Bishop’s Address of 1992

The Rt. Rev. Harry Woolston Shipps
Given at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Albany, Georgia

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

Harry Woolston ShippsIt is a delight to assemble here in Convention at St. Paul’s, Albany, one of the leading parishes of this diocese. We are grateful to the Rector, Vestry and all who have made this possible. We, the rest of your family, appreciate your hospitality. I count many Albanians as dear friends. Albany is the locale where I began my ordained ministry in the late 1950’s, and the scene of fond memories. Many of the “seniors” from those days have passed on; those who then were juniors now are the seniors, including Mayor Paul Keenan.
The Civil Rights movement was in its infancy, and many of us were deeply involved’ in the cause of racial justice. Since last we met in Convention, life on Planet Earth has evolved in ways no one of us could have imagined. For someone my age, after 40 years of Cold War, to see, “live” on TV, the red hammer and sickle flag lowered from the Kremlin Tower and the old Russian flag hoisted in its place, to see statues of Lenin destroyed and the “evil empire” crumble was an awesome and riveting experience.

A year ago we were at war in the Persian Gulf. Now we struggle to facilitate. a peace of some sort in the eternally fractious lands of the Middle East.

In our own nation old problems fester and new problems surface.

It is a time for pray and to act; to listen and to learn; to be prepared and to be amazed.

This, my annual address to you is not delivered casually or because it is required by canon. My words to you annually in this address are from your pastor who loves you, who wants this diocese to fulfill the mission and ministry entrusted to it, and who strives to lead the way with the lights given to him.

We are a community of faith with a common Catholic inheritance and common biblical covenant. My ministry is to call this to mind regularly, along with its ramifications – while “speaking truth in love.”

My hope is that this address will be used by parish groups and vestries for study as they plan their ministries, corporate and individual, in the new year. For I trust my words will be relevant well beyond this convention.

I greet you all as members of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church – for you are, canonically, so described. In the name of Georgia mission priests, and mission priests and bishops from over 30 missionary dioceses, I want to commend those parishes who have met their “asking” to our diocesan budget, or who have done their best to do so. Our host parish, St. Paul’s, Albany, continues to be one of the parishes that lead the way. This parish and many others assign to their “asking” just as high a priority as they do to the salary of their parish rector – and that is as it should be – because in real terms we are talking about providing salaries for a whole host of clergy at home and abroad.

I am proud that as a diocese we always have met our missionary responsibility beyond our own borders by accepting and paying our full apportionment to the General Convention program budget. This amounts to $243,000,00 for 1992. I am clear that our obligation to meet this responsibility is unrelated to the eccentricities of some bishops, priests and laity in other dioceses.

The Diocesan Council is proposing to this convention a good, tight budget. It is lean (but not mean). It has passed much scrutiny in the budget building process, including 6 convocation councils. I. add to this my wholehearted support and I encourage you to support it also. It is the largest budget in our history, due to the fact that our parish pledging is at a new high.

Our Companion Diocese relationship with Belize is maturing nicely. I hope your parish will develop a program or a relationship in the Diocese of Belize, Fr. Jim Bullion and his Commission on the Companion Diocese coordinate all such ventures. The Augusta Convocation particularly has generated some good activity, establishing “Project Smile,” a dental care project; this in addition to trips by some members of diocesan clergy and youth.
The bishop, Brother Desmond, SSF, has been with us in Georgia twice since his first appearance with us at convention last year. He participated in Cursillo last fall and just last month led both the lay and the clergy retreats – grand retreats, which, unfortunately were sparsely attended.

Our deaconal program continues to provide a ministry of which we can be proud, and which we should be willing to follow into areas of social outreach. Our deacons are providing leadership in addressing the needs of the elderly and infirm; the homeless and hungry; victims of crime, alcohol, drug abuse, and AIDS; and the environment. Time allowing, I will ask some of •our deacons to describe their ministry on the Convention floor. We now have 16 deacons in this diocese, with more persons in various levels of preparation.

A definition of the role of deacons in the “councils of the church,” that is Diocesan Convention and Diocesan Council, is under review by a task force which I appointed at the request of the Savannah Convocation Council. The task force especially is studying the lifetime suffrage deacons now enjoy, as well as the termination of suffrage that occurs when a parochial priest retires from full time ministry. This task force will report to me, and I will prepare a recommendation for Diocesan Convention in 1993.

Our society has sex on the brain! C.S. Lewis said that was an odd place to have it!

Nonetheless, we shall do our duty in this diocese to undertake a study of human sexuality from a Christian and Scriptural understanding.

General Convention mandated that this study be done under the leadership of the bishop and the eight deputies to the 70th General Convention. The results of the study ultimately will evolve into a Pastoral Teaching by the bishops of the Church. I am pleased to have been named a member of the group of bishops who will develop the pastoral letter.
The extensive television coverage in recent months from Florida “Au Bar” and the Washington hearings embarrassed me as much as anyone. Clearly, issues of sexual conduct involve heterosexuals as much, if not more so, than homosexuals.

The Episcopal Church is attempting to address these issues both within and outside our own membership. I strongly urge each parish and mission to participate in the requested study. To my knowledge St. Thomas’, Savannah, and St. Alban’s, Augusta, have already begun and may be able to share their study experience.

It should be remembered that tranquility never has been a characteristic of the Christian Church. Controversy gave birth to the Nicene Creed. The ideas of Copernicus, Galileo, Charles Darwin and Rudolph Bultman were revolutionary in their time.

Christians working through issues of their own day is a sign of life and energy.

“Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) How can we do this more effectively?

Evangelism is basic to Christian discipleship. But one bishop, who shall go’ unnamed, has written, “the church of today and tomorrow will either bore us to death….. or it will call us into new expanding possibilities.”

Thankfully, “evangelism” gradually is becoming a household word amongst Episcopalians – and it’s good to hear. We need to make a focused effort to learn how to be good evangelists, Anglican style, both individually and as congregations. I am eager to speak on the subject during every visitation.

What impression do we presently convey to the community at large? Do our parishes inadvertently give the impression of staid old “closed corporations?”

And is it true, as the Rev’d Dr. John Rodgers of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry has said: “It’s hard to get converts to go to old churches?”

Well, inasmuch as we are not about to tear down all of our churches and start over again, I suggest we look into the real reasons for this state of affairs and mightily endeavor to change them.

We will hear a report from Fr. Robert Reese, who chairs our Evangelism Commission, on the programs being undertaken in the diocese by this hard working commission.

And how can confirmation be more than a short course in religion, Episcopal style: ” Anglicanism 101?” How can we close the back door through which so many people move out who only recently have entered the front door by confirmation?

How can we make of confirmation more than a hoop to be jumped through in order to become an Episcopalian? Or a 6th grade rite of passage? How can we understand adult baptism and confirmation as the conclusion of a process of Christian formation?

I strongly urge that parishes undertake, as the foundation of their teaching, the. Catechumenate or the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a many-staged corporate experience which involves the whole parish, and replaces the usual eight-session inquirers’ classes. I realize that this is a new approach, and seldom do I ask priests to do something I have not done myself as a parish priest. Under the inspired leadership of Fr. Jenkins, St. Paul’s is undertaking this process, with 61 persons involved. I look forward to the culmination of this process when, during Eastertide, I baptize and confirm the candidates at Convocation Rites of Christian Initiation.

“Then the Lord said, ‘I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry – I know their sufferings and I have come to deliver them.

“‘Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people.’

“But Moses said, ‘But who am I that I should go?”‘ (Exodus 3:7-11)

Does that sound like the response of much of the leadership of the church when confronted with the Christian responsibility to minister to the illiterate, the poor, the hungry and the homeless in their own back yards?

My friends, you don’t need me to tell you that our communities are collapsing around us. “Fear strikes on every side,” the Psalmist cries.

On the one hand, fatherless families, children giving birth to children, inadequate education; poverty, hunger, homelessness, hopelessness, drugs and crime all combine to make our inner cities increasingly distressed, hostile and dangerous places in which to live.

On the other hand, dead-bold locks, alarm systems, guards, fear of being out at night, are symbols of a frightened populace, and a society becoming increasingly angry.

These two societies are on a collision course. The churches cannot be passive observers. Indifference to the cause-effect’analysis and inaction may very well be sinful for Christians, as much as the sexual sins which cause us such alarm. In fact, the teachings of the four Gospels indicate to me that these societal conditions should be the top priority for Christian communities.

Leaving it to federal, state and local governments will not solve the problems. More police and larger jails may decrease the immediate dangers but leave the underlying causes untouched.

I believe that your involvement, and mine, is indispensable. Shouldn’t the churches lead the way?

Bishop Michael Marshall, our guest at this convention, has written that we are in danger of confecting “decaffeinated Christianity – it promises not to keep you awake at night.”

This is not the religion to which we have been called by the Lord.

In fact, we ought to have, In the words of one author, a “holy dissatisfaction with our own religious pilgrimage.”

Who among you will go in the name of Christ and His Church? Indifference to human need diminishes our humanity.

What community service to the underprivileged doesyour parish undertake? Collectively? Asa parish church? I continually ask these questions as I make my parish visitations.

Our diocesan Commission on Community and World Ministries, chaired by. Fr. Gene Paradise, recently held a conference for the diocese at St. Paul’s,. Savannah, which presented workshops on the large variety of ministries offered by the several committees of this commission. These annual meetings, should be crowded to the doors by Episcopalians eager and willing to undertake Christ-like ministries in the name of and after the example of Him whom they name Lord of their lives. To expand the ministry- of the commission, I have asked the Revd Susan Harrison to form a committee focused on homelessness.

I would like to nominate to our federal government a “Point of Light,” or to the Episcopal Church a “Jubilee Center” – that is, a parish or mission that is fulfilling our Lord’s command to minister in an exemplar manner. Mr. Bush, President and Episcopalian, has said, “Success cannot be measured apart from service to others.”

Fr. Dennis Maynard, Rector of Christ Church, Greenville, S.C., one of the largest parishes in the country, and a church which is intensely involved in community ministries, writes:

“The love of Jesus Christ is designed for the complexities of a sinful humanity. He was there loving them, trying to heal their hurts, reconciling them to God and their fellow humans. He used whatever contemporary tool He had at His disposal to touch their spirits. He was right there in the middle of human suffering trying to maintain that tension between judging the sin and loving the sinner. That is where He acted out His ministry. My brothers and sisters, His ministry is our ministry as well.”

The faith I am asking God to stir up within us is an energetic, compassionate and Biblical faith.

Remember, the next verse in Exodus 3 says, “Behold, I will be with you.” “Say to them the Lord, the God of your Fathers has sent me to you.” (Exodus 13:15)

“Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity. It is like fine oil upon the head; it is like the dew of Hermon.” (Psalm 133)

Sometimes it’s tough being a family. But if it is a healthy family, the joys will far outweigh the heartaches. This is no less the case in the family we call a diocese. No one is here to win or lose arguments. Our call is, as St. Paul teaches us, to build up one another in Christ.

Not since. I was. a teenager have I held the notion that the Episcopal Church should be UNIFORM. Our call is to UNITY, with a. common bishop.. The greatest danger to that unity is parochialism, and growing out of that, individualism or private religion.

Whether we be Charismatics or ’28 Prayer Bookers, liberals or traditionalists, we must, within the parameters of historic Anglicanism, strive to maintain unity and mutual acceptance, and embrace,the.responsibilities that go with life in a family.

Your bishop Is the center of that unity. I strive mightily to maintain that unity. Pray, join me, each of you, in this common ministry.

Our blessed Lord prayed: ‘The glory which thou has given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me that they may become perfectly one so that the world may know that thou. halt sent me.” Gohn 17:22-23). Amen.


In your address to the 170th. Convention of the Diocese of Georgia we heard you, Bishop Shipps, both inform us of your areas of concern and challenge us to use this year’s Bishop’s Address as a guideline for prayer, study and action throughout and beyond the diocese.

We share in your thanksgiving of the political situation in Russia and her neighboring states. We are grateful to God that we are not in a state of war .• in the Persian Gulf, and we, with you, feel challenged to continue to pray and work for peace in the Middle East and the world. We also are moved to pray for the domestic and political well-beling of the former Soviet States.

You remind us that we are all members of the Domestic and Foreign. Missionary Society. We are.challendged to comprehend the impact of this as. individuals, congregations, and as a diocesan family. We share your. pride that we continue to accept and pay our full apportionment to the !General Convention program budget. We also see the need for a continued. effort to inform the people of the diocese of how financial support of our national and diocesan programs is translated into specific programs and acts of ministry:
We hear you challenging our diocese and congregations to annually adopt a solid, scripturally-based stewardship program.

Bishop Shipps, you challenge us to reach beyond ourselves to accomplish ministry. More specifically, you encourage us to enter more fully into relationship with our companion Diocese of Belize as they promote Cursillo and Happening among their people.

The need for specialized ministry in our socciety is vitally important, and you challenge us to develop ministries of social outreach. Our diaconal ministries are good examples. As we celebrate the impact of the growing number of deacons in our diocese, may we never allow the vital role of specialized lay ministry to become diminished or neglected. We look forward to a clear and well-defined role of deacons as that order increases in number and impact upon the life and ministry of this diocese.

We are challenged, Bishop, to continue to study the issues of sexuality, and to apply the authority of scripture, merging scientific knowledge, tradition, and open minds to the formation of sound Christian social values for our age.

In the area of evangelism, your diocesan commission is working to help local congregations, convocations, and the diocesan program to share the Good News in Georgia. You challenge us to use the resources of the Evangelism Commission and other resources to make a more focused effort to tell our story to our community. This is such a vital challenge, Bishop, because we also share your deep concern for the distressing conditions of many of our communities – from small towns to large inner cities. One committee member observes that our children are growing up in an environment of drugs, guns and pornography. You challenge the Episcopal Church in Georgia not only to become involved, but to lead the way. in providing the solutions to the problems of despair and hopelessness and hostility in our communities. With you we see the problems, with you we also know. that Christ is the answer.

To increase the depth of our faith; you challenge congregations to offer adults the opportunity to undertake a more profound process of Christian formation and spiritual growth. Each mission and parish is challenged to consider the Rite of Christian. Initiation.of Adults, the catechumenate and the foundation for this formation. Programs such as Education For Ministry (EFM) and Disciples of Christ in Community, (DOCC) could enhance and continue this growth. We hear you, Bishop, challenge us to answer the call to Christian unity. You challenge us to strive for mmutual concern and for each of us, to „ respect the. dignity of every human being. We hear you challenge. us to support you in maintaining the unity of this diocesan community.

Bishop Shipps, you have challenged this diocese for 1992..

May God Almighty, who has given you this ministry, grant us the will, the grace, and the courage to meet your challenge through prayer, study and, action, together as God’s family.
Respectfully submitted,
Robert E. Reese+, Chairperson