Bishop’s Address of 1993

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

It is my privilege to greet you all, the 171st Convention of the Diocese of Georgia, with friends and visitors. We are delighted to have occasion once again to offer our prayer and praise in this grand parish church, St. Paul’s, Augusta.

Harry Woolston ShippsThis beautiful church has been the site of so many historic events in the life of the Diocese of Georgia. My first experience here was 20 October 1954, when I witnessed the consecration of the sixth Bishop of Georgia, Albert Rhett Stuart. Many other occasions have followed in the past 40 years that have been etched forever in my memory.
In 1954 the salary of the bishop was $8,000. The budget for the diocese was $88,000. But confirmations in that year totaled 646 persons while in 1992, 360 persons were presented. Hence the focus of this bishop’s address forty years later.

“We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified. Proclaim his resurrection and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”

These four declarations are very familiar to us all as Episcopalians. They convey the heart, the substance, the consequence of our baptism. We recite them togetheron the occasion of every baptism.

How might we better live into this bidding to Christian discipleship?

  1. “We receive you into the household of faith.” This indicates and assumes an openness, an embrace of all persons of faith, a household without walls or door locks. Such a posture is risky, unsettling.

    It admits to a larger embrace of persons, inclusion of a greater cross-section of our communities than we are accustomed to. My friends, the Episcopal Church becomes daily less “main-line” and increasingly more representative of the ethnically diverse society in which we are placed – and this is long overdue

    From the Baptismal Covenant, “Will you respect the dignity of every human being?” also is a call to honor and use the talents of all people. Does the leadership of our diocese reflect this diversity? The bishop’s appointments? Parish, convocation and convention elections and organizations?

    I was speaking to a young Asian lay Episcopalian in New York in December. He told me he had assisted in the establishment of four new Chinese congregations in that city! I asked myself: are we doing right by Afro-Americans in our midst?

  2. “Confess the faith of Christ crucified.” This confession of faith tells us that Christ died for all persons: men and women, black and white, poor and rich, heterosexual and homosexual, Somalian and American.

    In Christ crucified we have perfect atonement, a “full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction.” The price has been paid and we are set free.

    In the Baptismal Covenant we commit ourselves to “resist evil” and when we “fall again into sin, repent and return to the Lord.” And we do continue to transgress, but we look to the crucifix. Really, my friends, we are not called to categorize, evaluate or bewail one anothers’ sins. If there were any test for sinlessness at the door, none of us would get in.

    And I say – to focus on the sins of the flesh to the exclusion of those in the halls of commerce and corporate board rooms is not the way I read Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

    It is my hope that the study of human sexuality in our congregations this winter and spring will bring about greater understanding of human nature and the nature of the inclusive fellowship of Christ’s Church. At the same time, we must maintain the clear distinction between acceptable and unacceptable conduct.

  3. “Proclaim his resurrection.” The bishop is, according to scripture and the ordinal, “a witness to the resurrection.” This I always must remember amidst the complexities of my ministry. The bishop, therefore, is chief missionary in his diocese, deploying persons and funds to enable the diocese most advantageously to be that witness.

    In this diocese we support a large number of mission congregations, about half of our churches, all making a good witness in their respective communities. And we are especially grateful to the many retired priests in the diocese who devote their energies and invaluable experience to mission ministry.

    From time to time a mission becomes a parish and thus assumes its own responsibility in supporting the mission and ministry of others. This is how the church grows.

    It can best be done with the undergirding of good Christian stewardship, as you all know. And good Christian stewardship means all of us involved in tithing, not just a few.

    There is a key to good stewardship. We must, when all is said and done, want to give – fmd joy in giving. To give as little as we can get away with is destructive to Christian discipleship.

    I must point out that, with some notable exceptions, the parish studies on stewardship requested by the 1992 convention were largely evasive or not pertinent.

    It is not as if we are poorl It is a question of “proclaiming his resurrection” and providing the means to do it. True mission and ministry replaces the focus on parish maintenance.

    I hope the visit of the Bishop Suffragan of Panama last fall helped to make clear how far and wide our missionary dollars go and how important they are in developing and maintaining mission work at home and abroad.

    Attempts to punish Episcopalians beyond our diocese with whom we disagree by withholding funds is misdirected and unacceptable. Not only does it target the wrong people, it demeans us all.

    Let me share three compelling statements I believe are appropriate to our mission of proclaiming the Ressurrection:
    i) The Church exists for those outside of it.
    ii) At their present rate of growth, there soon will be more Muslims In the United States than Episcopalians.
    iii) Every parish is as large as it wants to be.

    How do your clergy and vestry deal with these facts?

    To proclaim the resurrection also means individual witness, as we agree to in the Baptismal covenant: “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”

    The Decade of Evangelism is just over two years old. Has your ministry as an evangelist – as one who brings good news – been developed and enhanced? Do you remember the dynamic message of Bishop Michael Marshall at our convention last year?

    Our diocesan Evangelism Commission continues to train persons and respond to your requests for consultation and programs. Do you have a parish evangelism team in place, as I have requested?

    A baptized Christian is attentive to the words: “I, ill be lifted up, will draw all men unto myself.”

    Who is it, if not you and I, who intentionally and devotedly lift up Christ “by word and example,” by love in action – the ministry of the baptized.

  4. “Share with us in his eternal priesthood.” What is priesthood? The dictionary tells us a priest is one who offers sacrifice. The Epistle to the Hebrews teaches us: “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.”

    If we believe, as in fact we do, that in baptism we are given a share of Christ’s priesthood, it follows that sacrifice should characterize all our lives. Sacrifice: “to offer up and to make holy.” Perhaps simply, faithfulness.

    The entire baptismal covenant tells us how that is done. We are asked, “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching?” We have no faith of our own as Episcopalians, only the faith of the Catholic and Apostolic Church as contained in the ancient creeds and explicated in the Articles of Religion and Book of Common Prayer.

    As bishop, I am commissioned to be the chief teacher and defender of that faith in these parts. That I mean to be. I invite counsel and assistance always. But ultimately the responsibility is mine alone.

    Our familiarity with Holy Scripture and our attention to its reading during Divine Liturgy enables us to know more clearly our salvation history and to understand more clearly the apostles’ teaching.

    A special knowledge of early Christian life as found in the chapters of the Acts of the Apostles enables us to grasp our vocation in a secular and sometimes hostile world. In the Acts of the Apostles we learn what the early Christians thought was important.

    A significant feature of early Christian life was the tightly knit community, “Koinonia.” It has been said that Hurricane Andrew in south Florida brought about a secular community of strangers overnight because of mutual adversity.

    If so, how much more should we, who already are “very members incorporate in the mystical Body of thy Son” be a community of faith?

    No parish “is an island.” And every diocese is also part of the whole. There is only one priest, Jesus; only one altar, the heavenly one of the Revelation of St. John. Respect the diversity while maintaining the unity.

    The use of the catechumenal process in our diocese is an effort to undertake the prioritizing of apostolic values, and the formation of closer Koinonia.

    Being a Christian community of faith in society today often requires us to stand together so that the secularizing forces that would overwhelm us may be resisted.

    We Christians are appalled, correctly, at what we encounter coming out of so many American institutions, from Hollywood to university campuses, where the Judeo-Christian heritage is often, not only held in low esteem, but overtly mocked.

    It is you and I who are commissioned to be “the light of the world,” “a city set upon a hill. [that] cannot be hid.”

    The next question for a priestly ministry: ‘Will you continue in the apostles’ fellowship?”

    We are not speaking of parish dinners. We clearly are speaking of the continuity of the visible church of Christ throughout history. More basically – will you continue in communion with the embodiment of apostolic unity – your local bishop?

    This is the only real determination for being an Episcopalian. And -Episcopalians in south Georgia – you are looking at that local bishop. There is no other.

    Will you continue in the “breaking of bread?” The bread of life, the bread which “comes down from heaven and gives life to the world that a man may eat of it and not die.”

    The liturgy in which that bread is broken and that cup blessed must be accorded our highest priority: in attendance every Lord’s Day, in the effort to make its celebration beautiful, with very good preaching, with music of the highest quality, with reverent liturgy.

    Less than careful, prayerful preparation and presentation is unacceptable. Our liturgy is a great treasure. It can be the best in town, and a wonderful vehicle for evangelism.

    We must ask ourselves how well do we, week by week, prepare for the eucharistic meal. Especially, are we “in love and charity” with our neighbor and intending “to lead a new life?”

    My sisters and brothers, let us study the Exhortation on page 316 of the Prayer Book so that we maybe led to more fully follow the apostolic injunction at the Eucharist.

    And then finally, in this sharing of Christ’s priesthood we have committed ourselves to continue in prayer, by which is meant to continue at home, apart from the public liturgy. Such prayer helps solidify the community formed at Baptism and sustained at the Eucharist.

I have tried to share with you the Church’s understanding of what it means to be a baptized person in these days, and in this place, where by God ‘s wisdom and grace we have been placed.

That small section in the baptismal liturgy I have used as my text, along with the Baptismal Covenant, makes it abundantly clear that we comprise a community of faith – that we all are in this together. Parochialism and privat!sm have no place in an Episcopal Church.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a possession. It is that which possesses us and vivifies us. Setting conditions, setting limits, is not consistent with the Great Commission we all have received.

One of the signs of baptismal faith is the authenticity it is given by being faithfully undertaken. The Church, and, therefore, you and I, have authority when our authenticity Is seen. Mother Theresa has authority beyond measure because she first has authenticity!

On January 6th I entered my tenth year as bishop. You know of my love for you all and the honor I feel in serving you.

I strive to witness faithfully to the risen Lord, to “proclaim the Good News of God in Christ,” and to provide a leadership that builds up the body of Christ.

The words of welcome for the newly baptized are beautifully conveyed in a single verse from First St. Peter, Chapter 2:
“You area chosen race,
a royal priesthood,
a holy nation,
God’s own people,
that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his own marvelous light.”




Right Reverend Sir, we cannot begin our report to this convention without noting that we are aware, as you mentioned, that you have just entered your tenth year as our chief pastor and we give thanks to God for that ministry. We were also struck by the reality you reported that over the last forty years, while the bishop’s salary has increased considerably from its 1954 level of $8,000, confirmations have dropped by some 56%. We want to assure you that we see no causal relationship in that fact. Indeed, our report centers on the fact that confirmation in 1993 does not mean the same thing as it did forty years ago. Our focus then was on completing the process of making people members of the Church. Our focus now is on leading members of the Church to maturity of life in Christ. It is in being mature Christians, sir, that we see your ministry as our bishop as absolutely essential to living into our baptisms, which is precisely the task to which your address on Thursday evening called us.

You reminded us that our welcome to the newly baptized into the very household of God was a welcome into an inclusive household. You put it best when you said that this assumes our openness and our embrace of all persons of faith, as well as that we are a household without walls or locks on the door. We do, as you suggested, find that risky and unsettling. Appropriate risk taking and unsettledness, though, seem to us to be basic tasks of adulthood and maturity. As such, we see this as an issue of confirmation and, therefore, find that our ministry in this regard is unavoidably linked to yours as our bishop.

We would ask you to remember that your ministry in this and most other areas is not confined to the diocese as an institution unto itself. It is not just the diocese that should reflect diversity. The congregations under your care must not operate with the exclusivity ethics of social clubs, admitting only those like ourselves and minimizing the unsettledness of the inclusivity of the family of God. Again, we see this as an issue of maturity, of being true to who we are.

You reminded us that our baptisms carried with them the confession of Christ crucified. Confessions of any kind, this one included, are matters of maturity. To confess Christ crucified requires a maturity of spirit that can acknowledge unashamedly our weakness, our faults, and our sin. As Christ crucified relieves us from being ashamed of our fallen humanity, so we are relieved of any need to hide our weakness and nakedness by pointing out the sins of others. Like a household without walls or locked doors, this feels risky and unsettling. It is a matter of confirming our maturity and in this again we look to your ministry.

You also reminded us of our baptismal commission to proclaim the resurrection and you have rightly brought our attention to the reality that this involves Issues of stewardship. The issue of maturity here is one of growing into the joy of sacrificial giving and coming to terms with making hard choices about allocating resources that are not unlimited. The wisest possible deployment of people and money to the end of proclaiming the resurrection is the task at hand. We have heard this convention say fairly unequivocally that how we go about doing this is a subject that needs careful attention and reevaluation.

We do not see the dichotomy between the mission of the diocese and the maintenance of parishes as a real one. We ask you to be aware that the proclamation of the resurrection in our diocese is not only that which is funded with a diocesan check but is carried out, we hope, in all our congregations. We especially support your strong conviction that attempts to punish Episcopalians beyond our diocese with whom we disagree by withholding funds is misguided and unacceptable. Again, we see our maturity in faith as crucial in making difficult choices that may lie ahead, and we look to your leadership especially.

Our greatest excitement about your address came over your reminder of our call to share in Christ’s eternal priesthood in his Church. You spoke powerfully and above all authentically of your ministry as bishop and the authority that derives from it. We can see this most clearly in the authentic ministries our people bore witness to yesterday. In our mind this is what the Decade of Evangelism is all about. We heard you say that you have been commissioned to be the chief teacher and defender of the faith in this diocese, that this responsibility is yours alone, and that you are dedicated to fulfilling it, We wanted to applaud. As you went about this teaching ministry in your address, we longed to ask you what you meant in some cases. May we respectfully request greater specificity on the issues you alluded to, especially on your visits among us, through The Church In Georgia and using all means at your disposal.

We heard you state lovingly but forcefully that being a member of the Church meant being in communion with a local bishop as the embodiment of apostolic unity and that, for us Episopalians in south Georgia, that is you, there is no other. Sir, we could not possibly agree more. We may well disagree with you from time to time, but mature Christians, when they do not get their way, do not take their marbles and go home. We are home.

Being home means that we live together in community. That requires maturity. And that requires your ministry as our chief pastor and our bishop. Above all else, It requires that you continually challenge us and guide us in ever-deepening commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ, and with his help, to the fulfilling of our baptismal covenant.

Respectfully submitted,
Stacy F. Sauls+,
Chairperson Committee on the Bishop’s Address