Bishop’s Address of 1915

Address of the Bishop
The Rt. Rev. Frederick Focke Reese
Fourth Bishop of Georgia

Note: This address is taken from the Journal of the 93rd Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. The full Journal is online at a PDF file here: 1915journal.pdf

My Dear Brethren of the Clergy and Laity:

Since our last Convention there have passed away four of our Bishops.

The Rt. Rev. Chas. Scadding, Doctor in Divinity, Bishop of Oregon, died at Portland, May 26, 1914. He was in the prime of his maturer powers, an enthusiastic and capable missionary and his death was one of those mysteries, the meaning of which can be found only in the loving wisdom of God.

The Rt. Rev. Robert Strange, Doctor in Divinity, Bishop of East Carolina, died in Wilmington, A. C., August 23, 1914. He had been seriously ill for many months prior to his death. He was a man of peculiarly attractive personality, an ardent, lovable soul, so genuine that none could doubt him and so unselfish that none could fail to love him.

The Rt. Rev. Franklin Spencer Spalding, Doctor in Divinity, Missionary Bishop of Utah, was killed by an automobile in Salt Lake City, September 25, 1914. His death was a tragedy not only because of the manner of his taking off, but because he was still a young man, of splendid devotion, of far more than ordinary ability, and as a student of social problems was especially concerned in promoting the reconciliation of the social order with divine justice. He was brave enough to speak unpalatable truth in the very citadel of privilege but so on fire with moral sincerity and earnestness as to win respect and admiration from those who disagreed with him and doubtless regarded his teaching as dangerous.

The Rt. Rev. Win. Farrar Weeks, Doctor in Divinity, Bishop Coadjutor of Vermont, died October 23, 1914. Bishop Weeks was consecrated on January 29, 1913, so that his Episcopate lasted less than two years, one of those disappointments which seem to us like miscarriages, but which must be in some way conformable to a wisdom and goodness beyond our ken.

In our own diocese the ranks of our clergy have been unbroken by death and we are thankful. We have lost by removal, three of those whose presence was familiar and who were a help and pleasure to us. Two have come to fill vacancies and one is expected at an early date. Two of our parishes are vacant, but all the missions are served regularly with greater or less frequency.

The year nas been a hard one financially as everyone knows or, at any rate, says, and in some places in the diocese it seems either to have been felt with peculiar severity or at least has been allowed to cause unusual depression. In a few cases, I regret to report that the salaries of the clergy are in arrears and the churches seem to be in rather distressed financial condition. I had hoped that vestries and people would by necessary economies in other less important matters manage to meet their pledges to the church, so that its work would not be seriously hampered, and I hoped especially that no clergyman would be required to suffer distress and anxiety by failure to receive his modest salary. I am grateful to the lay people for the fact that in our Diocese, this default has been rare. I wish that it might be even rarer. For the clergy are in this respect different from most people. Their incomes do not fluctuate usually, with the times. When people are prosperous the salary does not increase, so that when people are less prosperous, the salary ought not to decrease. More than that, the clergy are entirely and solely dependent upon the good will and honor of the laity for their living. If it is not paid, or paid promptly, there are no processes of compulsion which a clergyman would be willing to employ to enforce his just dues. In this matter the obligation of Noblesse Oblige is upon the laity. And I am glad to certify out of a long experience that in the main most of the laity are faithful to the obligation.

In the contribution for Diocesan Missions, we are short by about $250.00, compared with the corresponding date of last year. It is possible that this deficit has been made up by the time the books of the Treasurer were closed. But I feel especially grateful to those parishes and missions which have so loyally supported the diocese through this year of distress, and I am glad that the difference is no greater. In the apportionment for General Missions, there have been increased payments amounting to $585.00. Whether this has been more money given or only greater promptness in giving, it is still a cause of thankfulness.

The Board of Missions finds itself in a position of peculiar difficulty. For a number of years, it has been compelled to carry over it deficit. These deficits have been financed by using a fund be-hinging to the Board known as ‘The Reserve Fund.” The purpose of this fund is to meet the Board’s obligations during those parts of the year when its income is very small, i. c., the summer and early autumn. At other seasons the loans should be returned to the Reserve Fund, and they are so returned except when at the end of the fiscal year a deficit makes it impossible to do so. Such has been the unfortunate experience for several years, until the Reserve Fund is so badly depleted as to cause serious anxiety. Without it, the missionary salaries could not be paid promptly or loans would have to be resorted to, which might prove disastrous.

To meet this situation, the Board has asked for all emergency fund of $400,000.00, and to raise this they ask that every member of the Church shall contribute one day’s income to the fund in addition to his usual gift to -Missions. This plan up to May 1st had yielded $112,000.00. Some of our people and of our churches have given to the fund, in response to my request that offerings be taken for it on April. 25th. But evidently very few have responded.

I am sure, brethren, that many people can afford to comply with this appeal of our Missionary Board and give one day’s income to meet ‘this situation, even in addition to what we usually give to sustain God’s Church and His Work. I trust that many will be willing to do so. If any are so disposed, act at once on the good suggestion or impulse, and I earnestly trust that when you return to your homes, this will not be forgotten, but that some effort shall be made to secure contributions. As these gifts are to be credited to our apportionment, may it not result in our doing more this year than ever before to meet this obligation, or even in paying it in full.

It happens that to-morrow, May 20th, is the seventh anniversary of my consecration as Bishop of this Diocese. I mention it in order that I may ask and be blessed by your prayers at this service for myself as your Bishop, and for our Diocese and our common work for the Master. Seven was of old a sacred number and under the Jews the seventh year was a Sabbatical year, with some especial significance. But now that we are scientific and, as far as possible, decimal in our computations, a seventh year does not lend itself to especial significance as an anniversary. For that reason, as for other reasons, I am not going to harass you with a bombardment of comparative statistics. Ifstatistics are favorable, they are apt to .minister to pride and if they are unfavorable, they may be unduly discouraging. In fact, they are very deceptive generally, as well as uninteresting and uninspiring. There is nothing more elusive than a fact, especially a fact interned in a body of statistics, or a fact seen through the atmosphere of one’s mental prepossessions.

I am sure, however, that we can say that during these past seven years, by the mercy of God, the Diocese has grown and our labor has not been in vain. We may thank God and take courage. But there is so much yet to do that we cannot afford to take time or thought for much reviewing. We must face the future and the duty that lies ahead.

If we believe in the history, the teaching and the order and discipline of the Church to which we belong, we must believe that it has a mission to our brethren in this part of Georgia. If we believe that it represents in some unique and special way the Church of the Living God, holy, Catholic, historic and apostolic, we must recognize our privilege and our duty to contribute the blessing of our heritage to the Christian civilization of our people. We must go forward.

As it is, we have fifty-seven church buildings in twenty-six counties. In seven other counties we hold regular services but without church building and in six other counties there are a few communicants known to reside for whoin occasional services are held. In all, we bear some witness in thirty-nine Counties out of the sixty-five Counties which comprise the Diocese. In some of them it is almost negligible, so far as we can see. Probably, however, nothing that is genuine and sincere and in the spirit and power of Christ is ever negligible.

The religious future of the land depends more than we think upon the religious life of the people in the rural parts. The country church or mission is of far more importance than its size would indicate. The religious and social life of the country-side is indeed one of the great problems of the day. I think the clergyman who is. ministering to small bands of people in our towns and smaller cities. and in country districts is just in the place where the need for consecrated lives and work and for sanctified common-sense is greatest. What this Church has to contribute and witness to in the life of our people is most valuable and necessary. There is no reason to suppose that in time the Episcopal Church cannot be adapted to and be appreciated by country people, and by the plainest, humblest People. There was a time when the Church was the spiritual mother of all the English people, urban and rural, and in fact it is to-day the Church of King and peasant alike. The country pastor and missionary is in a peculiar sense on the Church’s firing line. He needs a deeper sense of the dignity and importance of his work and he needs, too, the unstinted loyalty and support of the Church behind him.

The question, therefore, which I hope this Convention will always keep uppermost in its mind is that while it is an administrative and legislative body, its administration and legislation must be directed to the advancement of this purpose. What can we do which will most efficiently promote true religion and Christianity as this Church has received and conceives it and promote it among all the people who dwell within the limits of the Diocese of Georgia. Our world does not end with the Diocese, but it begins there. It is our first responsibility. Nothing should interest us more than to hear how this enterprise is getting on and nothing should concern us more than to consider what we can do as a Convention to help it on. The work of God’s Church is to teach the way of righteousness, to guide men into it, to persuade them to accept it and in God’s name and through the grace and mercy of Christ, to struggle for it, and inspire them with wisdom and zeal to bring other men into the way. It is to bring about God’s Kingdom in human life.

This Convention is a part of the machinery necessary for that accomplishment. But apart from that end, it is of no conceivable value. If it does not contribute to that end, it is a waste of time and effort. And it will be a waste if all of us do not keep constantly in. mind and heart what the end and aim is. It will be a very uninteresting business apart from the inspiration of the great spiritual purpose. It will seem scarcely worth while to spend two days in attending to the seemingly petty details. The financial features are quite insignificant compared with those with which you laymen probably deal in your private business and in those corporations with which you may be connected.

You know that the old painters always painted a halo about the head of the Saints. This halo was a symbol of the spiritual significance and beauty that was associated with the material features of the Saint. It was the radiance of the divine around the human. The Saint is outwardly just a man or a woman of common clay but to those who can see, there is the halo which means that the Saint is something more than that, that the life of the Saint is the life of God.

It seems to me that the Church is to many just an ordinary human association and the work of a Convention just common ordinary business, reading of minutes, hearing and passing accounts, enacting legislation and that, amid the play and interplay of ordinary human motives and sometimes very small and selfish and conflicting ones. As such it is not a very imposing or thrilling adventure. It is not surprising that many do not conceive it worth their while to come or worth their while to stay.

What I think that we want to see is the halo about the Church, the divine in the human. Let us get away from the idea merely of the Episcopal Church, our Church, and think of it as the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth, which Christ hath purchased with his own blood. The Church that Christ loved, that Be sanctifies and cleanses that He may present it to Himself a glorious Church . . . that it should be holy and without blemish. The halo about the Church. No painter can picture it for unbelieving eyes to see. It can only he seen by eyes of faith. The Church is no ordinary human association, of the earth, earthly. Somehow? it is a Body of which Christ is the head, and a Body within which dwells the Eternal Spirit—a Divine Spirit-bearing Body.

Some things about the Church—at any rate, about those of us who represent it, do not suggest possibly halos—far from it. They rather suggest ordinary worldly pride and selfishness and littleness. But even in the greatest Saint there is the alloy of unsanctified earthliness still mingled with the stuff which radiates halos. But he is a Poor cynic, a moral scavenger, mayhap, who can see nothing of the halo and only the remnants of unsanctified earthliness. Yes, the Church is not all halo for She partakes of the wordliness and selfishness of us, Her imperfect children. But nevertheless the man who does not and cannot see the halo is not fit to legislate or administer the Church’s affairs. It is probable, indeed, that they will bore him, unless he fancies that they offer him some opportunity for that sort of prominence which Diotrephes loved. You recollect “Diotrephes” of whom St. John wrote, “who loveth to have the pre-eminence.” People who love to have the pre-eminence sometimes use the Church as the field of their operations and it is needless to say that such people do not see halos anywhere. They see only themselves, and when people see only or mainly themselves and their own interests, the business they are handling goes very wrong. The business Of the Church under such administration does not advance God’s Kingdom materially. God’s Kingdom cannot advance when its agents are much concerned about their own Kingdom.

God’s Kingdom must dominate all other Kingdoms and all other interests while we are here in attendance upon this Convention. Therefore, pray do not let us fail to see the halo and to remember the Kingdom. If we do see it, remember, I am sure, the vision and the recollection will exorcise all demons from our minds and hearts, the demons of individual, parochial and factious selfishness. They will sober us with a sense of responsibility and give a dignity to the modest duties we are here to perform. They will make us realize a truer sense of brotherhood and we shall not spend any time in trying to have our own way as opposed to other people’s way, for we shall all be much concerned about uniting to get God’s way done. We shall probably then enjoy doing these things, for they will become interesting. The reason that life and its duties are so uninteresting oftentimes is because they have no vision. They are so monotonously insignificant (and they are insignificant because they are unrelated), that one becomes insufferably bored. But whatever can be done, humble though it be, with a high motive, a large outlook, and a sense of service, becomes interesting. And that is the thing we want to feel, the motive of devotion to our Lord, the outlook of His spiritual Kingdom and the service of our fellowmen, Christ’s sheep, God’s children, “who are in the midst of this naughty world” as the Prayer Book says. What can we do here in Convention, assembled to promote God’s righteousness among men, God’s Kingdom on the earth, first, here in our Diocese, and next, everywhere. If any man thinks cynically that neither lie nor another can do anything, let him go home. He is not needed. He is of no use. Let him pray for eyes to see. He is blind.

We hope and pray then that the Church may grow, not for our sakes or for its own, but for the sake of those it can bless. But no church can grow which is not alive. No dead thing-can grow. The church again is not alive if it is not united. Dead things fall to pieces. Living things cohere. And the church cannot be united unless we love one another. Every evil spirit tends to division. The good spirit tends to unity and peace, to strength and growth.

So my brethren as a living Body of Christ’s loving and united people we meet here to-day to look ahead and to forge ahead. We believe in God’s Church; we have confidence in Him and we trust one another. With that Spirit we can certainly accomplish something. We can at any rate give and receive from each other the encouragement of our cheerful optimism and our brotherly sympathy. Everybody ought to go home feeling better and determined to do better. The laity can go back to put into the Vestries and congregations a finer and larger spirit of loyalty which will show itself in more prompt and generous giving, so that the word “begging” will never be heard again and the tragedy of financial helplessness and hopelessness will be forever forgotten. No kicks, no complaints. No pathetic letters of despair to take all the sweetness and joy out of religion.

And the clergy can go home braced up and glad to take a fresh grip. Next year there will be more Confirmation Candidates, and they more thoroughly prepared, the Sunday School will be bettered by improved methods and greater efficiency; there will be a spirit of social helpfulness which will make the world understand that nothing human is foreign to the interest and care of the Church.

Some time ago, a clergyman who represents one important department of activity in the Church was commenting upon the lack of enterprise exhibited by some parishes and some dioceses. He said he asked some rectors and, I think, he said, one Bishop, what plans they had for their parishes or diocese during the coming year and they confessed that they had none. I am rather glad he did not ask me. Of course, I have a plan. I hope we all have one. Our plan is to preach the Gospel, and minister to the spiritual needs of men and to make the church larger and stronger and more effective in order to save men; souls and bodies, through our Lord Jesus Christ. But I think we could be helped by something more specific. Like children we need to be encouraged by counting the mile posts. Let us see if we cannot get some more specific and nearer goal for the next year’s race.

One is this, I wish the Convention to consider what can be done by it to promote religious education and social service in the diocese. The whole Christian world is much aroused and concerned about these two matters of applied religion. Our own church is equally aroused. We have a General Board of Religious Education and a Commission on Social Service, each with a paid Secretary to promote their objects. The Province of Sewanee, of which our Diocese is a part, has also provided for similar provincial agencies. Our Diocese has in the past constituted its Board of Religious Education and Social Service Commission. Reports were submitted from both at the last Convention. In one the report begins “Your Board has done no work since the last Convention.” I do not believe the failure is mainly the responsibility of the Board for the report continues that it had previously invited correspondence from Rectors and Sunday Schools Superintendents “but no letters had been received.”

The other report makes a brave effort and does testify to the interested earnestness of its signatories, but it states frankly that it had little work to report. I think that both these reports show that as a diocese we are not yet aroused and concerned. What I propose is that we shall become so and that this convention shall give to these two matters such thoughtful consideration as will interest not only its own members but gradually interest the people of the Diocese. Religious education and social service are two of the most important expressions of genuine Christian life. Religion which does not affect the training of the young or the promotion of social righteousness is defective religion.
This Convention is the only representative gathering of the Church in this diocese, the only method by which the diocese can express itself as a whole in word or deed. So that whatever concern the Church feels or whatever effort it may desire to make in these lines of Christian endeavor must be expressed and directed by this Convention. I hope, therefore, that you may reaffirm the action of previous Conventions in a more emphatic fashion on both these subjects, give them proper consideration and reappoint and reconstitute both Board and Commission, give them some modest amount of money for the necessary expenses of their administration and at the same time make it plain that you consider the matters seriously and expect the clergy and laity to consider them so also.

In the next place, I want you to in every congregation of this diocese, large or small, pray and labor in every way in your power that there shall next year be unity and peace. One would suppose that such a proposal would be unnecessary. Is it not a contradiction that any congregation of Christian people should not be united and peaceful? Can any congregation be a Christian congregation which is not so? I think we might do well to consider that. As a matter of ‘experience I think I may say that one of the most serious hindrances to the growth of God’s Church and that means to the salvation of the world is division and strife and envy and contention and faction between individual Christians in parishes and missions and between groups of Christians. It is so among us in this diocese to some considerable extent. So I propose, therefore, that one of our aims for the coming year shall be to get the whole church and every part of it united in loving brotherliness. Let us begin now at this Service of Holy Communion and continue at every Holy Communion during the year, by prayer and word and act so that we may promote peace and reconciliation between ourselves and others, among all of our brethren. And remember please, how St. Paul puts it “As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” And, my brethern think of these words of our Saviour “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another,” and of these words of His holy apostle, “And above all these things put on charity.”

We are all about to participate in Eucharistic Worship and Holy Communion. In it both individually and as a Body, as a part of and representing the Church of God in this diocese, we offer ourselves, a “reasonable, holy and living sacrifice” to our God and Saviour. It is in the Spirit and power of this Service and of Him who meets as here that I hope we shall face the duties and meet the responsibilities for which w’e have met. They are in the main homely duties. They involve to some extent a monotonous routine, some repetition and not much on the surface that is inspiring or suggestive of romance. And yet I feel and I hope you all feel that the end which gee have in view consecrates the commonplace methods. For the final end of our labor, its object and its purpose is certainly full of inspiration, full of the romance of a great quest. For life to the men who believe and see things beyond the veil of the form and beyond the present, is always a noble and holy quest. It is the quest of the Holy Grail, the cup that caught and holds the life blood of God. For in the life-blood of God is the meaning and the power and the life of the world. It is the life of the Kingdom of God, which is seeking to unfold and manifest itself in the world of men. For that meaning and power and that life we are searching, not because it is afar off, for it is not afar off, it is near; even closer than breathing, nearer than hands and feet. But alas! We are blind and cannot see, we are hard of heart and cannot perdeive. The quest is for the light within, that we may see and perceive and once seeing and perceiving, we may bring light and life to others.

Brethren, let us like children make believe. Let us ask for a spiritualized imagination. Let us see in the commonplace duties of our council the golden deeds of a wonderful dream. We are trying to build a temple to our God, a temple of beauty and splendor in human hearts, in human life. These commonplace details of duty which appear in themselves to be so uninteresting and dreary may he like the brick of common clay which must furnish the solid core of the temple walls, which when built will be faced with polished marble and adorned with rich mosaic, and with the delicate tracery of sculptured poetry. These homely duties exhibiting the homely virtues of honesty and fidelity in little things are the necessary condition for the coming of that Kingdom of human life in which shall appear all brotherly justice and kindliness, all the virtues and graces of the Saints in the Holy City of our God. He that is faithful in that which is least, will be faithful also in much.

Let us, therefore, brethren, give to these duties our careful and loyal attention. In so doing we shall be doing something and gaining something of great value for it will help in the building of the Kingdom. Let us keep our eye on the big thing that we are aiming after and not merely on the little things that we are doing now. Let us keep our eye on the vision and not merely on each weary step which we must take to attain the reality of the vision.

Bishop of Georgia.

Savannah, Georgia.
May 19, 1915.