Bishop’s Address of 1991

The Rt. Rev. Harry Woolston Shipps
Tifton, Georgia

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

When I was a young boy 8 – 10 – 12 years old, I used to spend rainy afternoons in the attic of our family home. Attics are often the repositories of fascinating Items from long ago.

Harry Woolston ShippsIn our case, the items were those things my father had brought home from the First World War – a metal trench helmet (which I still have), a French rifle, an officer’s service revolver, steel darts dropped from airplanes, and other things that were designed for mutual destruction.

Amongst these things was a large belt buckle and around a central insignia were inscribed the words in German: GOTT MIT UNS. Thinking that only American soldiers were in God’s favor, I asked my father about this inscription. My friends, millions of German soldiers died in the First World War firmly believing GOD WAS WITH THEM. GOTT MIT UNS.

Of course God was with the German soldiers – in the same way He was with American, British, French and Russian soldiers – no more and no less – the Hebrew Psalms notwithstanding.

– Can this not inform us these days as we pursue our policy in the Persian Gulf? We very much want our forces to prevail over Iraq. Our elected leaders believe our cause to be right – but let us never forget that our enemies die believing that God is with them, and let us continue prayers for peace, unceasingly.

GOTT MIT UNS. This could be the basis for a sobering meditation.

Can we not also be informed by this as we face issues in the life of the church today, attempting to do and be what is right in the sight of God, and to seek God’s will for his Church? GOTT MIT UNS may be an extraordinarily chauvinistic notion if we fail to realize that persons holding points of view other than our own believe equally that God is with them. Can my cause only be understood as noble and righteous? Are not others sincere in believing that they too are guided by the Spirit? And is it not possible, in fact, that they truly may be guided by the Spirit?

Are we not called then to be responsive to each other here and across the Church in a spirit of non-judgmentalism, and with mutual respect and charity? “All men will know that you are my disciples If you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Or listen to Matthew 7: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

The General Convention of the Church will take place this summer. I can think of several other places I would rather be than in Phoenix, Arizona in July! However, I intend to participate with full conviction, but not as one who claims infallible knowledge. The Church has been changing for 2,000 years, and it will not stop changing for me now. Perhaps we also can be informed by the words of John Milton – “Differences of opinion is knowledge in the making.” In all my experiences as an Episcopalian one of the most valuable and rewarding has been to venture down paths that I would not ordinarily choose to go.

It is an honor and privilege for us in the Diocese of Georgia to welcome into our midst the Bishop of Belize and two members of his diocese. I recall my own dellg,htful visit to Belize last fall. We inaugurate our companion relationship with zeal and fraternity with the aniticpation that we will learn form each other how better to be Christ In the world. This companion relationship further makes us aware of the worldwide nature of our Church and our responsibility to the family beyond the diocese.

“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant. Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.”

From the Prophet Isaiah read this evening. A fine text for Evangelism. Slowly but surely Episcopalians are awakening to the Decade of Evangelism.

We realize that we will have to examine our structures closely and change our priorities – the allocation of our time, our talents and our money -all for the cause of the Gospel. I believe that we are willing to do so, to get beyond ourselves! We are in the business of celebrating and sharing our faith -of “singing the Lord’s song.” We do this confidently, joyfully and expectantly.

As part of our focus on evangelism, I anticipate that by this time next year many of our parishes and missions will be engaged in the full catechetical process of Incorporating new persons, baptized and unbaptized, into life in Christ’s Church. The clergy increasingly will be supplied materials that will involve far more than typical “Inquirer’s Classes.” The catechetical process will involve Christian formation, vocation and ministry for those seeking confirmation as a mature affirmation of faith. The catechumenate is designed to engage the entire congregation in the process of reception and incorporation of new converts. It will include very special “area liturgies” of Christian initiation with the bishop during Eastertide.

In short, we can become much more like the apostolic Church, with Lent being utilized in a significant and meaningful way, and with baptism and confirmation becoming part of the Paschal mystery as the Prayer Book envisions.

If we remember that mission is one half of the “mission and ministry” description of life in Christ’s Church, we will be led to understand more fully how an Episcopal church truly undertakes missionary work with the bishop as the chief missionary in a diocese.

We have an occasion for rejoicing today in that I bring to this convention three new missions to be received – St. Peter’s, Skidaway, near Savannah; St. Joseph’s, Rincon In Effingham County; and the Church of the King, Valdosta. Signs of vitality!

I also must report to this convention that fiscal restraints require that increasingly I must staff some of our mission congregations with part-time priests, either retired priests or worker priests. I hope you fully understand that at the time of your Every Member Canvass and budget planning, each parish and mission decides on the extent of our missionary work in the diocese, for you provide the funds.

Fiscal restraints are limiting also the number of persons I can send to seminary now to no more than two each year, as that is the number of graduates I have the funds to place in full time ministry in a given year. I may need to reduce that number even more. Again, the people of the diocese determine the extent to which we are able to fulfill the divine commission to “go ye into all the world.” Remember, most persons here tonight come from parishes that once were missions.

Last week the Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church met in Savannah. As part of a Georgia Night presentation on Thursday, four of our vocationaly deacons made presentations of their several ministries before about eighty persons; bishops, priests and laity from all over the United States and Central America. In my thirty-three years as an ordained minister in the diocese I was never more proud of the Diocese of Georgia than I was on that occasion. If time allows, I am going to ask that they repeat their presentations to this Convention.

The lives and ministries of our parish priests continue to be one of my chief concerns. If increasingly we look upon our priests as C.E.O.s under vestry employment, our troubles will multiply. The concepts of “vocation” and “call by the Holy Spirit” must never be lost to the IBM or General Motors model.

Indeed, the ministry of the bishop also ought to be seen more dearly as the ordination service defines and describes it. The bishop is described as the effective agent of unity and the causal agent of apostolicity. In all that is written in the Prayer Book describing the bishop’s ministry, the rite of. Confirmation is not mentioned. The Bishop’s Pastoral Visitation is the setting where he is shown to be the pastor to all persons in his diocese. Priests are his local vicars or representatives. Herein lies the symbolic meaning of the pastoral staff the bishop carries. I come to your parish or mission as your pastor, not as a visitor!

As your pastor, I once again hold up to you three core ministries. I have spoken of Evangelism and Stewardship already. I now turn to the third ministry, that of Social Outreach, following our compassionate Lord’s model.

As you plan your parish volunteer ministry, I ask that you read and discuss the “Inasmuch” passage from Matthew 25: When the Son of man comes In his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come 0 blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

Remember this as if your salvation depends on it – for it does! We can do what we will to do. Our will and consciences must be informed by Christ. We engage in a vital outreach ministry as a church in faithful response to the Gospel.

Finally, I hold up to you another ministry – that of stewardship of the environment- the care and honor we give “this fragile earth, our island home.” No longer can we take it for granted that the earth will be hospitable for supporting future life, any life. Science has demonstrated that because of man’s actions, great damage has been done to all life on the planet, and the deterioration of our environment is accelerating. The fate of the earth and the fate of generations to come are inextricably linked. You and I are stewards, ministering to “Mother Earth”. How do we exercise our care of what has been entrusted to us by the Creator?

So I greet you on this happy occasion of our annual gathering to hold before you opportunities and challenges. We have so much to be thankful’for! Our few brief years in the course of human history can make us feel insignificant. But they are our years, and we must use them wisely and well, so that we may stand on that great last day. 

I say to you, using the words of Paul to Timothy, “Strive for righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness. Run your best for the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you have been called.” (I Timothy 6:11-12)

Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times, in all ways. Amen.


Right Reverend Sir, Bishop Desmond, brothers and sisters in Christ,

In your address to this 169th Convention of the Diocese of Georgia, we heard you Bishop Shipps affirm the Gospel message that God is with us – as He is with all Creation – but uniquely to Christians in and through the Holy Spirit of Jesus who abides with us and within us calling us to the Father.

We heard you as you challenged this Convention, indeed, as you challenged the whole Church in this diocese, to get beyond ourselves, to transcend boundaries we have erected between ourselves, to see ourselves no longer as representatives of this faction or that … but as persons responsive to one another and our Lord Jesus Himself, who has called us – each one of us into common cause with Him for the purpose of advancing the Kingdom of God.

We heard you as you held before us four fields of opportunity in which we might endeavor to “get beyond ourselves”. In the field of  evangelism  so much on the minds of each of us in this Decade of Evangelism, you have called us to Initiate – to recapture, really – the ancient catechumenate and to establish it in this diocese as a program whereby our parishes and missions -The Church in Georgia – would seek to shape and inform the consciences of persons desiring to place their lives under the Lordship of Jesus.

In the area of stewardship you noted the fiscal restraints placed upon the diocese due to incomplete responses to the “askings”. We heard you and we share your disappointment. You called us to “change our priorities … for the cause of the Gospel”, that is, so that the work of evangelism might proceed, and you called us to embark on such a change with a spirit of confidence, joy and expectation … out of love for God in Christ and one another. But all this requires that we get beyond ourselves.

We heard you renew the Dominical call to social outreach as you held before us the spoken and unspoken needs of the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and the unclothed, the sick and the imprisoned. We heard you remind us that in responding to the opportunities afforded us by such persons we are responding to Jesus Himself.

Finally, Bishop Shipps, you reminded us of our responsibilities to  Creation and we heard you. We can no longer be content with seeing ourselves simply as maintaining the status quo vis a vis the environment, and thereby seeing ourselves as being good stewards of creation. We must find ways under God’s guichnce to correct wrongs, to change our patterns of behavior so that what we leave behind us is something future generations can treasure and care for.

And in addition to these areas of opportunities we heard you speak of your concern for the Church’s care and treatment of those persons – the clergy of our diocese – to whom God has committed the responsibility for our spiritual growth. We heard you also as you spoke with pride of the vocational diaconate emerging as a legitimate and recognized ministry in this diocese. And we shared your pride as we listened yesterday to Deacons Lippitt, l.ightsey, Rahn and Dulany speak of their ministry. We applaud you for calling out and nurturing these ministries which, though they may not always make us comfortable, are doubtless legitimate responses to some of the opportunities you outlined in your address.

We have heard you Bishop Shipps, and we are eager to respond to the opportunities you have held before us, to the challenge you have issued to “get beyond ourselves”, and to your pastoral guidance as we seek to do so. We are eager to get about our business of winning souls for Christ.

May God Almighty, who has given you and us the will to do these things together in this diocese, give us the, grace, the courage, and the power to do them in harmony with one another trusting in His promise to us that, indeed, He is with us…..always, “even unto the end of the world”.

The Redd Frederick Philputt