Bishop’s Address of 1976

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

My Christian Brothers and Sisters of the Diocese of Georgia:

We begin this 154th Convention of the Diocese of Georgia as our nation celebrates the 200th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. Such an occasion calls for profundity of thought and sublimity of expression both beyond your Bishop’s capability.

I will try to speak to you in gratitude, in humility, in candor, and in what I hope are expressions of the great virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love.

Paul ReevesIt may be worth remark that as we commemorate the first American Revolution, we do so from within a period of revolution that is worldwide as well as national. Because this has come on us relatively gradually, we tend to ignore its extent; indeed, only history can judge its effects, but they will be profound.

Canons and custom call for the Bishop to speak on this occasion on the State of the Church, particularly within the Diocese. Now, the Church is, from one view, an organization, an institution, a society, with many of the attributes of other institutions. At the same time, the Church is an absolutely unique organism, indwelt by Divine Life. Understanding the Church is complicated by the fact that two quite different categories of factors act upon and within it. There are what seem to be the big things – the political and economic and sociological conditions in the world, in the nation, even in our region. Then, there are what seem to be little things – the life of one Christian, a new family moving into a mission congregation, the vision and courage of one priest. In the words of T.S. Eliot:

I know that history at all times draws
The strangest consequence from remotest cause.

On the one hand, the Church cannot avoid being influenced by inflation, by crime in our streets, by unemployment, by any and all of the vast currents that are sweeping the world. Nor, on the other hand, can any of us know for sure the ultimate results of one prayer, of a particular vestry meeting, of the quiet decision of one unsung Christian hero.

Hence, we need be humble in our analyses and in our predictions. Our Church has not always been thus humble – look back only to the past decade ! I am reminded of a passage in Guiseppe de Lampedusa’s novel ‘The Leopard’, in which the King of Naples is described sitting at his desk, which, the author says, “is covered with papers needing decisions, by which the King illuded himself to be influencing the course of fate, actually flowing on its own in another valley.” That describes some General Conventions I have known and some official pronouncements.

We approach yet another General Convention which probably will be of exceptional significance to the future of the Church. Two of the main issues will be the ordination of women to the priesthood, and the revision of the Prayer Book. I have spoken to you before of these matters, and in the normal course of events may expect to speak of them at at least one more Diocesan Convention.

Opinions regarding Prayer Book revision vary widely. Tastes vary; the fruits of the Liturgical Movement seem sweet and nourishing to many, but to some, sour and repugnant. The Proposed Book which will be presented to General Convention will be imperfect, just as the 1928 Book is imperfect. Whether the 1928 Book will continue as an authorized rite, I do not know; nor do I know for sure if General Convention will approve the Proposed Book.

I do know this: Over the centuries, the words of our worship have changed, and will change again, and should change, as need is. What is crucial is that we never permit our preference for one set of words torupture the unity of the worshipping community. Our diocesan policy and program respecting Trial Use have been exceptionally fair and helpful. I do not understand and cannot condone those relatively few instances I know of where extreme antipathy to, or enthusiasm for, Trial Use have led people to expressions and acts devoid of charity.

No doubt the proponents of Revision led us to expect too much. I see no evidence that Rite II has swollen the number of youthful worshippers. In some places I do see new and enthusiastic appreciation of what worship really is, but in other places I see confnsion and antagonism. The heart of the matter was expressed rota telling comment by Dr. Massey Shepherd on Geddes MacGregor’s book, ‘The Coming Reformation’ …he reminds us that Without comparable efforts to deepen personal spirituality and to reform church discipline, ‘all attempts at liturgical revival generally do little more than turn a spotlight on the interior emptiness of the worshippers.'” There you have it.

Next, let me try to tell you why I an unalterably opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood. The disruptive, lawless, scandalous behavior of those who already have participated in attempted ordinations really is beside the point. That this anarchy hardly can be seen as other than an ecclesiastical manifestation of what is called ‘Women’s Liberation’ also is beside the point.

The real point was made, perhaps unintentionally, in a recent (27 April 1975) issue of a magazine called THE WITNESS: here the editor, the Rt. Rev. Robert deWitt, wrote: “…Minneapolis is not the place, nor the time, for the settling of the issue of the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church… (T)he place for the resolution of that issue is wherever a congregation, or any comparable company of the faithful, desires the temporary or ongoing sacramental ministrations of a nun priest … And the time…is now.” This statement is what I would call congregational sectarianism gone wild.

And here the lines are drawn clearly. The issue is our doctrine of the Church. We profess to believe One. Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I do not see how we can have it both ways. Either we are a part – a very small part, be it noted – of the Church Catholic, or we are just one more denomination. Representatives of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches in America have indicated that departure in this matter from the unexcepted practice of the Church would introduce a serious, if not finally disruptive, element into the tremendous progress which has been made in our relations with these Communions. I would be naive if I did not recognize the fact that there are individuals and organizations within our Church who welcome virtually any coalition of us with protestant denominations, but fear and oppose intercormunion, much less reunion, amongst Catholic Christians. But for myself, I see no other way towards achieving the Oneness of the Church for which our Lord Christ prayed than to work first for the reunion of Catholic Christendom.

So you will understand, perhaps, why many of us face General Convention with a sense of foreboding. Our Lord promised – add I believe – that even the gates of. Hell could not prevail against His Church, and this I believe. What Minneapolis may do to our part of the Church remains to be seen. Already, some people, lay and clergy, have said that they will leave the Church or resign their positions in it if ordination of priestesses is allowed; others have said they will leave or resign if it is not allowed. I believe we all should remain open until the decision is made. Then, as always, the guiding of the Holy Spirit will lead each of us to his right course. In the meanwhile, your Bishop and Deputies to Convention have the responsibility of deciding which way represents the Mind of Christ. Most seriously do I ask that you pray for us.

Turning to the Church in the Diocese, neither time no memory permit me to thank by name the thousands, literally, who support us in so many ways. Geographically we are scattered, and most of our congregations are small; but I hope I am correct in assaying the spirit of the Diocese to be very good indeed. Most of you realize that much of the work of the Diocese is done by people who, like you, give their time and energy to volunteer work. On behalf of us all, I thank all of you who do this. Your loyalty is its own reward, I know, but from time to time we all need to remember the corporate and unselfish nature of our work for God.

This year we completed Bishop Albert Stuart Hall, at the Conference Center. Those of you who have seen it will agree that it is a badly-needed addition, beautifully conceived and splendidly built. To pay for it, we have used all of the payments made thus far to the Development Fund, excepting those which were designated for other purposes. The generosity of the firm of Blake Ellis (of Christ Church, Valdosta) in planning the building, of Thomas Driggers (of St. Patrick’s, Albany) in the engineering, of Leroy Watson (of St. Paul’s, Jesup) in building it, all gave us much more building than we paid for. We rejoice in this new tool for our work.

From time to time when I am asked what we plan for the Diocese I an tempted to quote the proverb which says that it sometimes is difficult to remember that you were sent in to drain the swamp when you are waist-deep in alligators. Alligators there are, but we do plan some swamp-draining and some bridge-building. We hear a good deal these days about ‘evaluation and the necessity of it. Your Bishop and Council have wrestled with the problems and the implications of evaluating the work of particular clergy, the effectiveness of particular ministries and cocmmi.ttees, the vitality of particular missions and parishes, and have agreed to submit to evaluation these areas, as well as Diocesan Council and the Bishop himself. Acknowledging the problems incident to evaluation, the dangers, even, we have begun programs and processes which we hope will be effective and helpful. We will try to keep in mind that our evaluations always are subject to God’s amending.

We intend to present to the next Diocesan Convention a carefully-worked-out program of selective increases in mission clergy stipends. For the past several years we have been able to give what have amounted to ‘cost-of-living’ increases to all mission clergy, but we believe the time has come to take into consideration other factors.

In his address to the 149th Convention, Bishop Stuart said: “One of the gravest concerns I have is the gradually diminishing percentage of our giving ….to the world-wide mission of the Church… Once we reached 30%, hoping to go on to 50% of our pledged giving, but we have reversed the process so that we are now designating scarcely 20%.” Diocesan Council has prepared a budget to propose to this Convention. This budget raises our pledge to the national Church to the level of 25%. Since the day Council prepared the budget, we have received additional pledges from congregations that lead me to ask this Convention to increase the pledge further to the full amount of the national Church’s asking – which incidentally would raise the level only to 27% of our pledged income from congregations. As I noted in connection with the ordination of women, we are not simply a local group, but part of a world-wide communion which we must support tangibly and adequately.

We have been conducting a fairly successful, safe, and comfortable holding operation. It is time to advance again. I think of advance in terms of both quality and quantity. People say, “But we shouldn’t be interested in numbers.” I say that we should, when each of those numbers represents an immortal soul won or lost for Christ.

With a few local exceptions, we have done an inadequate job letting people know that we are in their community and that we care about them. Advertising and evangelism can be done in poor taste, but they need not be. I recall with some chagrin my first year in the diocese when in three towns the local police did not know where the Episcopal Church was. In one of them, I finally got the information from a funeral home – the import of which I never have been able to evaluate 1. Within the geographical bounds of the Diocese there are too many unchurched people, in towns where we have congregations and in those where we have none. The field indeed is white to the harvest.

Regarding qualitative advance, any of our nominal members -perhaps all of us – need to look at the depth of our commitment and understanding, remembering always what is so difficult to remember, namely, that our commitment is to Jesus Christ – a Person – through the Church. One of the significant facts of religious life today is the growth in numbers and influence of the movements of renewal, with their emphases on personal religion and evangelism. No doubt some of the individuals involved, and some of the groups, are extreme, some strange to our Anglican ethos, some actually dangerous. But their success tells us that they are meeting needs we have failed to meet. With all my heart I believe that our ancient Church, in the fullness of her Faith and Practice, offers everything – the intellectual challenge and stimulation of the most rationalistic sect, depths of mysticism unsurpassed by any eastern religion or philosophy, the exuberance of pentecostalism, the warmth of the revival, the fellowship of the house-church — in short, the full faith and practice of our Church can meet every human need. But the Faith and the Practice must be full, and must be that of the Church. So I say that every encouragement must be given to all of our people – and I include yOu and myself – to draw closer to God.

In this connection, one more thing: We need to broaden the base of ministry. I use the word ‘ministry’ to include ministries of lay people as well as those of the clergy. We get so used to the truism that a few people do all the work that we get to thinking that’s the way it always will be. I cite one area – and you can give me a dozen more. Our Sumner Church camps offer unbelievably rich possibilities. We estimate that the children who attend them may receive more hours of instruction than they do in a year in Sunday School. Yet camp directors often have great difficulty in getting mature, qualified people to help. A few willing workers have been overworked, too many staff members have had to be recruited from the too-young, and what could be a glorious experience sometimes suffers.

Finally, particularly in this year 1976, we think of our Church and our Nation. In recent years we have been shaken and battered by assassinations, by the disclosures of Watergate, by the perplexities of Vietnam. Sometimes it seems that we are divided into two camps, one refuses to admit that our country can do anything really wrong, and an another which seems to believe that we are incapable of doing right.

To those who feel it chic or enlightened to tear down these United States, I recommend a brief essay by C.S. Lewis, titled “The Dangers of National Repentance’ – written, by the way, during World War II in England: breast-beating is nothing new. Lewis notes: The first and fatal charm of national repentance is … the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing – but, first, of denouncing – the conduct of others.’

As the Church faces the World, She needs recall, first of all, that the Kingdom of God cannot be identified with any form of government nor with any economic system. It is easy to Confuse religion and patriotism, a trap into which many good people fall. Our Lord indeed did enjoin us to render to Caesar his due, but that was only half the injunction. I do not profess to be a student of Marxism or of communism, but it beats inc when I hear Christians expressing the belief that Christianity and Marxism are compatible. Marx wrote: “The idea of God is the keystone of a perverted civilization. It must be destroyed.”

However, the conflict in our time is not simply between Communism and Christianity; rather it is a conflict between Christianity and Materialism. The materialist may be a citizen of any country, including our own, a member of any party. He believes in man-made solutions to man’s problems. He is doomed to fail; the tragedy is that in his failure, he drags down with him both those who agree with him and those who oppose him. Communism is a form of materialism that is particularly easy to define and isolate; when the materialism that is particularly easy to define and isolate; when the materialist is your next-door neighbor, and a very nice person, too, we are slower to tag him as an enemy to Christ. After all it might be a good discipline for each of us to pledge himself, each day in this Bicentennial Year, to pray – not simply to read – the Prayer for Our Country, on page 36 of the Book of Common Prayer, 1928. From time to time it might be well to make a meditation on one of the clauses. I would begin by asking, in the words of this prayer, if we are honestly mindful of God’s favor, and glad to do His will; are we ? – as a nation ? as a diocese ? as individuals ?

It is easy these days to turn from the newspaper to the Book of Revelation and wonder if the end of all things may not be at hand. Our Lord cautioned us against this. It is easy, too, to be discouraged by the magnitude of the problems we face as Christians and as human beings. Beginning in the Nineteenth Century, Western man fell prey to the doctrine of inevitable progress, and there still are those who believe that things will go on getting better and better. In part this is the working out of a materialistic point of view which sees as the important thing the remarkable progress of science and technology. In part, it is a misunderstanding of the doctrine of biological evolution applied to other spheres. Nothing in Scripture or in Christian Theology leads us to think that the world goes on improving. But if one heresy is belief in the inevitability of progress, at the other end of the scale is despair, which our faith calls a sin, and a terrible sin at that, the abandoning of the great virtue of Hope.

Our faith is above all realistic. It sees the world as it is, with its profusion of God-given beauty, and man-made ugliness and horror. As Christians, we pray that God’s kingdom may come on this earth, His will be done here. In one area each of us can help that prayer be answered, and that is our own lives. From there, the circle will widen. To be converted, to be truly Christ’s, is the greatest thing I can do for my country and my world. The future is in the hand of God. He has not called us to be successful, but simply to be faithful.