Sermon for the Sesquicentennial

FEBRUARY 3, 1972

It is appropriate that the opening service of the celebration by a Diocese of 150 years of faith and work should be a thanksgiving to God for the gift to his Church of the Episcopate, the ministry of bishops.

The Anglican definition of the Church in Article XIX of the Articles of Religion is as follows: “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men in which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.” “Faithfulmen” is a technical term for the baptized. The Office of Instruction in the Prayer Book says: “The Church is the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head and all baptized people are the members.”

The Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops says “We believe it is God’s purpose to manifest this fellowship, so far as the world is concerned, in an outward, visible, and united society holding one faith, having its ocsm recognized officers, using God-given means of Grace and inspiring all its members to the world-wide service of the Kingdom of God.” The Anglican Communion believes in a visible Church which is described in the Creed as One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. This visible Church we become a part of when we are baptized. This visible Church must have a ministry which is universally recognized. The only ministry which has always been universally recognized in Christendom is the ministry of bishops and the priests and deacons ordained by them. From the second century when we first have detailed evidence of the organization of the Church we find every where this form of ministry. St. Ignatius writing before the year 117 A.D. knows of no other ministry.

The bishops are the successors of the apostles. The apostles had two main functions—to witness to the Resurrection and to govern or shepherd the Church. The first function could not be fulfilled by their successors—the second had to be continued all through history. St. Clement of Rome writing before the end of the first century tells us that the Apostles appointed others to succeed them and so they have done down through the centuries. Tomorrow we participate in this succession in this Diocese.

The episcopate is the bond of union which links the Church together in time and in space. In time it is the visible sign of continuity. Every part of the Church today is governed by a bishop whose descent is from the Apostles. In space the episcopate is the visible sign of fellowship–every member of the Church is linked with every other member by means of their bishops all of whom stand in the succession of the Apostles.

This institution is amazingly flexible and has adapted itself to every condition of life. Bishops have been kings and they have been slaves. They have been feudal barons and they have been wandering nomads. They have been statesmen and philosophers, preachers and missionaries, prelates and pastors, saints and martyrs. The ministry of a bishop is to be Chief Pastor, to administer the Sacraments especially, to celebrate the Eucharist and to confer Holy Orders. He is a preacher and teacher. The bishop alone can ordain a priest or deacon and participate in the consecration of another bishop. Besides this function which only he can perform there are many administration responsiblities which can be delegated to others. He is the representative of the universal church to his diocese—the link between his own flock and the rest of the Church in the world. This is one reason the rest of the Church is involved in his consecration. He is also the representative of his diocese to the Province, the National Church, and in world-wide councils of the Church. He is there nationally and internationally to bear witness to the faith of his diocese. This is one reason he is elected by the clergy and lay representatives of the diocese. It is for this ministry, as it has been exercised in Georgia for 150 years, that we are giving thanks today. To glimpse the variety and richness of the grace of God manifested through the ministry of the Bishops of this diocese let us take a quick glance at those who have gone before us.

Stephen Elliott, a young South Carolinian, was consecrated the first bishop of the Diocese in Christ Church, Savannah and really formed the scattered churches into a diocesan family and increased the number in an impressive manner. His great distinction, however, lay in his interest in education. He founded a girls school at Montpelier Springs and poured his own resources of, time and money into the school. He joined enthusiastically with Bishop Polk of Lousiana in founding an Episcopal College for young men at Sewanee, Tennessee—the University of the South. He was the Presiding Bishop of the Church in the Confederacy and presided at the only General Convention of the Church in the Confederacy in St. Paul’s, Augusta in 1862. The trying days of the war showed the great Christian Statesmanship of Georgia’s first bishop. He was an eloquent speaker, a versatile leader of many interests, deeply respected and loved during his episcopate of 26 years.

John W. Beckwith of North Carolina was consecrated the Second bishop of the Diocese in St. John’s Church, Savannah. He was a great preacher and builder giving himself to the hard task of leading the Church through Reconstruction Days and greatly extending the number of congregations by his zealous missionary enthusiasm. He established the Convocation system and in one year 11 missions were added to the diocesan family. In addition to his distinction as a preacher, Bishop Beckwith’s jurisdiction of 22 years were characterized by his administrative ability, missionary vision, and the devoted loyalty of the people of the Diocese.

Cleland Kinloch Nelson was consecrated the third bishop of Georgia in St. Luke’s Church, Atlanta. To him came the different but essential task of dividing the state into two dioceses. He established Atlanta as his Cathedral city and called the Diocese to an aggressive, almost militant, missionary development which resulted in the two dioceses in the State. The action was the result of several years of skillful leadership by the Bishop–so skillful that when the matter came for final action it was an unanimous decision. Bishop Nelson was an ecclesiastical diplomat and splendid administrator. He had a sharp liturgical and canonical sense with keen insight and conviction, a bishop of great presence, who stood tall from any standard of reference.

The fourth bishop of Georgia, Frederick Focke Reese, was consecrated in Christ Church, Savannah in 1908 and served until 1936—the longest episcopate in the history of the Diocese–28 years. Bishop Reese was a man of many talents. He led the Diocese to realize its responsibility for the black people within the state and resisted national efforts to establish a separate church, insisting on the unity of the Diocese as the jurisdiction of a single bishop. He led the Diocese through World War I and struggled with financial problems of the Great Depression, with great personal sacrifice. A bishop of great courage and faith whose influence was felt throughout the National Church.

Middleton Stuart Barnwell was translated from the Diocese of Idaho to become the Bishop Coadjutor of Georgia and succceded as the 5th Bishop of the Diocese in 1936. A shy and modest man the Bishop came to a divided Diocese and united it in his passionate concern for the world-wide mission of the Church. One of his most remarkable achievements was the elimination of distinctions between while and black churchmen in 1947, ending the separate convocations of black and white churchmen and leading the southern dioceses in this respect into a united family of Christ. For 18 years Bishop Barnwell served the Diocese as a patient pastor, an eloquent preacher, a winsome and humble man of God.

The present bishops clearly stand in an impressive succession, not simply as an historical and doctrinal fact, but in a succession of a remarkable outpouring of the grace of God. It is right and proper that we give thanks to Almighty God for the Fathers in God He has sent before us in this Diocese.

As we move into the future, what is it that matters most? Two great convictions which come from the great affirmations of the Holy Scripture. The first is the magnificent song of joy and faith in the 38th Chapter of Job. “Then said the Lord to Job. Gird up thy loins now like a man. I will ask and you will answer. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? I-Iave you commanded the morning or entered into the springs of the sea? Have the gates of death been open to you? Can you bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades or loose the bands of Orion? Who has given understanding to the heart? Or who has put wisdom in the inward parts?”

This is one of the great moments of spiritual insight in the Old Testament–the majestic affirmation that over all anxiety, suffering, change and tragedy-all the devastation that Job knows-still God is Creator and Sustainer of all things in life and death, He is the Lord of Nature–He is the Lord of Creation. This conviction is our inheritance. This conviction is what matters most as we face the future.

There is an affirmation in the New Testament, an affirmation inseparable from that in Job and it is the genius of the Church to keep these two inseparable, This is from the 21st Chapter of Revelation–“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth and he that sat on the throne said `Behold I make all things new.” From this affirmation comes the conviction that the Lord of Nature and Creation is ceaselessly at work in the course of this world’s events, in the process of each human life, amid the world’s tragedies and sufferings, pain and desolation, in what you and I call the present, here he works and here His power is to be found. Here is the central point of our faith–the only thing that matters-the key to the Incarnation–the God of Nature, the Lord of Creation is the Lord of your life and mine yesterday, today, and forever. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the gates that open to us a life with Him in whose hands are all creation and all history. This conviction is at once renewing and recreating, at once a faith and a power, at once a love and a person. The God of Nature and Lord of Creation is yet the companion of each Man’s life.

As we move into the future these two great convictions, inseparable for the Christian, are the only things that matter.