Bishop’s Address of 1956

The Rt. Rev. Albert Rhett Stuart
134th Annual Convention, Diocese of Georgia
St. Thomas Church, Thomasville, Georgia
May 8-9, 195

We greet the members of this 134th Convention of the Diocese of Georgia and the members of the 64th Annual meeting of the Wo­man’s Auxiliary in the Name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

We are gathered here in St. Thomas’ Church, Thomasville, where, the Convention last met in 1943. After the Convention last year ac­cepted the invitation of Christ Church, Valdosta, to meet there in 1956, it became apparent that the parish was unable to entertain us this year. The Bishop, therefore, exercised his right under the Constitu­tion to change the place of meeting. The Rector and Vestry of St. Thomas’ Church graciously consented to invite us to hold our Conven­tion here, and we are all most grateful to them for giving us this op­portunity to come to Thomasville.

The Rt Rev A.R. StuartSt. Thomas’ Church was admitted to Union with the Convention in 1868 in Christ Church, Savannah, the first Convention at which Bishop Beckwith, the second bishop of Georgia, presided. St. Thomas’ Church reported that year 18 communicants, 25 Sunday School scholars and an assessment of $4.00 and “a fine and very encouraging field of labor.” The Bishop’s Journal for May 27, 1369 reports “Held morning service in the Court House in the Parish of St. Thomas, Thomasville”… “Thomasville presents a fine field for the Church, the Rector is earnest and energetic and the people alive to their responsibilities and anxious to advance the cause of true religion. They have deter­mined, God Helping them, to build a Church.”

There were 24 communicants that year and their assessment was $13.00 On April 13, 1871, Bishop Beckwith consecrated St. Thomas’ Church. They reported that year 17 communicants and an assessment of $25. St. Thomas’ today is one of the splendid parishes of the Diocese. What Bishop Beckwith said in 1869 of the then Rector and people of the parish can be very well said today—“The Rector is earnest and energe­tic and the people alive to their responsibilities and anxious to advance the cause of true religion.” This is seen in the fine expansion program of the parish’s facilities in the last two years, the concern of the Rector and Vestry for the future development of the parish, the provision for a parish Director of Christian Education and the expected addition of a Curate to the staff who will also serve in the Mission at Cairo. The parish has played an important part in the life of the Diocese, having recently provided a President for the Women’s Auxiliary of the Diocese, presently providing two Candidates for Holy Orders, a lay member of the Executive Council, consistently supporting the Mission­ary work of the Diocese and the National Church, answering gladly and generously every call of the Bishop. The present Rector began his service in 1940 and has held almost every position of leadership in the Diocese in these years. He is currently completing his term as President of the Standing Committee. We give thanks to God for him and for the people of this parish where we are gathered together as the family of God in this Convention.

I submit herewith to the Secretary of the Convention for publica­tion in the Journal of the Diocese the Bishop’s Diary and record of of­ficial acts for the year 1955, the auditor’s statement of the various funds for which the Bishop is responsible, the list of clergy canonically resident, changes in the field during the year, ordinations, transfers, Candidates for Holy Orders and Postulants. I am happy to report an increase in the number of Confirmations over the year previous and a most helpful increase in the Visitation Offerings for the Bishop’s Contingent Fund.

As you have heard or will hear from various reports the problem of diocesan headquarters seems at the point of resolution, the prob­lem of a diocesan conference center is still to be resolved as is the problem of adequate support for the CHURCH IN GEORGIA which continues to be an invaluable medium for the promotion of the work of the Diocese. There are significant developments taking place in institu­tions for child care in the Diocese, and gratifying progress is shown in our general support of the University of the South at Sewanee. Since all of these matters are receiving your consideration as reported by Committees and Commissions we will not be directly concerned with them in this address.

Meeting in St. Thomas’ Church in the City of Thomasville, we can­not but be reminded of the great Apostle and patron saint of the parish and city—St. Thomas. You remember in that wonderful fourteenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, the question of St. Thomas which promp­ted our Lord to make one of His greatest statements as to Himself—“Thomas saith unto him, Lord we know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No Man cometh unto the Father but by me.”(Jno. 14:5-6)

The Church’s Mission is to proclaim her Lord as the Way, the Truth, and the Life for all Mankind. She is His body on earth, the in­strument of His will, the servant of His Spirit, the channel through which men everywhere come to the Father. Here is no restricted Mission or limited responsibility. The Church is not charged with a duty to a select or elect few, nor is her Gospel limited only to certain spheres of human life and activity. Her duty is to all the souls for whom her Lord came and died to be the Way of Salvation, the Truth of every human relationship, and the Means of eternal Life. Her Gos­pel is not to be presented as a useful source of comfort and enlighten­ment for those who happen to have an interest in religion for what­ever reason. The Church is not concerned with interest but with Truth. Her Gospel is the Way of salvation for all Mankind. She is not a purveyor of doubtful remedies but the steward of those Mysteries which give the only certain answer to the questions of Man’s Mind and heart and soul. She does not commend to the world one among many possi­ble leaders or teachers of Men. She proclaims her Lord as the bearer of the only Name under heaven by which any man can be saved.

A renewal of confidence and conviction in this tremendous Mis­sion is the first necessity if the Church is to fulfil her responsibility in this generation and improve her evangelistic witness. This means more study of the Holy Scriptures and the faith of the Church in every parish and mission. Classes and groups for instruction should be in constant progress in every congregation throughout the year. Con­firmation instruction should always be going on, baptismal and mar­riage instruction must always be given, the Church School should be in operation the year round, parents’ classes and youth discussion groups must be in constant progress. Every organization within a parish or mission—the Vestry, the Woman’s Auxiliary, the Choir, the Guilds—should be primarily an educational instrument for the Mem­bers in deepening their understanding and knowledge of Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. More use should be made of Quiet Days of Prayer in every congregation for men, women and young people. The diocesan Woman’s Auxiliary has given fine leadership in this vitally important work. The Diocese should have a Retreat and Con­ference Center where this work of prayer and education in the parishes and missions could be augmented and extended. Preaching missions in our congregations with proper preparation and experienced Mission­ers can make a tremendous contribution in deepening the Con­viction of the Faithful, in reaching the lapsed and apathetic, and in presenting the Mission of the Church to a community. It has been my privilege to conduct three such preaching missions this year —outside the Diocese, in one of our parishes, and in one of our Mis­sions. In each instance there has been a renewal of confidence and con­viction in the task of the Church and an improvement in evangelistic witness of the congregation.

The second necessity upon us if the Church is to fulfil her re­sponsibility in this generation and give an evanglistic witness to Our Lord as the Way the Truth, and the Life is to appreciate the magni­tude of her present opportunity. Men and women are confused, frustrated, full of fear, and hungry for the life which Jesus Christ alone can give. Throughout the world men live in fear of the things which scientists are bringing on the earth and in fear of one another individually, racially, and nationally. People are discovering that a life full of gadgets is no satisfactory substitute for a life lived in the power and presence of God. Materialism can make life more comfortable for the moment, but the moment is horrifyingly brief, and no real relief comes from fear and insecurity. To meet the greatness of this opportunity every single soul in the congregation of the faithful must work by prayer, by witness, by creating a welcoming fellowship, by personal di­rect evangelistic effort to bring men and women to our Lord in Bap­tism and Confirmation. The past year we confirmed and received 690 souls, an increase over the year before and a high point in our records. However, this is only two thirds of what is considered normal growth and far short of what we could do in the face of the present opportunity in the need of men and women. Is it too much to expect that in the course of a year every Christian should bring one other soul to our Lord and His Church? When a whole congregation cannot present in a year two or three Candidates for Confirmation, it is past time for that congregation to ask itself some basic questions as to purpose and pro­gram. It is high time the Episcopal Church rose from her dignified posture of waiting to be discovered and appreciated and went out into the byways and hedges seeking the souls for whom her Lord died. We must destroy the barriers which separate the Episcopal Church from the people of the communities in which she is at work. By all and every means the whole people of God—Vestrymen, Auxiliary member, newly confirmed, every last member of the fellowship must bestir himself to the Conversion of souls that they may be saved through Christ forever.

With the greatness of the opportunity before us in this day, we have a responsibility as the household of faith in Georgia to estab­lish Missions and congregations in towns and counties where we have no work and in newly developing urban areas. We give thanks to God for the vision, faith, and work which has enabled us to welcome at this Convention the new mission of St. Francis in Pelham: the new mis­sions of the Annunciation, Vidalia—Lyons; the new mission of the Apostles in Savannah. Since the last Convention the mission Church of the Epiphany in Cuthbert has been restored; a new church has been built and has been consecrated for Trinity Mission, Harlem; a church has been consecrated for Grace Mission, Cairo; a new parish house has been built and dedicated for Christ Mission, Dublin; renova­tions have been made at St. Mary’s, Augusta; a fine piece of property has been secured for the Good Shepherd Mission, Swainsboro; a new parish hall has been dedicated for St. James Mission, Quitman. We are happy to report that work is beginning in Sylvester and in Thomson. We must also report that the Negro Mission of Our Saviour at St. Mary’s has been closed and is no longer a Mission of the Diocese. This is simply official action on a de facto condition existing over the past several years. There have been many physical improvements in seve­ral of our parishes which time does not permit us to mention in detail, but we do rejoice in new parish house at St. Thomas,’ Isle of Hope the new education building at Good Shepherd, Augusta, the several improvements at Christ Church, Frederica, addition to the parish house St. Paul’s Albany and a new chapel at Christ Church, Savannah. For all of this we give thanks but we are aware that there are 78 counties in this jurisdiction and we have work in less than half of them—to be exact in 33. In this jurisdiction in Georgia there is a pop­ulation of 1,321,498 and only 13,000 members of the Episcopal Church. In one County the Church has been at work since 1733. There are 166,300 people living in the county and 5,228 members of the Episcopal Church. In another County of 7,500 population the Episcopal Church has been at work 100 years and there are 364 members of the Church. In another County of 5,000 population the Church has been at work 60 years and there are 33 members. It is obvious our people have not been taught the meaning of evangelism or we have not been convinced of the Mission of the Church. We also point out that our present mis­sionary budget not only does not allow for new work but is actually short in anticipation of maintaining the present schedule of work. The new work accomplished last year was made possible by the response of fifty men to a personal appeal by the Bishop. In the most recent issue of the Episcopal Church Annual the Diocese of Georgia is next to the lowest diocese in the province in total giving for God’s work and the diocese which keeps us from occupying last place is half the size of this diocese. We cannot teach people to give for the work of the King­dom of God by Bazaars, fairs, suppers and such like. We cannot meet the opportunity of this hour with casual giving. It is obvious that our people have not been taught the meaning of stewardship. We are ap­parently accepting donations to the Church instead of making offer­ings that are related to our ability and the magnitude of our responsi­bility.

Again related to our opportunity to proclaim our Lord as the Way, the Truth, and the Life is the work of our University at Sewanee. The report of the Trustees gives you reason for gratification in the work of the University and we can all be thankful for the increasing sense of responsibility on the part of our parishes and missions for the finan­cial support of the University. More parishes and missions have heed­ed the resolution of our last Convention to place Sewanee in their bud­gets and we trust this list will grow to include all of us. However, the immediate opportunity before us is to join with the other owning dioceses of the University in completing All Saints Chapel. Fifty years ago this building was begun and never finished. This, of course, should not be. This is a Church institution and the House of God should domi­nate the scene and be the center of its life. In December I attended a meeting of the Bishops of the owning dioceses and we decided that the task of building this Church should be the objective for all of us for the centennial of Sewanee in 1957-58. This means that $650,000 will have to raised by that time for this purpose. Our share in Georgia of this amount is $17,200. I presented this matter to the Executive Council and they are recommending to you that we undertake to accept our part in the building of the chapel at Sewanee and to have our gifts for this purpose presented at our next diocesan convention in May 1957. I trust that you will endorse their recommendation and lead your parishes and missions in their participation in this undertaking.

Another aspect of the opportunity before us is the Witness of the Christian home and family. Among all the possible relationships be­tween men and women, our Lord selected and blessed the life-long partnership of one man and one woman as the basis of Christian mar­riage. On this relationship between a man, a woman and God the Christian home has stood through the centuries providing its blessings to in­dividuals and to society. It is the basic unit of Christian civilization and the source of Christian character. All around us today American families are disintegrating—the divorce rate has reached unpre­cedented heights. Across the bishop’s desk flows an unending stream of petitions for marriage judgments under the Canons. The Church is under a two-fold responsibility—to uphold the standard of marriage established by her Lord, fighting for the preservation of the Christian home, and also the responsibility to minister to individual souls for whom He died. The pressure upon bishops: and clergy to relax the standard is heavy, but this is not within their authority. We have all been encouraged this past year in the courageous Witness to the Christian standard by a prominent daughter of the Church, Princess Margaret of Great Britain, whose confidence and conviction in the Church’s Mission made possible the sacrifice of personal happiness for the standard of Christian marriage and the Christian home. Such a witness on the part of our young people, the faithfulness of the Clergy in teaching and in pastoral work, and the example of men and women of the Church who are building Christian families and homes by the help and grace of God all these are the means by which the Church can meet the opportunity presented by the danger and tragedy confront­ing the modern home, and guide a confused and distressed society to the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life in human relation­ships.

The problem of human relationships is another category of mod­ern life is also contributing to the magnitude of the present opportunity before the Church. This, of course, is the racial problem which has taken on such a critical aspect in the past year. We are confronted with hysterical fear and political opportunism preying upon unreason and prejudice, and threatening our basic liberty. We people of the Church need to be on our guard lest the fear and prejudice surround­ing us infiltrate our thinking and confuse us as to our clear duty in the Gospel to proclaim Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life for all Men, all races, all Nations, and His Church as the house­hold of faith in which all of God’s people, Negro and white, educated and uneducated, rich and poor are bound together in a fellowship of prayer and service. For many years the white man and the Negro in this Diocese have known their unity in Christ and have labored to­gether in one fold under one shepherd to bring other sheep of the Good Shepherd into the fold. It is disturbing to notice under the pressures of the moment a hesitation on the part of some to accept the universal mission of the Church and our fellowship in the Gospel which heretofore has been taken as a matter of course. The circumstances of the times demand of us in this Diocese a renewal of confidence and con­viction in the primary mission of the Church. If ever we had a magni­ficent opportunity we have it now to give a positive Witness to our faith in Jesus Christ by standing for reason in the midst of hysteria, by exercising patience and charity in the midst of prejudice, by con­tinuing our fellowship between the races in prayer, worship, and work and witnessing to the fact that the solution of the problem of our so­ciety lies not in the realm of law but in the realm of faith and grace. Hardly ever have the words of Holy Scriptures been more significant for a generation than are these words for us—“Therefore, if any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new and all things are of God who has reconcil­ed us to himself by Jesus Christ and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation.” (II Cor. 5. 17-18)

Not only is a conviction of the mission of the Church essential for us in order to meet the manifold opportunity of our time some of which has been touched on in this Address, but a source of power is neces­sary to enable us to implement our conviction. We have that source of power. This generation of Church people is learning an essential truth more and more—it is that the Holy Communion is meant to be much more than the Supreme occasion for individual devotion, more even than the supreme offering of the sacrifice of the faithful. We are learning that it is the chief means by which our Lord Christ regularly gives His own infinite power to His whole Body for the furthering of that Body’s work and witness in the world. Every Eucharist of the Church is both a call to fulfil a Mission and replenishment of the power needed to obey that call. The Church is more and more discovering wherein her power lies, and more and more faithfully providing for the release of that power into the lives of her people as she obeys Her Lord’s command. “Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the Victory, and the majesty—thine is the kingdom, O, Lord, and thou are exalted as head above all.”