Bishop’s Address of 1925

given by the Rt. Rev. Frederick Focke Reese
at St. Paul’s Church, Albany on April 22, 1925

My dear Brethren of the Clergy and Laity :

I greet you in God’s name to this, the One Hundred and Third Convention of the Diocese of Georgia. I hope that we shall all find pleasure and satisfaction in our work, realizing that in our modest way we are promoting God’s Kingdom among men. We are a small body, as human measurements go, but we can have a large spirit and a great vision, because we are representative in our corner of the world of the historic and Catholic-Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we must be Catholic minded and feel the dignity and the responsibility of a great mission, be uplifted by the inspiration of a worldwide fellowship. With that sense of a great relationship to God and to our fellowmen nothing can be small or insignificant. Everything we do must be done with the utmost conscientiousness and accuracy because it will be related to a great world-enterprise of good.

Since our last meeting several of our Bishops have been called home, and we commemorate them with gratitude for their labors for the Church and with prayers that God’s eternal light and blessedness may be theirs, that they may grow continually in His love and favor.

The Right Reverend George Yemens Bliss, Doctor in Divinity, Bishop Coadjutor of Vermont, died July 10th, 1924, 60 years of age and in the tenth year of his consecration.

The Right Reverend William Ford Nichols, Doctor in Divinity, the Second Bishop of California, died June 5th, 1924, 75 years of age and in the 24th year of his Episcopate.

The Right Reverend James Steptoe Johnston, Doctor in Divinity, Second Bishop of West Texas, died, November 4, 1924, in his 82nd year and in the 37th year of his Episcopate.

The Right Reverend John Hazen White, Doctor in Divinity, died, March 16th, 1925, 76 years of age and in the 30 year of his consecration as Bishop of Indianapolis and having been Bishop of Northern Indiana since 1899.

In our own Diocese we have lost one of our clergy by death, the Reverend Godfrey R. Jackson, a colored deacon. He was made deacon by Bishop Nelson, in 1897 and spent his whole Ministry on St. Simon’s Island, in charge of the work among his people, as assistant to the Rector of Christ Church, Frederica. He was a good and faithful soul and of a fervent spirit, doing his modest work in an humble spirit. In spite of many discouragements, and for several years in bodily infirmity, he was content to serve His Lord in the place where God put him. His name is written in the book of life and he dwells now in the light and peace of Paradise.

During the calendar year of 1924, I dimitted three of our clergy to other dioceses, and two died. One deacon has been ordained and four priests received on letter dimissory, and one since January 1, 1925. One priest is now serving under license, so what we have now 36 on our diocesan roll, three more than at the date of our last Convention. Seven of these are non-parochial, three retired, one a student at a Divinity School, three, of whose whereabouts I know nothing. The Canon of the General Convention requires every minister not in charge of it parish or congregation to report annually such occasional services as he may have held and if none, the causes and reasons which have prevented him. Three of these brethren have made no report to me for several years. I am of the opinion that in case of such continued disregard of the law some method of discipline should he provided by canon, so that after a given period of time the clergy roll might he relieved of the names of such apparently indifferent and useless members.

We have four candidates for Holy Orders and three postulants, four white and three colored. During the year, I transferred one Negro postulant to the Diocese of Virginia at his own and the Bishop’s request.

I am grieved to be compelled to note again the reduced number of confirmations. Last year there was a falling off from 1923 from 333 to 268. I feel ashamed to state that in 1924 there were only 258, ten less even than in the previous year. I am willing to repeat the comment I made on this subject last year, but I do hope that you, brethren of the clergy, and you, of the laity, feel as deeply about this as I do. Let us pray God to give us courage to face the situation and faith to believe that with more energy and prayer, God will bless our efforts to bring a larger number of souls into the communion of His Church and to a living and saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

But, on the other hand, I must say that I do not wish to seem to encourage the feeling that the measure of our labors is to be estimated merely by numbers. No priest should congratulate himself merely because he has presented a large class but that he has presented a class of well-prepared persons both desirous and ready to be confirmed. I expect every clergyman to be assured in his mind that the children and others whom he presents to me for confirmation are spiritually prepared according to their age and experience so as to know what they are doing and what they are to receive in the laying-on-of-hands. They should, of course, be well instructed in the Church Catechism and in the Church’s doctrine and discipline. But no amount of instruction can avail unless their heart is converted to God. I sometimes cannot fail to notice in the attitude of persons standing before me, an apparent lack of that serious realization of what they are doing, which is necessary if they are really to profit by the sacred gift of the Holy Ghost.

I quite understand the difficulty of knowing always just what is in the mind and heart of our candidates and how much they are in earnest. I know that we must sometimes, indeed, most always must act in some measure in faith. I do not hold the clergy by any means entirely responsible for the distressing lapses which occur among those confirmed. But I do believe that a fervent zeal, so necessary to effective service for God, but without judgement and discretion is easily deceived oftentimes as to wisdom of presenting certain persons for confirmation. We must be just as sure as we can be that those whom we present are prepared in mind and spirit even though in so doing we must sacrifice our desire for a large class. There is no rule to guide us in this matter. We must pray for and have the guidance of the Holy Spirit that we may have a right judgement. It is just as serious and likely to be a possible injury to a soul to be confirmed when spiritually unprepared as it is to refuse to confirm those who are spiritually in earnest.

It is a sad and twice-told tale that the annual increase in the number of communicants reported for the whole Church is so far less than the number of confirmations reported. According to the statistics as published in The Living Church Annual for 1924, there are reported 64,034 confirmations and an increase in comununicants of only 10,036. Even allowing for losses by death this seems to indicate a great loss every year due to lapses, occasioned either by removals or by indifference and loss of vital religion.

In this Diocese as stated in the same year book there are reported 268 confirmations and an increase of only 24 in communicants. As I have said this is no new story, but it is none the less a tragic story. May it not be due in part to poorly prepared confirmation candidates? And may not it be partly due to a lack of intelligent effort on the part of many clergymen in informing people of the law concerning letters of transfer and in endeavoring to follow the wanderers up by writing to the clergyman or bishop into whose jurisdiction they have removed? A little diligent effort can, I am sure secure information in many cases as to the destination of those who have removed. And an equal diligence in pastoral care can with the help of earnest lay people discover communicants who have moved into a parish and bring them into relations with it.

But, of course, the clergy are not wholly responsible for the situation, though this comparative freedom from responsibility should not cause them to relax their efforts, but be a challenge to increase them. As a matter of fact, however, a large number of our people in this migratory age have so little appreciation of the privilege and responsibility of their Church membership, that they do not heslitate to disregard them when for one reason or other they change their residence. They silently steal away as some persons do when they wish to escape their debts.

Let me say to the lay people that the Canon law, which is but an effort to express the desire of the Church to Mother her children, requires that a communicant removing from one parish to another, either in the same town or elsewhere, shall ask his rector or the senior warden during a vacancy, for a letter of transfer and present this letter promptly to the clergyman of the parish nearest to their new home. A person has no right to expect when moving into another parish that he should be accepted as a bona fide communicant, unless he furnishes evidence that he is entitled to that privilege.

Unfortunately the same lack of responsibility and sense of privilege extends into the field of our duty to our country. This is evidenced by the fact that less than 50 per cent of the people in the country entitled to the suffrage take the trouble to register or cast their votes in important elections. The question at issue, is whether vast numbers of people value their political and religious privileges sufficiently to take the trouble to do their duty and preserve these privileges for themselves and their children. Have these people really any vigorous sense of their duty or even of their rights, except when their pocket books or their immediate comfort and happiness are affected? And if they haven’t what is the prospect for the success of our great experiment of a self-governing-democracy?

However, we cannot here undertake to regulate the universe, but we can undertake to regulate wisely our own diocese. The condition as it exists today is altogether loose and ruinous. Though the difficulties are very great, we must make every effort possible to correct the situation so far as we can in our own limited sphere of duty. What we are trying to do is save men’s souls and as fishers of men to lose them out of the net is as bad as never to get them into it.

I am gratified to be able to say that in four of our parishes additions have been made to the property, in each case either a new or an enlarged parish house, namely the churches of the Atonement and of the Good Shepherd, Augusta, S. Thomas’ Church, Thomasville, and S. Michael and All. Angels’ Church, Savannah. A parish house is also building in Grace Church Parish, Waycross, and a movement is on foot to build one for S. Paul’s Parish, Savannah.

In S. Mark’s Parish, Brunswick, the rector and faithful lay-people are conducting three mission Church schools, in the city. They are using S. Jude’s Church, which time diocesan Department of Missions some few years ago felt compelled to close, and S. Andrew’s chapel at Cypress Mills, and have rented a room in another section of the city for the third emission. I mention this in order to commend Mr. Fulford and his people for their missionary zeal and to suggest it as a most admirable example for other clergy and congregations to follow.

I deeply regret to note that the Rev. J. D. Miller has resigned the rectorship of S. Michael and All Angels’ Church, Savannah, and removed to the Diocese of North Carolina. Mr. Miller has served twice, for periods of several years each time, in the diocese, first as a missionary, and then in Savannah and has won the respect and affection of his brethren of the clergy and of the lay people to whom he has ministered. He has also served as one of my Examining Chaplains, and as a member and secretary of the Field Department. We shall miss him from our company and we extend to him our affectionate good wishes for his happiness in his new field of labor.

The Diocese has suffered quite a number of losses among our communicants by removals to Florida, which seems to be the El Dorado of this day, where prosperity is supposed to thrust itself upon those who enter its gates. One of our mission congregations has been sadly depleted by this migration. But in spite of it the diocese is in good shape and while we are sorry to lose our friends, we shall carry on in confidence that God will prosper our work as we are full of courage and faith.

The report of the Executive Council will give most of the necessary information about the work of our several departments. It is not necessary therefore for me to mention what will be so largely covered in that report.

I do want to say about the Executive Council that this organization of the Diocese has proved its wisdom. It has unified the work in the several departments. It has encouraged those who are doing the special work by the knowledge of a common interest on the part of the whole Council.

It has stimulated the different interest and at the same time enabled the Bishop and the Diocese through the Council to direct and guide and sometimes to control the activities which are going on. It has made it possible to meet exigencies and emergencies as they arise. The budget system could not be worked without it. The people of the diocese have been given money and the Council has directed its expenditure in due proportion among the several departments. We have been so fortunate as to avoid debt and deficiency and have been able to do our duty, so far as the budget quota is concerned, to the National Council.

The Executive Council has also done certain things promptly which are necessary for efficiency and which otherwise would be delayed until the meeting of the Convention. If the Convention is to continue to meet in April or May and the fiscal year begin in January, the apportionments and assessments must be calculated and published early in the year. Otherwise the loss and inconvenience would be very serious. All of this is, of course, in accordance with the canon law and with the directions of the previous Convention. I suggest, however, to the Finance Committee of the Convention that in its report at this meeting, its resolutions should specifically state that the assessments are for the year succeeding the year in which the Convention is held.

There is just one danger, I think, connected with this form of organization and method of procedure. The report of the Executive Council seems to present to the Convention accomplished acts, which have already taken effect and which the Convention therefore cannot alter. It may have the effect of creating in the minds of clerical and lay delegates a feeling that every thing is cut and dried by the Council and that the delegates are helpless and useless. It may seem as though the business of the diocese is controlled by a few men and thereby depress the interest and sense of responsibility on the part of the delegates to the Convention. Such a result would be most unfortunate. How to remedy the situation entirely I do not know, except by having the Convention meet early in the year. In that event nothing would be finally determined until the Convention had acted upon it. Whether the change would be possible and otherwise desirable, is a question. It was tried once and found undesirable. To meet in February would require much more prompt return of parochial reports and financial statements than seems to be possible at present. I submit the question to you for your consideration.

But whether such a change be made or not, I urge the delegates to give their close and accurate attention to the report of the Executive Council. You should insist upon understanding every detail and exercise your prerogative and perform your duty in directing all the affairs of the diocese and giving such specific instruction as you find advisable. You should assume your responsibility for the legislation and administration of all business of the diocese so far as it comes within the province of the Convention. If you do that, your instruction will be carried out by the Council. If you do not do that, but permit things to be done without understanding them, merely let them pass, nobody is then at liberty to think or to utter any criticism of what is done by those more immediately charged with the duty.

There is one more matter about which I wish to speak to you, and I ask your patient indulgence. The General Convention, as you know, is to meet in October of this year. Among the matters which will occupy its attention, probably the most important is the completion of the work of Prayer Book Revision. The Commission on the Revision and Enrichment of the Book of Common Prayer was appointed at the General Convention held in New York in 1913. Since that date, now twelve years ago, this Commission has been industriously at work. It has presented three reports and another one will be presented to the Convention in October. Three Conventions have spent a large part of their time of their sessions in considering these reports and taking such action as seemed wise and necessary. This has been done with the utmost care, and after full and exhaustive debate, all the proposed amendments being first referred to and reported upon the Committees on the Prayer Book of the two Houses of General Convention. Many changes have been approved and many have been rejected and many are still under consideration. I remind you that the Constitution of the General Convention requires that any changes in the Prayer Book must be approved by both Houses and at two successive meetings of their Convention. You will see therefore that the Church regards such changes as a very serious matter and endeavors to safeguard our liturgical forms from hasty and ill advised action. Whether the Church is too conservative in this matter is not now the question. The fact is that she is very conservative. She has reserved to the General Convention exclusively the authority for making changes and in the manner stated.

In the rubric on page VII of the Prayer Book “Concerning the Service of the Church,” is is provided that for certain specific days and “other specified occasions, for which no Service or Prayer hath been provided in this Book, the Bishop may set forth such Form or Forms as he shall think fit, in which case none other shall be used.” And in the Proviso at the end of Article X of the Constitution, it is provided that nothing in this Article shall be construed as restricting the authority of the Bishops of this Church to take such order as may be permitted by the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer or by the Canons of the General Convention for the use of special forms “of worship.”It appears therefore that in this Church what is known as the Jus Liturgicum is reserved to the Bishops, acting in accord with the Rubrics and the Constitution and Canons of the General Convention.

It would seem therefore that this authority or right does not reside in the Priesthood and that consequently their duty is to comply with the Rubrics and Canons, except under such circumstances as may be permitted and authorized by the Bishops.

This does not seem, however, to be recognized nor understood by many of the clergy and laity for they do not act accordingly. Apparently many changes are made by them without the knowledge or authorization of the Bishops and in spite of the requirements of the law. Unauthorized prayers are used, portions of services are omitted, additions are made, even the service of the Holy Communion, for which no rubrical authority exists. In some churches complete and unauthorized services are used, some of which are directly in conflict with the principles of this Church. The manner of a administering the sacred elements in the Holy Communion has been changed by some of the clergy, one of them going so far as to discontinue the administering of the cup of the laity.

It would seem sometimes that law has little more consideration in the Church than it seems to have in the State. May I ask what is the use of the General Convention spending many days and hours at several of its tri-ennial sessions to consider and adopt amendments to our forms of worship if individuals possess greater wisdom than the Church itself as expressed in its authoritative judgment?

I am quite conscious of the fact that there is what is called “the Rubric of Common Sense”; that there are emergencies which justify temporary departure from authorized methods; that it is impossible to conduct the services, at any rate, Morning and Evening Prayer, for uninstructed people, who are unfamiliar with the Prayer Book. I am also aware of the fact that there are places in the services where rubrics are lacking or indefinite, and that custom does play a part in the conduct of divine worship. And I suppose that upon a very strict construction none of us is always entirely consistent and always completely rubrical. All of us may sometimes violate some law, either carelessly or unintentionally or under some fancied necessity. I am not speaking as a judge from the bench but as a Bishop to his brethren. I have not punitive weapon and I do not propose to use one. But I do appeal to you, my brethren, to cooperate with me in endeavoring to show our loyalty and love to the Church by obeying her law and not by following our individual fancies. It way be said by some that certain practices have been permitted and become habitual in other parts of the Church and therefore have become established as tacitly recognized customs. Assuming that that may be so to a certain extent, is it a justifiable inference that thereby a Bishop’s judgment and authority in his own diocese is abrogated? I think not, and I venture to say so, so far as this diocese is concerned.

A Bishop, indeed, may act tactlessly and unwisely in a given case. He certainly should not act harshly or in a domineering spirit. But I think the principle is sound that, subject to the law of the General Church and of his own diocese, he is not authorized to subordinate his judgement to what may or what may not be allowed in other diocese and by other Bishops.

It is my desire and my official judgement that in this diocese, in organized congregations, parishes or missions, when Morning or Evening Prayer, or the Litany and especially the office of the Holy Communion or any of the regular services of the Prayer Book are used they shall be said in accordance with the rubrical direction and that no ommissions or additions be made which are not authorized by the rubrics. A very considerable amount of liberty is now granted, especially in Evening Prayer and more will probably be so when the Prayer Book is completed. Let us use our liberty and not exceed it. It is provided that Morning and Evening Prayer, the Litany and the Holy Communion are separate offices and can he used separately, provided no one of them is habitually disused. I submit, however, that habitual disuse has already overtaken the Litany.

If there is any serious uncertainty, the judgment of the Bishop prevails and not that of the individual priest. The Bishop is just as responsible for his own diocese as the parish priest is for his parish, and in accordance with the specific law of the Church and the ancient rule of the Church the jus liturgicum resides in him.

My dear Brethren, I fear that you may consider that I have spoken severely, that I am trying to exalt my own authority. But I hope that you know me too well to suspect me of that. I have tried to be a true Father in God and to he the friend of all of my clergy and nay people and I am of the opinion that law and authority both in Church and State, to speak mildly, have less consideration than they ought to have. Men are exaggerating individualism to a dangerous extent. The varies of individuals are flighty and discordant. The subtleties of the human mind are most curious when we wish to convince ourselves of the rightfulness of what we desire to do. But it is difficult to understand sometimes how positions that honest men take with regard to the Church, not to speak of lesser things, can be reconciled with the solemn oath which every clergyman takes before ordination, to be loyal to the Church’s doctrine, discipline and worship. I question no man’s sincerity but I am amazed at some men’s intellectual agility.

I pray for God’s blessing upon His Church and upon our diocese and upon you, my brethren, of the clergy and laity—that we strive together in love and loyalty and truth for the furtherance of the Gospel and for the coming; of God’s Kingdom in all the world.