Bishop’s Address of 1974

The Rt. Rev. G. Paul Reeves

In reflecting on the year past, I want first to pay a final formal tribute to Albert Rhett Stuart, Sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia. We take some comfort in the fact that we had tried to express our admiration and gratitude while he was among us. His goodness and his wisdom seem to become ever clearer in retrospect. I have a sure sense that even now, in his new place in the Church Expectant, he is praying for us who still are in the Church Militant here on earth. Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon him.

Paul ReevesNext, a word of personal thanks. This year, more than before, I have been conscious of your support and concern. I have sensed this more clearly in two ventures that have been, thus far, at least, disappointing. Our Diocesan Development Fund has not yet reached its goal. That goal was a modest one, well within our reach – indeed, perhaps too modest. I think I know why we fell short; but here I want simply to thank those of you who did support this venture with your work, your gifts, and your prayers.

The 151st Convention authorized my employment of a Diocesan Administrator. To date, I have researched the qualifications of many prospects, and have interviewed more than a few. I have offered the position to three persons, each of whom, after careful consideration, declined, each with quite different reasons, reasons I understood and respect. I will find the right person, but in the meanwhile, the Diocese undoubtedly has suffered, especially from those things which have been left undone. For your patience and good-will about this, I thank you.

Surely, no-one making a serious address today can or should fail to try to take into account our setting in history. 1973 was not a good year for the United States, nor for most of the world. It is true that we extricated ourselves from a long and cruel war, but we emerged with what was at the best deep dissatisfaction. Some of us with uneasy consciences. Some with penitence.

The complex of events and attitudes that we now lump under the heading of ‘Watergate’ has shaken our national confidence, and, worse, has fed a growing cynicism and skepticism never before so widely and openly confessed by citizens of these United States.

The energy crisis, whatever its actual causes or real nature, has brought us all to question many elements in our political, economic and technological lives which hitherto we had assumed were sure and safe. The Christian doctrine of Stewardship has assumed a powerfully pratical aspect as we face the prospect of shortages and contamination on a world-wide, long-time scale.

Moral decay, shows not only on the political scene, but frighteningly in the torrent of filth that pours from the presses, the movie screens, and even the television sets in our homes. This corruption is all the more terrible because so many of us have come to take it so casually, even acquiescing in it, and accepting it as a sign of our being sophisticated, liberated, ‘freed-up’, or – God help us – ‘healthy’.

In increasing numbers, and with growing force, economists, sociologists, physical and social scientists warn of unpleasant, even shattering changes that lie ahead. Over the past decade their major disagreements have been only which weak point in our complex society would break first, and when it would break.

Many of today’s certainties seemed doomed to the fate of the old simile we no longer can use – “Sound as a dollar”! Maurice Stans, while Secretary of Commerce, noted: “The American society has been woefully weak in anticipating its troubles, and sorrowfully lacking in common sense in coping with them.” To which John Markley, of the Stanford Research Institute, added: “Preventing future crises by forecasting them? It is almost impossible today even to follow events, let alone to get ahead of them.”

It is difficult for any of us, one time or another, not to fear for our future, to wonder if our fate may not have been forecast in such novels as Nevil Shute’s ON THE BEACH, or in those memorable lines of T. S. Eliot:

In the land of lobelias and tennis flannels
The rabbit shall burrow and the thorn revisit,
The nettle shall flourish on the gravel court,
And the wind shall say: “Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”

And what of the Church? After last October’s General Convention, the House of Bishops issued a Pastoral Letter in which was noted St. Paul’s injunction that we be not conformed to this world; and which then went on to imply that the thrust of the Episcopal Church, at least at the national level, has been successfully to resist such conformity.

Reluctantly, I must disagree with this conclusion. My fear and my anguish is that in fact we have conformed far too much to the spirit of this world, particularly in areas where some apologists have thought we were most courageous. As a specimen, take the Church’s stand on social action. I believe that G.C.S.P., and most of the other so-called empowerment programs, have been in the main right and good, whatever occasional, even serious, mistakes were made. But I am amazed when I hear the architects of these programs bailed as visionary prophets. Hardly so: the Supreme Court, the Congress, and a host of agencies were at work in this area, and the Church did little more than follow their lead, and conform to their decisions and actions. We should have done the good we tried to do, but we should have led, not followed. We conformed to what already was becoming general.

Again, take the matter of abortion-on-demand. It is true that General Convention did not take an unequivocal stand, but by its avoidance or postponement of a decision, seemed, at least to be conformed to the casualness of our sensate, materialistic world regarding this monstrous moral evil, a casualness that now has the approval even of our Supreme Court.

Yet again, in the change of the canons regarding re-marriage after divorce, General Convention gave lip service to the Gospel teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, and very properly placed new emphasis on pastoral concern for the divorced, but, as it seems to me, conformed to prevailing attitudes, by seeming to assume that divorce and re-marriage are virtually normal accidents of life, even of Christian life.

A final instance is that of the proposal to ordain women priests and bishops. I have made clear my stand on that issue, and will not repeat it here. I would note that this first serious, organized move in the Episcopal Church thus to overthrow the consistent practice of two thousand years came amidst the manifestations of the movement called Women’s Liberation. Proponents of the ordination of women deny that their effort has anything to do with Women’s Liberation, but I would find such a coincidence in timing extra-ordinary. Again, leaving aside for the time whether this innovation would be right or wrong, I believe that here we are seeing a conforming of theology to contemporary social trends, however short-lived or unsuccessful those trends may prove to be.

All these gloomy notes are background to our Convention. There are hopeful signs, too, and I hope I read them right. In October we elected a new Presiding Bishop. Far from representing a conservative backlash, as has been charged, Bishop Allin is a fearless man of God. I have known him for twenty years, and I see him as a great pastor and priest, not primarily a social reformer; and I believe priest and pastor is what we want just now. In a Church needing reconciliation, he will be a healer, not because he will compromise, but because he will love, even ashe stands unswerving in his convictions. He speaks of prayer with the sureness I find only in men of prayer.

Further, I see great promise on the ecumenical horizon. Too often, Christian answers to the world’s problems have rung hollow because of the scandal of division within the Church. I sense a deepening and widening yearning for unity within the Body of Christ. In particular I would point to the progress in the world-wide consultations between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. The Windsor Statement, which identified agreement amongst us on the Eucharist, recently was followed by the Canterbury Statement, which recorded a remarkable consensus on essential doctrines concerning ordination and ministry.

I rejoice in the evident presence at this Convention of our brother, the Bishop of Savannah. Bishop Lessard’s diocese takes in the same territory as our diocese, adding Macon and Columbus. I was welcomed graciously at his Consecration last Fall, and I look forward to ever-growing cooperation between him and myself, and among our clergy and people. Our mutual affection and respect make all the more poignant – even heart-breaking – the fact that officially we cannot yet share the Sacred Meal of the Eucharist. God send soon the day when we brothers can sit at our Father’s Table in the wholeness of communion that we desire, and that God surely wills.

I believe it was a wise decision of General Convention to abandon the COCU plan of structure in favor of an effort to bring about a better understanding of Faith and Order within the parameters of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. In efforts at re-union, good-will is not enough; and the futility of a least-common-denominator agreement once again has become clear. Christianity is a historical religion, not an abstract philosophy. Within it is considerable comprehensiveness, but this is not to say that all variants are hersy. Against the often futile, often-shallow cries for ‘making Christianity relevant’, I set these words of my beloved mentor and long-time Bishop, Henry Irving Louttit (the Elder): The Church is in the same position as it was in the First Century. It is a tiny minority facing a hostile, unbelieving, and materialistic world. Our task is not to adapt ourselves or the Gospel to that world, but to preach with the hope that some people will be moved by the Holy Spirit to believe it.

Yet another hopeful sign – at least, I see hope in it – is the contribution that-liturgical reform has made to the life of the Church. It has been traumatic for many of us, but it has moved many people to a clearer understanding of what we do in worship, and who we are. Alfred North Whitehead wrote: “It is the first step in wisdom to recognize that the major advances in civilization [and I think this applies to the Church) are processes which all but wreck the society in which they occur… The art of free society consists, first, in the maintenance of the symbolic code, and secondly, in fearlessness of revision… Those societies which cannot combine reverence to their symbols with freedom of revision, must ultimately decay from anarchy or from—slow atrophy.”

At this point, again thanking all of you for your cheerful cooperation with the sometimes jarring processes of Trial Use, I enter one caution, one that I have mentioned before. I believe the most serious danger we face in liturgical revision is the loss, or diminution, of that sense of awe and wonder and reverence that is absolutely essential to true worship. We can easily get too folksy, too cute. Hear the words of one of the great Christians of our century, Friederich von Hugel: “The future of Anglicanism seems to me very hard unless they can revive the sense of adoration. You can’t have religion without adoration.We want more God, more Christ.” It is primarily the task of the clergy to see that the sense of the Holy is present in our worship. It is not an easy task; it demands study and reflexion, willingness to learn and to change, patient and thorough teaching of the congregations committed to their charge, and above all else, saturation in the life of prayer. Only those who know God can make Him real to others.

Finally, I see as a cheerful sign the statistics of diocesan life. Our growth is too slow, our financial stability too precarious; but I believe we can go from the little strength we have to much greater.

What of the future? By now, some of you know, and others may suspect, that I am skeptical of carefully-worked-out plans and programs that promise too much success, and often leave out either human frailty or the working of God, or both. Prudence is still listed among the four Cardinal Virtues. Prudence is the regulation of conduct with regard to a definite end; and for the Christian it is of vital importance that the end should be a right Our prudence in planning should not be a nice balancing of probabilities, but the discovery of the Father’s will and the doing of those things which are in keeping with it.

So in conclusion let me cite four areas in which I believe we should, and hope we will, so some prudent planning. First, I hope we can use the Bicentennial Year of 1976 for much more than historical observance. Small as we are as a diocesan family, still we can find the means to remember 1776 as a signal of the possibility of freedom for all people, but freedom that can be realized only in a nation that is honestly a nation under God.

Second: Our sense of Mission seems to have waned, and we must revive it. In the more than four years that I have been with you, we have begun only one mission – St. Richard of Chichester here on Jekyll Island; last year we closed two missions – St. Peter’s, Eastman, and the Church of the Epiphany in Cuthbert 7 the latter action was mere formality, because the work there had been non-existent for many years. This year, we must explore at least two possible areas, Wilmington Island, east of Savannah, and South Augusta. If careful study indicates that new congregations should be formed in these places, then we must form them. And there are other places to which we should go. Such work will demand financial means, and it will demand devoted lay leadership as well as the work of clergy. We rejoice that one mission will apply for parish status at this Convention, and that four other missions have indicated their wish to begin their year of trial status as self-supporting, with the hope and intention of applying for parish status next year. Obviously, as missions become parishes, we are put in the position of having more means available to begin new missions – but only as missions and parishes alike sustain and increase their giving to the Diocese.

The third area is that of concern for others. This can take many forms. As token, the offering today is designated for the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief. At least one of our congregations is exploring the possibility of providing low-cost housing for the elderly. We must, simply must, I say, look beyond our own snug comfort to a world of need. Whatever hardships lie ahead in our economy, we still are the world’s richest nation. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke recently to the people of England, people far worse off than we are near to being. And to them he said: “Christianity teaches us that, when we have troubles of our own, we see them aright when we see them as part of the wider, vaster troubles of mankind as a whole, and when we remember that there are parts of the world where sufferings are so great that our own can scarcely be called sufferings at all.” As our Daughters of the King say it: “We cannot do everything, but we can do something.” We must not think in the conventional terms of charity, but of that Charity which is Love, of which St. Paul wrote: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal.6:2)

The fourth area is more difficult to label; we take it for granted, and assume it, and feel insulted if it is suggested that we need do more about it. I speak of a deepening of what we call personal religion, that growth in holiness that is nourished by systematic, thoughtful prayer, by regular, intelligent Bible study, by active participation in regular Sunday worship, by systematic practice of stewardship according to the Christian standard, and by personal witness and example. Life in Christ is life, and life means growth. While we ought not be everlasting introspective, and while we must avoid the twin traps of complacency on the one hand and on the other, despair about our spiritual state, we must be honest enough in self-examination to have a sense whether we are indeed growing towards God or not.

Of all the aspects of Christian life, this is the most difficult to plan or program, certainly.on any level above that of the parish. There are in fact parishes where sometimes the clergy sometimes consecrated laymen, are leading others, generally in quite small groups, to new levels of spiritual understanding.

I close with two quotations. The first one may seem to be directed to the clergy, yet I will ask the laymen a question about ‘it. St. John Viannay once said to his Bishop: “If you want the entire diocese to be converted, all parish priest must become saints.” My question of the laymen isthis: Do you want a saint as your parish priest?

The second is from a book which probably is as out-of-vogue today as it is – in my opinion – eternally relevant; it is an oldish book called THE SOUL OF THE APOSTOLATE, written shortly after the beginning of this century. “Buildings, newspapers, meetings, conventions, all these things are important, vitally important. But they were not the one essential thing. And those who had become entirely absorbed in this work of more or less material growth, seemed to have lost sight of the fact that the Church is built of living stones. It is built of saints. And saints are made only by the grace of God and the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, not by speeches and publicity and campaigns which all are doomed to sterility without the essential means of prayer and mortification.”

The Church – that is, you and I – must never turn its back on the world; we must be involved and concerned, we must care. But we will be of maximum usefulness to struggling humanity only when the power of God is alive within us, purifying and strengthening us, so that the world may see and know there is hope, and that there can be salvation.