Bishop’s Address of 1989

The Rt. Rev. Harry Woolston Shipps
Given at Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, Georgia
February 2, 1989

Grace be unto you and peace from god our father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

The 167th gathering of the leadership of the Episcopal Church in South Georgia is now in place. Our hosts are our good friends from Christ Church, St. Barnabas’ and St. James’; the three communities of our diocesan family in this place. We were last here in 1984. We are grateful for this invitation.

Harry Woolston ShippsAs your chief pastor, I report to you concerning life in the diocese and in the church at large. I hope very much to stimulate your thinking at this convention and I ask you to carry my message home to your vestry or council meeting and adult study groups. What we learn and do at convention must be well communicated to those not present. Communication calls for communicators able, apt and willing.

Having just celebrated the fifth anniversary of my consecration, I want to express to you my appreciation for the goodness and love you have shown both Louise and me during these years. My episcopal ministry is not without its difficult moments. But I realize we all are this side of Adam and still very short of the kingdom. I will address some of the more urgent issues to you here tonight.

First, let he say that my participation in the Lambeth Conference this past summer was a major learning experience for me. I hope it will “trickle down”, as they say, to all in the diocese. Initially, the bishops were asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury to bring our diocese with us to Lambeth. Now I strive to bring Lambeth back to the diocese. Some significant observations from Lambeth include:

  1. The Anglican Communion is a major Christian body, being the third largest in the world. We are second only to the Roman catholic church in our scope and inclusiveness. What a responsibility is thereby ours!
  2. We are a multi-national (164 countries), multi-racial, cross-cultural amalgam of 70,000,000 people with various degrees of commitment, loosely bound together by Canterbury and the historic episcopate. At Lambeth we soon realized that our major problem is the nature and scope of authority and the consequences of independent decision making, whether it be prayer book revision, women in priesthood and episcopacy, human sexuality issues or polygamy.
  3. The church in the west (so called) or 1st world developed nations is becoming smaller and increasingly marginalized. The church in the third world is poor, but growing rapidly, with a zeal and commitment that leaves us westerners astonished.

Later in this convention you will receive a report from a task force I convened at the request of the last convention to study the advisability of developing a partner or companion relationship with a distant diocese. (I refrain from saying an overseas diocese, because the view of the planet earth from space raises the question “who is overseas from whom?”) such a companion relationship could well be mutually beneficial for building up the Body of Christ as well as a stimulating and challenging endeavor for us.

The issues we confronted at Lambeth were those of all Anglicans worldwide. Authority versus independence, scripture versus the modern world; commitment versus apathy.

What the future holds no one knows. It is safe to say we are, as Anglican Christians, not going to be the same ever again because of the consequences of these paradoxes.

The pain felt in many areas of the Anglican Communion by the ordination of women is one symptom of those contrasts. The hurt is real and it is especially felt amongst some of our dearest friends.

My challenge to you is to step out in courage and faith!

My challenge to you is to live with the latitude of practice that now typifies the Anglican Communion.

I do know and firmly believe this:

The way of schism is never a solution compatible with catholic faith and practice. The community will not survive if it is divided against itself. To be able to walk together with some imprecision is far more important than the impossible dream of doctrinal purity.

He who bound St. Peter will bind all of us and carry us where we, of our own free wills, do not wish to go. This is the way that leads to glory. Anglicans never have enjoyed the seeming security of biblical fundamentalism on the one hand or papal infallibility on the other hand. We are guided rather by the text “the truth shall make you free”. Seeking new truths compatible with ancient verities is an exciting, if sometimes disquieting, endeavor.

Whether we know it or not, whether we accept it or not, we are none of us in control. We are, all of us, at the foot of the cross, entirely and universally dependent upon him for our unity and life.

As I look ahead, my prayer continues to be one for peace and justice, held in dynamic tension with faith and order. The Anglican Communion, the diocese and the parish, too, are fragile entities and must be handled with care; great care and love. My episcopal motto is before me daily—“speaking the truth in love”.

Having said this, I must turn the coin over.

In my ministry as bishop, I know the episcopal office does not exist merely to suggest or commend the truth the church has received. No, the bishop’s duty is to insure that the truth of the Christian religion in its purity shall be taught and lived out by the people whom they shepherd. Consequently, the bishop’s teaching office involves some occasions of admonition and, if necessary, of rebuke and judgement, having its authority in the “binding and loosing” of Matthew 16:19.

I now move to some specific areas in our life together.

  1. I believe. We need to further develop our ministry to and among black people. It appears there are now fewer black Episcopalians in the Diocese of Georgia than at any time in recent history. To assist me in this endeavor, I am inviting the black clergy and wardens in the diocese to be a council of advice to the bishop as he exercises his responsibility to all of God’s children.

    Involved in this is the issue of clergy placement. I am determined not to send a black person to seminary if I cannot place that person, upon ordination, with the very same options as a white graduate from seminary. On the other hand, I must encourage congregations that are predominantly black to consider the ministry of a white deacon or priest in their parish or mission.

  2. The Rev’d Dr. Carroll E. Simcox has written “to be in Christ is to be in the Church; to be in the Church is to be in a parish. It is as simple as that, and as hard”.  I make these observations:

    First to the clergy I say (again I quote Dr. Simcox), “your life in the church is not a matter of aesthetical rapture or moral uplift or the satisfaction of your gregarious instinct in the company of charming and stimulating people. It is a matter of salvation! We must be saved from something to something. That from which we need to be saved is estrangement from God and from each other, which is living death and hell begun. That to which we need to be saved is union, communion, community with God and with one another. This is worked out in the life of your parish church”.

    Second, I speak once again, as I have in two previous conventions, of the need for greater trust, patience and mutuality between the clergy and the laity. Vocational priests are vulnerable, subject to hurt and are sometimes lonely, frustrated and even angry. They can be troubled about self-worth and vocation and by anxiety about failure and rejection. Priests are not sanctuary furniture that can be moved around to suit popular whim. Be as helpful and as understanding as you can to your priest and be a good witness to fellow parishioners. Remember always that the church is the Bride of Christ.

  3. The third observation is again a reminder that I emphasized at the last convention. The Church in America today is not rural 17th century England. It is not 3rd century Egypt either, let alone 14th century Rome. Nor is it the church in which I grew up! It is the church in the last decade of the 20th century after its founding by our Lord Jesus Christ. I ask you to reflect on the implications and the ramifications of those facts.

    There is here a dynamic tension between being faithful to history and yet effectively ministering in contemporary society.

  4. I am happy to report the continuing growth and development of those persons called to holy orders. Much credit is to be given to the nine members of the commission on ministry. This spring and summer i am scheduled to ordain fourteen, yes fourteen persons. Some will be to the transitional diaconate as they graduate from seminary, others to the priesthood and still others to the vocational diaconate. We especially hope that these vocational deacons in our midst will lead us all into a far greater servant ministry in our communities.

    However, the church is still 99% laity. The clergy exist to lead and enable the ministry of the baptized.

    The thoughts that naturally follow these observations have to do with the financial support of these new deacons and priests as i endeavor to deploy them throughout the diocese. Everybody votes yes to evangelism and Episcopal Church presence, but when it comes to giving it priority in parish budgets, something strange happens at vestry meetings! Suddenly the needs of the parish loom not only large, but take priority over what we should be giving beyond ourselves. This year our responses to the “fair share” askings have been, percentage-wise, the lowest in memory. At the same time, giving within the parishes and missions would seem to be at an all time high. Sometime we will, of necessity, have to come to grips with what it means to be an Episcopal Church with a diocese as its focal point for mission and ministry in Georgia and in the world beyond. Put simply, a parish’s financial obligations are not met unless they include the full amount of the diocesan asking program as established by convention.

  5. This brings me to the campaign for vision for mission and ministry, a noble campaign for diocesan growth and development. We are off to a good start. The financial goal is easily obtainable, as many of you have heard me say as I go around the diocese speaking at campaign dinners. More of you will be hearing me say it at the convocation parish kick-off dinners, soon to begin.

    I say it because I believe it to be true and a fulfillment of our Lord’s Great Commission – “go ye therefore and make disciples ….baptizing them ….teaching them”. That is why we are in South Georgia. Not for ourselves, but for others. It has been rightly said “the church exists for those not in it”.

    What seems to be overlooked is the fact that such an undertaking as the vision for mission and ministry involves lots of work, hard work, and local leadership, combined with very special gift-giving. We are endowed with both the strength and the affluence in this diocese to succeed in accomplishing the aims of our campaign for vision for mission and ministry. Let us challenge ourselves to conclude it this spring with a resounding victory!

    Let me relate something I learned at Lambeth that was so well summarized by Bishop Sanders of East Carolina:

    Bishops and people of the third world live in a world of scarcity and disadvantage, yet they have a theology and outlook of abundance. We bishops and people of the developed nations live in a world of great abundance and yet we have a theology and attitude of smallness and scarcity.

  6. Finally, I want to speak of something familiar to all—church school, inquirers’ and confirmation classes. Here we have a tradition of conveying the facts of our faith to new folks or to our children. The great credal dogmas, the ministry, sacraments, history, prayer, the Bible. This is as it should be.

    However, baptism or confirmation has yet another dimension to it, a crucial dimension. Christian initiation and Christian maturation call, not just for knowledge and credal assent, but for a new life style, new values, new priorities, new behavior.

    The early church believed such a new life calls for us

    1) to set aside the old behavior-patterns and to adopt high standards of morality.

    2) in addition to adopting new behavior patterns, to become witnesses or evangelists for Christ, carrying personally the gospel next door and to the uttermost parts of the earth.

    3) to also become good stewards of our possessions, sharing generously with the church. Remember in acts the funds collected for the relief of the brethren in Jerusalem. Remember the fate of Ananias and Sapphera, who held back on their obligations of gifts to the local church.

    4) the new or maturing Christians furthermore became the servant church, following Jesus’ example to serve rather than be served. The obligation to minister to the disadvantaged in Jesus’ name became normative in the Christian community. Here is where hospitals had their origin.

These are the natural consequence and thankful response to the love of god shown in the face of Jesus Christ.

These also are the very priorities I held up to this convention last year. I again hold them up as my vision for the church in Georgia and to all who would call themselves Christian.

Of these three, stewardship, evangelism and service, evangelism has been designated by the Episcopal church and the Lambeth conference as the focus of the decade of the 1990s. Any successful venture on our part in evangelism will require of us new ways, new maturation, new verve.

I am, as your bishop, among you as one who serves and who also is called upon to lead. I now recommit myself to be both a servant and a leader, and ask that you join me and support me in the service of Jesus our Lord, who has called and commissioned us “to be a light to lighten. The gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel”. 

Amen. Thank you.


At the outset we note and appreciate the high value our bishop places on clear communication. We are reminded that each of us is likewise called to share the gospel and to carry the message back home.

An apt title for this address might be “Step Out In Courage and Faith”. This may sound simple enough, but for some at this time this may seem difficult, if not impossible. Yet the alternative to “step out in courage and faith” is “come to a halt, in fear and doubt”. We choose to affirm the bishop for a statement of no small conviction at a trying time in the life of the church we love.

From ancient time a role of the bishop has been to represent the diocese to the wider church, and the universal Church to his own people. The bishop’s charge to us to step out in these perplexing days is informed by his recent experience at the Lambeth Conference. We need reminding that we are the third largest Christian body, multi-national, multi-racial, cross-cultural, with great resources and great responsibilities. Our major problem is the nature and scope of authority and the consequences of independent decision-making, centering on such issues as authority vs. independence, scripture vs. the modern world, commitment vs. apathy. We need to know that we are, as Anglican Christians, not going to be the same ever again because of these paradoxes. We acknowledge and “own” the pain felt over the issue of the ordination of women, one symbol of such ambiguities.

As we all struggle to find our way, our bishop offers this counsel, both challenging and pastoral:

  1. “Live with the latitude of practice that now typifies the Anglican Communion”.
  2. “The way of schism is never a solution compatible with catholic faith and practice”.
  3. “To be able to walk together with some imprecision is far more important than the impossible dream of doctrinal purity”.

He reminds us that none of us is in control, but are all at the foot of the cross, totally dependent upon God for our unity and life.

Having shared with us his discernment of the signs of the times, the bishop addressed several areas.

  1. We need to develop further our ministry to and among black people. This could involve rethinking patterns of placement for clergy both black and white.
  2. For the third year the bishop calls for more trust, patience and mutuality between clergy and laity. Why aren’t we hearing?
  3. The church in America today is not the same as in any previous, if cherished, time, presenting us with a dynamic tension between being faithfully to history and yet effectively ministering in contemporary society.
  4. We give thanks for increasing vocations which, among other things, can model and inspire servant ministry on the part of the 99% of the church who are laity.
  5. Although congregational income increases, giving to mission in the diocese, nation and world is falling. Lax stewardship is not always to blame. The system need re-evaluating and re-tuning.
  6. The bishop calls us to do our best in the campaign for Vision for Mission and Ministry, which can enrich our life together in many ways. Rich in things but poor in soul, we have much to learn from the churches in under-developed nations.

None of these above goals can be met without intentional, committed response of all our people.

Finally, the bishop reminds us of the basic yet often overlooked fact that Christian initiation and Christian maturation call, not just for knowledge and creedal assent, but for a new life style, new values, new priorities, new behavior. This includes (1) high standards of morality, (2) becoming evangelists and witnesses, (3) becoming good stewards, and (4) embodying servant ministry.

As always, we bold up stewardship, evangelism, service. Again let us take these imperatives home with us. Evangelism is to be the focus of the decade of the 1990s. By our baptism each is an evangelist.

This committee thanks the bishop for an address that is refreshingly free of clichés, platitudes, and unnecessary verbiage. For many this address will be liberating and affirming. For some it could seriously challenge old and comfortable ways of thinking. By all it can be accepted for what it is: An informed, thoughtful and pastoral word of hope from a shepherd who knows his sheep and who has endeavored to live up to the rarely achieved goal of “speaking the truth in love”.

John L. Jenkins +, Chair