Bishop’s Address of 1983


I greet you in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and welcome you as members of His family to this One Hundred and Sixty-First Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Georgia.

The day after tomorrow we celebrate the landing of the first English settlers in what now is Georgia, a landing that took place only a few hundred feet from where we are gathered tonight.

Paul ReevesOn November 17th, 1732, the ship “Anne” set sail from Gravesend, England, for this country. Putting in first at Charles Town, South Carolina, she later brought her passengers to Beaufort. Thence they came by small boat to Savannah.

A brief background to the coming of the ship “Anne” introduces us to the name of a man who is not as well-known to Episcopalians in Georgia as he should be. The Rev. Thomas Bray in one real sense was responsible for the founding of Georgia, as well as for the coming of the Anglican Church to these parts. Already an outstanding philanthropist, Dr. Bray was instrumental in founding The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, an organization still at work in the world. Its purposes were to provide ministrations of the Church for British people overseas and also to evangelize the non-Christian peoples of the world, At the same time, Dr. Bray and a group of Associates proposed the founding of a colony to which certain unfortunates could emigrate.

A name we know better than that of Dr. Bray is that of James Edward Oglethorpe. Having returned in 1717 from distinguished Army service against the Turks, Oglethorpe was elected a Member of Parliament and quickly devoted his attention to the pitiful circumstances of debtors in English prisons. In this project, he came in contact with Dr. Bray.
Appointed a Trustee of the Colony of Georgia, Oglethorpe was selected to lead the colonization. Contrary to legend, this Thirteenth Colony was not founded primarily for humanitarian or evangelical purposes, but as a buffer to protect South Carolina against the Spaniards from Florida and the French from Louisiana.

Meeting on November 8th, 1732, the Common Council of the Trustees of the Colony directed Oglethorpe to set aside three hundred acres of land for the use of the Church in the town of Savannah. At that same meeting there appeared before the Council a priest of the Church of England who, as the record puts it, “charitably offer’d to go without any allowance and assist in settling the Colony of Georgia, by performing all Religious and Ecclesiastical offices”. This generous volunteer was the Rev. Henry Herbert, son of Lord Herbert of Cherbury.

Immediately after the landing of the colonists at Yamacraw Bluff on February 12th, 1733, Dr. Herbert conducted the first Anglican service in Georgia. He founded our first parish, Christ Church in Savannah. Four months later he began his return to England, but died at sea on June 15th.

You will have many opportunities during the semiquincentenary year to learn a geat deal more about the history of Georgia. It is a fascinating history – even to a Virginian! – certainly fascinating so far as the history of the Church is concerned. John Wesley’s arrival ip 1735 began what was for him, and for the Colony, a stormy period. At that time of his life, Wesley seems not to have been over-endowed with tact: Witness his crying out during a sermon: “My poor friends, you are the scum of the earth!” Perhaps his most lasting contribution here was the founding of the Christ Church Sunday School, probably the first-ever such religious training unit, one which is still alive and well.

The roll goes on: Charles Wesley; then the colorful Thomas Bosomworth; then George Whitefield, remembered as the founder of Bethesda Orphanage; then the most successful of Georgia’s Anglican clergy, the Swiss-born Bartholomew Zouberbuhler, gentle of manner, but a forceful and tireless pastor.

It was either serendipity or good Providence that two years ago led us to set this Convention in Savannah on this particular date, I at least, not at the time realizing that we would be celebrating the two hundred and fiftieth birthday of our Church in Georgia.

Canon and custom call for the Bishop to report to Convention the state of the.Church in the Diocese. I like to think I never have tried in Convention addresses to trumpet our successes or to soft-pedal our problems. Again, I will give you my honest estimation. The real State-of-the-Church is written in lives, sometimes in statistics, far better than it can be expressed in words.

So far as we could discover, this is the first Convention in our history at which three mission congregations petition to be admitted to parish status; add to that our recognition of a newly-formed mission, and you have a pitture of vitality. The missions petitioning for parish status are, in the order of their ages, Holy Nativity, St. Simon’s Island, Saint Francis-of-the-Islands, Savannah, and All Saints’, Thomasville. Our new mission is St. Barnabas, Valdosta.

We continue to see positive results of our consistent teaching of Stewardship. We note that the national Church finally got around to recognizing officially that Tithing is the Biblical minimum standard of personal giving, a principle we in our Diocese have proclaimed for the past twelve years. We rejoice that more and more of our people are accepting this standard, and have attained it, or are moving towards it. But it is unrealistic to think that more than a small fraction of our people give to the Church in a manner proportionate to their means, much less, sacrificially.

It is encouraging-indeed to report to you that pledging from congregations to the Diocese has increased this year by 18%. You can read for yourself the statistics, the askings of each congregation, their pledged responses, and their actual giving. There is danger in singling out a few examples of exceptional generositiy, because so many factors enter into a congregation’s financial picture, but I want to mention a few.

In 1983, 68% of our congregations have met or exceeded the pledge we have asked of them. St. Mark’s, Brunswick, continues in this category where it has stood high for many years, consistently pledging more than has been asked.

Last year, the Church of the Good Shepherd, Augusta, had unusual and unexpected financial problems, and pledged to the Diocese only two-thirds of their asking. But as a result of exceptional lay leadership and the arrival of a new Rector who immediately fortified that leadership, at year’s end they met their full asking. St. Anne’s, Tifton, also under new clerical leadership, in the past eight months increased its pledged income from $53,000 to $104,000, and its pledge to the Diocese accordingly. Saint David’s, Brunswick, in two years has increased its pledged income by 71% and reduced its request for diocesan subsidy by 50%.

Our newest organized mission, St. Barnabas’, Valdosta, in its first year of existence, and St. Thomas Aquinas’, Hazelhurst, not yet even officially orgainzed, both have made voluntary pledges to the diocesan program.

In a different way, but worthy of your notice, is our oldest Black congregation, St. Bartholomew’s, Burroughs, represented this year at a Diocesan Convention for the first time, so far as I know. This small rural congregation has established a remarkable program of community outreach. Their church building last year was declared a historical landmark.

Among the congregations that I have not named are many who have achieved their generous level of giving to the Diocese only by sacrificing some of the things they would have liked to do at home, particularly in the area of debt reduction, and by rejecting a parochialism which would have denied our mutual responsibility and interdependence. Did not Saint Paul in his letter to the Galatians say, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”? (Ga1.6:2). And so almost all of our congregations are doing.

I wish I could report my total satisfaction with the patterns of worship in all of our congregations, but unfortunately I cannot. The long period of Trial Use of proposed liturgies left in many places confusion and uncertainty, and also a residual feeling that experimentation was to go on indefinitely. Enthusiasm for reform has not always been balanced by careful study and deep pastoral concern. In some of our congregations the imbalance has produced liturgical practice that falls short of the reverence, the dignity, and the theological orthodoxy which should characterize our corporate approach to God.

Please understand: Whatever its defects, our present Prayer Book has opened to the Church a richness of worship that hitherto could be achieved only by a priest’s (or a bishop’s) making unauthorized changes in the rite, and by his using as supplements to the Prayer Book various unauthorized missals, manuals and handbooks.

I respect the devotion some people have for the 1928 Book. Apart from its being familiar, the beauty of its language is on a par with only that of the King James Bible and the works of Shakespeare, It surely was one of the things that led me to the Episcopal Church. But too often we mistake being comfortable with something for understanding it.
No Prayer Book is completely self-explanatory; to be understood, the meaning behind the words has to be explained. If any of our clergy have been insufficiently patient or discriminating in their introduction of liturgical change, so have some of our laity rejected any changes, even though those changes demonstrablywerefor the better.
At the same time I do not think it is disloyal to wonder if we could not have made the changes in a better way. I offer you two quotations, the first from C.S. Lewis.

“They (i.e., Church members) don’t go to Church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best – if you like, it ‘works’ best – when through long familiarity we don’t have to think about it. . . . A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice . . . The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping . . . (And) A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not on the service itself, but on the celebrant . . . Try as one may to exclude it, the question, ‘What on earth is he up to now?’ will intrude . . . . There really is some excuse for the man who said, ‘I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks’.” [Letters To Malcolm]

The other quotation is from the eminent Benedictine liturgical scholar, Aiden Kavanagh. No conservative, Fr. Kavanagh here points to what I regard as one cause of some of our confusion both in liturgy and in discipline, namely going ahead to make changes before we had worked out the theology behind the changes…….

“He, our Master, reformed in the days of His flesh not one structure, reformed not one religious process, reformed not one system of election to the High Priesthood or tenure therein. ….. reformed not one presumption about Levitical marital status or rabbinical sex, reformed not one convention touching the manner of offering the Temple sacrifice. But He renewed a world so vastly that we, two thousand years later, are still striving to reform that world after the impact of His own quiet but revolutionary word: Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are they who mourn. Blessed are they who thirst after justice. When time ends, we shall still be busy reforming things.”

Most emphatically I am not suggesting a return to the 1928 Book, nor a criticism of our present Book. I an suggesting a criticism of the process that produced the Book, and suggesting it mainly as a caution against repeating the error in future reforms. In some instances we have put the cart before the horse, and reformed before we were renewed: Perhaps we counted on reform to produce renewal, which it sometimes does, but not always dependably. It is never too late to get the horse back in his proper relation to the cart and then go ahead with the work that needs doing, and this, without incessent criticism and complaint. Most of our clergy and lay people have accepted our new Prayer Book, many with enthusiasm; some of its most vociferous critics really do not know it. I would like to see us, one and all, cheerfully use it as the quite adequate instrument it is for our corporate worship, at the same time making our notes about changes that ought be made in it, which changes surely will come, as changes in Prayer Books always have come.

Thinking thus of the relation between Renewal and Reform in the Church leads any thoughtful person to realize how much we need both. You all are aware of, many of you are participants in, one or more of the manifestations of what generally is called The Renewal Movement. Some of you can point to one of these as the earthly instrument of your conversion. Others are suspicious of these movements; some scorn them.

The fact is that Renewal – whether you think of it in terms of charismatic manifestations, or Faith Alive, or Cursillo, or any of the other programs or organizations – Renewal is very much a part of the Christian Church today. In our own diocese it has given tremendous vitality to some of our congregations. Unhappily, it has divided others. Its strength is that it lays emphasis on a real, personal encounter with the living Lord Jesus Christ. On the negative side, it is for some little more than an emotional experience, while for others it becomes the occasion for elitism, the judgemental attitiude that, “If you haven’t had this experience you are less a Christian than I am”.

My observation is that where Renewal is built upon sound theology and catholic sacramental understanding and practice it is a powerful force for good. Where it lacks these foundations, it is like the good seed that fell on shallow ground, sprang up quickly, and in the heat of the sun withered away because it lacked roots.

Thinking of our need as individuals and as a Church for real Renewal leads me into a field I avoid when I can, that of prophecy. I believe that ahead of Christendom lie difficult years. Conditioned as we all are, especially our youth, by the electronic media, our approaches to every aspect of life are dominated by materialism, consumerism and sensuality. National television particularly, at an accelerating pace, makes jokes of virginity, chastity, industry, and in recent months of religion, of Jesus Christ Himself, and of His Blessed Mother. In this most of us acquiesce, in the name of sophistication or of indifference.

Many earnest people see in this a Communist plot to undermine the morality of our people and thus to bring about the downfall of the one nation that stands in the way of Communist domination of the world. I have not been convinced that such a conspiracy exists and is responsible for the flood of pornography, blasphemy, drug use, disregard for morality and for authority; but however it came, the flood is upon us.

How, then, do we Christians meet this threat?

Let it be said in all charity that what passes for Christianity among too many Church members is no more than an easy-going respectability that believes religion as a good thing so long as it is not overdone. But to read the words of Him Whom we call Lord is to be brought up short by the realization that He called for nothing less than a radical reordering of priorities in which the Will of God comes first.

We are uneasy at the direct questions of evangelicals, “Are you saved?”, and “Do you know Jesus Christ?”, feeling that these are ill-bred intrusions on our privacy. Yet these questions must be faced unless we are willing to drag through life untouched by the splendor of the majesty of God. Too much of our frantic activity, in the Church as well as out of it, is an effort, too often successful, to keep God at arm’s length. Exaggerated preoccupation with liturgy, with organization, with finance, is an effort, too often successful, to get our own way rather than to seek God’s will and do it.

Jesus Christ Himself called Satan “the Prince of this world”, and so he is, a prince with many loyal subjects. Members of the Body of Christ are called to serve another King, a King who will not accept a divided loyalty or indifference.

The great English theologian, Friedrich von Hugel, identified the abiding elements in religion as The Institutional, The Intellectual, and The Mystical, which three need to be kept in balance and proportion. The Institutional is perhaps the easiest to understand and to achieve. Too easily it can become loyalty to a particular parish and its ways, forget-‘ ting that we are members of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The Intellectual element becomes the single obsession of a few, and is shrugged off by the many as the province of scholars, all forgetting that each of us, whatever his intellectual equipment, is called on to serve God with all his heart and all his soul and all his mind.

The Mystical element too often is dismissed as unrealistic and belonging to a by-gone and superstitious age, forgetting that each Christian was by Baptism grafted into the Mysitcal Body of Christ, is nourished with the supernatural Body and Blood of Christ, and is offered particular gifts of the Holy Spirit.

God calls us individually and as a Church – His Church, by the way – to His service in a difficult and demanding time. Whether we obey His call is a matter of personal choice. The judgement on our choice belongs alone to God.

As most of you know, I come to this Convention asking your approval of my request for the election of a Bishop Coadjutor by and for the Diocese of Georgia. I rejoice that I do this at a time when I sense among you a spirit of cooperation and good-will so general, so genuine, that I can view it only with humble gratitude.

God has blessed me with good health, but I become aware that I do indeed grow older. The amount of travel that a bishop must do in our geographically large diocese indicates that before long a younger and more vigorous man will be needed if he is to be an effective bishop.

From time to time it has been suggested that I ask for a Suffragan Bishop to assist me, but I never have felt that either our needs or our financial capacity would justify this for any extended period. Another possibility would be to elect a diocesan Bishop, upon whose consecretion I would retire. From my experience as Bishop Stuart’s Coadjutor, I believe transition can be effected in a more even and less disruptive way with the overlapping presence of a Coadjutor.

It has seemed more appropriate to go into detail about the process ahead during the business session of Convention, which I intend to do tomorrow morning.

For our Diocese the next nine or ten months will be an exciting time. Much more than that, it will be a time critical in importance for our Diocese. It is my fervent prayer that it will be very little a time of political contriving, and very much a time of seeking God’s will.

I think it not unreasonable to ask each and every one of our people to pray daily, specifically, and earnestly, that God will guide us to the Coadjutor of His choosing.
Whoever that person may be, he will come to his episcopate in a strong, happy, and active diocese. For which I thank our God, as I thank you.



Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The Committee on The Bishop’s Address has eight comments:

  1. We appreciated the brief historical sketch with which the Bishop began his address and felt that it was in keeping with the timing of this convention.
  2. We join with the Bishop and rejoice that the diocese presents a picture of vitality as .evidenced by the admission of three congregations to parish status and the recognition of a newly-organized mission.
  3. Advances in stewardship we believe to be even more remarkable than the Bishop indicated. Again, we here see reflected the excellent health of the diocese. We find the increased giving of 18.07% phenomenal in light of present economic conditions.
  4. We applaud the Bishop’s wise approach to worship in the diocese. We, too, would like to see “one and all cheerfully use the [new Prayer Book] as the quite adequate instrument it is for our corporate worship”
  5. We believe renewal should be very much a part of the life of the diocese and we agree with the Bishop “that where Renewal is built upon sound theology and catholic sacramental understanding and practice it is a powerful force for good”.
  6. The Committee on the Bishop’s Address has permitted me, as Chairman of the Christian Education Commission, to add an observation at this point I read the address with a keen eye for references to Christian Education in the diocese. My first reading yielded nothing. A second reading yielded one item. In his historical sketch the Bishop mentiond that John Wesley founded the Christ Church Sunday School, “which is still alive and well”.
    There were probably many more references to Christian Education in the early drafts of the Bishop’s address which were later edited for lack of time and space.
  7. We found great power in that part of the Bishop’s address which entered into that area he said he wanted to avoid, i.e., prophecy. We, as a Committee, would like to record a loud ‘AMEN, BROTHER PAUL’ to your proclamation that our Lord calls for nothing less than a radical reordering of our priorities so that the will of God comes first in our lives.
  8. We agree with your reasoning regarding the call for a bishop coadjutor; however, we heartily and lovingly regret that you find it necessary to do so.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Carter
Minty Nixon
John Tritsch