Bishop’s Address of 1978

The Bishop’s Address
The Rt. Rev. G. Paul Reeves

My Brothers and Sisters of the Diocese of Georgia, and our friends: Greetings in the Name of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour.

As we begin this One Hundred and Fifty-Sixth Convention of the Diocese, I present you my formal address as required by Canon and custom; the statistical portions of it will be printed in the Journal.

I divide this address into three parts, first, concerning the State of the Diocese as I see it, then, some plans for the future, and finally a look at the larger Church, and our place in it.

Paul ReevesIn some particulars our diocese is a microcosm of the larger Church, embodying many of its movements and its problems. But I believe that overall we are in good condition in the Diocese of Georgia.

As you examine our financial reports you will see that we are keeping ahead of the inflationary spiral. As you examine reports from congregations and from diocesan commissions, you will see encouraging pictures of dedicated and imaginative people moving ahead.

Two years ago we established a Committee on Renewal and Accountability. After a slow start, this committee, under the thoughtful and aggressive leadership of William Eager III, has opened ways to approaches which, I feel, will be avenues to more effective and efficient stewardship of our resources, financial and human.

I confess that at the outset I had some reservations lest the use of assumptions and techniques of the business community might warp the Christian community off its proper course, a danger which indeed has come about in some parts of Church life. But as our Committee has proceeded,it has kept its eye on our proper goal, and has been true to Christian ends and means. More about this Committee later.

Once more I can report enthusiastically that our Conference Center is thriving, improving, and widening the scope of its influence. Fr. Charles Davis sees his calling as Warden that of furthering the growth of the spiritual center of the diocese. Thanks to Wilmarose Davis, cuisine at Honey Creek is superb: I would confidently enter our food in any contest among church conference centers – even in a contest with restaurants.

Last Summer, God blessed us with the addition to the staff at Honey Creek of another remarkable couple, who are boosting the performance there even higher. Bill Allen can do anything and do it well, from welding to layreading; Mae Allen is both a registered nurse and a gourmet kitchen expert. And all four of these splendid people are committed Christians who feel they are called to this work by God.

The activities at Honey Creek reflect this new leadership. The camps for young people and children hit new highs last Summer. Every weekend is filled from now through the Summer, and many midweeks as well. This Fall we built – on faith – a residence for the Aliens, and a fine one it is. Designed by Blake Ellis, as were all the other buildings at Honey Creek, and designed at no cost to us, the house was built by LeRoy Watson, at a price far below its cost to him, for which generosity we are grateful. A priest from the Diocese of Florida – a former forest ranger -has laid out nature trails that will provide both education and pleasure to adults as well as to our younger campers. Must of the credit for all this goes to the Rev. Arthur Cody who has assembled a remarkable Conference Center Commission, each of whose members is expert in some area applicable to that center, all of whom are devoted to making it better.

Time does not permit my reporting on every Committee and Commission, and I. urge your careful study of their reports. The Christian Education Commission, the Evangelism commission, the Stewardship Commission the Commission on Ministry, the Liturgical Commission all have done outstanding work.

I mention with thanks two more names. John Carswell is the best-informed and most active diocesan Treasurer I have ever known. Malcolm Maclean, long-time Chancellor of the Diocese, relinquished that job, but does outstanding and painstaking work as Treasurer of the Board of Officers of the Corporation of the Diocese, the body which manages the endowment funds of the diocese.

When I reflect on the time our lay people give to the Church I an filled with humility and gratitude. For many of them – for many of you here tonight – this means sacrifice of working hours and hence of income, and for all, investment of time and devotion. For the leadership of the diocese and of local congregations, Church membership is no Sundays – only affair. I thank God for your generosity and devotion.

– II –

Turning to the future of the Diocese, I begin with tomorrow.

At this Convention, you will approve a budget. This year we returned to a procedure of making specific askings of each congregation. Not all congregations accepted their full asking, so we have had to reduce some items as proposed, but I believe the budget you will receive is an honest one, and represents a move ahead. We will consider participation in the national Church’s Venture in Mission program. Essentially, this is a capital-fund activity, part of the monies raised going to work outside the diocese, part remaining here. If we go into this it should be with a clear understanding of what is involved; my hope is that we will be willing to take it on, so long as we are willing to follow through.

You will consider one or more resolutions petitioning General Convention to allow continued use of the 1928 Prayer Book, assuming, as I think is reasonable, that the Proposed Book will receive final approval at that Convention. The Presiding Bishop has urged such a provision, and I hope it will be done. opponents of such authorization point out that this would add confusion to an already complex worship picture, and would move us one step further away from the old concept of Common Prayer prayer in common. It seems to me that there are already so many legal variations that one more will not hurt, and certainly this one would give encouragement and a sense of continuity to many people who – rightly or wrongly – are unable to accept the Proposed Book.

You will elect Deputies and Alternate Deputies to the 1979 General Convention. The 1976 Convention made clear the enormous power of this body, and your responsibility is to select people to represent you who will take the time and trouble to inform themselves, and who will be open to the Holy Spirit.

Several Committees and Commissions are in the midst of tasks they expect to complete or further this year. A canonical change will be proposed tomorrow which would combine the work of the Architectural Commission with that of the Liturgical Commission, and add oversight of music and the decorative arts.

The Ministry Commission hopes to complete an improved process of screening applicants for the ordained ministry, as well as a plan for better and more uniform training for Lay Readers.

Previously I mentioned the Renewal and Accountability Committee, which tends to complete its work this year. Its pointing up the need for long-range planning and for examination of achievement of goals obviously is long overdue. We need a trained person to help us achieve these ends.

Most of you know that our Diocesan Administrator for the past three years is returning to parish work, and I know you join me in expressing gratitude to Fr. Winslett for his work with us, and in wishing him Godspeed.

It may be that this successor will add to administrative skills expertise in the areas of planning and consultation which the Renewal and Accountability Committee and I want; or it may be that we will combine this new job with the work of a mission priest. In this case, we may find it expedient to employ a layman as administrator. In our search and decisions we seek guidance, and ask your prayers.

Over the past seven years our Stewardship program.has improved, and its results are plain. But too many jobs remain undone or done scantily because we lack funds. Again I hold up to you the Biblical standard of the tithe – an honest ten per-cent of income – a standard which evermore of our people have accepted. And I lay upon the leaders of congregations the necessity of carefully planned stewardship programs, faithfully carried out.

But all of our activities will come to naught unless our aim is right; as the Psalmist said: “Except the Lord build the house, their labor is but lost that build it”. The eleventh-century scholar, and possibly the greatest of the Archbishops of Canterbury, Saint Anselm, wrote: “As the right order of going requires that we should believe the deep things of God before we presume to discuss them by reason, so it seems to me to be negligence if, after we have been confirmed in the faith, we do not study to understand what we believe.” (Anselm: Cur Deus Homo)

Having paid brief but sincere tribute to the devotion of our lay people, I hope I will not be misunderstood when I say that we have a long way to go in this matter of ‘studying to understand what we believe,’ The recent conferences of Roman Catholic bishops have centered on catechesisr that is the teaching of the faith. We need the same.John Wild, once professor of philosophy at Harvard and one of the great thinkers of our Church wrote in 1947 some words that ring true today:

“Secular democracy demands the education of the masses in natural knowledge. Religious democracy demands the education of the masses in both natural and supernatural knowledge, which is both theology and philosophy. This is not an easy task. The Church today is filled with a vast, uninformed membership teeming with secular notions derived from our decaying culture, and utterly irreconcilable with Catholicism, though widely confused with it. The result is a blurring of sharp outline and principle, which some sectarian apologists confusing it with a virtue, have called ‘the genius of Anglicanism!. I do not regard intellectual vagueness and compromise as a virtue. . . (the) Church cannot meet the unprecedented challenges of our time without a sharp and clear insight into first principles, both philosophical and theological.” (Ed. Edward D. Myers, CHRISTIANITY AND REASON. N.Y. Oxford Press, 1951.)

– III –

This leads naturally into the third section of this address, namely, our part in The Larger Church. What I will say is in part very personal and mainly unfashionable. Whether it is a phenomenon of our time and place, or a general thing, I do not know, but I observe that leaders of or spokesmen for the State, for business, or for the Church, seem to feel obliged always to express themselves in wholly optimistic terms. Accepting the dictionary definition of ‘optimism’ as: “An inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and happenings, or anticipate the best possible outcome”, I do not find that the Old Testament Prophets, or St. Paul, or our blessed Lord Himself were optimistic about the course of this world.

Thus I do not think it is lack of faith or of loyalty to say that councils of the Church can err. It is not being negative to note that there is confusion and disorder in our part of the Church and in Christendom generally. All of the so-called main-line Churches are losing members. It has been estimated that the Episcopal Church has lost one member every fifteen minutes for the past ten years – and other estimates run higher.

Explanations for this vary. Conservatives tend to say that the cause lies in the number and gravity of changes that have been made within the Church. Liberals say it is because changes came too late and too timidly. To acknowledge that we are living in an Age of Revolution is to be neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but simply realistic. In the Church this revolutionary spirit has changed beliefs, ways of worship, and activities. It has called attention to many weaknesses in our practice of religion. In forcing us to think in new ways it has enlivened many minds and spirits. It has exhilarated some people, depressed some, confused others. The results to date are partly good, partly bad.

Change is inevitable and necessary, but the way in which it is accomplished is important. Carl Gustav Jung, not only founder of one of the most important schools of psychiatry, but also one of the most profound and orginal thinkers of our time, had this to say:

“. . . we have plunged down a cateract of progress which sweeps us on into the future with ever wider violence the farther it takes us from our roots. . . But it is precisely the loss of connection with the past, our uprootedness, which has given rise to the ‘discontents’ of civilization. . . We rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction and restlessness.

“Reforms by advances, that is, by new methods or gadgets, are of course impressive at first, but in the long run they are dubious and in any case dearly paid for. They by no means increase the contentment or happiness of people on the whole. Mostly they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time than before.

“Reforms by retrogression, on the other hand, are as a rule less expensive and in addition more lasting, for they return to the simple, tried and tested ways of the past, and make the sparsest use of newspaper, radio, and television, and all supposedly timesaving innovations.” C.G. Jung, MEMORIES, DREAMS & REVELATIONS ,Ch. viii.

Reactions to the revolution in our part of the Church have varied. Some of our people have left us for the Roman Communion, others for one of the protestant sects or denominations, a few for one of the Eastern Orthodox churches. others singly have dropped out of the institutional church. Others still – as intelligent and devout as any – have felt that our part of the Church has departed so far from Biblical and historical beliefs and practices that its very validity and continuity in a separated branch which some call dissident and others call loyalist. Still others are committed to standing fast, some feeling that the tide of change has been generally good, others guessing that-the tide will turn of its own accord, others still hoping to change the tide.

Let me try to tell you where I stand. With our Presiding Bishop I an unable to believe that women can be ordained to the priesthood. I could accept this novelty only if the Holy Spirit guides all of His Church which has priests – that is, Catholic Christendom – to make such a decision; our tiny part of the Church had not the competence to make the change, and I regard much of the turmoil in our Church today as God’s judgement on our rashness. I grieve at our failure to take an unequivocal stand against abortion; the fact that the capitol city of our nation now has more abortions than births I see as God’s judgement on the compromises Christian people, we among them, have made. I grieve at our becoming increasingly conformed to the manners and morals of our society regarding easy divorce and remarriage. And I could extend the list.

I am told that apology is not good tactics, but I feel that I must acknowledge that my grief – and ‘grief’ is not too strong a word – at the course our Church is taking has effected me personally, and I herewith sincerely apologise to you for its having hampered my performance this past year. Now I can go on to assure you that I am on the other side of that. Unless God Himself convinces me otherwise, I believe my place in this time of stress is the one to which you elected me nearly nine years ago, and that the consecration vows I took then still bind me; I will do my best to fulfill them, and to do so better. I will continue to fight against actions which I believe are wrong morally or theologically. General Convention may change the words of the Creed, but the revealed truths of the Creed cannot change.

In a sermon preached in 1830, John Henry Newman – perhaps the greatest mind the Church of England ever produced, and at that time one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement, said:

“Great perils just now encompass our branch of the Church; here the question comes upon us, as a body and as individuals, what ought we do ? Doubtless to meet them with all the wisdom and prudence in our power, to use all allowable means to avert them, but after all, is not our main duty this: to go on quietly and stedfastly in our old ways, as if nothing were the matter . What is the use of these feverish exertions on all sides of us to soothe our enemies, conciliate the suspicious or wavering, and attach to us men of name and power ? Rather, let our resolve be, if we are to perish, it shall be at our post of duty.

We will be found in the circle of our sacred services, in prayer and praise, in fasting and almsdoing . At length our deliverance will come, when we expect it not; whereas we shall lose our own hope and disorder the Church greatly if we presume to form plans of our own by way of protecting it.” (Parochial and Plain Sermons. 111.26-28)

Someone might point that fifteen years after he preached that sermon Newman left the Church of England for the Church of Rome and may wonder if there is arcane significance in my quoting Newman.

Believe me, No. I quote Newman because his words express my thinking, and because they serve to point out that the Church has gone thru times of troubles before. Unlike Newman, most of the leaders of the Oxford Movement continued in the Church of England and as they lived out the words of Newman helped their Church out of its confused and lethargic state – I think specially of John Roble and Edward Pusey.

So I end on a positive note. I believe that it is possible for our Church to correct its errors, while holding on to authentic gains and insights which have come to us in this time of change. Jesus Christ said that the very gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church, and we can trust His word; we must be sure that it is indeed the Church He founded, and not one of our devising. Our part is loyalty to Him as He revealed Himself, and as His Church has preserved that revelation for nearly two thousand years.

May God guide and strengthen us in the doing of His Will. His.