Bishop’s Address of 1981

The Rt. Rev. G. Paul Reeves
Given at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Thomasville, Georgia

I greet you in the Name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and welcome you as members of His family to this 159th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Georgia.

This parish of Saint Thomas entertained the 147th Convention here in 1969 – twelve years ago. Noting this fact, I was led to reflect on the changes that have taken place during those twelve years. I speak only of changes within our part of the Church. The changes within Christendom as a whole, and changes in the world, have been too many and too far-reaching even to begin to enumerate:

Paul ReevesThe Right Reverend Albert Rhett Stuart, of blessed memory, presided over that Convention twelve years ago in this place. In his Convention address he called for the election of a Bishop Coadjutor. As a consequence of that request, I became Coadjutor eight months later.

At that Convention there were present fifty-seven clergy. Of that number, seven, including Bishop Stuart, have departed this life for life in the Church Expectant. Nine have retired. Twenty have been transferred to other dioceses. Seven have been deposed. Three are inactive. Eleven of the fifty-seven are present at this Convention.

Compared to the 57 clergy at the 1969 Convention, we now number 66. Twelve years ago we reported 10,569 communicants; at this time we report 12,110. During the twelve years we have closed four churches, have begun six new ones, and have joined two congregations into one.

Incidentally, the Church has acquired a new official Book of Common Prayer.

As this Convention begins twelve years later, I note that Bishop Stuart mentioned that twelve years previously Saint Thomas’ Church had entertained the 134th Annual Convention. (This parish is thoroughly apostolic in its numbering of years between the Conventions it entertains!)

In his address that year, Bishop Stuart said:

“We all are conscious of the amazing and rapid
changes in our society, nation, and world, in these
years. I need not remind you of the dramatic and
unbelievable technological developments of the Space
Age, nor of the revolution in which the elements are
young people, black people, and poor people. We live
in the midst of plenty and of want; in the midst of
love and hate; in the midst of creativity and obson
lescence. The future can be great , or it can be
death. We are playing fast and for high stakes…
It is evident to any student of human institutions,
as well as to those who study theology and the laws
of nature, that the institution or the individual
which is oblivious to its environment and does not
plan accordingly and deal intelligently with change
is in grave danger of extinction. The great asset
of the church as it has come down the years through
many changing societies and cultures has been its
power of renewal. When she has been renewed she
has served effectively the generation in which she
found herself. Never was this more true than today.”

Thus Bishop Stuart; and how little things have changed in twelve years! I note his use of the word ‘renewal’. In the years subsequent to that Address, ‘renewal’ has become one of the catch-words in Church circles. I cannot recall ever having seen an ecclesiastical definition of the word, and it now seems to mean whatever the user intends it to mean and whatever the hearer things it means – and these two often do not coincide. As well as I can remember, it was widely used first with the word ‘Liturgical’, Liturgical Renewal connoting the purpose of the Liturgical Movement.

Nowadays, it most often is used as a comprehensive term to embrace the several programs and movements, all the way from pentecostalism and charismatic manifestations to the more structured such as Faith Alive and Cursillo, all of which stress the personal relation of the individual to God. When a word becomes so subjective and so broad it loses much of its usefulness.

I think you know that I an committed to Renewal — as I understand Renewal! And I understand it in terms of two verses from the Bible: Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” And then the word of the Cosmic Christ exalted on His heavenly throne – this in the Revelation of St. John (21:5):”Behold I make all things new.”

It has been pointed out that in our time of incredibly rapid change in every department of life we tend easily to go to one of two extremes – either to bewail the changes and to try to hold on to something -anything – that seems familiar; or else too quickly to embrace all change indiscriminately as being inevitable or desirable or stimulating. In his monumental STUDY OF HISTORY, Arnold Toynbee calls these approaches respectively “Archaism” and “Futurism”, and he demonstrates how each has failed in the twenty civilizations that have preceded ours, failed because they ignored the laws of growth and the laws of Nature, and how both are doomed tol end in disastrous violence.

We can see both of these forces at work in the Church. For example, in the construction of new church buildings, archaism tries to copy -particularly on the exterior – the glories of the Byzantine or the Romanesque or the Gothic or the Georgian. The results often are pitiful. What is forgotten is that the builders of the great churches in any period
first understood the meaning of what a church building was to be used for, and then they built as best they could with the materials and the machinery and the techniques that they had in their particular time and place. They were dedicated to doing the best they could with what they had, and their best was good indeed. Copies of what they did rarely are the best we can do.

A futuristic approach, on the other hand, often strains at anything that looks novel or daring, often with a lack of understanding of what is supposed to go on in a church building, and with no thought of evoking reverence, much less awe.

These two futile approaches can be seen also in our liturgy. Archaism seems at least, to say that the best language for the worship of God is the English of Queen Elizabeth, and the best ceremonial is that of sixteenth-century Rome or of Victorian England. On the other side are those who seem to feel that worship is offered most meaningfully in the language of television comedies, and that ceremonial should be simply whatever comes to mind. (I comment, quoting Jane Caplan: “A cathartic outburst is no substitute for hard-won wisdom.”)
I think it is not laying too great a burden on Professor Toynbee’s analysis to see an application of his idea of what he calls Transfiguration as the far better approach. Genuine Renewal comes as a Transfiguration, by spiritual forces, of what we are and what we have. Only the Lord Christ is competent to say: I make all things new.

Of course we need Renewal in our personal lives, in our homes, in our congregations, in our diocese, in all of Christendom. And powerful forces of Renewal are at work. But let us be as sure as we can that our renewal movements do not become simply a seeking after novelty, nor a titillation of emotionalism, nor yet a false cameraderie, but rather a deepening and broadening and refreshing, first of our personal relation with God our Lord, and then with His other children, here and everywhere.

Turning to the year past in the Diocese, surely the outstanding event, as we are able to judge these things, was the successful completion of our Venture In Mission program. Our goal was set at one million dollars, which many felt to be impossibly high. We were told that in order to succeed we would have to have one gift of $100,000, or possibly two of $50,000 each. We reached and surpassed our goal although our largest pledge was $30,000.

Our success was due to three factors. We followed carefully proven methods. Our leadership was superb from top to bottom. Our General Chairman, Murray Marshall, led with enthusiasm and determination that were inspiring. That spirit carried down to the Convocations and congregations. And, of course, the third factor was the breadth of paricipation without which technique and leadership could not have succeeded.

Here, on behalf of this diocese, and on behalf of the many people here and abroad who will share the fruits of these labors and generosity, I thank you from my heart.

Venture In Mission is far from being over. Most of the gifts are in the form of pledges, and unless the pledges are paid, our success will be on paper only. Nor do I hesitate to call on those of our people – actually a majority – who thus far have not given or pledged to join those who have. Deaths, transfers from the diocese, and the cancelling of pledges, for reasons good or bad have reduced or will reduce our collec-. tions. I ask that during this year in each congregation one more effort be made to reach those who have not participated with us in this Venture.

I remind you of the words of St. Paul, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians (8:10-12): “And in this matter I give my advice: It is best for you now to complete what a year ago you began not only to do but to desire, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness’is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he lacks.”

Venture In Mission has helped many of us to come to better terms with the imperative of Mission, the Divine Commission of the Christian Church.

No-one knows better than a bishop how valiantly some smaller congregations struggle simply to keep going; and a bishop is in a position to see the responsible generosity of congregations, small as well as large. Every congregation, and every individual, needs to come to grips with the basic understanding that the Church exists not for its own sake but for the sake of others. We speak of ‘going to Church’, and of ‘living in the world’. The reverse should be true – we are the Church, and furnished with the treasures of the Heavenly Kingdom as our inheritance, we are called to go to the world.

There are reasons to think that the months ahead may be among the most confusing and dangerous in the history of this country, and perhaps in the history of civilization. Some pundits have gone so far as to predict that last November we elected the last President of the United States. Others predict that if even fraudulant welfare payments are curtailed there will be rioting and revolution.

Few of us believe that our country can go on for the next ten years as we have for the past ten. The progress of Communism has not just happened: it is carefully planned and determinedly executed. In our own country government increasingly is controlling people rather than the people controlling government. There has grown up a widespread attitude that the government should take care of me, and that I have a right to someone else’s productivity, however non-productive I may be.

I am reminded of Prince Phillip’s being quoted as saying that England became so concerned about the underprivileged and downtrodden that now the whole country is underprivileged and downtrodden.

Please understand that I am not suggesting that all welfare programs should be discontinued. It was the Christian Church that first began on any wide scale care of the sick and the poor who could not care for themselves. Those in genuine need and without ability to work should be cared for, whether their need is for food or housing or education or evangelization. Much of this, other than evangelization, in our time has to be done by government. But I am led to think, observing the doubtful success of ourChurch’s so-called General Convention Special Program, as well as the failure of most government programs, to get to the heart of the problem, that the best work is done locally and on a far more personal basis than we are used to seeing.

We have read, perhaps until the figures have ceased to shock us, the statistics regarding the millions of teen-age dope addicts and adult alcoholics, of the millions of abortions, and of the other millions of children born out of wedlock, of the guess that only slightly more than half the marriages contracted last year will not end in divorce.

This frightening trend away from stability seems to have begun with the Second World War. Oddly, the Great Depression, with epidemic unemployment and povery did not much accelerate stealing or violent crime. The War uprooted millions from supportive communities. Permissiveness, liberalization and irresponsibility have followed. I do not see much television, but I believe it is an insideous contributor to our troubles. Television has the potential for a very great deal of good. As it is, acknowledging my limited exposure to it, I would guess 75% of what comes into our homes is trash, 10% immoral, 10% just nothing, and perhaps 5% real recreation, education, or inspiration.

But can we do anything about all these horrors?

I believe we can. Indeed, and without passing judgment on the results of the last elections – only God can do that accurately – we can see what happens when enough people want to change the way things are going. I know I am incompetent to offer prescriptions; but as a Christian, and as your Bishop, I will make one observation, and I will make one request. The Church has endured every challenge and every threat. When the great Roman Empire fell in the sixth century – and it had been great until morality almost ceased to exist – when the Empire fell to the barbarians, it was the Christian Church, led by Gregory the Great, that picked up the pieces and prepared the way for a Christian Europe. Five hundred years later, when holiness in the Church was at a low ebb, and when the Great Schism between Eastern Christendom and Western shook the foundation of the Church, another Gregory – the Seventh – led at least the Western Church to prepare for the great medieval civilization.

This enduring of the Church is not to be taken for granted. It has come about through the grace of a loving God, and because He always has raised up what scripture calls The Remnant – those who lived close enough to God our Lord to know His Will and to live as His children.

They lived sacrificial lives. Saint Augustine wrote: “A sacrifice is anthing we do in order to bring us into closer communion with God”. The one true Christian sacrifice was and is that of Christ. Our contribution to the sacrifice is genuine praise and thanksgiving.

Again and again a handful of committed people have made the difference. I dare to believe they can again – we can.

Such is my observation.

I said I would make a request. The request I make is not a simple one, nor will it be easy to carry out. It comes not from the top of my head, but from a great deal of prayer and thought and wrestling. With a sense of the potential dangers civilization, including our own country, faces in the months and years immediately ahead, with acknowledgement of the responsibility Christians have to be lights in a darkening world, and with a profound faith that God guides and strengthens those who seek Him and His Will, I call this diocese to a two-year period of intensive and extensive planning, study, work and prayer.

I have an historical peg on which to hang such an ambitious pro– gram. On February 12th, 1733, the ship Anne landed at Yamacraw Bluff in what now is Savannah. Among the colonists with General James Oglethorpe was an Anglican priest, Dr. Henry Herbert. He founded the first parish in Savannah, Christ Church, and since that time Anglican worship has been offered in Georgia. Two hundred and fifty years! The State no doubt -and rightly – will make much of the anniversary, and I hope our Diocese will.

As we usually schedule Conventions, we may expect the 161st Annual Convention to end on Saturday, 12 February 1983 – two hundred and fifty years to the day that General Oglethorpe, Dr. Herbert-and the other colonists came ashore. I very much hope that on that day we can offer to God a rich harvest of fruits of the next two years.

With the concurrence of this Convention I will appoint a committee to plan this period, or assign the planning to a group already existing.

What might we have to offer to God two years hence? Without seeking to determine what our planners might arrive at, if this Convention approves the idea, I offer some suggestions. I would expect that careful planning will and should occupy much of this year, 1981. It will need to be planning more comprehensive and cooperative than we have done at least during my episcopate.

I see six areas, some perhaps overlapping, which would need planning.

(1) The first would be a careful evaluation of Programs. Which diocesan programs shbuld be continued? Which ought to be dropped? Which should be changed? Are new programs needed? How can (Ho-, cesan programs be made more real to congregations?

(2) Second, I believe the area of Stewardship needs to be broadened and reinforced. For ten years we have been preaching and teaching Stewardship, and, I think, practicing it better each year. Our Stewardship Commission has been doing splendid work where-ever it has been requested. But there.needs to be more general education about what Stewardship means and demands. We need to emphasize the Christian Tithe as the standard of our monetary Stewardship.

At the diocesan level I believe we have done an excellent and responsible job of Stewardship, but we could do with a new look. I mention two instances. Dick McHugh and I calculated, necessarily roughly, and typically conservatively that the members of this Convention will spend a minimun of $25,000 in Thomasville and in getting to and from here. Larger dioceses complete their conventions in a day. Could we? – And should we?

Again, with the cost of travel escalating, should our committees and commissions be selected, each from one geographical area? We can be more economical.

We need actively to seek capital gifts and bequests. The Board of Officers of the Corporation of the Diocese acts with great prudence in administering the rather small trust funds they manage. Most of these funds come from gifts and bequests from a remote past, and are inadequate for the present and the future.

(3) A study of Stewardship is linked naturally to Mission and missions. Where are new missions needed now? Where should we acquire land for future missions? Are there congregations in multi-parish cities, or even in nearby communities, which should be combined? Are there mis-‘ sions which the practice of good stewardship would lead us to close?

(4) Next, I believe we can be helpful to one another, more helpful than we have been in the area which for convenience I will call Christian Education. Too many of our faithful people know too little of what the Church and its Bible teach. Too many think that their Confirmation was their graduation from learning about our Faith. Although at the national level our own Church and other Christian bodies at intervals turn out curricula that have brief vogue, then pass away, I believe we have in the diocese the knowledge and the wisdom to provide to the leaders of our, congregations at least outlines of practical approaches to teaching our people what they need to know.

(5) Then, there is what I believe to be the most important of activities, that of Prayer, private prayer and public worship. Many people are weary of liturgical change and experimentation, I among them. I believe the time has come when we can and should consolidate our gains, admit our errors and failures, and set about making the worship in each congregation as intelligible, as orderly, as beautiful, and as reverent as the experience of twenty centuries should enable us to do.

In our time there undoubtedly is a widening interest in the spiritual life. Bible study and prayer groups are proliferating, not always under sound leadership. The Church, with the accumulated, sifted wisdom that has come from experience needs to assert her authority here, not an authoritarian authority, but in the sense of the competence that is given uniquely to the Body of Christ.

(6) Finally, there is the field of Evangelism. Sad to say this word embarrasses many Episcopalians, mainly because they do not understand what it means, but are reminded of the emotional approaches of what we sometimes condescendingly call the store-front churches. Evan- -gelism is the Mission of the Church, the carrying of the Good News of Christ to the world.

All our organizations, our stewardship, our education, our public worship and our private prayer unite to achieve two aims; namely, the salvation of our own souls and the equipping of the Church to go out and be the instrument of saving others. We have not used the tools and weapons we have been given largely because we are not sufficiently at ease with them. Want of practice makes us unskillful and lack of skill makes us timid.

Well then: With a deep sense of gratitude to our God who has set us in a land of unparalleled opportunity and in a time even now of plenty, with a penitent admission that we have not used His gifts unselfishly or with our full intelligence, and with a renewal of determination to act as what we are, namely the adopted sons and daughters of the Living God, hopefully, patiently, confidently, and devoutly go into that Future which is in the Hand of a competent and loving God.

From the First Epistle of John (5:13): “This letter is to assure you that you have eternal life. It is addressed to those who give their allegiance to the Son of God. We can approach God with confidence for this reason: if we make requests which accord with His will, He listens to us; and if we know that our requests are heard, we know also that the things we ask for are ours.”



Rt. Rev. Sir, clergy and lay delegates to the 159th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Georgia, the Committee on the Bishop’s Address is pleased to respond to the annual charge of our Father in God.

As one of the eleven priests surviving since the last Thomasville Convention 12 years ago, I approach my future with a little apprehension.

The growth figures the Bishop recounted in communicant strength during the past 12 years translate to an average annual growth of 1.22%; higher than the Episcopal Church nationally, but no cause for great satisfaction. In that period of time there was a net gain of but one mission. While on statistics we would do well to note with anxiety that the parochial reports show that less than half of our active people attend public worship on an average Sunday. This is a situation that should cause in us sober reflection and new action.

Next the Bishop spoke of the renewal of the Church in our time. He expressed both enduring and shallow forms of renewal and we do well to mark his words.

He knows the diocese better, perhaps, than any one of us. Nevertheless, we do want to express our belief that excesses do not seem common or even to an extent that should cause anxiety. This, we believe, is consequent to his warnings given us on past occasions.

We would urge tolerance on his part to forms and styles he would not call his own but which others find helpful and which do not threaten apostolic order and faith. Such forbearance in love is also called for on the part of each one of us in our respective congregations and between congregations. We are not all in the same place in our apostolic pilgramage, nor do we advance in a single phalanx.

We too rejoice in the initial success of Venture In Mission, all the while remembering a pledge to Venture, to a diocesan budget or to a parish budget, is worth nothing at all until it is paid. Follow-up is part of the design built into the Venture program.

Whilst Venture remains open to new gifts, we cannot support going back a second time to folks who initially declined to participate. The offer to participate should surely be made to new confirmands however, and to persons transferring in from other dioceses.

We received with interest and appreciation his observations of our society, We wish he had touched on the movement known as Moral Majority, identifying areas in which he finds both compatable and incompatable for those of the true faith. Maybe another time. It is agreed that television is a mixed blessing and urge him to be more discriminate in what he watches. A subscription to cablevision will allow him to view Cable News Network, well worth the cost.

His view of the enduring Church is both courageous and inspiring and was echoed by the words of Bishop Atkins last evening.

Now, the two year proposal culminating, we hope, with an invitation to Savannah in 1983. We already have astreet procession and a liturgy planned on Yamacraw Bluff.
(1) The evaluation of Diocesan Programs, (2) the deepening of Stewardsip, (3) the call to Mission, (4) the strengthening of prayer and worship, (5) the further development of Christian Education and (6) the call to real evangelism are undisputable Christian undertakings, shocking as they still are to some, perhaps many Episcopalians.

If a present program is unproductive it should be terminated (in contrast to the federal government).

With reference to the stewardship of time and money at Diocesan Conventions, we believe we would be greatly the poorer if it were shortened. We came upon a Thursday night to Saturday morning Convention some years ago and we love it.

This is a ‘family gathering held each year for worship and fellowship as well as for legislation. It is good to be together.

Some few years ago the Bishop suggested diocesan Commissions and Committees be formed on a geographic basis. It did not fly then and does not seem very likely to do so now. However, it-may be forced upon us as energy supplies decrease and costs increase.

Convocation Council meetings in our geographically larger Convocations might well be reassessed.

Back to the proposal. We like it. But we are unsure of how it might be implemented. Will the present Diocesan Committees and Commissions in the six areas be utilized or new ones formed? If the latter is the case, we become anxious, if not ill at ease. We hope this Convention will clarify the way ahead for this program and initiate it. We must never sit back this side of the Kingdom.

Whilst the Episcopal Church continues to live with some unresolved differences in matters of faith and order, our Bishop has maintained his integrity and good humor.
We agree heartily with his assessment of the good health of the diocese and say to him, “Carry on Good Father”.

Respectfully submitted,
H.W. Shipps + Chairman

Here follows the motion proposed by the Committee on the Bishop’s
“We move that this 159th Convention now ask each of the six Commissions that work in the six areas spoken of in the Bishop’s Address to prepare a program for the implementation of the two-year undertaking and to report same to the May meeting of the Diocesan Council, seeking their endorsement, and that of the Bishop.