Bishop’s Address of 1957

Given by the Rt. Rev. Albert Rhett Stuart
At Christ Church, Savannah on May 14, 1957

“Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ”. We are meeting in this year of our Lord in the 135th annual convention of the Diocese and in the 65th annual meeting of the Woman’s Auxiliary in the oldest parish of the Diocese — Christ Church, Savannah. Fifty years ago the convention of the Diocese of Georgia which then comprised the whole state of Georgia met in this parish under the leadership of the third Bishop of Georgia. The Rt. Rev. Cleland Kinloch Nelson, and voted to separate the northern portion of Georgia from this part of the diocese and to establish a new diocese to be known as the Diocese of Atlanta. The wisdom of this action has been amply attested to by the growth of both dioceses in these fifty years, but especially by the rapid and remarkable growth of the Diocesan of Atlanta. We salute our daughter diocese on this her golden anniversary and give thanks with her to Almighty God for the way in which He has blessed her work through these years. We rejoice in the close fellowship between the bishops and people of the dioceses in Georgia and in the many avenues of service which we jointly share in the work of our Lord. I trust that this convention will see fit to arrange for a proper message of congratulation and greeting to the Diocese of Atlanta in this anniversary year.

We cannot proceed further with our thinking on the task which the Lord has committed to us in Georgia without pausing to pay tribute to Middleton Stuart Barnwell, D. D., fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia, who last week entered into his service in the Church Expectant. Bishop Barnwell was born in Kentucky in 1882, the son of a priest and the great nephew of the first bishop of Georgia, the Rt. Rev. Stephen Elliot. He was educated at Center College and the Virginia Theological Seminary. Ordained Deacon and Priest by the Bishop of Kentucky. He served in Shelbyville, Kentucky; Baltimore, .Maryland; New Bedford, Massachusetts; Birmingham, Alabama; and with the National Council of the Church. In 1925 he was consecrated a Bishop in the Church of God to serve the Missionary District of Idaho. In 1935 he was elected Bishop Coadjutor of Georgia and became the Diocesan in 1936. He retired in 1954, in which year he assisted in the consecration of his successor. On May 6, 1957, in Savannah, he entered into Paradise.

In Bishop Barnwell the Diocese of Georgia had the blessing for nineteen years of the leadership of a great missionary, a great preacher, and a humble and patient man of God. He came to the Diocese in a time of uncertainty — financially and politically — and to a diocesan family confused and divided. He set his hand to the task quietly and “determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified”. Many of his clergy recall his quiet admonition to them which characterized his own service — “Do the best you can with what you have in the place God puts you and leave the rest to him”. When he retired he turned over to his successor, a united diocesan family, a household in good order conscious of its missionary task and ready to meet the opportunity of the day.

On October 14, 1928 in Washington, D. C., as a Junior Seminarian, I heard one of the great sermons of my life. It was preached by the then Missionary Bishop of Idaho to a great assembly of the General Convention of the Church. The preacher declared—”There is no such thing as a foreign mission. A misson is foreign only as our love doesn’t reach to it. The neighbor across the street may be foreign to us if our heart doesn’t reach to him. Jesus Christ came into flesh not for Nordics or Anglo-Saxons but for all the world.” Bishop Barnwell brought this sermon in his life, not just in words, to Georgia where it characterized his leadership for 19 years.

Years later on February 24, 1953, at the consecration of the Rev. William H. Brady, as Coadjutor Bishop of Fond du Lac, Bishop Barnwell preached a sermon on the episcopate which echoed throughout the length and breadth of the Church for its pastoral insight and practical interpretation of Catholic order. While these were climactic moments in the work of the Bishop as a preacher, he never entered the pulpit that one was not reminded of the words of the Church at the moment of the consecration of a Bishop — “And remember that thou stir up the grace of God which is given thee by the imposition of our hands; for God hath not given us the spirit of fear but of power, and love, and soberness.”

A great missionary, a great preacher, and finally, above all, a humble and patient man of God. Humility and patience are rare virtues in our time on the American scene, but they are the first characteristics of a man of God and a Christian leader. Many a person in Georgia has been renewed and inspired in their Christian life by the humility and patience of their late Father in God. He conceived his task quite simply to be humble obedience to the command of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ—”Go, preach, teach, witness to these things that ye have learned of me.” To the fulfillment of this command the Bishop gave his life. “A good steward of the manifold grace of God.”

I ask the Convention to assist me tomorrow morning at 7:30 A.M. in offering the Holy Communion in thanksgiving to Almighty God for the life, work, and leadership of Middleton Stuart Barnwell, in humble petition for his soul that he may go from strength to strength, and in dedication of ourselves to the task to which our Lord Jesus Christ has called us. I further suggest to this convention the appointment of a committee to study the matter which is in all of our hearts—namely, the creation of a suitable and appropriate memorial to Bishop Barnwell and that this committee be requested to report its recommendations to the Bishop and Executive Council who should be given authority to act. I do not hesitate to request that the attention of this committee be called to some of the matters which appear later in this address as they were matters much on the heart and mind of the late Bishop.

I submit herewith to the Secretary of the Convention for publication in the Journal of the Diocese the Bishops Diary and record of official acts for the year 1956, and the auditor’s statement of the various funds for which the Bishop is responsible.

For the first time since I became your bishop we failed to set a record for confirmations in the diocese. We fell short of the record high of 1955. There was a total of 1956 of 668 confirmations and receptions. I am proud of the fact that the highest percentage of gain by any congregation was achieved by a mission church, Christ Church, St. Mary’s, where the communicant strength was increased 50 per cent in one year by confirmation. They have by this record presented a challenge to every congregation of the Diocese. The area covered by the Jurisdiction of Georgia is increasing steadily in population as is the whole Southland. We clergy are called to be evangelists and pastors to this growing population. The lay men and women of the Church are called to be Christian neighbors and missionaries to the increasing numbers of people around us. I am constrained to quote to you from my 1956 address to the Convention—”It Is high time the Episcopal Church rose from her dignified posture of waiting to be discovered and appreciated and went out into the byways and hedges seeking the souls for whom her Lord died – – – Is it too much to expect that in the course of a year every Christian should bring one other soul to our Lord and His Church?” Every clergyman who instructs a person for confirmation should require of that person a baptismal or confirmation candidate before the end of the year.

During the year I am happy to report that our clergy situation has improved. We have the highest number of clergy in active service that we have ever had. In 1956 we ordained to the priesthood the Rev. Robert L. Nichols, the Rev. William L. Worrell, and the Rev. Joseph L. Peacock. We ordered as Deacons the Rev. Albert H. Hatch, the Rev. Walter B. Sams, the Rev. Ben A. English, and the Rev. Edward S. Shirley. From other Dioceses there came to us the Rev. Bryan Griswold, the Rev. John R. Wooley, the Rev. Ronald A. Merrix, and the Rev. Alfred Mead.

To other Dioceses went the Rev. Mark Waldo, the Rev. William Baxter, and the Rev. I. Nathaniel Reid. Into retirement during the year went the Rev. William Bassill and the Rev. Robert N. Perry. Into non-parochial status went the Rev. Henry J. Russell. The Rev. John Ford, perpetual deacon, went into full time service as Deacon-in-charge of the congregations in Dublin and Cochran. Nine men are in preparation for the Holy Orders in five Seminaries and several are in process of admission as Postulants for Seminary entrance this fall. With the men graduating this June and applying for ordination and placement, the Diocese will be more adequately staffed with clergy than ever before. This is unhappily not true of our Negro congregations. We are in great need of three Negro priests right now to meet existing vacancies. We are, as is the whole Church, in need of Negro postulants. We only have one Negro at the present time studying for Holy Orders.
I would hope that the Department of Missions might in the coming year give prayerful thought and study with the help of our Negro clergy and laymen to the development of the Church’s work among Negroes in Georgia. Here is a great missionary opportunity right at hand. I would heartily endorse the recommendation made on the floor of the 1956 Convention that we assume full financial responsibility for the work among negroes in Georgia, relinquishing aid from the National Church. However, this is only part of the problem. We have been undoubtedly influenced adversely and inexcusably in our concern for this part of our Church family by the unhappy political and social prejudices magnified in the last several years. I am thankful for the Christian witness which has been made in these trying times, especially at certain critical points in the Diocese, by our clergy and people of both races. The fact remains, however, that our work in and among negroes has been lacking in enthusiasm, direction, and encouragement. There has been no new work opened for Negroes in my time in Georgia. One mission has been closed and another is about to be closed. I am reminded of the oft-quoted epitaph in an English Parish Church which described a member of the parish as one who always did the best things “In the worst times”. Surely the best thing for us and for our society in these times is to give ourselves whole-heartedly and intelligently to the strengthening and extension of the Lord’s Church among all people whom He came to seek and save. A vigorous and effective program of evangelization among negroes is called for by the very nature of the times.

The Department of Missions has rendered a real service this past year in studying the mission field, establishing a standard for mission congregations, and In seeking to make more effective the archdeaconry organization of the Diocese. We have discovered that we are at work in every county, except two, in which there has been a gain in population in the last fifteen years. Missions should be established in those two counties, and in the metropolitan areas of Augusta, Savannah, and Albany in addition to the congregations already serving these areas. We are pleased and thankful to welcome to parish status at this convention St. Anne’s, Tifton. They are achieving this goal under the new standard of the Department of Missions, which means they have done this by reaching a higher standard than obtained previously. We congratulate the priest-in-charge, the Rev. Charles Demere, the Vestry, and the people of St. Anne’s congregation.

The annual program of work for our Lord is financed and made possible by the quotas pledged by the individual congregations of the Diocese. The budget for this program is adopted by each convention and subsequently each congregation is given its quota based on the budget adopted. In this way we support all of the work of the Church at home and abroad. We support the Missionary work in Georgia as that work develops toward self-support. We contribute to the support of the Church’s university at Sewanee. We have taken as our objective for this Sewanee support $1.00 per year per communicant but presently we are giving only 470 per communicant per year because there are still many congregations which do not put the University in their budget. We also support in this program the Episcopal Home for Girls which we hope some day will be supported well enough to open its facilities to boys and become the Episcopal Home for Children. We also support in this program Christian Education, College work, sharing in this with the Diocese of Atlanta, and Youth work of the Diocese. Also in this program is a large item for debt retirement representing money expended in the past for capital improvements throughout the Diocese. It is only possible for you to participate in this great program by accepting and paying your quota. If your congregation is a responsible member of the family of the Church in Georgia you assume this quota as your first obligation. I am pleased to salute Christ Church, Frederica, Christ Church, Savannah, and St. Mark’s, Brunswick, as the congregations in the Diocese which in 1956 paid more than their quota in this great missionary program. The responsibility in the diocese for securing building sites for new mission churches, parish houses, rectories, is the responsibility for us all. The financial and pastoral burden cannot be borne by a few people. It must be borne by the whole diocesan family. A greater understanding of what it means to be a member of a diocesan family would come if we were to pray more regularly for other parts of the diocese than our own particular congregation. For this reason we suggested the diocesan cycle of prayer this past Lent which some parishes used and encouraged the Day of Prayer for the Diocese sponsored by the Woman’s Auxiliary. Much good would result, I am sure, if an annual exchange of clergy could be arranged on one Sunday between all parishes and missions. The source of the victory over the pagan world by the early Church lay in the unity of the faithful which made them a ready instrument in the hand of the Holy Ghost. In the Book of Acts there were few figures of heroic stature. The really striking and victorious feature was the united fellowship, the united front of the early Church. Today it is essential to have a united congregation to make an effective witness and it is not too difficult to do this. However it is a hundred times harder to accomplish in a diocese. Parochialism, narrow insularity, and prideful individualism dog our steps and prevent the united action of a diocese and weakens our witness.

As the work of evangelism already mentioned is one of our greatest needs, so also is the work of education in stewardship. So few of our people have learned to give. The work of Thos. White & Associates in several of our parishes has shown beyond doubt the capacity for giving which we have. Even the influence of this campaign in stewardship has affected congregations which did not use the professional assistance. It simply shows what can be done when our people are confronted by their leaders with their responsibility to give to God and His Church instead of being timidly asked to help meet a cautious budget, nervously adopted by a Vestry lacking in faith and missionary vision. I would lay upon the consciences of the clergy and the lay leaders of this Diocese the material wealth of the people of this most favored land which means the men and women of your congregations, and your routine Every Member Canvasses once a year in which the appeal is made for a “donation” to keep the organization going.

In these most properous days the Diocese is carrying an indebtedness of some seven or eight years duration. In these days of wonderful opportunity for the witness of the Church, we are making no provision for advance work. In our great need for a conference center, we have the possibility of the gift of a desirable property for this purpose, how shall we finance the development of the property? These are matters requiring more thought and judgment than the Bishop involved in the care of all the Churches is capable of giving. It is his hope that this convention is ready to face these matters by asking our most capable men to study our financial situation and recommend a plan and strategy for action.

Last year we accepted the gift of a building for a Diocesan House in Savannah. Members of this convention are invited to visit 611 East Bay and join with me in gratitude that the Diocese has an adequate and attractive headquarters. We received several splendid gifts and the work of renovation was carried forward by one of our capable laymen with a total cost of $12,873. When you see the Diocesan House you will wonder with me at the acquisition of such a property at such a comparatively nominal cost. We now have an attractive place for diocesan meetings with adequate parking facilities. Our historic and valuable records are suitably housed in a fire-proof vault. The second floor of Diocesan House presently serves as valuable storage space, but can in the future be developed into office space as need arises. Additional space has enabled us to bring relief to Miss Zoe Coburn who has for years handled alone the complicated detail of diocesan administration. We now have Mrs. Adrian Mosure assisting in this administration by serving as part time secretary to the Bishop. For all of this we are most thankful as it facilitates so much our getting on with our task.

The task that confronts us, certain aspects of which we have Mentioned in this address, is the same task that confronts the Church in every generation. It is the task of proclaiming to the world the sovereignty of Almighty God and ourselves living under that sovereignty. There are many today who are quick to define our task for us. Some believe that the task of the Church is to promote racial integration — others racial segregation or related social problems. Others believe it is ecumenicity or Church union. Others believe it is defending orthodoxy or neo-orthodoxy, or the Catholic Faith or the Protestant heritage. All of these things are important and should engage the thinking of clergy and intelligent lay people. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Faith of His Church are relevant to all this. But the task in which you and I are engaged is greater and more vital to our deepest need as well as to these secondary problems. The Absolute sovereignty of Almighty God is the most important lesson for you, for me, and for modern man to learn. The Lord God Omipotent reigneth, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are so prone to patronize the Almighty and cut Him to fit the pattern we desire for our convenience. Our generation does not like to be presented with the basic fact of the sovereignty of God — it prefers God to be manipulated and made serviceable. This accounts for much of the weakness in our Christianity today when the Church conforms to this denial of God’s sovereignty. The Lord God reigneth not only because He is the Maker and Creator and Sustainer of the world, but because He is the Redeemer of the world. He who brought light in the beginning to the Universe is the same who stands amidst the darkness of human sin as the Light of the World. He alone has the power to save from sin which is the greatest power in the world. God of our fathers revealed in Holy Scripture, the Lord and Life-giver of the Church reigns. He overcomes death with life, time with eternity, sin with salvation, and hell with heaven. It is our task to proclaim, to teach, to witness to this fact and to serve this God. There is no other.