Bishop’s Address of 1996


May Christ, duelling in me, bless you. And may Christ, dwelling in you, bless me. All to God’s glory in welcoming his kingdom.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is very difficult to believe that I have been your bishop of a full year. That I have officially visited every one of our sixty-seven congregations at least once. And what have I found? I can say honestly, that in each of our congregations I have seen something happening for Jesus Christ. Some of those things are unique and distinctive enough to make good stories and I have been sharing those stories with other members of the family. I would like to retell in short form a couple and a couple of new ones.

But first let me say that the biggest surprise for me is our widespread ability to worship together on Sunday morning with people representing several different racial groups. In a month in which television had a program called, “The Most Segregated Hour In American Life” – being 11 o’clock on Sunday morning – it occurred to me that out of our 67 congregations, 60 of them, known to me, had members of at least two races. If you don’t think the Holy Spirit is working among us, you weren’t here 30 years ago. Of course, I don’t mean to say that the kingdom has come. There are still plenty of problems and there is still a great need for reconciliation between races in many of our secular communities.

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

There is still a great need for most of us to open ourselves with more grace towards people who are not exactly like us.

The stories illustrating Christ’s work through us that I told most often, have to do with the wonderful story of St. Anne’s, Tifton – a congregation that, when I first knew it 29 years ago or more, would often have 16 or 18 people on Sunday. After years of troubles and troublesome ordained leadership, when this bishop went for his first visitation at St. Anne’s, I confirmed 40 adults, not counting a wonderful group of teenagers who had grown up in the parish. Even more impressive on the campus that has replaced their small, wooden church which was landlocked on a downtown lot, 360 people were in their church to make their communion with me that day. This is in a county of about 16,000 people in our part of the State of Georgia.

But to make it clear that God working through us does not always mean growth, I also like to tell the story of Grace Church, Sandersville. The story begins very similar to that of St. Anne’s, except I knew it several years earlier when it was a tiny church which you found by finding the Pure Oil Station on Main Street, going around the building passed the grease rack to find the church in the back yard. I think it originally was built on an alley in which trees had grown up. There the congregation was countable on one hand. Years ago they had some growth and bought a lot on the outskirts of town and built a parish hall in which I had also been present to worship. I had seen in the Church In Georgia a couple of years ago that they had built a new church. I was not prepared when I arrived there, knowing that they were concerned about their small numbers and how long their wonderful, retired pastor, Dawson Teague would be able to keep up his long drives to pastor them, to find when I met with the vestry (a six-person vestry), that they were three men and three women, and they were half black and half white. I was much more surprised when I got to the service, in a packed church in which several pastors from other churches and a Roman priest were present. The choir had been sent by First Baptist! Coming out, one of the pastors that had been a friend of mine and with whom I had worked years before, a Disciples of Christ pastor, said, “Henry, probably some people would wonder why you Episcopalians would keep such a small congregation alive. But I want you to look around. This is a group of people in this town who can get people together – Baptists, Roman Catholic, black and white. We wish we can be integrated and a symbol of God’s reconciliation across racial lines in the way that this congregation is. We are certainly thankful that Grace Episcopal Church is in our community.”

And I have told the story of the wonderful growth of St. Peter’s, Skidaway. Granted it is a unique situation for us in our population area, but here a group of people have founded a congregation which, I hope, we will I admit as a parish tomorrow. They have built a lovely church with seating that makes it one of the largest Episcopal church building in the diocese and they come to us with no capital debt as a parish. We are glad to have them. They have already begun to share their resource of people with the larger diocese, for which we are thankful.

I’d like to tell now a couple of stories that have come to my attention in more recent month. The first might be entitled, “Does It Take a Fire?” Early in episcopate I had the honor of consecrating two new church building. An honor I will not have too many more times as your bishop. One of these was for St. Andrew’s, Douglas, a congregation that has been a member of the Diocese of Georgia for lots of years. Relatively early in my ministry, their old church building was condemned because of termite damage making it structurally unsound, at which point they had built a very lovely brick church. It was adjacent to a concrete block fellowship hall and minimal other spaces. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, St. Andrew’s was burnt down in a fire in which arson was suspected. This is a congregation that, as many congregations, that had some difficulties. In ways the fire seemed a very unfair problem for them. The vestry, after considerable prayer and struggle, decided, with their insurance money, to raise additional money and build the church back larger. This they did in a way that resembles the church that was there but using wonderful stained glass from their original church, some of which had been in storage since the building of their second church. In addition, they built a parish hall, Sunday school facilities and offices, that are equally as nice as the church. For the first time since my lime in Georgia, St. Andrew’s has gracious and adequate facilities for all areas of church life. And there is a new energy and commitment among the members of this congregation to reach out in Christ’s name.

The next one might be titled, “What’s Required But Faith?” Several years ago, a vision was made for us to start a congregation on “infamous Tobacco Road” in Augusta. The name of a church which had been downtown and had been closed was chosen, and land obtained. The new congregation of the Atonement began in a double-wide trailer. Unfortunately, ordained leaders and others took the Church of the Atonement to a number of different ends of the spectrum which make up our church. And there were murmurs that in other areas that this was a church we really don’t need. Recently, a large and handsome church has been constructed. When I became your bishop I heard some rumors that, yes, there was nice church but there were no people. On my visit, I worshipped with a congregation of 80, not counting the smaller children who I could not count for their activity. Tobacco Road, despite its infamous name, is now a main street through nice subdivisions with homes a little less expensive than a typical Episcopalian owns, but lots of people live in the area, leading to the gates of Fort Gordon. It’s wonderful to have congregations that have lots of children. I was impressed with the congregation and even more touched to discover that they fed a 1,000 people in 1995 through their parish food closet! This is a congregation that has nice worship space with plenty of space to grow, but still tries to provide for 40 to 50 children in the double-wide and a used trailer. It would be easy for them to talk about what they need to serve their congregation, but what they are doing is serving people with real pain in their neighborhood!

The next story might be called, “What’s In a Vision?” My last story is about being invited to celebrate and preach at a service of thanksgiving for 100 years of service of the current building of St. Paul’s Parish in Albany, Georgia. As I prepared for this, I realized that St. Paul’s, founded before the Civil War, had built a building in the aftermath that had lasted better than 40 years. When it was outgrown in the 90s of the last century, the then-rector urged them not to build for themselves but to build for 50 years hence. The amazing thing, brothers and sisters, is that, in 1896, when the current building of St. Paul’s church was completed, there were 60 communicants, half of whom were African-American, which means that at least half of them were not highly wealthy. And St. Paul’s, Albany, was ministering in a town of 9,000. Sixty Episcopalians in Albany in 1896 built a church that could seat 460 people. It was comfortably filled for the service of thanksgiving for a 100 years. My question to you is, “What vestry with 60 communicants would dream of building a building for 460 people?” If we should have a vestry in the current Diocese of Georgia who would dream like that, can you imagine getting the Standing Committee and the bishop to agree to allow you to build that in a county of 13,000? What was the difference between them and us? Well, my suggested title is part of it. What a difference a vision makes. They and their rector believed that Episcopalians had something important to share – and there were Baptists and Methodists and other people there, too – and they believed we were going to be around for 50 years at least to share it. I am telling you some of the exciting stories in our history, and I should, of course, also note that St. Paul’s, Albany, has founded 3 other congregations in Albany in the last hundred years. We have, therefore, increased our seating somewhat in Albany, although I think at best we have 650 seats now. To have the kind of seats per population as our forebears built in 1896, I think we would need in the neighborhood of 4,000!

Further, I have to also tell you that I have struggled with not knowing how to minister and how to respond to some wonderful opportunities. So not everything this year has been easy and good. This past year we have had six congregations without the regular care of a priest as pastor: St. Mark’s, (Woodbine; Holy Angels’, Pooler; St. Thomas Aquinas’, Baxley; Trinity, Cochran; St. Luke’s, Hawkinsville; and St. Elizabeth’s, Richmond Hill. Plus, Christ Church, Valdosta, and St. Thomas’, Isle of Hope, were both without rectors, but they did have priests to celebrate communion and visit the sick and do all other things that are necessary for regular life in an Episcopal church. In more recent months, at least for the time being, we have pastoral care by priests in Woodbine and Pooler. We think we may have it figured out for the immediate future for St. Luke’s, Hawkinsville, and St. Thomas Aquinas’, Baxley. And we now have a new parish vacant at Christ Church, Dublin.

Vestries ask me for priests, or how to get a priest or even a supply priest. Often, I’ve said my prayers but I’ve had no answer. I also became much more aware of opportunities and possibilities that face us as a diocese: There is enormous growth in Lee County right across the line from Albany. The nearest parish to that growth is St. Patrick’s, Albany. While saying they need more members and hope to get some from Lee County, there is no way that they can adequately represent the Episcopal Church and absorb even our share of the people moving in to Lee County. They have encouraged us, the diocese, their family – as has the rector and vestry of St. Paul’s – to consider ways we might begin ministry in Lee County.

In Columbia County, some far-sighted people several years ago bought property for a second church. There are some questions there like there are everywhere about what will ultimately happen to the economy, but this is a county with 66,000 residents. You might like to compare the fact that we have one church in this county of 66,000 on one end, and with Glynn County, a county about the same size, we have 5 churches or on the same scale of the number of people served, it would be like us having only 3 churches in Richmond County, the city of Augusta!

Then there is the growth on the southside of Savannah. We do have several churches which have had minimal growth in the last 30 years or even shrinkage on the south and west end of Chatham County. The growth in enormous. In Georgetown, near where I live there are 5,000 residents. We do have a congregations that is about 3 blocks from Georgetown, although unfortunately on the far side of town according to church planners. That congregation has services twice a month at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Membership would be glad for us to reach out in their area with morning services, but where are we going to get a priest?

As I thought about these issues, I returned to my address to this convention last year at Christ Church, Savannah, not two weeks after I was ordained as bishop. I was amazed how much my understanding of the diocese then has been reinforced by my experience of traveling around and visiting each of our congregations. I thus have asked that that address be reprinted and placed on your tables so we don’t lose those concerns and so I don’t just have to repeat what I said last year.

The issue of where we get the right kind of ordained leadership and how we encourage and inform the ministry of each of our baptized members so that we can carry on the ministry in this wonderful field that God has given us in which to welcome the kingdom is still my priority. There is some good news in relationship to what we were talking about a year ago: The Conference Center Commission with creative and imaginative leadership with Charles Hay, its director, has so developed their environmental program, which is a service to our schools and our state, and their service of Elder Hostel, that they have been able to broaden the base in a way that allows them to request $25,000 less subsidy in 1996 than they requested in 1995. We are very thankful of that because it allows us to continue our diocesan ministry at about the same level as in 1995. It’s not just that the budget is helped by a decrease in a request from an area of our ministry – that of our “diocesan parish house” – but more, the complaints we get about our conference center are, “I couldn’t get a date for my meeting or one that was good for my parish or my commission.” What a good problem. I’m also thankful for the serious giving by a number of our congregations as reported in the last issue of the “Church In Georgia.”

More good news! We have finally developed a link by FAX machine with all but one of our congregations in the diocese and we have installed in the diocesan office a new computer which has most of the capabilities we need to move us towards desktop publishing. Our communications officer is hard at work learning the intricacies of this system. Also supportive of communication has been the turnout of clergy and laity for consecrations of new buildings and ordinations. That has improved in almost every area of the diocese. I can’t tell you how much it means to congregations when other people come to help them celebrate their big days. I also found that in a number of cases where people have been brought to be presented for confirmation (particularly on Wednesday evenings) by not only their pastor but a representative group of people from their congregation, it enriches the warship of the local congregation.

Another piece of good news is, if this convention authorizes the budget as presented, we will have a half-time youth coordinator for our diocese in the person of Pastor Sonia Sullivan, who will be pastor for the other half of her time at Good Shepherd, Swainsboro. I think at this convention you will see some of the evidence of Sonia’s ability to organize and to involve our youth in our church. To enhance that youth ministry, the vestry at St. Anne’s, Tifton, who has a new minister of youth and director of Christian Education for their parish – Ms. Jeannie Holman – is tithing her time to our diocesan youth programming. Thus, we have a part time youth ministry coordinator in the western area of the diocese, and we are very thankful for that.

I chose as my priority to be out in the congregations in the diocese. I am thankful for the diocesan office staff and Canon Carter and Deacon Ulmer for the day to day operation of the business in our diocese so that I can be out )vith you. I think that that is the right priority for a bishop in this place and time. My feelings of inadequacy or even frustration have been caused by the fact that there is not enough time to do the things I would like to do, much less even respond to the opportunities and needs that are presented to me. I thought I could make contact with every presbyter in the diocese at least once a quarter by telephone. I was not prepared for the fact that many evenings at 6 p.m., I am still trying to return the calls that come to me during that day. As I began to struggle about reorganizing my time, I began to think about the fact that I am finite. If we figure I get a month vacation and that I need to spend three weeks in connecting us with the church beyond our borders, that’s the two weeks of meeting with the House of Bishops a year, plus a few other activities beyond the diocese, I am left with 45 weeks. If you figure that we have 67 congregations, you might say well you have 2-1/2 days for each congregation, but then there are almost 40 convocations, diocesan commissions and committees and other groups in the diocese that meet, most of them probably quarterly and most of whom would like to have the bishop present, or at least present once a year, so you would remove one day a week for those meetings. So we are down to 2 days per congregation. Then we realize that the bishop is pastor to the leaders of congregations and to clergy – and pastors are not able to plan the traumatic situations that happen in human life. So once we begin to respond to deaths of priests and troubles in congregations, be it looking for a new pastor or for a personality problem, etc., we are down to about a day a congregation per year. All this underlines that which I want to talk more about today, and that is that there is no way that the job of shepherding or overseeing or episcopacy, that means bishoping, can be done by one person alone. It’s the responsibility of the whole family, for which I am an icon and enabler. I do really need your support and love and I have felt it in your willingness to join with me in attempting to build smaller communities within our diocese and groups of people who have the ability to support one another and to help congregations or individuals in their ministries. Lots of the oversight is going to have to be done in shared ministry.

All these stories lead me to want to talk a moment with you about two ways of looking at the church: Maintenance or mission. If we get passed sarcasm, we realize it is more complicated a question than we often think because, if the church is to carry out Christ’s ministry of reconciliation in the world, it must be the church. That means the church must be nurtured. We have to take care of our own spiritual needs and those of our children. We need to care for those in our community that have trauma or other needs, otherwise we won’t be there as church to carry on the ministry. On the other hand, in a part of the family in which most congregations are on a starvation diet and which are not able to be sure that they can continue of living up to the model of an Episcopal congregation, which is basically suburban, there is a real temptation to spend so much time worrying about whether we’re going to make it that we forget what we’re in business to do. Don’t think how anyone reading scripture can think that the church exists for itself. Obviously, we exist as God’s people for his ministry. One of the most painful times that I’ve spent since being your bishop was being with a long-time friend of mine talking about the division and troubles in one of our congregation. The conversation was punctuated by references to these strangers sitting in our pews. Unfortunately, the anger and the reality of the problems was that I couldn’t really address what I was hearing. I think, however, under most circumstances, people would have called those people “visitors” and, I would hope, that we would see those visitors as allies and even possible future members of our congregation. Here, of course, they were being seen as people who might possibly favor positions that we don’t agree with. The scripture is full of cases where people met God or his messenger as they were hospitable to strangers. Of course, my friend doesn’t mean it as it sounded exactly. I think most of us mean to pay attention to new people among us. But it’s an ongoing struggle. Several of our congregations that consider themselves friendly are very friendly to one another – so friendly with each other that they don’t notice the visitor.

Perhaps the major heresy or disease of the Christian people over at least, the last thousand years, has been to think that someone-else can do our religion for us – can make our “peace with the God of the universe.

People active in the church are always dreaming that “our next priest, or our next pastor, will” then life will be wonderful in our congregation. The priests and pastors are always dreaming “our ‘next bishop will have Vision” (unthinkingly and .unprayerfully that normally means their vision) then our church will be on the move again. I suspect bishops dream
of a day when people would let the leader lead, and the bishop, bishop “If everyone would just do what I direct.” Too many of the baptized, as well as those who are ordained deacon, priest or bishop, actually dream of retirement or of going AWOL. Remember, God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is in charge. He has not left us. He has set aside deacons, bishops and presbyters in his people. He has called us, through baptism in the Holy Spirit, to be his people. He has called us to be a diaconal, priestly, and episcopal people, serving, interceding for, and shepherding the whole of this glorious creation.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we live in exciting times with the rediscovery of the ministry of the laity as the basic ministers of God’s church, whose job is to announce and prepare for the coming of his kingdom.

The question I want us to ponder is: “In order to stress the value of each person who has responded to God in baptism, do we have to devalue the ordained ministry of bishop, priest and deacon?” I do not think so. However, we have an obvious problem when a sizable portion of our folk, ordained and lay, cannot think of any reason to have deacons (of course, many Episcopalians have never seen or heard of one despite the preface from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which says that, “it is evident to all men that from New Testament times there have been three orders of ministry, bishops, priests and deacons, in the church.”). The reality of our church’s practice for several centuries was that people being formed as priests were apprentice priests/pastor for a year while ordained to the order of deacon. The congregations with these transitional deacons basically experienced the person as an associate pastor or junior priest. In addition, presbyters are hard put to explain why we ordain priests! They can say that we authorize them to say the
prayer of consecration, the Great Thanksgiving at the Eucharist and to give absolution and blessings. But few of our priests spend more than ten to fifteen minutes a week saying these blessings. A formation period of three years in seminary costing between $70,000 and $90,000 seems inordinate, if saying those blessings is what it means to be an ordained priest. But, of course, we do expect our pastors to do more than say blessings. They are, according to the ordinal of our Book of Common Prayer, our teachers, our pastors and our priests. I ask each of you in the next couple of weeks to read the Examination and Prayer of Consecration in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer for ordination to each order: bishop, priest, and deacon.

I would love to think that I, in a brilliant ten minutes, would solve this problem, giving each of us a very enriched understanding of the ordained ministry in the service of the ministry of all the baptized. I am not sure that I have even explained it adequately at this time for myself The church’s experience of its ordained ministry is so complex that my realistic goal is to raise some of the issues so that you and I can start talking together about our ministry as baptized followers of Christ, and the supportive ministries of people who are deacons, bishops and priests for us. That there are problems is illustrated on the national scene by several of our dioceses having refused to ordain deacons, (except those in transition to priesthood). It is illustrated in our own diocese by the fact that a number of deacons who were called and screened and formed to the very special, and I think, needed ministry of deacon, come now and say that they know that they are being called to be priests. This is also reflected by the fact that several vestries who don’t have a priest have come to see me saying, “Deacon `Matilda’ has been a wonderful pastor for us, why don’t you just ordain her as our priest.” You see, for them, a priest is more important than a deacon. They see a deacon as just someone who is almost a priest.

The most basic question of all before we even begin to think about the ministry of us as individuals is what has God called the church – you and me – to do? Many people looking at us, and there is a lot of truth on their side, could say to provide religious “experience” or “comfort” to those in the church who want it?. What does the Bible say? Does it say Jesus came preaching a new religious institution as a way to provide for religious needs? I don’t think so. Jesus preaches the coming of the kingdom. He comes urging us to repent, to be baptized and to prepare the way of the kingdom.

This is expressed in our Book of Common Prayer’s Service of Baptism, where we say, “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, Ioving your neighbor as yourself? Continue in the apostles’ fellowship and teaching, the breaking of bread and prayers?” Then the whole congregation welcomes the person into the household of God, saying, “Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” This is reinforced when at confirmation, reception, or reaffirmation, the bishop says a prayer over the people who are candidates, saying, “Almighty God, we thank you that by the death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ, you have overcome sin and brought us to yourself, and that by the sealing of the Holy Spirit, you have bound us to your service. Send them forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before them through Jesus Christ”. This makes it clear that we respond to God in service and living for him. It certainly makes it clear that the baptized are not passive receivers of gifts from God to keep locked in a treasury or kept for some future date of judgment. They are made living parts of the body of Christ in his world.

When we ordain a deacon, we say, “Every Christian is called to. follow Jesus Christ, serving God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. God now calls you to a special ministry of servanthood, directly under your bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the pool, the weak, the sick, and the lonely. You are to make Christ known by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship. You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world…. At all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.” In the prayer of consecration for a deacon, we say, “Let his life and teachings so reflects your commandments, that many may come to know you and love you.” “As your Son came not to be served, but to serve, may this deacon share in Christ’s service…”

When we ordain a priest, we say, “The Church is a family of God, the Body of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit. All baptized people are called to make Christ known as Savior and Lord, and to share in the renewing of this world. You are called to work as a pastor, priest, and teacher, together with your bishop and fellow presbyters as a priest it will be your task to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to fashion your life in accordance with its precepts. You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. You are to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness of sinners, to pronounce God’s blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and the life to come.” In the Prayer of Consecration, we pray, “Grant that in all things he may serve without reproach, so that your people may be strengthened and your name glorified in all the world.” When a bishop is consecrated, we say, “You are called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church; to celebrate and provide for the administration of the sacraments of the New Covenant; to ordain priests and deacons, and to join in ordaining bishops, and to be in all things a faithful pastor and wholesome example for the entire flock of Christ…… With your fellow bishops, you are to share in leadership of the Church throughout the world. Your joy will be to follow him who came, not to be served, but to serve, and who gave his life as a ransom for many.”

The ordained ministers of Christ’s church are a sacrament or icon of God’s grace for us, the Church, so that we, the Church, are a sacrament or icon of God’s active love for the whole world and all that is in it. Bishop Zabriskie of Nevada likes to say that a deacon is the model and image for the church of the sending forth of God’s love into the world in his people. Thus the whole church has a diaconal ministry.

The priest’s ministry is to intercede for people before God, to proclaim what God has done, and is doing, for his people in his world. The priest is to relate or connect God and human beings in community. Bishop Zabriskie likes to say the priest is the icon or model of the church in “gathering,” and I would add, “nourishing” the people whom God has called. The whole church is to intercede for the world and to gather people into God’s kingdom. We, the baptized, are a priestly people.

A bishop is to witness to a God who is community in unity, tying together disciples of Jesus in every place and time; to guard the story of what God has done, and is doing (that is preserving the continuity of doctrine). To order or ordain authorized teachers and pastors for the building up of the local communities, and to ordain deacons who share God’s love through those congregations with his world. If the deacon is the model of the church set forth to share God’s love and the priest is the model of the church gathered to be nourished and formed, then the bishop is the icon and symbol of our unity in and with God. Each of us is called to be a part of the diaconal people, a priestly people, and a people who witness to the world its unity with its Creator, our God.

Pray that those who are called to any ordained ministry will be icons and encouragers in ministry of the whole body of Christ. Pray that we all may be thankful for Christ’s ministry in his world.

Questions to start discussion:

  1. What gifts do we want in our priests and pastors?
  2. Separate which of these gifts are innate in a person and which can be developed through formation and education. For instance,”if we need people who can speak German, as hard as that might be for some, it can be learned; however, if we need prospective draftees for the N.B.A., the candidates need to be tall and coordinated.