Bishop’s Address of 1987

The Rt. Rev. Harry Woolston Shipps
Given at the Convention Hall of the Quality Inn Bucaneer, Jekyll Island, Georgia
February 13, 1987

Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

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

I greet you at this 165th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in Georgia and as I enter into the fourth year of my episcopacy.

I greet you on Jekyll Island, recalling our last convention here – 13 years ago – when I took the proceedings with a little less gravity than I do now.

Harry Woolston ShippsThe year 1986 has been yet another eventful and fast-moving year for the people of planet earth. It will be remembered as a year of continued, if not, growing political and social unrest in all corners of the globe. Locally we suffered a severe farm crisis, only slightly abated.

In this mix we can note with pride the life and ministry of Anglicans. I think of Terry Waite, the personal representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his gallant diplomacy in Lebanon, carried out at great personal risk. I think of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his brave and prophetic witness in South Africa that has captured the imagination of the world. Archbishop Robert Runcie, himself, is increasingly seen as the peacemaker he is.

Our Communion is indeed a multi-nationalistic, multi-ethnic and quite pluralistic worldwide fellowship. this fact can easily escape us as we sit in our familiar pew on Sunday morning with familiar friends. Our daily Anglican prayer cycle reminds us of our obligation to support our brothers and sisters worldwide in prayer.

As I begin my fourth year in office, I am eager to dream about our common future, to clarify our special role in the Episcopal Church and keep before the people of this diocese a compelling vision. We live in a secular society. We must engage the very best that is in us. A retreat into anti-intellectualism or a mindless funadmentalism is a failure to respond responsibly. The pluralism inherent in Anglicanism makes unity a wonderful challenge. Catholic truth is not so evasive that we cannot stand united on basic issues – all the while learning from each other. My deepest prayer of thanksgiving comes when I realize how priviledged I am to serve this diocese as its bishop.

In my first episcopal address in 1984 I spoke of a parish self– study program foumulated by then Presiding Bishop Allin, called SWEEP: Stewardship, Worship, Evangelism, Education and Pastoralia. It continues to be a valuable tool for any congregation to utilize. I again commend it to you, if you have yet to do a parish self-study. This may very well be a self-study that the Diocesan Council should undertake.

Then in 1985 I spoke on my understanding of episcopal style and of collegiality. I asked for a year of planning and development for mission to put this diocese in the best possible posture for the next ten years. This was accepted by convention. I spoke on pastoral care and the need to better get along with one another in the Church – clergy and people. I remain very concerned about this.

In 1986 I called for the Year of Mission, Evangelism and Renewal to help implement the work begun the year before. The high point of the year was the Bishops’ Crusade, held last October. At that time the twelve bishops spoke to an average of 1700 people each evening throughout the diocese. It is the hope and expectation of many that the momentum will sustain our efforts in Mission, Evangelism and Renewal. I would like to see preaching missions held in every congregation in 1987. We have many talented priests in this diocese that can be called upon.

Allow me at this point to express the appreciation of us all to those who made the Bishops’ Crusade come off so well. If any of you would like my critique of it, as sent to participating bishops, please ask my office for a copy.

As I look back over the past three years, I can say my life has been active, challenging, rewarding and happy. I intend to keep it that way. One of the greatest challenges I have is to open and keep open lines of communication. The members of Diocesan Council and the deans in their convocations can be valuable instruments in diocesan communication. Remembering the considerable turnover of people in our congregations, communication is a never-ending process. I ask that every person attending this convention make a report on it to their congregation or adult class.

I have a number of subjects I wish to hold up to you in 1987, some of which call for follow-up, as have subjects in my three previous addresses to the Diocesan Convention. First, I ask that in our convention resolutions we take the commitment we make seriously. In 1986 we adopted two resolutions calling for each congregation in the diocese to give “serious consideration, critical study, and reflection” on two important documents on world peace. Has this taken place in your parish?

We passed a resolution on domestic violence that called for action.

In 1986 this convention adopted a resolution calling for a study and report back to this 1987 convention on the Moscow and. Dublin agreed statements with the Orthodox.

The same action was taken with reference to two Consultations on Church Union documents. Another was taken with reference to the World Council of Churches document, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. And finally, we resolved to implement much of our new ecumenical agreement with the Lutherans!

All of these resolutions can still be studied and responded to. I suggest that we need to work harder on fewer resolutions.

I am going to hold up to the 1987 convention one of those resolutions. It is the one asking us to further develop the 1982 General Convention agreement with the Lutherans. The one this diocese passed in 1986 is on page 31 of the Journal. I ask that we really deal with it in 1987. Perhaps Pastor Allen’s presence has and will encourage us.

It seems to me most appropriate that two Christian communions sharing so much in common should make a stronger witness together in south Georgia.

The second issue I wish to address has to do with the further development of our fine diocesan facility, the Georgia Episcopal Conference Center. Focus groups studying the feasibility of further construction at Honey Creek met in each convocation quite recently. The report from our professional consultant has been turned in. The six deans have counselled together and I will ask the senior dean of the diocese to report to you the consensus of the findings and the Diocesan Council resolution.

Concerning the conference center, I wish to speak to three areas:

  1. We all are delighted with the arrival of Perry and Rosemary Ruby and with the loving care they are giving to the management and hosting role of the center. The accountability of funds and usage reports they send me are unsurpassed.
  2. I have watched and participated in the life of the conference center since its inception in 1960. Along with the Conference Center Commission, we have a clear vision of diocesan needs and of the center’s further development. With the assistance of many professionals, we produced a booklet outlining construction needs. This booklet, distributed at the last diocesan convention, continues as our basic guide.
  3. The bishop of the diocese, commission and committee chairmen, parishes and missions, Cursillo, ECW, and similar groups arrange for and offer the programs and activities to the diocese that take place at the conference center. The conference center, on the other hand, is the host of these programs and activities. These hosting needs determine the extent and direction of proposed further development. This is the manner in which other diocesan conference centers operate. This is in contrast to private conference centers which generate or originate their own programs and then invite people from a very large area to attend.

Number three. A task force was appointed following the last convention, charged “to study, report and make recommendations upon the long range program needs” of the diocese. I hope you will give the report of that task force your most serious attention. The job expectations of the bishop have and continue to grow beyond that which any one man can properly fulfill. We are probably the only diocese in the Province that has but one “outside man” on the staff. Even so, I want carefully to avoid creating too heavy a superstructure.

Fourth, in response to the Diocesan Council’s request to reduce the number of diocesan commissions, I have combined four commissions into one – the Commission on Special Services (Alcoholism & Drug Abuse, Ministry to the Aging, Peace and Racism). These four programs or services are offered to congregations. When invited, the commissions will come and share their considerable resources. In addition, I have combined the Renewal and Retreat Commissions.

Fifth, I have referred to the frequency of distress in our parishes, often between priest and people. I would like to suggest to you that parish life (as well as diocesan life) has become increasingly complex and demanding over the years. Clergy are expected to be everything to all people and experts at it. Parishes seem so heavily programatic that to read the weekly bulletin, one wonders how a priest can get through the week. While I expect and ask that every parish and mission in the diocese have an intentional outreach ministry to the community to people not their own, I am constrained to hold up to you all, priests and people, that the central focus of the Church is God’s salvation so freely given – and that worship is our central activity. That focus helps us become more Christ-like in this life as a response to God’s unmerited gift.

Sixth, I have heard it said that our General Convention is not representative of the people of the Church. Although I think perhaps it is representative, this observation should remind each of you of the seriousness of your vote for eight deputies and eight alternate deputies to the next General Convention. That will he held in Detroit, July 1988, with very sensitive issues at stake. We need informed, wise and committed deputies. Nominees for that office are available to meet with you for informal dialogue this afternoon.

Seven. We have declared that the tithe is the norm for Christian giving. By resolution we have asked all our people who do not tithe to increase their giving by one percent per year until they do tithe.

Scheduled to come before this convention is a report concerning our “asking” program that funds our diocesan budget. The Diocesan Council in May accepted the study committee’s report that the present program is a good one. I hold up to you that giving to the mission of the Church is south Georgia and internationally is an opportunity to be seized, not a burden to be avoided. It’s part of what it means to be an Episcopalian!

Eight. From the bishop’s vantage point, the view from the bridge, I continue to see encouraging signs of growth in the diocese. Missions seeking to become parishes, increased community outreach, adult education programs from EFM to Cursillo. Our summer youth camps at Honey Greek go a long way in assisting young people to have a clearer understanding of the faith they profess and how better to deal with the complexities of life. Many a Christian commitment was reached on the banks of Honey Creek! Here is where Christian Education can really take place for young people. Also, I especially hold up the essential place of Sunday morning parish adult education programs as vital to the life of the Church. They should he apt, current, and attractive. We must not miss out on this segment of Christian Education that is most crucial.

This brings to mind the preparation we give our adults prior to their confirmation or reception in the Episcopal Church. Considerable distress often occurs for converts who later on discover the truth about the faith and practice of the Episcopal Church – that it is not a Baptist Church in fancy clothes. I hold up in all earnestness the catechetical program as net forth in the Book of Occasional Services and the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer. Love for and knowledge of Holy Church and Holy Scripture can keep us from the pitfall of fundamentalism.

Nine. Looking ahead, I intend to hold up a new mission for you this time next year. I plan to ask you to consider a companion diocese overseas. We are capable of so much, if we keep our vision high.

Finally, it’s good to be together as the psalmist sings: “Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity.” (Ps 133:1)

That togetherness, this community, is far more than conviviality. Recently, you have heard read from Isaiah, “The holy one of Israel has chosen you”. When Isaiah became depressed, Yahweh multiplied Isaiah’s tasks.

Many Christians do not know God’s enabling power because they undertake no enterprise that will afford God the opportunity to reveal his power in them. A low esteem of our capabilities dishonors the God who chose and sent us. Indeed, the Holy One of Israel has chosen each of us.

Report on the Bishop’s Address

The committee has carefully studied the Bishop’s Address and the perspective from which he viewed us. He sees us as a motley aggregate, embracing a multiplicity of races, social classes and, therefore, constantly in need of s’elf=study and renewal at all levels. In his 1986 address the bishop set for himself some goals and objectives which he evaluated in his 1987 address. We sincerely thank him for this model, which we all need, and we hereby strongly affirm his exemplary ministry among us.

Our chief pastor shared with us his concern that each parish initiate a preaching mission; that we diligently observe the resolutions passed by this convention and that as wounded healers we continue to foster adult Christian education in order that we may more effectively fulfill our primary task of worshipping God and ministering to those in need.
When there is no vision the people perish. The bishop held up before us his vision and hope for the diocese. The committee urges this convention request the bishop to implement a “concordat” with the Lutheran Communion in order that together we may more adequately serve this part of Georgia. We believe that mutual benefit would surely follow a companion relationship with an overseas diocese. In addition, we urge this convention to prepare a detailed proposal to provide the bishop with the episcopal assistance he obviously needs.

Finally, the committee expresses its deep gratitude to our bishop for his positive, balanced, upbeat and, above all, pastoral view from the bridge. Our dicoese, as he urged us, should not permit the problems besetting it to make us retreat into the incubus of anti-intellectualism nor mindless fundamentalism. The genius of the Anglican ethos is the following of the via media. This is our way and it will enable us, as the bishop said, to “know God’s enabling power”, as we seek to manifest his presence in a broken world.

I thank the members of this committee for their assistance in preparing this report.

Respectfully submitted,
Charles L. Hoskins +, Chairman