Investiture Sermon

Above is a video of this event together with the liturgy of thanksgiving for Bishop Reeves, which was held the previous night.


On Friday, 15 February at 7 o’clock in the evening in the Church of St. Paul, Augusta, the Right Reverend Harry Woolston Shipps was recognized and invested as the Eighth Bishop of Georgia by the Right Reverend Paul Reeves. Bishop Shipps then celebrated the Holy Eucharist.

Participants in the service were The Rev’d Peter Thomas, Rector of St. Paul’s; the Very Rev’d Reginald Gunn, President of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Georgia; the Very Rev’d Neal Phelps, Dean of the Augusta Convocation; The Rev’d Henry Williams; the Deacons of the Diocese; Mr. George Williams, Jr., Holy Trinity, Louisville; Mr. David Shipps.

Mr. James Nord and Mr. Keith Shafer conducted the combined choir of Good Shepherd and St. Paul’s Churches, Augusta. Mrs. Lindsey McKee and Ms. Debbie Moore were soloists.

The Rev’d Jacoba Hurst was the Master of Ceremony and the Rt. Rev’d Judson Child, Bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta preached.

The following is Bishop Child’s sermon.

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

I feel that it is always the prerogative of the preacher on an occasion like this to tell the congregation immediately what his reaction is to what’s going on. It feels great! And those of us who know about liturgy realize that even at this moment the hosts of heaven are rejoicing in such a fine piece of offering. The other thing is that I feel very much at home. There are very, very few places where I do not feel at home, so I’m warning you I don’t go back to those places, and this may be a very bad habit into which you will find yourself getting.

We want to talk for a moment about common history. Because I am Bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta, your daughter (I’m not your daughter, I mean the diocese is your daughter). As a result of this we are in tremendous debt to the life and ministry and common life which we shared until 1907. Particularly today do we think of our historical roots because we are observing the solemnity of Thomas Bray. [You will find a biographical sketch of Thomas Bray in the inner leaf of your service folder.] But it needs to be said that at the time that he and James Edward Oglethorpe talked about the possible founding of a colony here in Georgia, the chief concern was an apostolic concern. The concern that Christian knowledge be spread abroad, and that the propagation of the Faith be made available to both the American people, who in those days, of course, were the Indians, to black people and certainly to those who came here under oppression seeking new life and new hope.

And our histories at that point converge, because it is under the work and apostolic enthusiasm of people like Thomas Bray that you and I are here tonight. And yet, when we look back on our Christian roots as the catholic church of God, we are looking back over a history of 2,000 years, each generation building on the apostolic imperative of the generation which preceded it. We read in the Gospel tonight that our Lord sent out seventy. He said if you have the Son of Peace with you it will not be necessary for you to take scrip or shoes or any such thing because the power and presence and grace of God will be sufficient for all your needs. It is in this spirit that the Church was founded in this country, and in Africa and all over the world, on the grounds that we are doing the will of Him who sent us to make the Kingdom a reality. So in 1733 the Church came here to Georgia and was established. And in that establishment you and I are the joyful heirs.

Tonight we come to the extention of that history. We are come here to invest – in some parts of the Church, called enthrone – it’s a little triumphant, but we’re going to enthrone tonight Harry Woolston Shipps. And we are going to enter into the heritage and the imperative of the original twelve apostles, the seventy etc., who have been part and parcel of the labor of the Lord in this and in every land. I feel very much, at a time like this, that the whole funnel of history, if you will, comes together and centers on a man, flesh and blood like most of us here tonight. One who is going to be the sign of the unity of the Church, the apostolic presence, the majestarium, if you will, in this diocese. It all funnels in, in a moment of history, in a little space not more than four feet square in this church at this time. And all that was implied, all chat was empowered in those twelve apostles and those seventy whom our Lord sent is vested in this man, in this place.

The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus is, in the words of the first lesson we heard tonight, ‘Your God reign’-. It is the knowledge of the reign of God in this place that Harry Shipps is now called and is about to be inducted. Your new bishop, as well as his people, have a common ministry, which comes not from the laying on of hands in consecration or the laying on of hands in confirmation, but that common ministry which we own in our common life, in the life and death of Jesus. You are the community of the resurrection. You are dead, says Paul, and your life is hid with Christ in God, and God, who has raised you up and empowered you through this baptism, has given you the same kind of missionary imperative and call that came to him and has come to Harry Wooston. It is an imperative that he can not fulfill, which you cannot fulfill, all of us together cannot fulfill. If you listened with care to the litany, which we just offered to God, we asked Him to empower us to put our feet in strange places and to prepare our tongues that we might speak the Gospel of Christ Jesus both in word and in deed. And it is into this heritage that we have entered.
I want to reflect with you for a moment on what is about to happen. It’s always important to have a sort of prelude and orientation to the tremendous ministry to which you have called and elected Harry Woolston and which God has empowered by His Grace. He is going to be called on to do nothing different from that which you and I are called to do:

  • Will you be obedient to Christ? That is, will you let that part of you die so that Christ may live in you?
  • Will you, indeed, be open to the operation of His Holy Spirit?
  • Will you be faithful, as Bishop Reeves reminded us last night, in study and prayer and offering. Thomas Bray established in this colony 37 lending libraries – a new thing in the early part of the 18th Century – so that the Word of God may not be just read in what we call the body and volume of Holy Scripture, but that those documents,: like. the Church Fathers, might illuminate those pages so that the living Word of God may come not only off the page, but be perceived and known as the way of life for all His people.
  • Will you encourage and will you empower your people for their ministries? How many of us who are here tonight are fully aware of what our ministries are? Or our gifts? The gifts that the Holy Spirit has given to us in our baptism, made available to God in the fulfilment of His perfect will. Maybe we need to reflect on what those gifts may be. It may be a simple gift. It may be the gift of self offering, working as many of us do as, my favorite term is, kitchen canaries. Those things around the house which need to be done before the Department of Health moves in. That is a ministry, an offering of self.
  • Will you guard the faith, the unity and discipline of the Church? That is a beauty, believe me! Nobody knows anymore what the faith, unity discipline of the Church is, because, as we were reminded last night, in some ways it’s kind of up for grabs. And not everyone agrees with the bishop all the time as to what those means of discipline should be. Just remember, you’re the one with the hat on, however.
  • Will you share in the government of the Church, with the people who are duly elected to represent the Church in this place?
  • Will you guide and support your priests and clergy in their ministry? A very, very, very central concern to the Church and certainly, from what you said to the convention this morning, it is obviously not only an option, but an imperative to you to see that they are supported in their ministry in the Church.
  • And will you show mercy and compassion upon the young and the old, the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised, the homeless, the despairing, the broken?

I mentioned earlier that these are not just questions posed to the bishop, they are posed to you. For in order for his ministry to extend, his people need to be effective. There are more specific things, very much like in the solemnization of Holy Matrimony, we don’t get down for the ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health’, but the very practical matters that are household matters – just living together as human beings.

Let me pose a few questions to you. Everything in the litany is addressed to the new Diocesan. Let me address some to you that are not in this book – but they will be in the next revision! Some of us will be in our grave by then, or in the State hospital. A question now to the clergy and people of the Diocese of Georgia:

  • Will you give space and allow your bishop to be a human? And allow his humanity, his fallibility and his mistakes to show, and pick up the pieces and go on and not pose an eternal rift or barrier between yourselves and him?
  • Will you allow him to live within the same 24 hour-day span as you have? The answer is, “I will, the Lord being my helper”.
  • Will you give him room and time to grow in holiness? It is a very difficult thing for many when they find that their bishop or their priest has been what we refer to in New Jersey as ‘warming up.-the beads’, that is, doing their prayers and offering oblations to the Lord in a monastery or any place of seclusion. They feel that he isn’t really about his business. You’ve got to look busy all the time. That is the word, you may remember, that was given by the Holy Father when one of the Cardinals said here comes Jesus up the altar steps, what shall we do. He said, ‘Look-a busy!’.
  • Will you allow him to laugh with you and also to laugh at himself? We need to have room to giggle once in a while. Even if it is something stupid. We are far too serious about what we call the endeavors of religion. People are very uptight about a lot of things, about which some of the early Church Fathers thought were very humorous.
  • Will you also eagerly guard his time off? And when you see him in the supermarket, let him shop. Please, don’t stop and tell him about the time he was so nice to somebody who doesn’t even remember him any more.
  • Will you share also in supporting his marriage and his family – the strength which God has given to him in that structure? And pray for him, and Louise, and their children. Any of you who have been raised in a rectory know that it is no circus. Some times you end up bad. Just look.
  • Will you also love him, even when he’s difficult to love? Goes back to some of that discipline and guarding of the Faith that we spoke of just a moment ago.
  • Then the last thing. Will you, in charity, challenge his authority? Bound by Holy Charity. And if there is any need to challenge it, make an appointment and go in and do it. Don’t grab him two seconds before the procession and say, ‘Bishop, by what authority do you do this?’ It boils down, as it did many times for us, ‘Because I’m your father’.

Will you, then, with him in this place seek God’s help to become the people of God. A powerful ministry in this place to His glory. Hopefully, it will be possible for you all to answer, ‘I will, for the sake of Jesus Christ’. And in the words that ended our Gospel, in the charity that comes from our shared humanity and the needs and brokeness that every one of us has, it may be possible for us to know that the Kingdom of God is very near.

Harry Woolston, you and I are going to be kind of out there in front for some years, together. And I want you to know and pledge to you and your clergy, that any way, at any time, we can do anything of a cooperative nature between the dioceses, between ourselves as brothers in Christ, I an as close as the phone. I am ready to do what I can, and you have already pledged this to me. I mentioned at the outset, and this is the thought with which I want to conclude, we exist in the Diocese of Atlanta because you shared that area of God’s Church and Kingdom with us. And I have on my person tonight the cross that belonged to the Third Bishop of Georgia, and the First Bishop of Atlanta, the Rt. Rev’d Cleland Kinloch Nelson. And on the back of the cross are the names of all those who have prededed me. And it is into this heritage that I enter and it is a heritage that we both share. I welcome you to this and I am grateful that God has called both of us to serve Him in this great State. May Be prosper and bless and enrich you and your holy people, always.

In the name of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

A reception honoring Bishop Shipps and his family followed the Bishop’s investiture.