Bishop’s Address of 1969

FEBRUARY 7, 1969

I greet you in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and welcome you as members of His family to the 147th Annual Convention of the Church in the Diocese of Georgia.

Albert Rhett StuartThe parish of St. Thomas’ entertained the 134th Convention of the Diocese here in 1956. We did not have then the beautiful facilities which now surround us. Indeed it was necessary for the parish to accept the very kind offer of our Jewish friends to use the B’Nai Israel Synagogue in order to accommodate both the Diocesan Convention and the Annual Meeting of the Episcopal Churchwomen. It is good to be here in this splendid parish which has made such fine progress during these years – the outward and visible sign of which is the renovated church and the new and enlarged parish house. We congratulate the Rector, Wardens, Vestry and people of St. Thomas’ on their accomplishment and give thanks with them for their ministry in this community reaching back through one hundred years. Their centennial was celebrated last year and a fine history of the congregation is now available by Mr. Robert Balfour II. We are grateful for the place and witness of this parish in the life of the Diocese under the dedicated leadership of the Rector, the Rev. Harry Babbit, and a strong group of lay leaders who know their Lord and love His Church.

When the Convention met here in 1956, Bishop Barnwell was with us as the Retired Bishop it was the last Convention he attended. Mrs. George Heyward was the President of the Episcopal Churchwomen. The Hon. Walter Douglas retired as Chancellor at that Convention and the Hon. Barnwell Cubbedge was named to succeed him. There are 12 clergymen canonically resident now who were present at that Convention. Mr. Herman Huff and Mr. Harry Shipps were reported to the Convention as Postulants. Also reported were 9,305 communicants and the Convention adopted a budget of $126,900-the largest budget up to that time in the history of the Diocese. There were 3 new Missions admitted to that Convention-the Holy Apostles, Savannah; the Annunciation, Vidalia; and St. Francis in Pelham then and now in Camilla. I have recalled this hit of the past in order for you to realize the changes that have taken place in these short 12 years.

We are all conscious of the amazing and rapid changes in our society, nation, and world in these years. I need not remind you of the dramatic and unbelievable technological developments of the Space Age nor of the revolution in which the elements are young people, black people, and poor people. We live in the midst of plenty and want; in the midst of love and hate; in the midst of creativity and of obsolescence. The future can be great or it can be death. We are playing fast and for high stakes. Can we adjust and grow into a greater era or shall our civilization be like that of the dinosaurs-great but extinct’?

There is no point in Christians standing aroundwringing their hands in despair at the state of the Church, Nation, or World, looking back like Lot’s wife to a time and state that can be no more. This is God’s creation-it is Anno Domini, the Year Of Our Lord, in which we are living. We have arrived at this point, in the eternal purpose of God, for just such time as this. We have come by the goodness of God to this day in time and history because of the magnificent achievements of countless men and women of good will-scientists, teachers, clergy, laymen – who have gone before us and who served as acceptable people of God in their time. We have come on this day because of the failure, ignorance, and sin of previous generations who could not or would not read the signs of the times and had their reward. This is our day for better or for worse and it’s God’s day and its a day of change, of revolution, of wonder. We need to remember St. Paul’s words

“We then as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted and in the day of salvation have I succored thee-behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation.” 1.1 Cor. 6:1-2

It is evident to any student of human institutions as well as to those who study theology and the laws of nature that the institution or the individual which is oblivious to its environment and does not plan accordingly and deal intelligently with change is in grave danger of extinction. The great asset of the Church as it has come down the years through many changing societies and cultures has been its power of renewal. When she has been renewed and has effectively served the changing generation in which she has found herself. Never was this more true than today. The Church must have flexibility to move quickly today into new areas of need and opportunity in the fast shifting modern scene. She must have positive, alert, trained, committed leadership-clergy, who are prepared as never before to give this kind of leadership, men and women who bring the knowledge and sophistication of their day to the service of the Church and give time, thought, and imagination to the development and execution of a program through which the Church may fulfill her mission. She must involve the talents of all of her people in her decisions and opportunities. In the National Church we see this process taking place and in many dioceses. Here in Georgia we have just experienced our first year of operation under our new structure. We are learning much and we believe we have the elements in our structure for effective ministry in this day.

Under our new structure the Diocesan Convention is rightly given greater responsibility in determining the direction and program of the Church in the Diocese. The decision ought to be made here and you will find yourself at this meeting faced with legislative responsibility for the immediate program of the Church in the Diocese this year. You should require of the Diocesan Council the development of plans for the future course of our work in Georgia and the world. Under this structure as leaders and people we should be able to develop objectives and goals for the future rather than the kind of hand to mouth existence which has hampered us in our witness heretofore. It was for lack of any long range planning by any body or group in the Diocese that the Bishop at the Convention two years ago suggested objectives to be considered for the period between then and the Sesqui-Centennial observance in 1973. While many of these objectives are being studied and somewhat implemented, we all realize that this program has not caught fire in spite of the efforts of a Sesqui-Centennial Committee. This is a good illustration of our problem.

The Sesqui-Centennial Program was superimposed-it was an idea of an individual and not derived by the leaders and people of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Had we had our present structure two years ago, objectives and program could have been considered and worked over by the Diocesan Council, considered again and re-thought by the Convocation Councils and come to the Diocesan Convention as a result of participation and decision making of leaders and people throughout the Diocese. It could then have been offered to the Diocese as our diocesan program hammered out by the parishes and missions, the clergy, men and women of the Diocese in which there would then have been enthusiastic and effective involvment. You will be asked here by the Diocesan Council to identify priorities in the program to be suggested to you for 1969 and you will notice that elements in the program are from the Sesqui-Centennial objectives. In view of this situation and the increasing effectiveness of our new structure, I would suggest that the diocesan Committee on the Sesqui-Centennial be considered a Resource Committee or Auxiliary Committee to the Planning Committee of the Diocesan Council giving us more hearts and minds united in the large task of program building.

One of the most important and necessary features of our present structure is the vital function of the Convocation Councils. Here we have the clergy, wardens, leaders of women’s work, youth work, and representatives to the Diocesan Convention gathered regularly to consider, evaluate, and propose diocesan program. This structure is very helpful in the communications problem, but I would point out and emphasize the opportunity and responsibility for creative thinking in these Councils. Here is where there is the possibility of greater participation in imaginative planning and program building. To consider the Councils in the Convocations as chiefly a means of better communication (which they are) is to miss their greatest value. Our Anglican genius has many facets. We do not move by fiat or episcopal edict but by reasoning together, sharing loyalties, and by dependence upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is one of many reasons why I believe our new structure will be a great means for strengthening the Church in the Diocese as it seems to provide for this Anglican progress.

A program budget for 1969 will be presented to you in this meeting. The Diocesan Council has struggled to bring to you what they consider to be the barest essentials in a program for the Diocese this year. You will note their dilema when they come to the problem of how the program can be financed on the basis of the indicated pledges from the parishes and missions. Here again I cannot but think that we have been superimposing a program on the congregations of the Diocese. Were they involved more in building the program, they would most assuredly be more supportive of their own program. I doubt that many of our people realize the critical importance of their giving to the Church or have any idea what a pitiful program for God’s work their giving makes possible in this Diocese.

Necessity is laid upon me here to remind you, the leaders of the Church here in Georgia, of the basic fact of Christian stewardship. I doubt that this will turn you on or go any futher than the sound of my voice, nevertheless I must ask you to try to hear me. For some years we have been concerned with this matter of stewardship in our Diocese. We know that it is not just a matter of money. Stewardship is a way of looking at one’s whole life, a Christian way. It has to do with our family, our business, our social life, our time, our abilities. It is the way we submit our life to God. It is commitment to Him. We have a continuing need every one of us-clergy and people- to understand what it means to be a committed follower of Jesus Christ. It is not enough to be on a Vestry or Mission Council, or even to be ordained. We can be active in many ways in the Church without being Stewards, without actually being committed to our Lord and really dedicated to sharing His life with others.

While we know that the giving of money is not the whole of stewardship, it is usually a very good indication of our commitment and spiritual state. The disturbing fact about us in the Diocese is that the total of our voluntary commitments for the work of the Kingdom of God in 1969 is less than it was in 1968, and in 1968 we were unable to keep our promise to the National Church for the Lord’s world-wide mission. In an age of rising costs and greater income even the same pledge as last year is a reduction. We cannot develop a program thru which to offer a service and witness to our Lord if there is no money for it. That is the delima we face. I think it is obvious that we are not committed enough to give as Christian stewards either as individuals or congregations.

Sometimes our giving is to a budget and if we don’t happen to approve of an item in the budget, we don’t give. We might expect this in a secular situation, but Christians give to God in thanksgiving for what He has given them. Let me acknowledge that there are parishes and missions and many individuals concerned with growing in stewardship who give this way. We give thanks for them and for many special gifts (one layman made a gift of $23,000 to the Diocese to be invested for a Bishop’s Discretionary Fund), and for several over-payments of pledges. But still there is the hard fact of a downward trend. In our stewardship efforts in the Diocese, we have had as our objective for individuals the Biblical standard of a tithe or a tenth of income to be given for God’s work in the world. We have had as the objective for every congregation the giving of as much for others as we spend on ourselves. I don’t know how many tithers we have in the Diocese but there must not be many. The giving of our congregations outside themselves varies from zero to 50%, with an average of 17%. As we look at this uninspiring picture, we do so in our most affluent days. Never have a people been more endowed with material wealth. We in the Episcopal Church are not the least or the last in sharing in these material blessings. Our responsibility is made very clear by our Lord – “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required.” (St. Luke 12:48.)

In view of the opportunities before us and the need for stronger leadership which is evident in the matters we have referred to in this address, I come to this Convention requesting your consent and approval to the election of a Bishop Coadjutor for the Diocese. I have not come to this decision without much thought, prayer, and advice. In canonical language the request is made for a Bishop Coadjutor “by reason of the extent of diocesan work” (Canon 38, Sec. 2a). I am increasingly aware that. I am not able to give adequate pastoral care and oversight to the clergy and people of the Diocese. My second illness within two years has warned me that I cannot expect to have the strength or stamina that is necessary to care for the church in this wide geographical and developing area. My age is advancing with its consequent toll in initiative and vigor. Aside from these negative factors, I am convinced that the great asset in our Anglican tradition is our pastoral concept of the ministry. To add another pastor in the episcopacy to the family of the Church here in Georgia in these critical days would be strategically wise and greatly strengthen our work and witness. Because of my age and the particular character of the work in Georgia, it is my conviction that the Bishop to come on the team should be qualified for jurisdiction, hence the request is for a Bishop Coadjutor and not a Suffragan Bishop. I am ready, should you approve this request and we can secure the consent of the rest of the Church to an election and consecration, to give jurisdiction of all postulants, Candidates for Holy Orders, Seminarians, and Deacons to the Bishop Coadjutor; supervision of placements to fill vacancies in parishes and missions, an equal share in confirmations, ordinations, dedications, and episcopal liturgical functions. I realize that in making this request for a Bishop Coadjutor I am calling you to an awesome task- the election of a Bishop in the Church of God. I am convinced, however, that you will approach this task in the only way possible to accomplish it- in humble dependence upon the love and guidance of God the Holy Spirit. It is He who will lead us to His servant.

We cannot come together here as the Lord’s people in this day and time and think only of the problems and the opportunities within our own Diocese. There is only time here to cite two overwhelming problems of our nation and world. First, the interrelated problem of race and poverty. The grave crisis in race relations in our country was studied by the President’s Commission on Civil Disorders. The report was both diagnostic and prescriptive. The diagnostic aspect is hard hitting. The report asserts that America has been a racist society in the past and remains a racist society, permeated at every level by racial discrimination. It is this condition that threatens the breakdown of what was to .have been a steady and growing evolution toward a fully intergrated society in America. There is a deep truth here that has to be faced – the truth of the pervasive and nearly universal existence of racial prejudice. In a certain sense this is like admitting that man is by nature sinful. It doesn’t produce an answer. In another sense to face this fact is helpful. We realize that we are caught in a universal problem unconfined to any one race, nation, or group. This realization is a key to humility and to real tolerance. The greatest need in our racial problem in this country is the achievement of a spirit of acceptance and patience with one another in our imperfection. Racial prejudice is largely rooted in the unconscious and is deeper than reason. Reason therefore is powerless to deal with it. To think that it can is the great error of the liberal. The condition in which we find ourselves is a problem of the spirit. The only ultimate remedy is humility and charity and these are qualities that are not produced by intellectual and political leadership but by the Spirit of God. The problem then can only really be met by men and women, black and white, who have faith and courage in the sovereignty, righteousness, and mercy of God. There is no other route to charity for all, malice toward none, and the freedom and dignity of all men except under God. Herein lies the mission of the Church. “Not by power nor by might but my spirit”, saith the Lord.

The General Convention Special Program of the Church has been pointed toward the effects of poverty and racial prejudice and in dramatic instances has indicated the deep concern of the Church for the results of our sickness. More than anything else, however, it has illuminated for Episcopalians and others the prevalence and depth of the problem. We have sufficient national wealth in this country to eradicate poverty but our future as a free society depends on how fast we can respond to this. But this is not enough. If the problem is, as we believe, a matter of the Spirit there is an urgency of spiritual need within this nation which demands of all Christians a renewal of their commitment to Jesus Christ and underscores the urgency of the Church’s mission. I urge, therefore, the clergy and people of this Diocese to rededicate themselves to personal prayer, to public worship, and to reaching out in every personal contact to draw others into this saving grace of Jesus Christ.

The other problem has to do with population control and hunger. Modern medical science has so dramatically reduced infant mortality and prolonged average life expectancy that it is difficult to grasp what is being told us about world population. I understand that the world population reached one billion about 1850 after several million years on this earth. Then in 75 years the next billion was added. It will double again by 1980 and will reach six billion by the year 2000. In our own country the population is expected to be half again its present size by the year 1000 or about 300 million. Some one has said “the most important problem in connection with space is not how to get to the moon, but how to avoid running out of it here on earth”. This is not the time or place to go into all the social, political, and psychological implications of the statistics, nor is it necessary to remind Episcopalians of our disagreement with the Bishop of Rome on the matter of birth control. I refer to this problem only to point out the fact that now there is widespread world hunger, and the Gospel is quite clear as to our responsibility to feed the hungry. Our channel for ministering to this need of our fellow man is the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief and our participation in Church World Service through the National Council of Churches. The Presiding Bishop has asked that we cooperate with other Christian groups by designating the Octave of March 9th to 16th for special offerings for World Relief. The Diocese responded readily to the call last fall for Biafran Relief. I am sure that we will all welcome the opportunity on March 9th or 16th to give generously for the need of the millions of hungry people in the world, and keep this crucial problem in your prayers as we try to find some solution to this growing problem of humanity.

This good earth is God’s world. He trusts us to use our time and talent here as good stewards of His love and mercy. His grace is sufficient for us to enable us to fulfill that trust.

“And so, brothers of mine, stand firm. Let nothing move you as you busy yourselves in the Lord’s work. Be sure that nothing you do for Him is ever lost or ever wasted.” (RSV)


[signed]+Albert R. Stuart