Bishop’s Address of 1998


I therefore beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. [Ephesians 4:1-2]

Two years ago, I reported to you my surprise and joy after concluding my first visit to all 69 congregations concerning the extent which our congregations included both African Americans and Whites.  Some 63 of our congregations have active members of at least two races.  Even that does not reflect the diversity of cultures found sprinkled throughout our diocese. Perhaps noting that we have priests who are natives of Palestine, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Trinidad, Ghana, Korea, and Ireland, plus lay leaders who come quickly to my mind from Lithuania, Belize, India, Mexico, England, and a Native American Cherokee.  We are not just part of a worldwide church, we are the world church. 

The Rt. Rev. Henry I. Louttit, Jr.

            Several times in history we have had a serious ministry within the black community of Georgia.  The first baptism at Christ Church, Savannah — the first English-speaking congregation in the colony — was an African American woman.  In that colonial period, the great rector of Christ Church, Savannah, Bartholomew Zouberbuhler obtained funds and support for a catechist for African American slaves in Joseph Ottolenghe.  Throughout the colonial period there were Black members of Christ Church.  Mr. Ottolenghe (who went on to be a leader in the government of the colony) worked, for ten years, among the slaves of plantations surrounding Savannah.  However, the revolutionary war ended our first period of ministry in this area.  We had been the State church.  The revolutionary war left us struggling for identity.  The public distrusted us because of our connection with England, particularly with the king and aristocracy.  The revolution left us without support of funds from the state and without recourse the funds of the English missionary society (the Society For the Proclamation of the Gospel, which had supported the priests in Savannah and Augusta).  Without clergy for our congregations and without funds, ministry among slaves and to others disappeared.

            After a very slow rebuilding period  — many people did not expect the Episcopal Church to survive — Stephen Elliott was elected the first bishop in 1834.  Christ Church, Savannah, divided itself, forming St. John’s Parish out of the communicants who lived south of Oglethorpe Avenue.  This was done to provide a salary for the bishop as rector of the new St. John’s.  At the incorporation of St. John’s some pews were provided in perpetuity for African Americans.

            Bishop Elliott was a man of his time.  He was a great spokesman for the value and gifts of slavery bringing culture and salvation to Africans.  He worked for the formation of the Confederacy to maintain that culture.  However, he was committed to the humane treatment of slaves and their evangelization.  He provided a great priest, Dr. William C. Williams, to ministry among the Ogeechee River plantations.  That was to become the Ogeechee Mission, the largest congregation in the diocese, made up of slaves.  St. Bartholomew’s, Burroughs is a living reminder of those who found Jesus Christ within our church while still in slavery.  Their descendants continue as members of our faith to this day.  In the 1850s, St. Stephen’s (now St. Matthew’s) was founded in Savannah by the diocese to minister among free Blacks.  At the outbreak of the Civil War, a sizable portion of the communicants of this diocese were Black.  Again, after the war, the infra-structure and support for ministry outreach was gone.  However, as late as 1896 almost half the members of St. Paul’s, Albany were Black.  So both in colonial times and in Bishop Elliott’s episcopate, there was serious outreach in the name of Christ among African Americans in Georgia.  Unfortunately, the opportunities were not followed up on in the aftermath of the war.  I am very thankful for Fr. Charles Hoskins’ scholarship and work in documenting the history of Blacks in our diocese.  He clearly shows that Black leadership was here, worked hard and shared the Gospel.  However, the majority culture and prejudice prevented our leaders from licensing or ordaining some outstanding people who would have given us more trust and appeal among Black Georgians.  During this time, the Freedman Association of the Episcopal Church (national) funded schools in Brunswick, Darien, Savannah and Thomasville to teach African Americans to read and write.  And there were heroes and strong faithful leaders who served despite the blindness and sin of most members of the majority culture.  Tonight we will give thanks for one of the saints who served here, Deaconess Anna F.B. Alexander (1894-1947).

            I’m always surprised by how late strict segregation appeared.  It was only early in this century that the laws, which began right at the end of the last century, were completed, which strictly separated the races in Georgia.  Unfortunately, although there were protests within the church, this diocese did separate out its Black communicants for the first time in 1905.  This was the first convention since the 1830s where there was no Black members.

            Deaconess Alexander was the first Black to serve as a deaconess in the Episcopal Church.  She attended a school for deaconesses in Chicago.  She was born on the Butler Plantation in Macintosh County and she returned to minister in the back country of Glynn County.  There she taught people to read and write in a one-room school.  As the school grew, room was added with a loft over it in which she lived for most of her life.  Legend has it that she taught people to read and write using the Bible and the prayer book as her text.  On Sunday, she led worship in the school, which was also Good Shepherd Church in Pennick.  The school building still stands, although the people of Good Shepherd have a lovely church and they are just completing a new parish hall.  Not only did Deaconess Alexander bless the people who lived in the northwest of Glynn County, but served with love the White campers of the diocese at Camp Reese.  Young people so served actually gave a building there named for her.  In 1946, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church recognized deaconesses as being fully deacons.  That was the year before Deaconess Alexander died.  It was also 1947 that Black congregations were once again admitted as full members of the diocesan convention.

            Most of us know of the struggles to overcome the laws and customs that segregate us in this country.  But perhaps you don’t know that the first African American spiritual to be printed in a mainline church’s hymnal was printed in our 1940 hymnal — “Were you there when the crucified my Lord?”  In my lifetime, that hymn has had a major role in Holy Week observances in every congregation that I have known.  At this convention we welcome Dr. Horace Clarence Boyer, editor of “Lift Every Voice and Sing 2”, an African American hymnal published for the Episcopal Church.  Dr. Boyer has a great gift for helping all kinds of people sing with joy.  I suspect that will be several hymns and spiritual songs from “Lift Every Voice and Sing” that will enrich many people beyond the African American community within the Episcopal Church .  We welcome as our keynoter and preacher, Dr. Michael Curry, one of the best preachers I have been privileged to hear.  Dr. Curry, the rector of St. James’ Episcopal Church in Baltimore, has a passion for ministry, and his experience is urban.  But has I have heard him, I recognize in the urban people on the streets he talks about, the same kinds of people on the streets in every town of our diocese.  I believe that, once again, we are in a place in history where we have the opportunity to share the Gospel with all sort of people and to minister in Christ’s name to all sorts of people.  We have fear of reaching out, crippled by fear of starting institutions and congregations we could not continue to fund.  But if God sends us, he will give us the imagination and resources necessary to complete the job he wishes us to do.  In this century we have shrunk from 13 African American congregations to 6 congregations in which the majority of people are African American.  But once again we have Black members in almost every congregation.  Still, if we were to reach out to unchurched African American in our diocese, it would probably require us to plant some new congregations who would be hospitable more easily to the culture and gifts of the unchurched Black person.

            That leaves me to my second point tonight:  It’s easier to include people in a new congregation than in one with a history.  This is not a negative judgment on current congregations, it’s just fact.  For instance, in 1996, three congregations out of our 70 accounted for the total growth of this diocese.  Between them, they actually added 60 more people than the diocese grew, meaning that the rest of our congregations lost an aggregate of 60 members.  Of the ones that grew, two were new congregations: St. Elizabeth’s, Richmond Hill, and St. Peter’s, Skidaway Island.  One was St. Philip’s, Hinesville, which shows that, with a serious decision, a community can choose to pay the cost of change and become hospitable to new members.  Most of our congregations are willing and know how to fill the seats of those who move away.  So the majority of our congregations are not closed, but statistically, we only add new people at the same rate people leave us.

            One of the outstanding experiences for me this year was being at Christ Church, Central, on the Monday of the Martin Luther King weekend.  As a response to our diocesan Anti-Racism’s weekend, a White communicant of Christ Church, Kevin Wilson, and Pastor Vernon Lloyd of First African Baptist Church in Central, had organized a weekend of reconciliation for conversations between the races in Laurens County.  On Monday night a community service of healing and reconciliation was held in Christ Church, Central.  A sixty-person choir — half African American and half White — and seven pastors representing both races and many denominations, led a packed church where the tears and joy of friendship and healing were everywhere visible.  Of course, not all prejudice and pain was healed in Laurens County that night, but certainly an ecumenical community of African American and White Christians were empowered by God to break through lots of barriers and begin the journey to wholeness in the Body of Christ.

            Another fulfillment this year has been the response to the diocese’s attempt to provide serious education and formation for the ministry of the baptized.  Proposed at our last year’s convention, we developed the plan for a program that would meet at four different centers in our diocese one Saturday each month in which people could learn more about our faith and develop their gifts of ministry.  We expected to have an adequate number of people in a couple of the places, and were overwhelmed when well over 100 people made the commitment of time and money to participate.  The workshops at this convention are part of that program, although they are open to everybody.  So we are expecting a number of Discipleship Program participants to be here Saturday.

            Fr. Dave Tonge has rightly called into question my stress on “mutual ministry” as a solution for providing ministry in small congregations (those with less than 50 people attending on Sunday).  He says correctly that “mutual ministry” is Gospel ministry, and, if we’re to be faithful, we need it in every congregation.

            The vestry of Grace Church, Waycross, and the mission council of Trinity Church, Cochran, have committed themselves to developing “mutual ministry.”  As every congregation is unique, this places before the Mutual Ministry Commission and the Commission on Ministry with your bishop questions about how we assess whether a congregation understands and has accepted itself as a ministering community of people, whether the congregation has ways to discern the gifts of its members and other ways to encourage and give appropriate formation education to help people trust and use their gifts of ministry.  I’m thankful, both for the empowering of lay ministry through the Discipleship Program and for Mutual Ministry that we now have on staff Dr. A.L. Addington.  He also is responsible for developing programs to help congregations that would like to grow, to organize themselves and develop the skills necessary to become hospitable to growth. 

            Additional change in staff brings new vision and leadership to our conference center in Mr. Gary Elms, a well-known lay leader from St. Paul’s, Albany.  The conference center is another tool, it’s really our diocesan parish house  — which is in use for preparing baptized persons as ministers of the Gospel.

            Communications are critical in helping us support one another, so I’m thankful for Marcia McRae’s leadership through “The Church in Georgia”.  I know some people are uncomfortable with the free expression of opinions, believing the truth — or the Church’s position (particularly if that’s their position) — should have the whole field to itself.  But as your bishop at our first convention, I asked that we try hard not to solve serious issues by beating each other up and passing resolutions.  My experience is that no one’s mind is changed by a resolution.  Those who lose are mad, and often the winners think they’ve accomplish something and stop working for their understanding of the truth!  On the other hand, I pledged that there should be free and serious discussion of all issues.  I wish that the church was not faced by serious questions.   I wish that everyone agreed with me, particularly everyone who lives in Georgia.  However, the most difficult questions facing Christians in our culture will not go away.  There is no visible way to compromise.  People of prayer, deep reflection on scripture, and with great commitment Jesus Christ, disagree on a number of these issues.  “The Church in Georgia” is a way for us to discuss these issues.  I believe that there is an overwhelming Christian agreement that one must respect people who one disagrees with and thus attacking another person is not an acceptable Christian way of supporting what one understands as God’s will.  On the other hand, I think it’s crucial to God’s moving us as a community to see his will for us and for all people to have careful statements by our members and our leaders as to what they believe and also that they have the freedom to question those with opposing views, pointing out the problem or problems they have with this opposing position.  So I welcome the discussions while I remind you that Jesus’ clearest and most forceful commandment is to show love to each other and he even says we must love our enemies.

            I ask you for your prayers as the bishop, pastor and people of St. Stephen’s, Lee County, look for a larger space.  We have the wonderful problem of having outgrown the Methodist chapel we are using.  The space prevents further growth.

            I ask your thanksgiving for the cooperative research and commitment of the clergy and congregations of the Augusta area as we look at ways we might share the Gospel with more people, particularly in the growth areas of Columbia County.  We have come to develop a consensus of support and energy among the clericus behind the planting of a new congregation to welcome some of the new people in the growth area of Columbia County.  Pray that we find the means to get it started.

            I ask prayers as we look at the growth to the south and to the west of Savannah and how the Episcopal Church should share the Gospel in these areas.

            I ask your prayers for Diocesan Council as we work to link and support the ministry of each of our congregations.  This year we plan to invite mission council members and vestry members from specific congregations to help us develop our support of mutual ministry, church growth, and church planting.  This is based on the fact that all ministry starts with real people in specific locations working together.  The diocese is our way of supporting those local groups known as congregations.

            Pray for the development of the use of our conference center under the direction of our new director, Gary Elms, and the Conference Center Commission.

            Pray for Jacqui Belcher, our communications officer, and Marcia McRae, editor of “The Church in Georgia,” as they work to let us know each other so that we can support each other’s ministry.

            Give thanks for the gracious, cheerful steward in each congregation.  Give thanks for the congregations which, by their gifts and pledges, sacrificially share their resources to reach beyond themselves in local ministry and beyond through the larger church.

            Pray and give thanks for Dr. Horace Boyer and Dr. Michael Curry and the gifts they bring us from other parts of our church.

            And most of all, give thanks to Christ for calling us into his body and sharing with us his life and his love.