. All agree that we have one of the finest centers in the South. Following a recent visit, I can report that the campus and facilities never looked better.

I commend Father Charles Hay for his oversight as Manager of Honey Creek and I hold up to you here, as well as to the entire diocese, the desirability of increasing the Honey Creek endowment fund to provide for maintenance and repairs of the facility in the years to come. Some of us already have committed ourselves to this undertaking. I urge more of you to do so.

I especially want to note and commend those congregations in our diocese which have participated in Habitat For Humanity projects in their communities. I invite our clergy and their spouses to participate in a joint Habitat building project in Americus during the week of June 12. Mr. George Peagler and Father Reginald Gunn are organizing this Christian endeavor.

I want to commend to all congregations of the diocese the recently developed covenant with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah and urge its implementation at the parish level. We owe a debt of gratitude to Father Jacoba Hurst and the Ecumenical Commission, along with their Roman counterparts, for designing so many opportunities for our two churches to witness our oneness in Christ.

The Consecration and Enthronement of the new bishop of Belize, The Rt. Rev’d Sylvestre Romero-Palma, occurred on January 25th. It was a real privilege to participate in his Consecration, and to come to know the wonderful bishops in the Province of the West Indies. While in Belize City, I toured the facilities of our dental clinic, Project Smile. This clinic, as well as our several other undertakings in Belize, are continuing signs of a healthy Companion Relationship. We indeed are fortunate to be linked with these lovely and gracious people.

Even during this Decade of Evangelism, the mission of the Episcopal Church in South Georgia seems, on some readings, to be unclear. People who enter hopefully through the front door may soon leave quietly by the back door if they do not hear the Gospel imperatives of redemption from sin and the way of salvation. A clear, focused call to the Gospel of the Catholic church, which is uniquely ours—this is our vocation.

For example—whatever happened to “sin”? Has it been swallowed up in Shrove Tuesday Pancake suppers? As Pope John Paul said recently: “In a culture which holds that no universally valid truths are possible, nothing is absolute. Therefore, in the end—they say—objective goodness and evil no longer really matter. Good comes to mean what is pleasing or useful at a particular moment. Evil means what contradicts our subjective wishes. Each person [in this mindset] can build a private system of values.”

In our church, as the Presiding Bishop has said so well, there can be no outcasts. Does our mission in this Decade of Evangelism call forth from us a focused desire to incorporate all people into our Eucharistic fellowship? I hold up to you the mission congregation of Grace Church, Sandersville, which fully mirrors the racial diversity of the community.

Why do I regularly ask that you faithfully commit to support the missions of the Church in this diocese — and in Central and South America? Why do we continue to maintain a presence in so many small Georgia towns—­in Thomson, Harlem, Cochran, Cordele? Because it is vitally important to keep alive the teaching of the Catholic Church in missionary dioceses and in congregations that are not financially self-supporting. Allocation of our resources to this evangelistic ministry is imperative.

Our mission, our purpose — our raison d’etre—is it not that the Episcopal Church offers a reformed Catholicism otherwise unavailable in Panama, in Costa Rica, in South Dakota? We must be able to answer the question clearly and without equivocation, “Why be an Episcopalian?” in Bainbridge, Fitzgerald, Camilla and Baxley. Is it not that we offer a unique apostolic heritage of sacraments, creeds, liturgy and ministry?

If you are convinced of our obligation to offer this rich heritage in these communities, then what must follow is appropriate funding. As you surely know, I have asked each parish to place the financial support of our mission and ministry in top priority; indeed, to give it as high a consideration as the salary of the parish rector. For most of the diocesan budget is “salary-driven” and I believe the bishop and parish rectors do not have an uncontested claim on parish or diocesan finances over and above priests in missions, at home or overseas.

The support of our outreach through mission and ministry, and, indeed, this is “outreach” on a significant scale, comes only through the “asking” program. Commitment to that “asking” program is integral to the budgetary planning of every parish. This is not to say that our present diocesan “asking” program (which is “voluntary,” not an “assessment’) cannot be modified or made more equitable. It needs to be re-studied, and this convention will be called upon to do so. As we know, universal tithing would resolve all needs — local, diocesan and overseas.

The question continues to reverberate—what will move us across the threshold to a style of outreach in mission and ministry that honors a parish’s internal needs but moves us, as a diocesan family, to a spirit of universal mission? The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a possession. It is that which possesses us! It is that which always is calling the Church forward. Any effort to revise the “asking” program must not be in reality an effort to reduce giving outside the parish, or a way to avoid giving our Georgia diocesan apportionment to the Episcopal Church.

General Convention of the Episcopal Church takes place this summer in Indianapolis. Your bishop and the eight deputies whom you elected at the 1992 Diocesan Convention will participate. I hold up to you a 30-page booklet produced by Christ Church, Dublin — “A Devotional for the Prayer Vigil for the 1994 General Convention.” I commend Father Hafer and his congregation for this initiative and hope many other congregations will do likewise.

The fact that all Episcopalians are not in agreement regarding significant issues of our time is well known. This always has been the case in the history of the church. It is true of all Christian communities today, except possibly for the Eastern Orthodox. In many instances, the church reflects the problems of the society in which we live. Nonetheless, we must hold up in practice the loving support of those persons with whom we disagree.

The Rev’d John Zizioulas, a Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church, writes of two important principles:

  • The most important condition attached to diversity is that it should not destroy unity.
  • The local church (that is, the diocese) must be structured in such a way that unity does not destroy diversity.

In my episcopacy I have tried to be guided by these principles. Withdrawal from participation hurts the entire body, especially those who withdraw. As St. Paul writes, “….that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” I Corinthians 12:24(b)-26.

Let us not focus on discontinuity. Our unity in doctrine, discipline and worship and in faith and practice is far greater than any of our contentions. J.B. Philips wrote a wonderful book in 1956 to help enlarge our vision entitled, YOUR GOD IS TOO SMALL.

Of great importance is a review and revision of how we as Christians evangelize an increasingly secular society. The truth is that much of our society is not evangelized.

Some figures should shake us out of complacency:

1.                   In this 20th Century, mainline, non-Roman Christianity in the United States will have shrunk from two thirds of the population to a little more than one third.
2.                   White Westerners cease to be practicing Christians at the rate of 7,600 per day.
3.                There soon will be more Muslims in the United States than Episcopalians. 

These developments cry out for us to be more confident and clear about our message. Note with joy that Christianity is growing in Africa, Asia and Latin America. One African bishop has requested that he not be asked to confirm more than 200 persons at one sitting. We are not growing noticeably in south Georgia.

The Rev’d Dr. John Douglas Hall of McGill University, Quebec, recently postulated four responses:

1.      Denial. Say it isn’t so.
2.      Ignore it. Carry on with business as usual.
3.      Try to recover a past, when things seemed so much better.
4.      Accept it and seek to discover a new way forward.

Can we not bravely embrace this last response?

If you believe, as I do, that a church that is at once evangelistic and self-emptying — the New Testament model — is the way forward, we will need to look at what we do, how we do it, and the changes that we will be called upon to make. Such an inquiry is no place for the weak hearted. This way forward is articulated in an encouraging new book given me by Father Robert Fain, THE CHURCH CONFIDENT, authored by former Dean of Yale Divinity School, Leaner E. Keck. He writes:

“Renewed churches change, but rarely by lurching or by repudiating the identities formed by their histories. They change by assimilating some of the new and abandoning some of the old, not always quietly or painlessly….Communities that are being renewed value their continuities because they enable them to assimilate change with confidence.” Dr. Keck writes also that the fashionable slogan current in the Church, “the world sets the agenda,” is sheer capitulation. And as Fr. Loren Mead puts it in THE ONCE AND FUTURE CHURCH, “God is always calling us to be more than we have been!” That we need to alter, or even drastically change, our structures, our understandings and perceptions, seems most likely.

The St. Louis Symposium last summer pointed to the need to renew the medium for our mission and ministry. It’s human nature to assume that it is the other fellow who will have to do the changing, and not me or we ourselves.

But change is mandated. Change can be a sign of health. As the secularization of American society continues, the ministry of laity must assume new responsibilities and seek new opportunities, albeit without confusing its ministry with that of the ordained ministry.

At a recent meeting of Anglican evangelicals this question was posed: are we a “user friendly” — consumer church or a Gospel driven — producer church? I can envision a day when the Church will discontinue infant baptism and focus on the Catechumenate. A day when denominationalism ceases to exist, not only so the churches can survive, but because such divisions are contrary to the mind of Christ and the teaching contained in Paul’s Epistles.

Bishoping can be a wonderful ministry, sometimes exhausting, other times exhilarating. I thank God for you and count it a blessing to serve our Lord with, for, and among you.

Why? Because ‘you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” I Peter 2:9

And now, a personal note. I recently have celebrated the tenth anniversary of my consecration as bishop. I am 68 years old. Interestingly enough, I am the oldest diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The time has come for me to plan for the orderly transition of the episcopate. Therefore, I will submit to the Standing Committee of the diocese my resignation as the eighth Bishop of Georgia for the purpose of retirement, effective December 31, 1994.

In accordance with the canons, I will call for a special session of this convention to take place September 16-17, 1994 for the election of the ninth Bishop of Georgia.

Although this will be my last regular convention, I look forward to my remaining eleven months with you with fond anticipation.

Thank you.



Harry, our Father in God, we greet you in return in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It has been apparent from the beginning of your pilgrimage with us as the Bishop of Georgia that you have always attempted to honor your motto to Speak the Truth In Love. This year’s address is no exception. Although, in light of your placing us in the year of our Lord 1944, we might direct Louise to place a large poster in your breakfast room to remind you of the date, day and year.

Like St. Paul, you have attempted to build us up in the vision made known in Jesus Christ. Your praise of various endeavors throughout the diocese to hold upon the person and work of Jesus is noted with appreciation. Your question whether we should be satisfied with that which has been accomplished is a challenge we need, continously.

We concur with your belief that certain concrete works give witness and encourage the unity which is ours in Jesus Christ. An updated history of the diocese, the continued development of the magnificent resource which is ours at Honey Creek, and the establishment of the pro-cathedral all lend their aid in helping forge a unity of mind and purpose for the building up of the diocesan family. Your examples of relationships which draw us beyond the family, such as Habitat, the covenant with the [Roman Catholic] Diocese of Savannah, and our companion diocese relationship with Belize, remind us of the part we can and do play in the greater arena.

We heartily assent to our need for clarity in the area of mission and evangelism. Proclamation of the redemption from sin which is ours in Christ and the pilgrimage of grace which he would lead us in for our salvation, is clearly a vocation which demands the best of all that we can give of ourselves, corporately and individually. To work together for a common vision that actively embraces foreign and domestic mission can not help but increase our awareness of purpose and usefulness to the one who created the heavens and the earth. Let us encourage each other in the Joy which can be ours in supporting the apostolic heritage which we treasure in diverse ways.

We applaud your question, “What will move us across the threshold to a style of outreach in mission and ministry that honors a parish’s internal needs but moves us, as a diocesan family, to a spirit of universal mission?” Your reminder that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a possession, it is that which possesses us, needs to reverberate through the hearts and minds of each and every one of us committed to answering the upward call of Jesus Christ.

Your quotation of Metropolitan Zizioulas echoes the wisdom of the via media, and we concur that we are hurt and become less of what God would have us be when withdrawal is pursued as a response.

Your figures on the loss of membership in western Christianity are truly shattering – first and foremost, we hope of the illusions which we can construct. That we need to be regularly stripped of these illusions is a road not traveled enough. Your commending us to the consideration that “God is always calling us to be more than we have been,” seems to be the underlying theme of this address. Your call to a vision that keeps the cross at the center of our life together, and the necessary self-emptying which that vision commands of us, should unleash the ministry of the lay and the ordained in ways that affirm our call to be a Gospel-driven producer church. Along with you, we look forward to the day when formation in the Christian life will be the focus of family and church community.

Our ministry with you has been wonderful – sometimes exhausting but mostly envigorating. We thank God for the gift which is you and Fount your service with, for, and among us a blessing rarely found in the church today. We not only rejoice in your time with us as Chief Shepherd, but look forward to the deepening relationship which God has in mind for us in the coming years. Soon our relationship will take a new turn, but always God working in you and us can lead us into Truth as long as we rely on his love.

William Willoughby III+, Chairperson
Committee on the Bishop’s Address