Bishop’s Address of 1975

by the Rt. Rev. G. Paul Reeves
Given in Valdosta, Georgia on February 6, 1975

My brothers and sisters of the clergy and laity of the Diocese of Georgia: Greetings and blessings in the name of God.

Paul ReevesAs I review the past year I am led first to make a brief and necessarily inadequate expression of gratitude to you. Occasionally the frustrations and disappointments attendant of the office and work of a Bishop obscure the larger picture. Our diocese is small in numbers and budget, but as large in spirit as in geography. Often this year I have remarked the wealth of talent we have amongst our people, lay and clergy, and their generous devotion to their Church. Your cooperation and support, and that of the congregations you represent, fill me with admiration and with gratifude.

Today, the complex problem of world hunger is before us. In the Bishop’s letter in the last issue of THE CHURCH IN GEORGIA, 1 made an appeal for one approach to our helping during Lent. At this Convention, several resolutions will be offered to express our concern, and to propose ways of acting.

This issue is important; but along with it we must face another need close to home, and that is the mounting problem of clergy placement. As of this moment, we have in the diocese six priests who either are looking for work or will be within the next few months. In addition, we have three seminarians graduating in June, only one of whom is definitely placed at this time.

Our Diocesan situation reflects the national picture. The factors that brought it about are several and complex and have been gone into in the national press. Is there a solution?

A look at our rolls shows that only about twenty percent of our clergy are native sons of the diocese; the others have come from other backgrounds, and without them we could not function. But once a man is in the diocese, it seems to me that we are morally obligated to do our best to give him a place to work, and should give first preference to our own men in filling vacancies. This will be a help.

But the only final answer lies in increased giving. There are many places where we could use men if we could pay them. If we could take more seriously the matter of missionary outreach, and give to meet the needs of evangelism, we could do this, at once meeting the problem of clergy placement and that of neglected areas of work.

I never know whether to laugh or cry when people ask, “Why doesn’t the Diocese do this?” Brethren, you are the Diocese. It is we who must do what is to be done. The answer is the same old dull answer I have given before: More missions must assume more of their expenses and move to parish status; and more parishes must raise the level of their giving to the Diocese. We have witnessed a heartening improvement in local giving during the past three years, but it has little more than kept pace with the rate of inflation.

And so, one more time, I set before you the Christian standard of the tithe, general acceptance of which would answer our financial problems, and at the same time would deepen the commitment of those who engage themselves in the venture of thoughtful stewardship.

Before I leave this subject, I would enter one note of caution. The proposed budget for 1975 shows what is labeled as a ‘surplus’, and already there are demands that this projected surplus be budgeted. Indeed, if all the proposals for spending it were accepted, we would need a surplus many times as large as that which we may -or may not – have. In my judgement the proposed budget represents the responsible thinking of Diocesan Council, arrived at after careful study. This Convention may rearrange or redistribute items and areas within it, but I believe that any serious change on the projected totals will open us to more serious and more embarrassing problems a year hence than those we face today. 1 cannot see this approach as showing a lack of faith, but rather as an exercise of Prudence, which I believe still appears in the list of the Four Cardinal Virtues.

A picture of the material and spiritual state of the Church in the diocese will emerge as this Convention goes on, and probably in a clearer way than one man’s analysis might present it. In spite of the economic woes the world is undergoing, in spite of the political shock through which our nation has passed, and in spite of the ferment within Christendom, the health of the Diocese seems to me to be in a better state than any time I have known, other than for the problem of clergy placement.

However, all is not well in our Church, and it is to our future that I am led to address myself myself this afternoon. When the President of the United States recently began his address with the words: “The State of the nation is not good”, he not only was being truthful, but also was departing from the traditional American pattern. We are a success-oriented people, and we feel that some sort of treason or subversion lurks behind any admission that all is not well. This success-syndrome has spread to the Church, so that even in the pulpit we seem to feel an obligation to present a rosy picture of growth and progress. In doing this, we depart from the spirit of the Scriptures, and often take leave of facts.

For the moment I am not concerned with finances or head-counts. Rather, I want to consider three areas of life in the Church which I believe contain many of the answers to what the future of the Episcopal Church may be. These areas are, first, Prayer Book revision and liturgical change; second, the complex of problems concerning the ordination of women; and finally, that remarkable phenomenon which is hard to define or to label, but which we call the charismatic movement, or neopentecostalism, or experience-centered Christianity.

Anyone who knows anything about any of these areas will know that no full treatment could be given any one of them in one address, much less that one speaker adequately could explore all three. This I know, but will rush in where an angel might hesitate to tip-toe.

We have been actively and officially engaged in Prayer Book revision for more than twenty years. The so-called Liturigical Movement goes back to the beginning of this century, within the Roman Catholic Church, and at least as far back as the `thirties in our Church. In both the Roman Catholic Church and in the Anglican Communion, the aim of the Liturgical Movement was to bring worshipping congregations to regular and active participation in an activity that they genuinely understood: the key words being ‘participation’ and ‘understanding’. Within our Church, there was the added dimension of a return to the Eucharist as the norm of Christian worship, a norm from which Rome had never departed.

These objectives have been achieved to a surprisingly great extent. Certainly within our diocese, and within much of the Anglican Communion, the Eucharist again is the norm of Sunday worship, as of course it should be.
Fuller congregational participation has been achieved; and at least in those congregations where adequate teaching and study have accompanied liturgical change, there seems to be a far better understanding of why we do what we do.

However, the picture is not all bright. As t travel about the diocese and elsewhere, I sense in many places confusion and uncertainty. The multiplication of options has bewildered many people, and not the laity only. Even more important, in my judgement, is a general loss of dignity and of the essential quality of awe and mystery which ought to characterize our approach to God. We have become too folksy, too familiar. No doubt it is true that ‘the old ways’ often were so formal and stilted that they were unreal, and what was done in Church on Sunday seemed — or was — unrelated to the rest of life; this needed reformation, certainly; but in many places the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.

There has been much criticism about the process of revision. Had revision been attempted by a commission which never consulted the feelings or the experience of the people, the cries would have been even more wrathful. The process of revision has kept the Church upset over-long, but it is difficult to imagine an acceptable alternative. It is true that in the process, certain proponents of radical revision have come through as unbelievably arrogant and opinionated. It is true that where the original proposal was to revise the Prayer Book, what we will be offered is essentially a new book. But any of you who have remodeled a house know how what began as a little fixing-up often becomes a major — and expensive — job, particularly if dry-rot or termites are discovered, and where new materials and techniques in fact render the old obsolete or even dangerous.

[Those of you who know my thinking will know that I most definitely am not implying that the 1928 Book shows signs of rot or obsolesence, for I do not believe this to be so. I do simply believe that an honest process of revision may carry us beyond the point we originally intended, because one new perspective often leads to another which was not foreseen.]

It was a happy circumstance that saw the first Prayer Book put into English at a time when our language had achieved one of the highest points of its development. It is simply an unhappy circumstance that our own time is a period of debasement of language, generally devoid of either poetry or precision, a time when Presidents and prelates in official addresses use the language of the streets, and when the language of the gutter has become commonplace among educated and supposedly cultured people. A time when vulgarity, moral, intellectual, and social, is accepted as normal is not a good time to produce a great prayer book, but it is the time in which we live and the time in which we must work.

We need not despair; as I have said to you before, I believe the very difficulties offer a possibility for each of us, and for each congregation, to achieve a new understanding of the nature and the reality of worship. It will call for more study and more teaching on the part of clergy and laity. It will call for patience and for sympathy among those who disagree. It will call for seeking better advice in the matter of the building, the decoration and the renovation of church buildings, the making of vestments, the selection and performance of music, and the use of the voice by clergy and lay readers. More effort will be demanded; but if we are willing to exert the effort, I have no fear that our worship need be less beautiful because it is less uniform or more contemporary. If the several elements in the diversity are good, the unity can become broader and deeper. The frivolous, the purely eccentric, and the faddish must be eschewed; but just as some of the most magnificent of the ancient churches combine the arts and crafts of many centuries in a reverent, pleasing, impressive and instructive way, so can our carefully ordered worship.

What is most essential is that we understand the nature and purpose of worship, an activity, first of all, of the creature in a loving approach to his Creator, and, second, the social and cooperative act of the local gathering of the children of God. Worship must be seen more as an act of giving than of seeking to receive, carried out with the sure snese that if we give the best we have to offer, we will receive far beyond our deserving or desiring.

I turn next to the matter of ordination of women. At the present, there are two issues which seem difficult for people to keep separate. The first issue is whether women should — or can — be ordained to the priesthood; and the second is the status of those Bishops, priests and deacons who broke with unanimous tradition of the Church since its beginning, and flouted the laws of our Church.

On the latter subject I will express myself briefly, and with all the charity I can command. In his sermon at the recent installation of the new Bishop of Florida, our Presiding Bishop noted, in another connection, that there is a difference between being judgemental and being evaluative. I hope I can avoid the former. Getting at the real motives of another person is difficult and dangerous.

The participants in the Philadelphia travesty admit that they acted in violattion of the law of the Church; there is no question there. They claimed to be obeying some sort of `higher law’, but as a noted news analyst recently commented, in connection with amnesty for deserters and draft-evaders, the problem with `higher laws’, so-called, is that they are not passed; and invoking them becomes a game that more than one can play.

To my mind it is unfortunate, indeed incredible, that no effective action has been taken regarding the offenders. Whether the bishops will be brought to trial remains uncertain, and if they are, the outcome of that trial is, of course, more uncertain. The bishops of the several women involved have taken different actions, but none, in my opinion, remotely in proportion to the enormity of the offense. If nothing more is done, it is difficult to suppose anything but that discipline within the Episcopal Church is a thing of the past.

The principle of the rightness, or as many people would say, the possibility, of the ordination of women, has yet to be decided. It probably will be the principal issue of the next General Convention.

What follows will be, so far as I can recall, my first venture into the realm of prophecy. It is my sober and somber judgement that if the ordination of women is approved, there will be a schism within our Church. (Parenthetically, if it is not approved, no doubt some people will leave the Church, or else act illegally within it; but neither the numbers involved nor the gravity of the hurt will be as serious as in the former case.)

The issue is fairly simple, and it is this: Are we indeed a part of the One Catholic and Apostolic Church, or are we a protestant denomination? If the latter, of course we can decide to ordain women; we can also change the Creeds, and do anything else we choose to do. If, however, we are part of the Catholic Christendom — a tiny fraction, be it noted — can we independently and unilaterally reverse that which has been the consitent practice of the Church since its beginning? I think not.

In a recent article in THE LIVING CHURCH, the Rev. Francis W. Reed gave the best analysis of the problem I have read to date, and I venture to quote him at some length. He wrote: “Since the Holy Catholic Church is a living, growing organism rather than a fixed and rigid organization it follows that the Holy Spirit may yet
lead and direct her lo open to women the sacred priesthood which hitherto has been reserved to men. All of the arguments against women priests which seem so convincing to so many within the church may thus be invalidated through the Spirit’s intervention.

“There is the ever present danger, however, of mistaking contemporary secular pressures for the voice of the Holy Spirit …

“Is the present agitation in the Episcopal Church for the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate truly the voice of the Holy Spirit telling us to take this step, or is it rather the pressure in ecclesiastical circles of contemporary secular movements aimed against what is sometimes called sexism? …

“It is the very competence of the Episcopal Church to open the catholic priesthood to women which must be squarely faced at Minneapolis in 1976. Regardless of what General Convention may decide, the fact remains that a legislative body established for the internal governance of the Anglican dioceses in this nation and their foreign missions is not a General Council competent to determine matters of catholic faith and order. If it undertook to open the priesthood to women, General Convention would be acting ultra vires, that is, beyond its power. It has no more authority to take this step than it has to amend the Nicene Creed or specify other elements than bread and wine for the eucharist the Holy Spirit may yet speak to the church and tell her to modify this essential attribute of priesthood and admit women thereto. But — and this is to the utmost importance — a consensus of all catholic Christendom would be required before this step could be taken.

“The Holy Spirit does not play favorites, speaking to Anglicans only and ignoring Rome and the East. Only as he speaks to the whole catholic church can the voice be truly his. How a consensus of Catholic Christendom can be obtained despite our numerous divisions is a perplexing question. But if the Holy Spirit is truly speaking to the catholic church and telling her that women should be ordained to the priesthood he will find a means of overcoming the seeming barrier to united action …”

This, I believe, is the issue.

Unfortunately, many of our people regard it either as a matter for joking, or else, as an instance of theological hair-splitting that has no real importance. Believe me, it is neither. We are in a tragic situation. I have heard more than one older bishop say, “Thank God, I’m about to retire and won’t have to bother with it.” This is tragic. It is tragic to hear other bishops and priests say, `I wish I were nearer retirement.’ It is tragic to hear, as I have heard, several of the finest priests I know say that if the Church takes this action, they cannot retain their integrity and be loyal to an apostate church.

There are those who point out that the church, in her long life, has made many grievous mistakes, yet has survived. There are those who feel — and I am one of them — that if our Church takes this mistaken action, it will prove in time to have been an anomaly, short-lived, and will be abandoned because it will fail.

In the year and a half we have before General Convention will make its momentous decision, I call you to prayer. I do not ask that you pray for God to defeat the move to ordain women, for that would be to presume knowledge 1 do not have. Rather, I ask you to pray that God’s will may be done. For too long our Church as gone the political way of pressure groups, maneuvering coalitions, and the intriguing ways of the world. I hope I am not naive when I say that I dare yet to believe that we need not stoop to these devices, but that prayer, study, honest discussion — all these can show us the right way: but above all the rest, Prayer.

Finally, I ask you to consider that growing phenomenon seen within our own Church, and elsewhere widely within Christendom, a movement centered on personal experience of Jesus Christ, a movement difficult to characterize because it contains so many and diverse elements. In one situation it is called `the Charismatic Movement’; in another, `Neo-Pentecostalism’. Its critics stigmatize it as anti-intellectual emotionalism. No label does it justice, but it is one of the potent forces at work today, and the people best qualified to judge suspect that it will prove to be one of the most significant elements of change within Christendom from our era.

In a brilliant address to a Faith Alive assembly last year, the Bishop of Western Massachusetts, the 2t. Rev. Alexander Stewart, characterized the religion of the 1950s as `mind-centered Christianity’, the cool rationalism of such theologians as Paul Tillich. The 60s he characterized as `action-centered Christianity’, in which the Church left the ivory tower for the ghetto. This was the period when many of the sermons within our own church sounded like sociological pamphlets, and when too many of our leaders denounced their own Church as the source of evil, and called for its death. [At least some of them, I might say, did their unsuccessful best to hasten the demise.] The 60s ended with an exhausted, disillusioned Church that may have made some slight contribution to social change, but in the process became, at least at the top, spiritually impoverished. Let it be said that the liberals did not hurt the Church because they preached civil rights, pacifism and justice, but because they did not preach Jesus Christ crucified for us men and for our salvation.

If the 50s saw a mind-centered religion, and the 60s saw it action-centered, the first years of this decade could be characterized as experience-centered. The Jesus-people, Faith Alive, the Lay Witness Missions within Methodism, Roman Catholic Pentecostalism, even the stage production of “Godspell” and “Superstar” all reflect this new emphasis on intimate, personal experience of God in Jesus Christ. The Bible is being read as never before in our lifetime. Without doubt, we are in the early stages of a genuine, sweeping religious revival.

Some of the people involved have shrugged off the institutional Churches as being-too tradition-bound, too concerned with their own status, to furnish them a healthy environment. Others have remained happily active in and loyal to their churches, finding in sacraments and tradition a balance to what too easily might become subjective emotionalism.

It is a tragedy, and something of a mystery, too, that people who sought the personal experience of Christ too often felt they could not find it in our Church. Certainly it has been a part of the catholic experience from the beginning. Mystics, comtemplatives, ecstatics, we always have had, both in Eastern Christendom and in our own Western tradition; nor does Anglicanism need to apologise for its rich contribution to the stream of spirituality. Yet, somehow, we largely failed. Certainly the materialistic spirit of the age has worked against us. Few of our leaders have encouraged a deeply personal religion, and our seminaries as a whole have done little to encourage the formation of priests who were in any sense genuinely men of prayer. Where the formation took place, as it has done in many of our clergy, it happened either before they went to seminary, or, more usually, later.

But there are clear signs that the tide has turned. Now, it remains for the Church to use the flow of that tide to its good purposes, which should be God’s purpose, too. But there are certain cautions to be entered.
The principal caution to enthusiasts is that they keep a healthy balance between emotion, intellect, and will, that is, a balance of feeling, thinking, and acting. It is not always so, and my own limited experience with the charismatic movement has seen to much divisiveness, mainly the result of self-righteousness, self-cen te redness, and a judgemental spirit. Enthusiasm and sound theology do not always go hand in hand. Often, a very real and precious personal religious experience leads one to wish others might have the same experience, which too easily becomes a suspicion that if they have not had the experience, they somehow are Christians of an inferior sort, if Christians at all. We forget that it is the Holy Spirit Who distributes His gifts as He will, and in very different kinds and proportions to different people.

On the other hand, there is a caution to those who have not had the spiritual experience in the same characteristically emotional way. We tend to be suspicious of the new. In addition, we Episcopalians have a tradition of keeping our religion to ourselves, and feeling that it somehow is not a mark of good breeding to talk about God or our experience of Him. And, frankly, I suspect that there is in most of us — I know there is in me — something like a fear that perhaps we still lack something, and that perhaps it is precisely this experience that our so-called “Spirit-filled” brother or sister is babbling on about. We too need to be more open, more patient, and less judgemental. We need also to listen to people who have gone through all this before, the records of whose experiences have stood the test of time. In the Eastern tradition, a careful reading of the PHILOKALIA would do for a starter. In the Western tradition, such famous works as those of Thomas a Kempis and St. John of the Cross are no less understandable or relevant because they are ancient; nor is the work of Evelyn Underhill or C.S. Lewis insignificant because it comes From our own time.

In short, we need to search the Scriptures, day in and day out; we need to listen to the masters of our religion; and based on these two learnings, we need to go to God in prayer, daily, patiently, never discouraged because we seem to progress so little and so slowly. This personal quest, conducted alongside the time-tested practices of absolutely regular Sunday worship, reception of the Communion with due preparation, realistic and quite specific penitence, generous stewardship, and a pattern of active work in and for the Church, this combination will surely bring us safely home to God.

Sometimes we think it is only the older, more traditional, more conservative, people who in the chaos of our time see the destruction of old values, and as yet no new values emerging to replace them. But many young people are aimless, adrift and confused, often even in their rebellion yearning for the days some of us knew when things at least seemed settled and sure. Many of us have felt that the Psalmist is speaking our deep anxiety when he cries, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3)
What, indeed?

Arnold Toynbee, surely one of the great minds of our age, suggests an answer in a brilliant analogy. He notes that the science of aerial photography has produced an unexpected discovery, in that aerial photographs often show traces of the presence and activities of our human predecessors “which for ages past have been totally invisible to successive generations of human beings who have been living and working … on the very sites on which these traces were imprinted.” The historian goes on to imagine that a certain aerial photograph shows that a present-day English village lies within what were the walls of a Roman camp, the existence of which neither a present-day villager nor his ancestors ever suspected. Toynbec says: “… they have in fact been sleeping every night within that historic rampart, and have been crossing it daily as they plodded to and fro between their cottages and their fields, from generation to generation.” (A STUDY OF HISTORY, vol VI, pp. 158-9)

If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? It behooves the righteous to search amongst the rubble of his destroyed foundations to see whether he may not be undergirded by older and better and surer foundations, the existence of which he may not have suspected. The Psalmist wrote: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” And in the next verse he goes on to give his answer: “The Lord is in his holy temple: the Lord’s seat is in heaven.”

In a word, when we panic, when we lose heart, when we fall into that most dismal and grievous of sins, the sin of despair, we are in fact conforming to the standards and practices of this world, forgetting that the eternal values cannot be destroyed. We have become too enmeshed in the things of this world and have forgotten that, however lovely and lovable this country is, it is not our home. Here, we are strangers and pilgrims, passing thro ugh. Here, as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews said, “Here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”
Lift up your hearts!