Bishop’s Address of 1995

Bishop’s Address to the 173rd Convention
of The Episcopal Diocese of Georgia meeting at Christ Episcopal Church in Savannah, Georgia
The Rt. Rev. Henry I. Louttit, Jr.

I stand before you tonight with some sense of trepidation but also with great joy and thanksgiving. Almost 30 years ago – it will be 30 years on the Feast of St. Mark’s, the 25th of April – I knelt in this place with four other people and was ordained a presbyter to serve among you. I’m extremely grateful for the prayers, love and tactful advice of so many of the baptized members of this diocese that formed me and conformed me in God’s design. Not that he’s through with me – or with you – or your responsibility to continue to support me with your prayers, love and tactful advice on my pilgrimage to become a clear icon of our God. I’m thankful for your confidence in me and I pledge you my prayer and my study and my word as you grow in his grace to become clear icons of his love.

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

I am also very thankful for the great tradition of icons of Christ who have ministered in this place – John and Charles Wesley, Bartholomew Zouberbuhler, John Wing, F. Bland Tucker – and throughout this diocese – Anson Dodge, Deaconess Alexander, Jimmy Lawrence, Albert Stuart, Gustave Caution, Junius Martin, Herman Stone, Harry Babbit, Nelson Daunt, Ken Gearheart, Toni Deaux, Joanna Sherman Dean, Lucian Whittle, Robert Hunt, Mansell Pattison, Louise Hines, Gwinn Nixon, Richard McHugh, Anne Beebe, James Kontos, to name but a few. With their prayers of support, and yours, I would like to outline a little bit of my hopes for my ministry for you as bishop.

In a letter to wardens and clergy I outlined the new job descriptions of the members of the diocesan staff. Working from that letter I would like to describe the ministry of the bishop as I see it under six headings:

1. First of all, I see a major task of the bishop to be the encourager, friend and prayer support for the leaders of the congregations and all the baptized members of this diocese (that’s priestly ministry).
2. I see the bishop as our link with those in other congregations in our diocese, throughout the world church, and also back through time to the apostles (that is the bishop’s special ministry).
3. I see the bishop as the chief administrator, planner and vision sales person for the diocese (that parallels the responsibility of the rector in a local congregation).
4. I see the bishop as having a major responsibility – and this is the area that most people in the larger church don’t recognize – as the troubleshooter, garbage man, reconciler (this is the work of pastors. It’s the work that you can’t put in your diary if it goes well, and, unfortunately, if it doesn’t go well It will probably show up in the headlines of the paper).
5. I see the bishop as the sharer of the family stories so as to help us be proud of each other, our relatives in Christ (this is the role of a grandmother or grandfather in a family).
6. And finally, the bishop, like every Christian, is called to be an icon model of Christian service (this is a role we normally call deacon).

In order to fulfill these ministries among you, I have to know you. St. Augustine of Hippo said a long dine ago, “I listen that I may serve.” That’s why my visits to the congregations of this diocese are so very important. I need to know something about you and something about your life so that I may share that with your brothers and sisters in other places, as well as so I may be better able to serve as your encourager, friend and prayer support. I don’t know how many of you have lived in several different congregations, but if you have, you know that congregations have distinct personalities which is separate from possible commitment to a particular theology or ideology. Just like people, each congregation is unique and that means that each person and each congregation has to be approached in a way that is appropriate to them in order to be their friend and encourager.

One of my dreams is that, over the next several years, we can get away from categorizing congregations as parishes and missions and instead look at each other for the distinct gifts and personality God has given us. Every community, this bishop believes, is given adequate gifts, and skills, and people by God to do the ministry which he has placed before them. And every Christian community, just as every Christian person, needs to share these gifts beyond themselves.

Of course, some communities will need outside energy – staff and money and volunteers – in order to survive. But all of us need support from others to grow and, more important, if we are to be icons modeled on God, all of us have gifts which must be shared beyond ourselves.

When we think about the Church, we are pulled between two different models. One is the Church as institution, and one is Church as family. Of course, in a culture like our own, where we are a large group and where we own property, we have to have protection for those times of trouble In the form of laws and rules to protect assets, property and access to leadership. Yet, on the other hand, as we see ourselves as members of the Body of Christ, we know that, in most cases, what is required is mutual support and an authority system that moves by consensus rather than by legislation.

I would hope that most of the time, even on the diocesan level, we could operate more on the family level of the spectrum. However, I am very thanldul to Roland Williams, our chancellor, and Col. Duskin, who ably chairs the Standing Committee on Constitution and Canons, for making sure we have in place the necessary laws and rules should we come to those really tough times in human life. I would hope most times, however, we would see the canons as pointing the direction rather than being absolutely concerned that we fulfill every jot and tittle of some rule.

This leads me to think about how we work together in the diocese. I’m very concerned that we not ask people to give time and energy to go to meetings where they do not feel that they have made a contribution, or even worse, name people to committees that never function. It’s natural in the life of this kind of community to set up committees about areas of particular concern and then, after a couple of years, continue the committee because it is a good thing, even when energy in the larger group – the diocesan convention – is focused in another area. Therefore, I hope we can move the structure of the diocese to reflect what we really want to do at a given time.

To start with, I am very aware that the Diocesan Council, as currently structured, is too large to be an effective, deliberative body if it is only going to meet for one day four times a year – which seems about as much as we can ask people to give in their service on the council. Thus I have asked the council members, and they have agreed, to allow me to divide the council into four working groups, adding adjunct members with particular interests and skills in each area to these working groups. Of course, in conjuction with meetings of these working sections, the council will continue to gather in short sessions to deal with those few things that require a resolution or a vote by the elected representatives. For planning, supervision and review, I have asked council to work in these four groups:

1. Organization and Stewardship (understanding that organization is really the process by which we are good stewards of the gifts of people’s time and skills).
2. Communications (both within the diocese and also with the larger Church).
3. Support and Ministry of the Baptized (much of this is done in and by local congregations, but there are some things which we could cooperately do more effectively. Some such programs which already exist are our youth programs and diocesan camps).
4. Congregational Development (this committee is charged to develop ways to support each of our congregations in their formation, nurture and care of the baptized who belong to them).

These four working groups will serve as the canonically required standing committees on stewardship and mission development. I believe this will address the four most pressing current concerns of our ministry together.

There has been considerable concern and a lot of work done in the last several years trying to come up with a fairer way of asking congregations’ support of the diocesan budget. So far we have not been successful in finding the fairer way. Part of this, I believe, is due to the fact that there are a number of unexpressed issues in the ongoing quest: Good issues of accountability of diocesan entities and the bishop; communication of what our diocesan (joint) ministries are and their goals and achievements; personal dislikes of certain areas of our diocesan ministry – some of us think the whole ministry of the national church is so evil that nothing should be given to support it, not even to support our missions among the Sioux, the Navajo, or in Mexico or Uganda; others who wish the diocese to dose and sell Honey Creek; others who believe that the bishop does not need staff and is perfectly capable of handling the insurance claims of your lay and clergy staff in the congregations as well as doing visitations and spending much more time in the field. I still think a fairer system is to be desired. However, no system of askings can reduce the amount people are asked to give unless we are willing, as a convention, to reduce the amount of ministry we are currently paying for. Of course, I’d love to think I will fall this year in my visits into some way we can save enormous amounts of money, but I’m fairly sure we have a bare bones operation. In fact, I know there are no flexible funds in the budget with which to address new opportunities as they come along or to deal with the crises that develop. I would hope in the future that some funds could be provided in the budget to give the bishop, with the advice of the Standing Committee, the ability to provide a cushion so that a pastor could be moved when it was in the best interest of the congregation and that pastor, and so that the pastor can be cushioned while he or she looked for a new job or moved to a situation where his or her skills might be more appropriate. I would also hope that we could have funds so that we could move when new opportunities of ministry appear.
In the meantime, I am extremely thankful for those congregations which have carried more than their fair share of the diocesan budget these last five years:
Congregations who have pledged and given 100% of the asking from their own funds:

St. Andrew’s, Darien
Christ Church, St. Marys
Annunciation, Vidalia
St. Francis’, Savannah
St. Matthew’s, Savannah
St. James’, Quitman
All Saints’, Tybee Island
St. Peter’s, Skidaway Island
St. Richard’s, Jekyll Island

Congregations who have pledged and given at least 85% of the asking:

St. Paul’s, Albany
Calvary, Americus
St. Athanasius’, Brunswick
Congregations who have pledged and given at least 85% (four out of the last five years):
St. Michael’s, Waynesboro
Good Shepherd, Augusta
Holy Nativity, St. Simons Island
Christ Church, Frederica
St. Mark’s, Brunswick

The Gospel does talk about us sharing each others burdens, and there are always some congregations which have such major local emergencies or troubles that they are not able to carry their share. Then, unfortunately, there are others who believe that, for ideological reasons, they shouldn’t carry their full share.

However, I believe the real issues before us are not a faltering economy, not a lessening of the ability of our people to give, but rather a lack of a vision of what needs to be done for and in Christ, and In some cases, a sinful distortion of Christian stewardship which allows people to think that they can respond to God’s freely given gifr by using their gifts to make others be exactly as they wish them. Money spent for control is not a gift for God’s work. No fairer system of askings can deal with human sin – but God’s grace

I would ask each vestry in the future to struggle prayerfully as it makes those hard choices to decide how to divide its income among the opportunities and needs that are present in their budget. And at the same time, with this same commitment and prayer, to consider the opportunities we have together in the diocesan and world Church. In a family we are not all going to see the issues exactly the same or have the same priorities -compromises will have to be made. We do have to be responsible stewards. Sometimes, local emergencies will require us to use more of our funds at home and have to ask others to bear our share of the cooperative ministries. Being naturally self-centered, we are all called by the Gospel to struggle to look at our neighbor’s needs as well as our own. All this bishop asks is that you prayerfully do that. I am sure God will provide you with the resources to accomplish what he wants you to do and that he is going to see that the diocese is provided resources for what he wills the diocese to do cooperatively. Of course, he may not provide for everything Henry wants to do, but “God’s will,” will be fulfilled.

If we look at the other side of the issue, our diocesan expenses, I have already mentioned the need for some flexible funds so that we can be ready with appropriate safeguards to move in new directions. The diocesan conference center has worked very hard to develop a program and a major funds drive to raise endowments to cover some of the maintenance needs so that the ongoing annual diocesan subsidy can be less. I asked the Conference Center Commission to please delay that for a year until I have had a chance to really see all of our programs in action and all of you and your congregational programs and life and have a better idea of what our priorities should be. But I do believe that is an important opportunity and I will hope next year to give adequate time to make it happen. That would free up some funds from the diocesan budget, if and when it comes to pass.
I also hope that, with your support and prayer and the willingness to trust God and to risk looking at things slightly differently, we might be able to develop ways of providing ministry and worship to every community which wishes to be an Episcopal church without the overhead required by the typical Episcopal program of planting a suburban church. If you ask the experts in our Episcopal Church Center, they will tell you that to be a viable Episcopal church you have to have a budget of $150,000 year. And they have suggested to some dioceses that they close everybody who does not have that kind of income which provides, from their view, a full time priest and a half time secretary. If we should follow their advice, I would have much less time on the road, having many fewer congregations. However, there is nothing in scripture about having to have a full time priest or half time secretary, although that is an appropriate pattern for Episcopal congregations in suburban situations. Most of our diocese, the area below the fall line, is made up of rural counties with relatively small county seat towns. Others of our congregations find themselves serving specific groups that provide relatively small areas for evangelism. For them, with their support and prayer, and the support and prayer of the larger congregations, we need to look at new ways of providing adequate priests, deacons, Christian educators, pastoral care givers and administrators. I do not believe (I have already mentioned that every congregation has a unique personality), that the same solution will be right for every congregation. I am looking for funds to be able to send up to four people from our larger congregations and four from our congregations which receive support to the Diocese of Northern Michigan to look at their program of mutual ministry. Their resourceful new approaches were forced on them by the fact that they had no congregations with incomes of over $150,000 and no place to get subsidies from. The results have been very positive in many communities where the church had struggled for a century. They do not think that their system will work just carried as it is into other areas, but I would like us to send people to look at it and pray and think about ways we might adapt part of it for some of our congregations. Of course, none of this can be done overnight. It will take time, and even more, it will take money to put in place training programs for the volunteers necessary to carry on the life of, the church. However, when we look at the scriptural picture of the church, there were no full time staff in the early church, and in many parts of the world there are still no full time staff people. It is impossible to have a successful church run by one person who is a volunteer, unless that person happens to be financially endowed. But the real truth is that congregations are never healthy if one person does everything, whether that person be paid or volunteers. The Gospel image of us is as members of the body. That means that all of us have to do our share in the work. And that means, of course, that forms of mutual ministry are every bit as appropriate in a large congregation as in a county seat congregation.

Leadership is difficult and problematic in our culture. I believe the way forward involves cooperative, consultative leadership styles. Thus I find myself in a difficult pastoral situation concerning a cathedral. I believe, as much as I do not want to hurt the folk at St. Paul’s, who have worked so hard and who provided a wonderful setting for the election of a bishop, that the issue of a cathedral needs to be considered by the diocese as a whole.

Traditionally, a number of American dioceses rejected cathedrals as representative of royal and aristocratic power, not appropriate in a democracy. In the last few years, nearly every diocese has moved to name a cathedral. However, I am personally unsure as to what a cathedral should be in our culture and our church as we enter the second millenium. Thus I propose to name a committee of twelve people, three of whom will be named by the rector and vestry of St. Paul’s, Savannah (to reflect their working experiences last year) to report to our next diocesan convention on how a cathedral might enhance our ministry together as the Diocese of Georgia.

If you had the opportunity to watch the procession at my ordination as bishop, you saw something of the wonderful richness, diversity and plurality of the Episcopal Church. If you thought about that diversity much, you realize that a good bit of it has been there for a long, long time. But God has played a wonderful surprise – and he is a God of surprises – on us. For many years we presented ourselves as the form of Christianity that developed in the Anglo-Saxon culture of England. We saw ourselves basically as a church of Anglo-Saxons. Not by any intention on our part we have discovered ourselves as a church with a Gospel that has attracted people from every tribe and nation, and we have been enriched by the the wonderful richness of people of all kinds of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Being true to this diversity that God has given us, requires us to be more tolerant and to spend more time listening to people from other backgrounds. The positive part of this is that it makes us a wonderful picture to the world of trust and love between peoples without requiring they give up the richness of their culture of origin. To put this another way, Tudor English is very appropriate for some of us, but it cannot be the basis of our religion. Christ has called us into a family with all kinds of his brothers and sisters.

Finally, I really want to say that I think, and believe, and commit my life to the fact that we Episcopalians, although we are not the only Christians (and we are very thankful for the witness of many of our brothers and sisters in other denominations here in our area of Georgia), have a particularly rich and wonderful understanding of Jesus Christ and what it means to be his follower. And I want to see us offer that to those around us who are looking for meaning and healing in their lives.

Of course there are some crazy Episcopalians, both in our diocese and in other parts of the world, saying all kinds of things that we don’t agree with. But our task is not to make sure that everybody is right everywhere, our task is to show forth God’s love in our lives and in our communities. Historically in the United States, the Episcopal Church was the alternative to “revivalism” or religion that was motivated heavily by emotionalism. The drawback to this was that we, worried about manipulation, often did not take into account the need for human beings to have enthusiasm – emotional energy or love, if you will – to go along with their reasoned understanding of the faith. On the other hand, we held up a view of the faith that allowed people to use their minds, respected individuals and respected individuality. I would suggest that we still have a lot to offer in the spectrum of Christian communities which represent Christ in Georgia. God has given us 16,000 ministers with incredible skills, gifts, and talents. Our primary purpose must be to help people recognize that, through their baptism, they are empowered and energized to respond to God’s call by using their gifts in Christ’s works of reconciliation. We have to pray that God will give us the ability and energy to accept the people he is sending to us for our nurture. I know you, the members of the Episcopal Church In Georgia, have enriched my life and greatly increased my wonder at God’s gifts and love. I believe we can do that for many others and I ask you to join me in praying for God’s grace and for that kind of trust in him which will allow us to go into the future and make it his.