Bishop’s Address of 1968

146th Convention Of The Diocese Of Georgia
St. Paul’s Church, Albany
February 2, 1968

I greet you in the Name of the Lord on this Feast of the Purification of St. Mary the Virgin as we gather here at St. Paul’s Church, Albany in the 146th annual Convention of the Church in this Diocese.

Bishop Albert Rhett StuartThe last time we met here in Albany it was for the 138th Convention in May, 1960. Our hosts were St. Paul’s Parish and the Missions of St. Mark and St. John. Since then St. Mark’s has become a parish and built a new church. St. John’s Mission has been relocated and has a new church and a fine new vicarage. A new Mission, St. Patrick’s, has been organized since 1960 and has built a vicarage and a beautiful church. We all give thanks for these dramatic outward signs of the vitality of the Church here in Albany.

We are blessed in that we live in an age of the Church’s renewal and reformation. In our day the great apostle of renewal was John XXIII of Rome and we are watching with astonishment the process of renewal in the Roman Church which that remarkable Pope set in motion. In our Anglican family the theology of renewal and reform has been set in motion by the Metropolitans and Primates at the Toronto Anglican Congress in 1963 in the document called Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ (MRI). The Bishops of the American Church at Wheeling, West Virginia in 1966 called us to renewal and reform of the Church in the United States in the whole of her life. In 1965 here in Georgia the Convention of the Diocese called for a complete study of the structure and organization of the Diocese. The Committee charged with this responsibility is The Committee charged with this responsibility is reporting to this Convention its highly significant findings and recommendations after two years of careful study and hard work. I congratulate the Committee on the service they have rendered and commend their report to you.

Renewal is related to structure in the sense that we work habitually through forms in order to reach defined goals. Under the influence of the spirit of renewal pervading the whole Church, we have come to the point in this diocese when we are looking long and hard at our present structure, through which we pursue the mission of the Church, with one question uppermost – do these structures free the Church to move in mission and ministry to this present generation? Our Committee has faced this question honestly and fearlessly. It remains for this Convention to decide another question regarding structure – will it work?

Renewal is, of course, much more than changing structure. Its goal is not efficiency of operation alone – important as that may be to the life of any organism. Renewal means openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit. It is He who breathes life into the structures and forms of the Church. It is He who changes men who create structures. The Church is a spirit-filled Body – Spirit-filled not because of human ingenuity, but because the Lord promised the gift of the Spirit who would lead us into all truth. This fact of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is our great asset in an age of change. Renewal of the Church is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit which gives us hope and courage and sure confidence in the midst of uncertainty and confusion. It is my hope that the Church in this Diocese will move with one heart and one mind to a commitment born of openness to the Holy Spirit to the renewal of the Church in this Diocese in all its forms and structures.

It is vain to have Sesquicentennial objectives such as we suggested last year (and you will be hearing more of this from the Sesquicentennial Committee) if we have not the commitment of our people to be open to the Holy Spirit. It is vain for a committee to plan strategy for an uncommitted people. It is a great exercise in futility to propose financial support for the mission of the Church when support is sought from people with no commitment. It is my hope that this Convention will demonstrate as leaders of the Church here in Georgia a committment to the Lord of the Church which will be reflected in all that we say and do and inspire renewal in the life of the whole diocese.

Few General Conventions since 1789 have wrought as many changes as the recent one in Seattle. From this Convention it was apparent that the Episcopal Church in this Country is seeking renewal, examining its structure, and committing itself to the Holy Spirit. A central facet in the renewal of the Church is the ecumenical movement which reflects beyond question the Lord’s will for His Church. The aim for the ecumenical movement is Christian unity in which we share the spiritual treasurers that we now posses with other Christian bodies who do not have them and accept from others values which we lack, and so strengthen each other in our common mission to the world. The General Convention of 1967 acted with surprising unanimity in its decision for the Church to move ahead in ecumenical endeavors.

The Report of the Commission on Ecumenical Relations was overwhelmingly adopted which authorized proceeding with the Consultation on Church Union and continuing to seek closer relations with the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches. For some this action of General Convention is understood as a decision to achieve union with nine other American Christian bodies now involved in the Consultation on condition that a plan of union can be devised that will be acceptable to all. For others it is seen as an irreversible decision to achieve union. It is my understanding that the Convention approved the document entitled Principles of Church Union as the basis upon which the Consultation will proceed to write a plan of union. Such a plan of union would then have to be accepted. It is at that point that the action would be irreversible.

It is now essential for all of us, clergy and laity, to read, study, and form a decision regarding Principles of Church Union. It is astonishing that the leaders of the nine churches have been able to reach the position set forth in the document. The statement on Baptism is one of the best I have ever seen. The statements on Faith, Worship, and Sacraments need clarification but seem to me to be within reach of Anglican acceptance. The great difficulty, as always in these discussions, lies with concepts of the ministry.

General Convention has urged us all to engage in discussion and study of these matters on the local level, diocesan and parochial, and this is of vital importance. Here we need a commitment in Georgia that will open us to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To fail to pray and study where we stand and what we are to do is to abdicate responsibility, and yet I detect an apathy in both our clergy and people in this area. I urge upon you the critical importance of making this study with an open mind. No human being, no matter how convinced of his own position, can say in advance where the Holy Spirit may lead us. I ask your responsive cooperation to the leadership of our diocesan Commission on Ecumenical Relations as they recommend study courses, ecumenical dialogue with Roman, Greek, and Protestant groups, visitations to other churches, and above all ecumenical participation in dealing with the tragedy of poverty and other common community problems. It is when we work together in the Name of Christ in our local communties that we come to know and appreciate our fellow Christians and make an effective witness to the mission of the Church in the world.

We should forget our old ways of planning alone as though we Episcopalians were the whole Church of Christ. We must give up our self-centered aims and ambitions and freely give our manpower, resources, and talents to work for a united Christian witness. In our search for new structures as instruments of the Church’s mission, we can no longer separate ourselves from our fellow Christians or seek renewal apart from others. This movement toward unity reminds us all of the unhappy development in our own diocesan life which calls for our prayers and work of healing and reconciliation within our own family.

Three years ago we suffered a tragic schism here in the Diocese with the withdrawal of St. John’s Church, Savannah from the Diocese and the Episcopal Church. The pain and injury has been deep and the prayers many in these years. We have had a diocesan committee in these years representing us in hoping and working for reconciliation. Members of St. John’s who remained faithful and loyal to the Episcopal Church, though dispossessed of the property of the parish, have continued their worship and work in the Episcopal Church and maintained their identity and support in the Diocese. The Rector and people of St. Michael’s, Savannah have welcomed and cared for the people of St. John’s Episcopal Church. We have now reached a point where a diocesan committee is no longer considered advisable in the work of reconciliation. With a great commitment of loyalty to the Lord and to His Church in this Diocese, the Vestry of St. John’s Episcopal Church requests full responsibility for being an instrument of the Holy Spirit in restoring the unity of their parish church. We are grateful for this hopeful sign, assure them of our love and prayers, and express to them our confidence that the Holy Spirit will guide them in their work toward the unity of His Church in this Diocese.

General Convention also took the necessary action to initiate revision of the Book of Common Prayer. The Standing Liturgical Commission of the Church has been entrusted with this major task. The Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies have appointed 29 bishops, 125 priests, and 51 lay persons as consultants on Prayer Book revision to assist the Standing Liturgical Commission in the study and work which will be necessary to accomplish this objective. Your Bishop, one of our priests, and two of our lay people have been appointed to this group.

Throughout the Diocese we have already begun the study and trial use of the Proposed Liturgy for the Holy Communion. By the time of the next General Convention, congregations throughout the Episcopal Church will have had time to consider the merits of the changes proposed and have reported the results of the trial use of the Liturgy. Our diocesan Liturgical Commission is preparing a form for reporting the experience of trial use in each congregation. The Standing Liturgical Commission is likewise preparing a form for the report of each diocese. In this way we are all responsibly involved in the production of the new form of the Holy Communion for the Revised Prayer Book which may be before the Church at the General Convention of 1973 in Jacksonville, Florida.

As we proceed with the trial use of the Proposed Liturgy some view it with joy and hope, some with deep anxiety, and some with irritation. It is necessary to bear in mind that it is trial use – we are asked to try it, use it, assess it, criticize it positively as well as negatively. We are asked to have an open mind, to be patient, intelligent, and understanding as we work together to develop for future generations a most adequate, beautiful and appropriate pattern for the offering to Almighty God of the Holy Eucharist. The proposed Liturgy is not so different from the Prayer Book Office of the Holy Communion – the great basic actions and movements of the Eucharist remain intact but it is hoped they are clarified, simplified, and enhanced. There are some changes in language, order, and rationale: It is my judgment that the Proposed Liturgy accentuates the meaning of the Eucharist as Sacrifice and Sacrament. When used properly, it eliminates reasons for past petty arguments of churchmanship centering around the Eucharist and this in itself could be its most valuable contribution to our life in the Church.

In this liturgical development, we are confronted with another facet of the renewal of the Church. Actually we are involved in the same process of renewal here that has influenced the thinking and imagination of almost every major Christian tradition. As you ride around Georgia or anywhere in this Country, it is more and more difficult as one looks at the new church buildings to tell whether they are Methodist, Roman Catholic, or Episcopal. If one attends services in these churches it is also increasingly difficult in many instances to differentiate between what goes on in these buildings on Sunday morning. Perhaps our work in Prayer Book Revision and the liturgical movement in Christendom is our greatest hope for the unity of the Lord’s Church. When the time comes in which the churches can pray together with a common understanding about the Eucharist, they will be able to look up and see that the night of disunion is far spent and the day is nigh-at-hand for true organic union.
I hope it is pardonable pride to point out that, in the Holy Communion especially, both the Church Catholic of the West and the Protestant bodies have been moving in the direction of the principles which our Anglican fathers incorporated into the Book of Common Prayer as our greatest inheritance.

Once more I call you to a commitment of study – this time of the Eucharist – that we may be responsible to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this phase of the renewal of the Church. We have this opportunity to understand more fully the Eucharist, not only as set forth in the Proposed Liturgy but also in the Book of Common Prayer as it expresses our own personal and corporate needs and joys. (1.) I ask every priest and every congregation in this approaching Lenten season to set up as a minimum a weekly study class on the doctrine of the Eucharist and (2.) follow it by another course in the Easter season on the Eucharistic Liturgy and the Liturgical Movement. Such a commitment to study will open the way for the Holy Spirit to renew our life at the center of our Christian experience – the altar of God.

In order to facilitate the administration of the Holy Communion in those congregations where there are large numbers of communicants and only one priest, the General Convention has provided by Canon for the lay administration of the Chalice. The Bishop now has authority to license a layreader for this service. He will do so where the Vestry of the Parish requests such a ministry and nominates two layreaders of the parish, with the Rector’s approval, for this purpose. It is our intention to issue the licenses under these and other provisions annually at the Diocesan Convention Eucharist. I am sure that this new canonical provision will be a great assistance to us in our Eucharistic worship.

Now I must point to another aspect of commitment that is basic to the renewal of our mission herein Georgia- I refer to the stewardship of our money. The Department of Finance is presenting to the Convention a skeletal budget. We have made heavy cuts in appropriations which were asked for. If the Convention approves the restructure of the Diocese, I wonder how it can be financed. The Bishop is told repeatedly to secure a business manager for the Diocese but he is never given a salary for the position. We know we should be ministering in the inner City in Augusta and in Savannah – we need neighborhood youth projects, we need chaplaincy services, we need a finance the great plan of the Episcopal Home for Girls for a more adequate service to youth, boys and girls. We need to provide Missions with more than overwhelming indebtedness. All these things cost money – a lot if it and the financial picture of the Diocese simple doesn’t make this possible. The financial plans of the Sesquicentennial Commission would go a long way toward meeting some of these needs, but here again it is matter of commitment. Some of the answer to our problem lies in the areas of stewardship and communication. Support of the mission of the Church both with individuals and congregations is still token support rather than Christian giving as a glance at the percentage figures clearly indicates. On the other hand, I know full well that Church people respond gladly and sacrifically when they understand the need and when they believe in it – When they truly love their Lord and believe in His mission. It is a problem of communication and understanding and commitment. It is not a hopeless problem – it is one of spiritual growth and deepening our belief in Jesus Christ as the true light and life of a deeply troubled and sick world.

The words of Charles Dickens in The Tale of Two Cities describing the 18th century revolutionary period are significantly relevant to our day – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of increddulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” It is in just such a time that we are called to be the Church and to respond to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In age of revolution on a world-wide scale, the Church cannot remain unchanged or attempt to revert, as the Committee on Structure says, “to some unnamed time in the past” for its patterns of discipleship and mission. The Lord of the Church uses the season and the times, the perplexity and the problems to make all things new.
The New Testament clearly indicates a unity in personal renewal and mission. Christians are not only called to a life of service in Christ but to be a royal priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable of God through Christ. This self-oblation is both characteristic of true worship and true service. Mission and personal renewal are the two poles of our life in Christ and we cannot move effectively without both being held in balance. The quality of our devotional life cannot be neglected. Activism can never be a substitute for it (Sometime s I think we have more faith in organization than in the Living God). It is obvious, therefore, that the renewal of the Church by the Holy Spirit depends on our commitment to Jesus Christ in our personal prayers and corporate devotional life. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever.

[signed]+Albert R. Stuart