Bishop’s Address of 1988

The Bishop’s Address
The Rt. Rev. Harry W. Shipps
February 11, 1988 at St. Francis of the Islands, Savannah

Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I greet you, one and all, at this 166th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Georgia. On behalf of our two host parishes, I welcome you to the See City of Savannah.

I have every reason to believe this will be an exciting and productive convention, one I trust you will also enjoy. We have, as the psalmist say, “a noble heritage”, and I am delighted to be a part of it. Remember that the heart of our convention is our liturgical worship.

Harry Woolston Shipps1987 has been a year about which I feel good, complex as it was. I have been greatly assisted in my episcopal ministry by hundreds of you, clergy and lay. I have been enriched by attending the College of Preachers, the House of Bishops, the Institute for Servant Leadership, silent retreats, and other vocational events.

I have a vision of some significant further developments in our lives together as Christ’s Body in south Georgia. I believe we can see a renewed commitment and a vibrant new life emerging, based on traditional values, which are historically cherished by Anglicans, combined with new ways of personally communicating the Gospel that are both exciting and challenging. We will succeed in our undertakings in direct proportion to the centrality of Jesus Christ and his Gospel in our lives, both personally and corporately. In this I have been inspired by the splendid examples of many of you.


This year the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates its 1000th anniversary. In the year 988 Prince Vladimar of Kiev and Rus was baptized. 1988 is also the 70th year that the Russian Orthodox Church has lived under the heavy hand and hostile environment of Soviet communism and its atheistic oppression of things religious. While the situation has somewhat improved for our brothers and sisters of the faith in recent years—the witness of these people is awesome. In one sense, the restrictions imposed upon the Church in the USSR seem to have had the effect of focusing almost all energies on worship and prayer, the Church’s most central activities. Therein lies the lesson. With so little, they are so strong. No parish halls, no parish programs, few of the things we believe important programatically. Our own parochial concerns, our petty arguments, our hurt feelings, pale into a veil of vanity in comparison.

I, for one, hold up my concerns in the Episcopal Church to the Orthodox experience in an effort to gain a better perspective for myself. Try to do this yourselves at your next vestry meeting.

We will mark the Millennium celebration in Georgia in the course of this year and should obtain encouragement and enrichment from it.


As I sit in the House of Bishops, I am in a unique seating arrangement, perhaps provided, like Job’s great fish, by God. Bishops are seated in order of seniority. On my right is seated the Bishop of Panama, a black man of quiet wisdom and clear thinking. To my left sits the Bishop of the Northern Philippines, a young and quite shy native of Luzon. Bishop Ottley and Bishop Longid have told me much about their dioceses and themselves. And I learn about Panama and the Philippines from other sources: Reports from the Presiding Bishop and from the secular press.

These bishops are poor. They live amongst great civil unrest and their very lives are frequently in danger. Travelling by small river craft and rugged-terrain vehicles, they spend days making visits to their scattered flocks in villages with few amenities. They do not complain. Whenever I have a night time trip from, say, Albany back to Savannah, I think of Bishop Ottley and Bishop Longid and realize what a very soft life I enjoy.

So I have become quite sensitive to negative remarks about “sending all that money to the national church”. I think of how it barely supports Bishop Ottley and Bishop Longid and their clergy and the sacrificial work they do for our common Lord.


Meetings of the House of Bishops confirm that we have a diversity of conviction in Anglicanism on many issues. It has been that way historically and will continue that way. But to shut ourselves off from the rest of the family, be it in the diocese or be it from the larger church, is a kind of withdrawal which breaks down the body of Christ. The Bishop of Pittsburg has recently written: “To define our faith and commitment by what we exclude rather than what we affirm is a common danger”. He goes on, “There is no emotion so satisfying to the soul of fallen humanity than the sense of self-righteous indignation”. I know that is true. I have been there. Change is most difficult when you are happy where you are!


This leads me to the following:

The Episcopal Church is historically modeled or patterned after the Anglican parish church in a small 18th Century English village, the only church present. The local “parson” making his pastoral rounds on foot is a familiar classical image. The ringing of the church bells calling the faithful to worship – it is all very lovely. Who wouldn’t long for it. But that is not the setting in which we find the Episcopal Church USA in the late 20th Century.

We increasingly perceive our gospel imperative to be

  1. 1) evangelists on mission, on the one hand
  2. 2) servants ministering to the ills of society on the other hand.

Because of our history, we are sometimes insensitive or ill-trained for both ministries. Consequently we suffer, especially the clergy, from a case of overload. This is because we are attempting to impose two additional models of the church, evangelism and servanthood, on an already full time pastoral model. And something has to give.

It is my suggestion that we have another look at how we use our time, talent and money in the parishes on internal ministry. Will you lay leaders here be willing to lower your expectations of pastoral ministry on a day to day basis to make room in your parish’s life for a greater ministry of evangelism and service? Will you clergy be willing to take a risk and focus your leadership more in enabling a ministry of evangelism to the unchurched and a servant ministry to those in need?

This is my challenge to you:

First. Every parish should be able to point to an intentional program of evangelism. “Go ye into all the world”. “Go out to the highways and compel the people to come in”, Jesus tells us (Luke 14).

There was a time in south Georgia when we had the courage to say that the Episcopal Church offers something few other churches do—a biblically based, apostolic, sacramental, creedal Catholicism. Come and see! Come and learn! Come on the journey with us! I very seldom hear this proclaimed today and I notice, at the same time, that our numbers are not increasing! Have we lost our conviction? Is there a connection?

The Rev’d John Guest of Pittsburg says, “If a church is not evangelizing, it is fossilizing!”

Second. Every parish should be able to identify a community need and, perhaps in concert with other congregations, develop a ministry to that need. Certainly the life of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Gospel, compels, almost propels, us into a diaconal ministry of servanthood. Indeed, some of our parishes do have this “hands on” ministry and I thank God for them. “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me” (Matt. 25). This clear teaching from Christ should ring in our ears!

However, neither meaningful evangelism nor meaningful servant-hood will be possible if a disproportionate amount of our time, money and energy are spent on ourselves and on needs that can be categorized as unessential. Jesus said he came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. “Behold, I an amongst you as one who serves” (Mark 10).

Father Robert W. Hovda writes in the current issue of WORSHIP: “A church that pretends to exist for its own sake is a travesty and a tragedy”. He goes on, “How many parish schedules look as if they were designed to consume all the time of their members instead of being designed to inspire those members to live in the world, inching it toward the reign of God”.

I beseech you brothers and sisters in Christ not to return to your parishes on a business-as-usual basis but to consider these challenges promptly. Put them on the agenda for your next vestry meeting.

I noted with interest the newspaper headline from the recent convention of the Diocese of New Hampshire which reads, “Action of Special Convention Sets Stage for Change from pastoral to missionary Church”.


Ecumenism continues to rest on the back burner. Perhaps it will remain there until churchpeople in all communions come to believe it is not an optional extra but an urgent need and divine imperative.

This is the centennial year of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. This statement deserves at least study in our adult classes throughout the diocese, if not a celebration. It is found on page 876 of the Book of Common Prayer.

As your bishop, I increasingly see the need to be the active sign of unity a bishop is called to be. Unity between our parishes, which we call diocese – Greek for family.

The unity of all the dioceses, which we call the Episcopal Church . The unity of the Episcopal Church with the other Anglican Churches throughout the world, the third largest Christian communion.

1988 will be a specially advantageous year for me to exercise this ministry of unity. Of course, every year my round of visitation affords me this opportunity and I enjoy this ministry more than I can tell you. I want to be used in even more meaningful ways on these occasions.

This convention brings much of the diocesan leadership together to plan our work and witness in south Georgia. The diocese should not be hard to-find! It is you sitting there and the folks back home. Your tithes support the 20 mission priests I have deployed, with six more seminarians graduating in June, not to mention a great number of other mutual programs. Some of our folks speak as if they believe the Diocese “lives” in Savannah! I’ll tell you where the diocese really lives. It lives in Cochran and Fitzgerald, in Bainbridge and Pennick, in Thomson and Sandersville. It lives, once removed, in the Northern Philippines and in Panama.

1988 is General Convention year. Your bishop and the four priests and four lay persons you previously elected will join like numbers from 99 American dioceses and 18 overseas dioceses in July in Detroit to plan our course for another three years. Here again is seen the bishop as a sign of unity, in this instance between the 117 dioceses. Not everything that comes out of General Convention will please us. I hastily add, not everything we, from the South, do at General Convention pleases others!

Dean Alan W. Jones of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, writes, “I think, deep down, we are afraid of each other. To label each other when we disagree is simply to run into a dead-end. The feeling that those who oppose us are wrong – that they are God’s enemies – is hidden away in most of us who believe”. He goes on, “Let us try to entertain each other’s ideas and live with them for a while. Our trouble is we think that if we cannot live with an idea forever, we must kill it immediately”.

Let us keep this admonition in mind as we pursue our deliberations here.

In an effort to enable us in the Diocese of Georgia to become even more familiar with the work of the General Convention and religious issues of the day, I have invited two leaders of our Church to visit and speak with us. The Very Rev’d David B. Collins, President of the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies of General Convention, is our guest at this 1988 diocesan convention and will speak on two occasions. Then on Easter Day, the Most Rev’d Edmond L. Browning, Presiding Bishop and Primate, will be my guest in Savannah. I invite all lay persons who care to visit with him to meet that afternoon at 4 p.m. in St. Michael’s parish hall and the clergy to meet with him in my home at 6 p.m. Bishop Browning will be the guest of the Diocesan Convention in February 1990.

I focus again on the year 1988 and the opportunities for the bishop’s ministry as a sign of unity. This is the year for Lambeth Conference. Every 10 years the Archbishop of Canterbury invites all diocesan bishops from around the world to meet with him in Canterbury. At this conference 550 archbishops and bishops, including 23 from Churches with which we are in full communion, will meet together for nearly a month. Interesting is the fact that of three official Roman Catholic observers, one is our neighbor, Bishop Raymond Lessard of Savannah.

On 17 July, as the 550 bishops process into magnificent Canterbury Cathedral, the majority will be bishops of color and bishops of developing nations. Bishops of the most rapidly growing dioceses will all be black. Lambeth Conference will have four areas of study:

  1. Mission and Ministry.
  2. Dogmatic Theology and Pastoral Questions.
  3. Ecumenical Relations.
  4. Christianity and the Social Order.

Each bishop is assigned to a section. I to Ecumenical Relations.

The Archbishop has asked that each bishop bring with him, in his working skills, the faith and practice, hopes and dreams of his diocese. My 30 years in the Diocese of Georgia, including four years of weekly visits with clergy vestries, mission councils and people of our 66 congregations, lead me to believe that I can do this adequately. More difficult will be my task, as the sign of unity, to bring back to Georgia the sentiments, the faith convictions, the policies and positions of nearly 500 other dioceses. This I will endeavor to do beginning next fall as I travel round the diocese and as I write for the CHURCH IN GEORGIA.

We are an episcopally led and synodically governed family of churches worldwide, of which the Diocese of Georgia is a living, healthy, integral part.

I earnestly solicit your prayers and good wishes for both General Convention and Lambeth.


What of the future?

FIRST, for our diocese, a grand opportunity awaits us if this convention gives the go-ahead to the capital funds drive for Honey Creek and Mission Development. This issue has been thoroughly explored, tested and studied. Our Diocesan Council will present a resolution to this convention. Cargill Associates made an extensive
feasibility study as requested by the last convention.

Enthusiasm for a fund raising drive is not high. But then again, it never is. Your bishop heartily endorses the effort in whatever form it takes. All who know and use our conference center know that we urgently need expanded facilities to enable additional and more effective use and greater income.

Fourteen missions of our diocese have reached the stage of development where they must build if they are to take advantage of their position. This is great news!

My wife and I pledge our support of this golden opportunity for diocesan development. I invite and encourage your to do so also. It will take courage because no time ever seems like the right time. Your vote in favor of this effort also supposes your willingness to work for and give to the campaign. I know we can if we will to.

SECOND. Controversies notwithstanding, the good news is that Episcopalians across the land are supporting their church financially like never before. Amongst the churches in the N.C.C., we registered the highest annual gain at last reckoning – 10.99%. Our proposed diocesan operating budget is very tight for 1988.

I believe our “asking” program, which supports the diocesan budget, to be both fair and appropriate. However, I have come to believe that we have about peaked in what our people can emotionally support in the way of diocesan programs at this time. More teaching and deeper awareness are now clearly needed to help our people see beyond parish needs, to see the opportunities for spreading the gospel in areas where we have no presence.

Of course we do what we will with our money. But it is a stewardship decision nonetheless. When we are so convicted by our religion that we all tithe, we will have no financial anxieties. By a quick estimate, if all of the delegates to this convention tithed the church would realize perhaps half a million dollars, all from you, only 200 of our 7,400 families!

Giving the convention budget “asking” top priority “off the top” in each parish budget would allow for our mutual ministry to proceed as planned.

THIRD, One great assist to see beyond ourselves, to give and to receive Christian strengths, strategies and values, may lie in entering into a companion relationship with an overseas diocese in what is known as the Partners in Mission program. Would this be mutually advantageous? Could we woo another diocese into taking an interest in us after going through the required screening process? If it is your will, I will appoint a committee to study the possibility and report back to the Diocesan Council and the 1989 Diocesan Convention. Consultation with other dioceses presently having companion dioceses would provide valuable input and guidance.

I gather many of you have read Alan Bloom’s THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND. I listen to tapes of it as I drive cross country. Professor Bloom notes the decline of absolutes in favor of relativism regarding values. He writes that “value relativism” can be taken to be a great release from the effort to distinguish between good and evil. To this temptation we have succumbed.

He further argues that families are no longer effective transmitters of values to their children. Parents tend themselves to be relativists. Perhaps it is the course of least resistance. This leads me to assert the urgent need for our clergy to affirm the boundaries separating vice from virtue, to preach sure and certain standards based on scriptural revelation. The clergy should assist and support parents in teaching Christian values to their children; priest and parents speaking with one voice on ethical issues. I was re-inforced in this by the fine meditations given at our recent clergy retreat by our leader Bishop William H. Sheridan. Good and evil, right and wrong, need to be identified more than ever before and if not by the Church, by whom?


Permit me to read again part of the first lesson to you. It contains so many of the truths I have attempted to articulate.

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:9-18)




At 6:47 p.m. on February 11, 1988, Bishop Harry Woolston Shipps began his address to the Diocese of Georgia. At approximately 6:53, Bishop Shipps could affectionately be called “Hurricane Harry”, because Hurricane Harry hit Wilmington Island at St. Francis’ of the Islands Episcopal Church.

The delegates of the 166th Diocesan Convention saw that Hurricane Harry carried with it heavy rains and high gusts of winds. The rains drenched the self-centered parochialism of the churches and missions in the Diocese of Georgia. The self-righteous indignation of those who chose to exclude rather than affirm. The passive stance of those who resist change and resist the proclamation of the Gospel to the poor and the unchurched. To the value relativism which blurs our ability to make right choices, and to make right actions particularly in upholding our values with Christian families. The high gusts of winds of change bring a new light and a new spiritual direction which will challenge the diocese and bring us out of the 12th century into the 20th century. By implications those traditional bulwarks which are worthy will withstand the storm, and those which are insecure will blow away to make way for new life.

The force and power of the winds of new life are to be seen in a worshiping and prayerful family centered in Jesus Christ. The direction of the wind which moves out of the center of worship and the existing ministry of pastoral care will be evangelism and servanthood.

In the first gust of the new spirit, the bishop has challenged each parish and mission to “point to an intentional program of evangelism reaching out to the unchurched, both in the diocese and in the world”.

In the second gust of the new spirit, each parish and mission is called upon to “identify a community of need and perhaps in concert with other congregations develop a ministry to that need”.

We are called unanimously to support these new winds of the spirit through

  1. our commitment to the establishment and support of new and existing missions of the diocese
  2. further development of the camp and conference center at Honey Creek
  3. the practice of each parish and mission giving the first fruits of their stewardship for the support of the mission of the diocese and the national church
  4. the establishment of a companion relationship with another diocese in the Anglican Communion.

Whether it is at General Convention or at Lambeth or in each parish and mission throughout the diocese, Hurricane Harry, in a wonderfully positive and spirit-filled way, has focused our attention through his leadership so that we are united with Christ and united with one another.

Peter G. Thomas +, Chair

The following motion was presented by the Committee on the Report on the Bishop’s Address:

We move that the bishop be requested to appoint a task force to report to the next Diocesan Convention on the feasibility of establishing a companion relationship as partners in mission with another diocese in the Anglican Communion.