Bishop’s Address of 1963

to the 141st Annual Convention of The Diocese of Georgia
given by the Rt. Rev. Albert Rhett Stuart
at St. Paul’s Church, Savannah, on May 7, 1963

I greet you in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. We are gathered here at St. Paul’s Church, Savannah for the business of the Kingdom of God in the 141st annual Convention of this Diocese and the 71st annual meeting of the Episcopal Churchwomen of Georgia. The Convention has met here at St. Paul’s five times. The most recent meeting of the Convention here was in 1954, at which time I was elected to succeed Bishop Barnwell and called to be the sixth bishop of the Diocese. St. Paul’s Church began as a Mission in 1852. The present church building dates from 1907.

Let me now summarize certain developments in the life of the Diocese since our Convention last year. Certainly the event which has meant most to the development of our work was the creation of the office of Archdeacon by the last Convention and the acceptance by the Rev. Alfred Mead of the call to that office. Fr. Mead began his service as Archdeacon September 1st, 1962 and has been of invaluable assistance in the missionary work of the Diocese. With remarkable rapidity, he has gained a knowledge of our Mission work, its potential, and its problems. He is making a splendid contribution to the thinking and planning of the Bishop and the Department of Missions. I know that the mission clergy and congregations are grateful, as I am, for his pastoral concern and assistance in their difficult tasks, and for his vision, energy, and loyalty.

In January we lost from the Church Militant here on earth our senior presbyter in point of age. The Rev. Frederick Cousins died on St. Simons Island on January 9th at the age of 92. Mr. Cousins was born in England in 1870 and came to the Diocese in 1929 to serve St. Andrew’s, Darien. He and Mrs. Cousins directed the Anson Dodge Home for Boys from his retirement in 1938 until the home closed in 1956. Greatly beloved on St. Simons Island, Mr. Cousins was admired and respected throughout the Diocese. He with other members of the Convention who have died during the year will be remembered at the Altar tomorrow morning.

Last Whitsuntide in St. Matthew’s Church, Savannah, we ordered Mr. Harry Nevels Deacon in the Holy Catholic Church. Mr. Nevels is the first Negro to be ordained in the nine years I have been in the Diocese. The occasion was one for great rejoicing and thanksgiving. All of the congregations need the finest leadership possible, but it is particularly urgent now for our Negro people to produce strong, responsible leaders. We were able to place Mr. Novels in charge of St. John’s Mission, Albany, where he is rendering effective service. His assignment just preceded the Albany racial crisis which received such widespread attention. Mr. Nevels and the other clergy in Albany were invaluable in their leadership of the Church in the difficult days of that crisis. Because of their leadership, the Church in Albany gave a splendid witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ for which we all may be devoutly thankful.

During the year we have acquired a house in Savannah for the Archdeacon; completed a vicarage at Holy Cross, Thomson; dedicated a parish house for Christ Church, St. Marys; completed the vicarage at St. Augustine’s, Augusta; dedicated a parish house for St. Mary’s, Augusta; acquired a lot and completed it vicarage at St. Patrick’s, Albany; rededicated St. Michael’s, Waynesboro after extensive renovation and enlargement; received a gift of property for Holy Trinity, Blakely; accepted a gift of land in the outskirts of Augusta; acquired a lot for a vicarage for Trinity, Harlem; accepted a gift of land for Holy Spirit, Dawson; consecrated a new Chapel for St. Paul’s, Albany; repaired and painted the exterior of the Bishop’s House; built a vicarage at Trinity, Cochran; air-conditioned St. Andrew’s, Darien; acquired a vicarage at St. Matthew’s, Fitzgerald; built an addition to the parish house at St. Anne’s, Tifton; received a gift for air-conditioning the Chapel of Our Saviour at the Conference Center; received a fine gift for the Episcopal Educational Fund for theological education; received $4,287.00 in gifts for the Bishop’s Dollar and received in visitation offerings $4,711.00 for theological education; completed payment of quota for building All Saints’ Chapel, Sewanee; and reduced indebtedness on Conference Center to $44,200. For these material achievements and blessings we are grateful to God. Statistical reports of this work, the Bishop’s Diary, and the audited accounts of the Funds for which the Bishop is responsible are submitted herewith to this Convention for recording by the Secretary in the Journal of the Convention.

I am pleased to tell you that the have the largest number of Postulants and Candidates for Holy Orders that we have ever had in my episcopate. There are eleven men presently in Seminaries, two expecting to enter, and two waiting to be accepted. This is most encouraging, but there are serious problems of how to finance their theological training and how to finance their placement in fields where they are so much needed. This brings as to a major problem confronting this Convention—the problem of financial support of the Lord’s work.

We ended the year 1963 with a deficit of $12,296.00 after reducing every budget item including elimination of all funds for theological education. The Executive Council in January was faced with the problem of absorption of this deficit in this year’s budget. The result is that every Department has been cut so low that any effective program is well nigh impossible. Worse than that—for the first time we have had to tell the National Church that we cannot meet our quota in full for the world-wide mission of the Church. The possibility of developing new work in the diocese must be postponed. We should be establishing Missions in Camden County, Richmond County, in Brunswick, Hinesville, and Eastman. We cannot afford to purchase sites or place missionaries in these fields. The Diocese is actually saying: No more progress—develop no new fields—take no more men for the Ministry. Why in these prosperous times is the Diocese saying this? There the undoubtedly many reasons. Underlying all of them is the basic spiritual need of the people of the Church and the apparent inadequacy of our clerical and lay leadership in dealing with this need of the people. “If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” Our leadership seems uncertain as we engage in a battle between self-sufficiency and faith in the living God; between self will and repentance; between self-centeredness and Christian charity. It is is no time for the leadership of the Church to be uncertain or preoccupied with trivialities. We aren’t called to the relatively small task of church-work. We are called to the immense task of the work of the Church.

Church leaders and members alike must face questions like this—Who are we? What does God expect of us? What is our unique and special function in the world today? It is time we changed the direction of our thinking from what can I expect the Church to do for me? to What can I do for the Church? What does God expect of His Church in Georgia at this moment in history? What is the work of the Church? How can we demonstrate that we are God’s people in something more than name? The leaders of the Church most ask these questions of themselves and answer then clearly in word and deed. I venture to share with this Convention three answers that have come to me.

God expects us, as members of His Church, to consider the world as our parish. If we have learned anything during 1962 it is that the people who live on this planet are members one of another. What happened on a relatively small island in the Caribbean caused not only this Nation but the people of the world to live in dread for many anxious days. This is the kind of world we live in. God’s Church has a ministry for the whole world. We are called to work and pray and give for a World Mission. Nothing could be more ridiculous in relation to God’s purpose and our mission than for us to be absorbed in trivialities, in petty divisions and dissensions, in self-centered concern for our own comfort at a time when the very survival of the human race is at stake. Episcopalians in Georgia may be small in number but our vision must be large. All that we do must be in terms of God’s purpose for His people everywhere. The times call as never before for the people of the Church to demonstrate such love and brotherhood among themselves and toward those around them that this quality as it extends binds together the human family under God and the Father of us all.

God expects as, as members of His Church, to be instruments for the unity of Christendom. We can rejoice that many great steps have been taken in the past year to bring Christian people into closer fellowship with one another. Efforts in this direction have been going on for many years and in almost all of these efforts our Anglican Communion has had a leading part. Significant developments have been taking place under the leadership of His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the World Council of Churches, and His holiness Pope John XXIII. We believe deeply that the world is too strong for a divided Church; that it is God’s will for his people that the Lord Christ’s prayer be fulfilled “that they all may be one as thou, Father, art in Me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.” Jno. 17:20.

Many are skeptical in this matter of Christian reunion because they are still nursing prejudices or cannot visualize how the united Church would function in the world. Solely we can trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit to work ant the details. The great expectation now is for us to find the deep common bands that will enable us to achieve oneness of spirit and purpose in spite of the historic differences that have divided us. It is a quest not only for more effective Church life but for deliverance from all the other tragic divisions that mar our life together and endanger our very existence—divisions between notions and groups of nations, divisions between races, divisions between social groups, between man and man. We are called to nothing less than seeking the unity of mankind under the Lordship of Christ.

Episcopalians, because of their history and character are especially equipped to help differing groups cattle together and work together. It is obvious that a part of our mission is to be a reconciling force in the world. Therefore every parish and mission has this task in the communities where we are at work. Every clergyman and lay leader has the responsibility to seize every opportunity in his community to help Cod’s people work together and so contribute to the growing unity of the people of God.

God expects us, as members of His Church to exercise a clear, definite, and joyous stewardship of time, energy, and possessions. We have made some progress in our sense of responsibility for all the blessings God has given us, but we have a long way to go. Especially is this true of the Episcopal Church, because God has given its so much—so much in terms of an intelligent faith and magnificent patterns of worship; so much in terms of material blessings and precious freedom; so much in terms of spiritual inheritance and present opportunity. Daily we need to remember the Lord’s warning: “Onto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required”—Luke 12:18. There are still too many Episcopalians who consider the Church something to be used for their convenience and who would appropriate God’s blessings on their own terms. There are some lay leaders, and even some clerical leaders, who haven’t yet discovered that a Christian is a Steward of Almighty Cod and that these solemn words of the Lord are directed to us in our responsibility:

“Who that is the faithful and wise steward whom his lord hath set over his household to give them their food in due season? Blessed is that steward whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you that he will set him over all that he hath. But if that evil steward shall say in his heart, my lord tarrieth and shall begin to beat his fellow servants, and shall eat and drink with the drunken, the lord of that steward shall come in a day when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not, and shall cut him asunder and appoint his portion with the hypocrites—there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Mt. 24:45.51.

Christianity is not sentimentality. The Church is not something to be manipulated for our convenience. God expects us to be what He has called us to be—His people in the world, doing His work, making people aware of Him in all areas of their life because of our own constant awareness of Him.

As we confront the troubles of this generation and our inadequacies, as we examine our diocesan life and work, perhaps it is well to remind ourselves once more of the ABC of it all. The Church is not to do something for the world. God has done it once for all—conquered sin and death. The Risen Lord with us—that is the basic fact of our existence. Jesus reigns—He is the Alpha and Omega—all authority in heaven and earth is His. He builds up and casts down. He is not struggling against a world too strong for Him. He is not appealing to us to help Him overcome the world. He has overcome the world and all things—the things that so baffle us and frighten us—are in His hands to deal with as He will. How foolish we are when we allow ourselves to be tempted to seek some other source of authority—some other assurance for our work—some other reason for urgency—some other grounds for commanding the Church to others. As if who Christ is and what He has done were not good enough reasons for joyously going to the ends of the earth, eagerly serving with one another, and gladly offering our stewardship. What fools we make of ourselves when we allow other things to get into the center of the picture! The context of Christianity is the joy of the resurrection: “All authority in heaven and earth is given to me. Go therefore.” This means being utterly committed not only in word but in deed to the faith that takes every single thing on the assurance that Jesus is Lord. That means accepting that everything—our desires, our way of life—is secondary, is under judgment and that the one decisive thing which governs everything else is that He is Lord.

There have been times when I have heard the Church defended as being useful to a community or to the nation. There have been times when Christianity has been championed as the bulwark of a certain system such as democracy or capitalism. Now, God have mercy on us, we hear it talked about as if it were the defense for the western way of life against communism. What absolute nonsense this is! As though the Church of God were a sort of spiritual stratagem for the cold war! All of this is to forsake the living fountain and hew out cisterns, broken cisterns, that hold no water. The whole context, the whole explanation of the Church and the work of the Church is that Jesus Christ is risen and He is Lord of all. The Risen Christ stood in the midst of the disciples and said to them—”Peace be with you.” That word peace means the fullness of God’s blessing on His people—peace with God, peace with man—it means everything that God has in store for His people. If we are really believers and followers of the Risen Christ we are the bearers of peace. The work of the Church is to bring the fullness of God’s blessing to his people—it is to be an instrument of the Risen Christ through which he says to this generation everywhere in the world—”Peace he with You.”