Bishop’s Address of 1964

given by the Rt. Rev. Albert Rhett Stuart
at St. Paul’s Church, Augusta, on February 4, 1964

In the 10th year of my Episcopate, I greet you in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and I welcome you to the 142nd Annual Convention of this Diocese and the 72nd Annual Meeting of the Episcopal Churchwomen. We are gathered here in one of the three colonial parishes of this Diocese, the beautiful and historic St Paul’s Church, Augusta. The 128th Convention of the Diocese met here at St Paul’s in 1950 when the parish was celebrating its bicentennial. For 213 Years the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been preached here and the Sacraments have been administered according to the discipline of the Book of Common Prayer – a pattern so cherished by this part of the Apostolic and Catholic Church. We cannot here detail the long history of this parish in its service to God. I can only remind you that the parish was once under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, that it was here that the Diocese of Georgia was formed in 1823, that the only Convention of the Church in the Confederacy was held here, that this building is the 4th parish church and it was consecrated in 1919 by the 4th Bishop of Georgia, the Rt Rev Frederick F Reese. The Centennial Celebration of the Diocese was held here in 1923. I hope that the Rector, Wardens, and Vestrymen of St Paul’s will invite the Diocese to celebrate the Diocesan Sesquicentennial here in 1973. I feel reasonably secure in suggesting this since they were kind enough to allow me to be consecrated here as the 6th Bishop of the Diocese – and 10 years allows plenty of time for them to make up their minds.

The parish has a great history in the State of Georgia and in the Diocese. As valued as that is, St Paul’s Church is far from being simply of historic interest. It is a vital part of the life of the City of Augusta and is in the forefront of the life of the Diocese. With an able young Rector and devoted lay leadership, the parish is alert to its present responsibility and new opportunities. The church and grounds have never been more beautifully cared for and the people never more ready to serve God and His Kingdom.

I submit herewith for printing in the Journal of the Diocese the statistical reports of the Bishop’s office and an accounting of various funds for which the Bishop is responsible.

The year 1963 cannot be recalled now or in the future except as the year of the assassination of the President of the United States. The murder of John Fitzgerald Kennedy was not only a national tragedy but an event which profoundly affected all the nations of the world. The United States lost a leader of great personal magnetism and intellectual gifts, a President of strong courage and keen political imagination, a Christian layman devotedly loyal to his Church. Men of good will for years to come will pay him tribute, the nation will always honor a young President cut down in the strength of his years and at the height of his service. Not in my lifetime has any event so united this nation in shock and grief. Not in my ministry has any happening brought so many people into the Churches of the land as came in those 3 November days following the President’s death. We were strangely united as a people in our bereavement and in an almost forgotten sense of dependence upon Almighty God. We recognized not only the loss of an unusually gifted leader by the temporary breakdown of our democratic process.

The assassin’s bullet annulled the decision of millions of voters and vetoed carefully thought out decisions of national leaders. We are a nation dedicated to tolerance and justice, to decency and reason, to the principles of Christianity, to freedom in democratic processes. Contrary to American principle, a man was destroyed, shot in the back, by some one who disagreed with his ideas. This was not just the senseless destruction of a man’s life but a threat to our whole system. It shocked us into remembering how constantly our Founding Fathers in this nation reminded themselves and us of dependence upon Divine Providence. Let us pray that we will continue to understand what God would have us learn from the national tragedy of 1963 – we are a nation under God. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”

Earlier in the year 1963 another event occured that had profound significance for the religious life of the nation. In June the Supreme Court ruled that the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in opening exercises of a public school is a religious ceremony and as such is unconstitutional under the first Amendment of the Constitution which forbids establishment of religion. In delivering the opinion of the majority of the Court, it was stated that the Constitution requires the government to be absolutely neutral with respect to the religious beliefs of its citizens. Justice Clark who delivered the opinion is quoted as follows:

“The place of religion in our soceity is an exalted one achieved through a long tradition of reliance on the home, the Church, and the inviolable citadel of the individual heart and mind. We have come to recognize through bitter experience that it is not within the power of government to invade that citadel whether its purpose or effect is to aid or oppose, to advocate or retard. In the relationship between man and religion, the State is firmy committed to a position of neutrality. Though the application of that rule requires interpretation of a delicate sort, the rule itself is clearly and concisely stated in the words of the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

The decision raised considerable apprehension in some minds. The only new thing in the Court’s decision is the application of the establishment clause of the First Amendment to an area of government which has been for a long time unconstitutionally invaded by religion.

The Court’s ruling, while it favors neither religion nor irreligion, protects religion from encroachments by the State. The power of the State to coerce Bible reading and corporate prayer in public places is only a step removed from the power of the State to prohibit Bible reading and corporate prayer in all areas of common life. The corollary is that we cannot shatter the power of the State to destroy religion without renouncing the power of the State to be a propagator of religion. The Court sets its prohibition of compulsory devotional exercises in the context not of irreligion but of the nation’ s religious heritage. The Court banned legislated Bible reading and prayer in public schools and its logic likewise would ban legislated irreligion. Neither majority nor minority should use the machinery of government to implement religious beliefs or unbelief. The ruling is not hostile to religion. It multiplies the responsibility of American parents and churchmen to promote spiritual development and religious education not through manhinery of State but through voluntary agencies. It the nation is to be a Christian nation, it is the responsibility of the Church to make it so. If the youth are to be brought up in the nuture and fear of the Lord, it is the responsibility of parents and the Church. Since the Supreme Court decision there has been a lot of ink and a lot of emotion spent in what might be called the right of the Church to function in public education. The plain fact of the matter is the decision was a clarion call to the Church to get on with her God-given task, which is precisely one of teaching, of influence, of growth, or revelation. She is commissioned to do all that it is possible to do to bring men under the influence of God and into fulfillment of His purpose. Her freedom for this unique task is guaranteed under the Constitution.

These two events of 1963, which have so disturbed our nation, speak emphatically to us in the Diocese of Georgia. Our educational ministry, that phase of our life involving the direct teaching of the Faith, deserves careful scrutiny and evaluation. At the very time that the Supreme Court ruling was set forth, we were closing a parish school. A vital unit of our machinery for training the Christian religion. Also, at the same time, a Diocesan Conference for training leaders in Christian teaching was so poorly attended the Department of Christian Education questioned whether to provide for such an opportunity another year. As I go on my rounds of the congregations of this Diocese, I find little sense of urgency as to the importance of our Church School work. Very few congregations provide adequate financial support for the Church School. Little encouragement is given to develop the best leaders and and materials for the Christian education of our children. I sometimes wonder why we have struggled to build all our fine parish houses when they stand empty and unused most of the week. It is hard to justify the construction and maintenance costs for coffee receptions, occasional suppers, and the annual bazaar which the women persist in holding. Each congregation needs to look at its own actions, its own attitudes its own resources. Wherever a parish is not teaching and influencing, not letting its own members and its community know what God has done and what this means to them, that parish is betraying its own nature and lending credence to those who suppose the Church has no real contribution to make to the nation other than to make its members feel good.

The Diocesan budget has only a token figure in it for the Department of Christian Education. Our major opportunity on the Diocesan level for teaching the Christian religion is at the Camp and Conference Center. We have yet to operate the Conference Cneter for a season at capacity level, and last summer, ironically, we registered our lowest attendance at the conferences for the Christian education of our children and young people. I realize, as you do, that in the matter of the Conference Center we are battling a powerful factor – namely, racial prejudice – but those who fight with us are more than those who fight against us, and the very situation underlines the desperate need for education in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In view of the need of our country and the responsibility upon us as Christians, I hope and pray that this Convention will have courage and faith enough to take the leadership in a renewed and invigorated program of Christian Education in the Diocese. The first step in such leadership would be to strenghthen the Department of Christian Education financially and to approve the joint recommendation of the Department and the Board of Managers of the Conference Center for a Director of the Conference Center and a Resource Leader for the Department. None of us believes that one man, however gifted, is the solution to our problem, but it is obvious that we are sorely in need of diocesan leadership in the task at hand. Each of us in our own primary responsibility in our homes, in our parishes, or missions, and in our communities, are called to fulfil a teaching ministry for our Lord. If there are no Bible classes, start one. If you’ve never had a School of Religion, ask why. If you don’t know what sort of Church School you have, find out and offer to help. Enquirers classes on faith and doctrine should be a continuing part of the program of every congregation – go to them and take some one with you. Support the youth program in your congregation. See that the young people of your community have the opportunity to a summer conference. Two-thirds of the children of America receive no religious instruction in any Church or in their homes. This is our responsibility to our nation and to our God.

All of this leads straight into the heart of the matter. In the Incarnation, God made himself visible, audible, tangible, and vulnerable. He did this to redeem his people and make them the witnesses to and the agents of his redemption for the whole world. The fact that the Church is the Body of Christ means that through the Church our Lord still expects to be visible, audible, tangible, and vulnerable. We are called to be witnesses as well as worshippers, apostles as well as disciples. The Lord before His Passion commanded “Do this” which instituted the Church’s Eucharist. The same Lord before His Ascension gave the command “Go” which instituted the Church’s Mission. The doing and the going are the life of the Church. In many congregations one command is ceaselessly obeyed and the other is treated as an elective. In the New Testament however considerable more attention is paid to the way the second command is carried out and so we have much more information about the mission of the Apostolic Church than about its Worship:. Worship and Mission together are the supreme activities of the Church on earth. What is set forth and proclaimed in the Eucharist has to be set forth and proclaimed in the world. It is by the continuous action of proclamation that the Church grows. The Apostolic Church was an irrepressible Church. “We cannot possibly give up speaking of the things we have seen and heard.” To participate in Christ, as we must do in the Eucharist, is to participate in His Mission, as we must do in the world. Every communion service is also a pointer to the Messianic banquet when the Kingdom is complete – “And men will come from east and west, north and south, and sit at the table in the Kingdom of God.” But how shall they come without an invitation? How shall they hear without a preacher? How can they preach unless they are sent? And who will send but the people of the Church? What are we doing about this? We are teaching our people, under the influence of the. Liturgical Movement, to take an ever greater and more active part in worship with our central altars, westward position, offertory processions, and all the rest. Are we enclosing them in the Church or thrusting them out into mission? Are we leading them into a greater and more active part in proclamation? Is the parish communion deepending the sense of commitment to mission? Is our emphasis upon “Do this” exclusive of “Go”? Until our people know what they are doing in every communion commits them body and soul to mission, the Liturgical Movement will not have served the purpose of the Kingdom.

Three and one-half million Episcopalians send fewer than three hundred missionaries into the entire world and we give two cents a person a week for this purpose. ‘Do we really understand our mission? We are living in a time of grave peril both for our country and our faith. Not since the hordes of Mohammed swept across Europe has Christianity been so challenged and threatened. A half-hearted, indifferent, self-centered Christianity will not survive against a militant, dynamic atheism. At the Anglican Congress last summer, the Bishop of Polynesia said the Church there will be done for in 10 years for the world is in a hurry and will not wait for Christians to make up their minds if they believe what they say. At this Congress there was a great sense of urgency for the mission of the Church. The eighteen churches of the Anglican Communion represented there declared their mutual responsibility for the cause of Christ and their interdependence in obedience to His command to “Go”. The purpose of the Church is not to give personal reassurances and parochial comforts to those in our parishes but to go to those outside with news of salvation in Christ.

In this Diocese we have taken a significant forward stride toward fulfilling the mission of the Church by abandoning quotas and assessments for the mission. As of this year the Diocese is operating on a voluntary gift from each congregation for the Church’s mission. Just as the parishes and missions depend upon individual commitment of their members to Jesus Christ expressed in the giving of money to the Church, so now the program of the Diocese depends upon the commitment of the congregations to mission. This already is very revealing as to our sense of mission. All of our congregations insist upon the command of the Lord to “Do this” – the command to worship and we would be horrified it it had only a 5% or 10% response. But when it comes to the command of the Lord to “Go”, the leaders of the congregations seem to consider a 5% to 10% response satisfactory commitment. We are able really to see now where we stand in our profession that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world. The responsibility rests squarely upon each congregation. Our voluntary system makes it quite clear as to our understanding of mission and to our need to give as much to the mission of the Church as we spend on ourselves in our congregations. I believe with God’s help we will increasingly fulfil our Lord’s command to “Go”. The Department of Stewardship and Evangelism is convinced that the whole matter is one of personal response to Jesus Christ. To this end they are suggesting a diocesan-wide evangelistic year in 1965 with preparations to be made this year. The objective is to proclaim Jesus Christ to this area of Georgia in a Diocesan Preaching Mission and in schools of religion in order to deepen the commitment of the faithful, to awaken the unfaithful, and to reach the unchurched. In view of the need of our country and of our educational Stewardship needs in this diocese, I heartily endorse the recommendation and hope the Convention will do likewise and in so doing authorize proper financial support for the program. Such a program would give us each a unique opportunity to lift up Jesus Christ in this place and generation. Our time to make this witness is shorter than we think.

In all the turmoil and confusion, perplexity and frustration of our world, God is working His purpose out. History is not determined. God respects our freedom of choice but He also reserves His sovereign right of judgment. A world revolution is taking place. Our choice is obvious. It is God’s purpose and everlasting life or it is chaos and destruction. The Christian does not ask “What is coming to the world?” because we know Who is coming. We do not think of our task as one of trying to hold back the revolution of our time but as one of bearing witness within that revolution to its true meaning.

“From utmost east to utmost west,
Wherever man’s foot hath trod
By the mouth of many messengers
Goes forth the Voice of God;
Give ear to me, ye continents
Ye isles, give ear to me
That the earth may be filled with the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.”

For civilization as for individuals, the beginning of wisdom is to fear God more than we fear death or disaster or anything else. We people of the Church have made our choice – to you promise to follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?”” He does not call us to succeed – He takes care of that – He calls us to be loyal as He works His purpose out.