Bishop’s Address of 1977

The Rt. Rev. G. Paul Reeves
7th Bishop of Georgia

By Canon and by custom, the Bishop reports annually to Convention on the diocese as he perceives it. Statistics appear elsewhere, the Bishop’s interpretation of them, here.

Paul ReevesA diocese is a complete unit of the Christian Church, but needs to be seen in a larger setting. My comments on the larger Church will be brief, and I prefix to them this note: There is a peculiar notion prevalent these days that the clergy must be cheerful and postive about whatever may be happening in the Church, and that any criticism of what is happening is positively unchristian, particularly if it comes from a traditionalist or conservative point of view (criticism from the liberal or radical point of view seems to be all right !) I call this a peculiar notion because our forerunners, the Prophets of Israel, John The Baptist, The Apostle Paul, and our Lord Himself, frequently were neither cheerful nor positive. Often they were scathing in their denunciation of what was going on in the Church of their times, and pessimistic about the future, unless people repented and changed.

So I do not apologize for saying that there is a great deal badly wrong in our Church today. I may surprise – even disappoint – some of you by confining my remarks about the ordination of women to one sentence. In my opinion, the provision for ‘ordination’ of women to the priesthood probably was the most serious single mistake the Episcopal Church has made in the nearly 200 years of its history.

But this action needs to be seen as but one manifestation of what appears to be a widespread breakdown of sound doctrine and discipline in the Church. Last month a bishop ‘ordained’ a confessed practicing lesbian. A priest has assisted at the ‘marriage’ of a man to another man. Another bishop has declined to confirm anyone on the grounds that baptism is sufficient. Yet another bishop insists on ‘re-confirming’ Roman Catholics in order not to offend Protestants who are coming into the Episcopal Church. A Shinto altar or shrine has been set up in one. of the great cathedrals of our Church. Marriage discipline in the Church has been legislated into virtual extinction. Legalized abortion has been approved, albeit with a few mild cautions.

I recall the words of John Henry Cardinal Newman: “Christianity, as a moral system, is made up of two elements, beauty and severity; whenever either is indulged to the loss or disparagement of the other, evil ensues”. We have indulged what we thought was beauty, and little wonder we have lost a half million people in the past five years !  A dismal picture, yet we still are called to go on being The Body of Christ – a wounded Body That now bears fresh wounds, yet a Body That is eternally alive, and That carries the only hope of our salvation, and the best hope for all mankind.

However, I can be very cheerful and positive about our diocese. I divide the balance of this address into two parts, first a look at the present, then a look into the future.

One of the brightest pictures is our Conference Center. Bishop Stuart’s vision, and the generosity of our people, have brought into being one of the outstanding Church Conference Centers in the country. The tireless and skillful work of Grover Wood as Manager of The Conference Center for the past twn years achieved a high degree of operation and maintenance. The outstanding work of our Conference Center Commission, under the realistic, vigorous, and imaginative leadership of the Rev. Arthur Cody, increasingly provides a sound policy for the operation of the one and only diocesan institution we have. In November, the Rev. Charles Davis succeeded as Warden of The Conference Center and we entered a new phase. Fr. Davis has a vision of a center of genuine diocesan life and spirituality that seems likely to bring new spirit and new importance to an already outstanding activity.

Two bright new spots shine in the mission field, and another is appearing. At our Convention last year, we recognized the Church of St. Francis of the Islands, Savannah. This young congregation continues to flourish, and is ready to begin an ambitious building program – a classic case of the right priest with the right people at the right place in the right time. In Louisville, we have the even younger congregation of St. Mary Magdalene. The pastoral zeal of the Rev. Judson Mayfield, and his techniques – which are so biblical as to seem revolutionary – are leading an enthusiastic congregation in sturdy growth.

We note also the beginning of a new work in Adel under the leadership of the Rev. Powell Gahagan, a work too new and too small to assess, but a cause for gratitude and hope.

I am cheerful and positive too when I consider the growth of good stewardship since we began an organized program in 1970. The effects of the theology and philosophy as well as the techniques of William Whipple are still very much with us. Now we enter a new phase, following a program developed by The Diocese of Alabama in building on our past progress. We are training a group of laymen and clergy who can give expert and objective help to local congregations in their stewardship programs.

We have come a long way, but an honest look at our stewardship indicates that we have a longer way yet to go. If only we would take the simple, biblical approach of accepting the Tithe as our standard (standard, not regulation) our financial problems would be on the way to being solved.

Further, I am optimistic about and grateful for the work of our Committee on Renewal and Accountability. They have made Bishop and Council aware of our failure to do much long-range planning, and are working to provide us with realistic methods of doing this, both at diocesan level and in local congregations.

And once again I commend to you the Cursillo movement. Our first two Cursillos were tremendously successful, even beyond our expection. We plan No. 3 for next month. Ask any of our Cursillistas why they are so enthusiastic – and then go and be thou likewise!

Now, to the future.

Most of you are seeing tonight for the first time the Proposed Book of Common Prayer, the end product of years of liturgical experimentation and study. Most of our congregations have ordered the new Book and will be using it. Let me make it clear that I support and encourage this fully; let me make it equally clear that I have not ordered it. The 1928 Book is still the official Prayer Book and can be used until the General Convention of 1979. What that Convention will decide about either Book we can only guess and wait for.

The Book in your pew this evening provides great flexibility in worship. It contains forms that many of us previously had to borrow from unauthorized sources. Most of it will be quite familiar to you. ‘There are, to be sure, changes and omissions that some may not like.

I believe we need to study worhip more. When we really understand the principles we can appreciate and enter into more than one Way of worshipping. This is not to say that all ways of worship are equally good – far from it. Too much contemporary worship cheapens God in its effort to bring Him down to our level. He cam down in the Incarnation, but that was His initiative and His act. In worship we seek to be raised up to the level where we can worship with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven; and only the best we can offer can achieve this.

The theologian John Macquarrie points out that “the Church has always a two-fold character – its servant character as it ministers to the needs of men, and its hidden glory as it anticipates here and now the new creation in which humanity is perfectly at one with God. This latter character is expressed in worship if it be true worship.

Here lies perhaps the greatest responsibility and the highest privilege of the clergy. Here lies also one of the most essential duties and opportunities of the laymen. I could hope no better thing for this diocese in the coming year than that each of us, bishop, priest, deacon, layman, would grow in the intensity and the depth of his worship. Two words suffice to point the way to growth; Understanding and participation.

The brilliant young Bishop of Woolwich, Michael Marshall, has said that he would like to see carved over the doors of every Church the words, “No passenger : crew only.” The crew of a ship is trained, and it works, and it works together. When you were baptised, most of you were signed with the sign of the cross and charged with being Christ’s faithful soldier and servant until your life’s end. Soldier and Servant ! Soldier and servant both need thorough training, and constant practice, and both need to keep up to date with real improvements, while eschewing fads.

So I have another large hope for our diocese, and that is for a growing committment to study. Too many people feel that Confirmation is a sort of graduation exercise. Every Christian who would be, to use the unusual word of Martin Thornton, ‘proficient’ ought to be enlarging his understanding of the Bible, of Christian theology, of the History of the Church, and. as I have said, of the principles of worship.

Much of this will have to depend on the leadership of the parish priest, but he needs the support and interest of his people in developing an ongoing program of Christian education. In many situations priorities need to be re-ordered so that priest and people have time to give to this essential. I have not said, nor do I believe, that study and the intellectual approach alone will save us. It will not, no more than the sociological approach to ‘doing good’ can. We cannot be reminded too frequently that Christianity essentially is a relation between persons – vertically between the Christian and God, and horizontally among people. And in that order. The Second Vatican Council said that “The Glory of God the Father in Christ is this, that the work of God accomplished in Christ should be received by men consciously, freely, and gratefully, and shown forth in their whole lives.”

That strange, simple, profound 17th century Carmelite, Brother Lawrence, wrote, “I cannot imagine how religious persons can live satisfied without the practice of the presence of God.” Yet too many of us take refuge in the idea that genuine religious experience is for the privileged few.

Thus my third great hope for our diocese is for growth in prayer. Saying this so easily can become a trite piosity, whereas it should be the foremost reality in our lives. I thank God for the several movements of renewal that are leading many of our people in this God-ward direction. These movements are not all of equal depth nor equal worth, and all of them need to be judged in the light of past Christian experience; but it is foolish to reject them because they are unfamiliar to some of us.

Let me conclude with quick references to three concrete areas into which I hope we can look. The exceptional Winter we are experiencing, along with the very real energy crisis, taken together with all sorts of world-wide changes, make me feel that the Christian virtue of Prudence ‘needs to be consulted. Many of our buildings – churches, parish houses, residences – should be studied with an eye to better insulation and more efficient heating, cooling, and ventilation. Mounting fuel costs may suggest changes to diocesan organization and structure that would demand fewer meetings and less travel. Surely we have the brains in the diocese who could form a sort of ‘Futures Council’ to help us try to anticipate and get ready for the future.

Second, we need badly to encourage capital gifts and bequests to the Diocese as well as to local congregations. The Board of Officers of the Corporation of the Diocese has done an outstanding work in managing our pathetically small trust and endowment funds, but they need more to work with and we need more of the fruits of this sort of backing.

Finally, I wish we could develop a retirement home. We know what inflation is doing to the fixed incomes on which most people retire. It would be a great Christian work if we could provide outstanding care and Christian environment for even a few people who need it and probably will need it increasingly. I hope we can at least consider and study this.

In view of the profound changes we are experiencing, changes so radical and swift as to be, sometimes bewildering, sometimes frightening, it is easy to be discouraged. How necessary it is, and how heartening, to remember who we are – children of God, heirs of Christ, inheritors of the Kingdome of Heaven. Our ultimate home is not here. Our values and standards are not those of Madison Avenue or Wall Street or Hollywood.

Hear the words of our Lord and Saviour: “These things have I spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world”. (John 16:33)