Bishop’s Address of 1982

The Rt. Rev. G. Paul Reeves

I greet you in the Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and welcome you as members of His Family of this 160th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Georgia.

The Bishop’s Annual Address to Convention, required by Canon and dictated by custom, is an occasion for ascertaining the state of the diocese at the present moment. We take a crossbearing by sighting at the past, and at the future, always acknowledging that our interpretation of past events may be only a little more accurate than our plans for, and expectations of, the future.

Paul ReevesOne more time I report to you that I believe our diocese is in good condition. Our ten years’ emphasis on Stewardship continues to bear a healthy if modest crop. In spite of three consecutive years of drought that have hurt our farmers badly, more of our missions continue to move towards self-support, and more of our parishes show budget growth. Several of our churches have completed – or as is our host parish, are engaged in – extensive renovation or addition.

There seem to be more activities going on, at the local level, and at the diocesan, and at the provincial, with more of our people taking active parts in them.

We rejoice in the increased participation of our people in Bible study, and in the study and practice of prayer. We enter the one caution that all Bible study and all prayer does not necessarily reflect the mind of the Church, and individualistic interpretations may lead well-meaning people astray into divisive by-ways.

That complicated complex of ingredients which we call ‘diocesan spirit’ is more difficult to assess, but my impression is that the spirit of our diocese generally is good indeed. We have gotten to know one another better, and to trust one another more. There is a willingness to work and to serve and to learn. The concept of ‘the diocesan family’ seems to be widely accepted and made real.

In my address to Convention last year I noted that next year’s Convention will end on Saturday, 12 February, 1983 – 250 years to the day that General Oglethorpe landed at what now is Savannah. With Oglethorpe was Dr. Henry Herbert, a priest of the Church of England, and thus began the work of our Church in Georgia, I suggested that we should look ahead to that Convention as a special celebration, yes, but particularly with the intention of making an offering to God of a renewed and revitalized diocese. To that end I suggested that we plan and work in six areas, namely, an honest evaluation of diocesan programs, more responsible stewardship, a more aggressive approach to mission, a stengthening of prayer and worship, better guidance to our congregations in the matter of Christian Education, and more enthusiastic evangelism.

Those responsible ineach of these six areas have taken seriously last year’s Convention’s approval of those suggestions. I hope that the coming year will see even greater effort made, with the groups responsible setting goals that are realistic and challenging, and with widespread local cooperation in seeking to meet the goals.

With all of this in mind I want to turn to the future of our diocese. In catholic understanding, the diocese is The Local Church. The Church is in the World, but is cautioned not to be of the World, not to be conformed to the World. There has ever been a tension between the demands of the Church – which at their best are the demands of God – and the demands of the World. The tension always has been a source of perplexity to the sincere Christian; in our time, the perplexity has multiplied in a subtle fashion.

The recent shift in governmental policies has heartened many Christians, and disheartened many others. I note that at a time when we are furnished with a quantity of information and opinion greater than the world has ever known, at the same time many of us are skeptical about the accuracy, even the truth, of much of the information.

When a commentary is given on an address before the address is made, one must wonder! Or again, the consensus of the media, especially television, seems to be that welfare programs are being sacrificed to a huge and unnecessary build-up of the weapons of war Yet so sober and brilliant an analyst as William Simon gives statistics .rich I see no reason to question, that in the past generation, measured in constant dollars, social welfare spending has increased by 531 percent, while defense spending has grown by 0.4 percent.

Or yet again, loud outcries come from every quarter about violation of human rights in South Africa and El Salvador, and there is little doubt that violations are going on. But why the silence about the slaughter that took place in Cambodia, and the violation of rights in Afghanistan?

So we wonder, some of us, at least, whether the media are giving us anything like a fair picture of our world. But in any case the Church is in the World, as She always has bee; the World is our sphere of action. And it is a topsy-turvy world. When an athlete commands a six-figure salary, and a movie actress twice as much, while those entrusted with the education of our children live near the poverty level and many priests of The Living God are even worse off, we have to wonder about values and what has become of them.

When we read in St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians (3:10) – “If anyone will not work, let him not eat”, and at the same time examine the meaning of the word ‘entitlement’ and see how that meaning has become twisted for so many people, we need to re-evaluate our thinking.

The World is distorted from God’s intention for it because human nature is tainted with sin. The Christian Gospel is The Good News that God Himself entered history in order to reconcile us to Himself and to enable us, through Jesus Christ, to overcome sin and to live a new kind of life, life centered on Him, and at the same time live assuming responsibility to and for His other children.

How, then, ought the Church behave in this distorted World? Specifically, how ought this diocese plan and work in the year ahead? Experience in other fields teaches us that if we do not plan, and if before we plan we do not have dreams, we can expect to achieve little.

I shall not repeat here my hopes for achievement in the six areas I mentioned, but I stand by them as a desirable and practical framework for understanding and action in the year ahead.

However, I shall speak tonight about two areas of life and work. The first of these is the sphere of public worship. The Bishop, and no-one else, visits almost every congregation at least once each year, and so feels competent to speak about worship in the diocese.

Consider first that the pricipal contact the majority of our people have with their church takes place Sunday morning; for many this is their only contact. Consider also that the activity we call worship is directed towards God, not towards man, and therefore lays on us a searching demand for all the intelligence and reverence we can give. For these two reasons alone – and there are others – our worship must be given highest priority.

Leaving aside tonight the merits and demerits of various Prayer Books and various rites, I suppose it was inevitable that the twelve year period of ‘trial use which began in 1967 should have produced quite different results in different places. Some clergy have aptitude for planning and leading worship which others lack. Some congregations are more flexible and cooperative than others in their willingness to learn and to change.

In a remarkable book titled TOMORROW A NEW CHURCH, by a French Roman Catholic priest, Bernard Besret, there stands this illuminating passage “Recent liturgical reforms have done a surely useful and necessary job, but, except in rare cases, they do not seem to have led to a revitalization of the feast of festival. They have removed the aura of mystery projected by esoteric rites and an unintelligible language, but they have not always been able to replace these with the signs we need: Signs filled with meaning, signs able to draw men into the adventure of a kingdom that transcends time and space in an infinitely greater way than any interplanetary voyage. The reforms too often have led to an impoverishment, a vapidity, and a kind of barely disguised rationalism, which explain, even if they do not justify, the so sometimes violent reaction of Christians who are nostalgic for the pomp (or perhaps for the noiseless atmosphere) of the liturgies of a bygone day.

In the Middle Ages the Church had many defects, but it did know how to mount celebrations that were genuine festivals for the whole people, bringing them light and joy amid affliction, and encouraging them not to despair amid their harsh lives.” (op. cit., p.108; Paulist Press, 1973)

Fr. Besret writes of and for the Roman Catholic Church, but I find nothing in his analysis that does not apply to us. We Anglicans were once called “God’s Frozen People”, and so far as at least some of our worship was concerned, the appellation seems to have been justified. The thawing of the Frozen People has produced in many places little more than what has been called “orchestrated cameraderie”.

Our Diocesan Liturgical Commission has asked that I produce this year what is called _a-Customary, that is directions and suggestions about public worship. This should not be, nor will it be, nor yet can it be, regulations aimed at uniformity throughout the diocese: The day for that sort of thing has passed, if indeed it ever existed. But I hope such a guide will be useful to the clergy, and I hope our people will understand that a rational standard for worship is neither, “We’ve always done it that way”, nor yet, “Let’s try something new”.

The other subject I address is one occasioned by the return to state and local levels much of social welfare activity, and by the presence in our country of an increasing number of refugees. Here I believe we have both opportunity and responsibility to act. And already a few of our congregations have acted.

The possibilities vary from community to community; the resources of different congregations vary widely. But I believe we could adopt as our slogan a part of the motto of The Daughters of The King, as they say: “I cannot do everything, but I can do something”. I doubt that even our smallest congregation cannot, if it will, do some practical thing to help those in need in its community.

Too long we have been content to pass resolutions and to send money to distant agencies. These have been good things to do; but now let us look hard at the opportunities and the needs on our doorsteps, and show the world – and God – that we not only care, but that we care enough to do something.

The Scriptures are full of texts that apply: I give you but two: “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ,” (Gal.6:2) and this: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt.25:40)

I conclude with a sincere expression of gratitude, gratitude to God and gratitude to the people of this diocese. With the Psalmist I can say, “The lot has fallen unto me in a fair ground; yea, I have a goodly heritage,” (ps.16:7). Thus far at least we have been spared many of the problems that beset our brethren in other sections of the country. No cause for complacency, this should be for us an occasion for showing our gratitude in action.

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven,” (Matt.6:21).


Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The Committee on the Bishop’s Address has seven comments to make:

  1. We concur with our Bishop in his belief that the diocese is in good condition.
  2. We believe that the diocese is, indeed, becoming more and more a family and we believe that this is becoming a reality at least in part due to results of the various renewal efforts in the diocese.
  3. We join with our Bishop in looking forward to next year’s Convention as a special celebration. We join with him in the hope that, on the 250th anniversary of our founding as a colony, we will be able to offer to God a renewed and revitalized diocese.
  4. We share our Bishop’s hope that in the six areas of special concern even greater efforts will be made in 1982. These areas are: Evaluation of diocesan programs; stewardship; missions; prayer and worship; Christian Education; evangelism.
  5. We think it timely and appropriate to be reminded that the Church is in the World, but is cautioned not to be of the World, not to be conformed to the World – and we pray – that our life as a diocese may be governed by that precept, and that we may be given the wisdom to discern the difference. 
  6. We agree with our Bishop that worship ought to be given the highest priority. We eagerly await the publication of his Customary to the end that our liturgies may more and more be “signs filled with meaning , signs able to draw men into the adventure of a kingdom that transcends time and space ….. festivals for our people bringing them light and joy”.
  7. We note our Bishop’s reference to the return to the local level of much social welfare activity and his reference to the presense in our country of an increasing number of refugees. We would urge our diocese to seize those opportunities for Christian service and rejoice in them. We look forward to leadership in these areas of service from the committees and task forces mandated by the recently reaffirmed resolution on the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief.