Bishop’s Address of 1973

The Rt. Rev. G. Paul Reeves
Christ Church, Savannah
February 1, 1973

This conclusion of our Sesquicentennial Year must make us think of the past and the present, and invite us to look to the future. In his Convention sermon last year, Bishop Stuart gave us a remarkable history of our Diocese – remarkable in that it said so much in so few words, and interpreted our history so well. Thus, thanks to my predecessor, I need say little about our past. I do acknowledge with gratitude and with expectation the presence of our brother, the Bishop of London. We invited him because he is one of the great Bishops of our Mother Church of England, but at this time also because it was under the guidance of a former Bishop of London that missionary work was begun in this Colony of Georgia. We look forward to hearing Bishop Stopford, and we welcome him warmly.

Paul ReevesThe annual address of the Bishop traditionally contains a report on the Condition of the Diocese. For the present, we are encouraged. Again we end a year with a small financial surplus. We are almost completely staffed with clergy. We have nine men in seminaries. Activities seem healthy, diversified, and realistic. We sense a spirit of cooperation and optimism which I cannot put down to my wishful thinking alone, Geography excepted, we are a small diocese, but we are healthy, and for this we thank God.

During the past year, the area that probably has vexed us most is Trial Use. We have had splendid cooperation from our clergy and lay people.

Frankly, I wish I could announce tonight that the period of Trial Use is ended. What I must tell you is that depending on what General Convention does this Fall, we will be involved in the process for at least three years more, probably longer. As we decide from time to time how best to use these years I ask for the cooperation, the understanding, the loyalty – and the prevailing good humor – you have demonstrated in the past.

I am thinking now of two quite real parishes. One most of the time uses the 1928 Prayer Book, with exceptional fidelity to rubric, yet with creative imagination alongside an appreciation of tradition, with attention to the details of music, ceremonial and the ornamentation of the building; the congregation has been taught carefully what the principles of worship are.

The other parish I have in mind prefers Trial Rite II. It uses this rite with creative imagination alongside an appreciation of tradition. There is careful attention to the details of music, ceremonial, and the decoration of the building; and the congregation has been taught what the principles of worship are.

Both congregations are flourishing, happy, Christian communities. The conclusion I draw is that earlier rite, done with reverence, with openness, with imagination, with study, with attention to detail, with love, and above all else, with God in mind, either can be satisfactory. Badly done, either can be dull and trivial -and I know. Well done, either will attract people; badly done, either will repel and discourage. If we, priests and people, aim first at worshipping God in spirit and in truth, our worship will please Him and will be a joyful experience for us.

We seem to be at a point of having stabilized and consolidated the gains of past years. It would be ungrateful and unrealistic not to mention the fruits of our two-year program of stewardship education. This has meant much more than larger incomes, however much we rejoice in these significant increases; it means also that many of our people have faced up — some for the first time — in a new way to the meaning of Stewardship; many have accepted the principle and the practice of the Biblical tithe. Many have come to believe deeply that all they have is of God’s bounty.

Last year’s Convention advances us into a venture of increasing the capital funds of the Diocese, an advance needed badly. This spring, each of our people will be called on to participate in a specific plan to strengthen the financial base of the Diocese in a way that will help us do Christ’s work with new effectiveness. If you will pray for this venture, and if you will see what we intend to do with it, we surely will succeed. Let us go forward in faith and in fellowship.

Tonight, we must remember the official end to the war in Viet Nam. As Christians – and as humans – we give thanks to Almighty God for this, as for every step towards peace. We may note an absence of the exuberance which (I am told) greeted Armistice Day in 1918, and which most of us remember at VE and VJ days in 1945; why this is so is hard to know. Perhaps it is because this war has been so long, and its aims so vague to many of us; perhaps it is part of the skepticism of our time which doubts how lasting any peace will be.

Many of us seem to feel a sort of fatigue. The rage and the frustration within minority groups which has expressed itself in protests of all sorts seem to have spread now to the majority, a common factor in this frustration is a sense of futility, futility in attempting even to understand, much less to change, the overwhelming forces that surround and beat on us.

Even within the Church there seems to be no respite. As we became adjusted to GCSP and generally to approve its aims, and as the distrubing prospect of the pan-protestant move called COCU seemed to fade, the upset of  Prayer Book revision beset us. Still upset by that we face the prospect of an explosive proposal to ordain women to the priesthood – an action which many feel would bring literal schism to our Chruch, and which at the least would bring bitterness and division. Against this background, my theme tonight is this: Ours is a time of change, revolutionary in character and in scope. In this situation, what is the mission and the function of the Church?

From an unlikely source I can typify the sweep of the change and the predicted change. The source is a book catalogue; and from it I read the advertisements of two books. The first is Warhofsky’s THE CONTROL OF LIFE, and this the the blurb: “Impressive forecast of a new era in which man may possess the staggering power of directing his own evolution thru advances in genetics, birth control, research in personality control, the ‘memory Pill’.” The other book is by Vine Deloria and is called WE TALK, YOU LISTEN (subtitled NEW TRIBES, NEW TURF); here is its advertisement: “Penetrating vision of the disintegrating core of U.S. society, and of an emerging neo-tribalism, made up of Indians, Chicanos, Blacks, Hippies, others, that may bring about a social renaissance.”

Such is the climate, bewildering if not frightening. To it there seem to be three possible reactions – no, four, for it seems possible for some people to disbelieve in the reality of a revolution that surrounds them. The second reaction is defiance, characterized by the catch, “Come weal, come woe, My status is quo.” But life means change, and to refuse to change is to suicide; History records many such deaths. Neither in our liturgy nor in our social reforms can we – or dare we – avoid change – nor within our personal lives.

A third, equally self-defeating attitude is the indiscriminate welcome of all change. The Rev. Robert Terwilliger, surely one of the inspired prophets of our Chruch today, considering the best selling book, FUTURE SHOCK, speaks of”. . the incredible kind of life that we are suffering at this time from change. We are told … that we must conform to a changing world … ‘ Blessed be change.’ It is a facinating doctrine, and a comforting one if there is something you wish to get rid of. But it is also perhaps a cause of sickness – sickness of the mind …” Certainly it is a sickness when the lust for change is accompanied by uncritical disparagement and belittling of anything and everything out of the past.

There is an attitude towards change which is expressive of the Church’s mission and function. It is not a way of compromise, not yet of accepting the inevitable. It involves a resolute grip on what is good in the past; at the same time it accepts correction where correction is needed; it is willing to admit where it has been mistaken, or when a better way has appeared. It is the way of humility, and it is a hard way indeed for most of us.

A popular word in Christian circles today is the word ‘Renewal’; it is a key word to an important concept, but too often renewal is misunderstood. Renewal is not the sort of thing we sometimes feel, and somethimes try to act on, expressed so by Omar Khayyam —

Ah, Love! could thou and I
with Fate conspire
To Grasp this sorry Scheme
of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to
hits – and then 
Remould it nearer to the Heart’s desire!

Now sometimes we do shatter it to bits, and sometimes we do remould it nearer to our heart’s desire – and then we have one more sorry scheme of things. This is not renewal; we are Christians, and we follow the Christ Who said: “Behold: I make all things new.” Christian renewal comes from God, and if it truly is a God, we need not fear. I have waited until now to give you a text. In his letter to the Church at Rome (12:2) St. Paul speaks of Renewal this way: “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

The mission and the function of the Church that truly is Apostolic is to bear witness, not to be successful as this world defines success, still less to comfort and soothe its members. And while the Apostolic Church helps with the individual search for salvation, at the same time it yearns for and works for the salvation of all.

Frankly, I have come to distrust most of the resolutions Church conventions pass on political, social, and economic questions. Few of our conventions are competent to engineer solutions to these problems. We are — or should be -supremely competent to do other things. We should be competent to recognize sin, however respectable and conventional its appearance, however pleasurable or profitable it may be for us. And we should be competent to denounce sin when we see it. The function and mission of the Apostolic Chruch is to bear witness.

Christ Himself faced the same temptations His Church faces today. He was tempted to give His ultimate concern to economic justice, to turn stones into bread and feed the poor. He rejected that way, saying that man cannot really live by bread alone. And He was tempted to develop political power – indeed, all the kingdoms of the world were offered Him; He rejected that way, too; and He confirmed the rejection years later before Pilate when He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

His Church has not always resisted these temptations. In its workings, even in its goals, too often it has been conformed to this world. But then should the Church – as sometimes angrily it is told to do – should the Church stay out of politics and economics and social concerns? Clearly, definitely, No! As its Master did, the Church must care and care deeply for the poor, the disadvantaged, the oppressed. Its Master cared. What He rejected and what His Church must reject was the temptation to give ultimate concern to economic justice or political maneuvering.

He said, Seek first the Kingdom of God – make it your ultimate concern that God really rules your life and the life of your community. So the function of the Church is God-given and does not change to suit changing conditions. Its function is to witness, to preach, to teach, to baptise – by every means, and with the most modern and efficient techniques, to present the whole Gospel to all men in every place. The way it does these things may change, must change; but the order of the two Great Commandments must be kept right. How then might Renewal come? If it is of God, it will be the work of the Spirit, and the Spirit of God can no more be pressured than it can be tricked; nor can it be programmed precisely. But there are things we can do and must do. They are so old, so familiar, that you may be surprised I even mention them. Too often they are things we talk about and agree with and take for granted, but never get around to doing. Each of our congregations differs somewhat, but in each congregation in this Diocese, these things can be done, and if we are to have Renewal, must be done.

First, I call you to daily Bible reading. St. Jerome said, ‘To be ignorant of the Scriptures is to be ignorant of Christ.’ I cannot improve on or add to that. Our Bible reading needs to be of two sorts, devotional and serious study. Its dignity and its importance demand time and effort.

Second, I call you to prayer. In our very proper concern for public worship we sometimes lose sight of the absolute necessity for private prayer. When the diciples complained of their failure to heal the sick, Jesus told them why they failed. He said: “This sort of thing comes from fasting and prayer”.

Today the damnable heresy is abroad – and it is damnable and damning – that modem man has no need to fast (except to make his figure more attractive), and that the best prayer is activism. Do not believe it. Prayer is the breath of the soul, and without regular, disciplined, intelligent, costly prayer, the soul will shrink and wither. Third: I call you to a truer Christian fellowship. The casual good-will of the coffee-hour, important as this can be, is not enough. But in small groups Christians increasingly are opening themselves one to another and to God, and finding loneliness fading, purpose strengthened. We need to be able to talk about the deep things of life, about our failures and our fears, about God. Finally I call our people and our congregations to serve. Archbishop William Temple said that the Christian Church is the one institution that exists mainly to serve other people; too often we have made it a self-serving, a mutually comforting club. I have come to see that the most effective ways of serving are local and small-scale; localized, service becomes more real than any national or even diocesan program can be. I cite two examples – and there are others – in our own Diocese. Look at St. Matthew’s Church here in Savannah, and its “Project Outreach”, one congregation’s vision that has become a reality. Or look at Thomasville and see the laymen of St. Thomas’ Church following literally Christ’s command to go into jails to minister. Every community in the Diocese offers such opportunities if we will but ask God to show them to us. We can do these things if we will. It usually begins with a few, not a sanctimonious clique, but a handfull of those who have been touched by the Spirit.

Our Lord told His followers that they were leaven, the bit of yeast in society that can change soggy dough into something wonderfully nourishing. Roger Schultz, the Prior of the astounding Taize Community said: “The leaven is so like the dough in appearance that there is little visible difference between them. Nevertheless, invisibly it is completely efficacious. In it all is already contained. By it infinite possibilities become realities”.

In Baptism and Confirmation and in all the actions of God’s Grace, we have been given these infinite possibilities. We have been given all we need. He Who makes all things new can make these possibilities into realities. It is for this that we pray.