Bishop’s Address of 2000


Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Last year the major part of my address urged you to get your congregation to pray about God’s purpose for you. As a reminder, I have asked that the central part of that address and my proposed Vision Statement be reprinted and made available to each of you tomorrow.

The Rt. Rev. Henry I. Louttit, Jr.

A leader’s vision cannot be imposed on a community, but a leader is responsible for bringing forth from the people a vision that is of the community. What has happened about the vision the Bishop proposed for our congregations?

A direct response was received only from the vestry of St. Mark’s, Brunswick, who, after studying and praying about my address and the Vision Statement for several months, wrote me an absolutely wonderful letter in which they thanked me for proposing a challenging vision, told me that they loved me, and they loved me for trying to get people to have a vision, but that for the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Georgia to double in five years was impossible. What they did not realize, was that I had, sitting on my desk, the hard data of our growth, or lack of it, as measured by attendance on Sundays and giving units. That data certainly suggests that we are sliding into oblivion, not growing. However, the letter was very supportive, and what was interesting to me is that St. Mark’s is one of the parishes that is growing. Yesterday, we received the 1999 data showing St. Mark’s growth from 200 to 310 members in Sunday attendance– 55% growth.

Despite the negative data, to double the membership of the diocese measured in average attendance on Sundays only requires every communicant to bring one person to church in the next five years who becomes active. To put it another way, it only requires each congregation to add 21 members a year for the next five years. Of course, the reality is that many of us now add more than 21 members a year, but we lose more than 21 members through moves and deaths. So to grow, we have to add 21 above those we lose. One congregation in 1999 added 28 people only to find that they were down four active members at the end of the year. That’s fairly typical. Most of us are adding members, and most of us could add those additional 21 without a major change in the makeup of our congregation that so often threatens us as a community.

In spite of this, I can think of three or four places where I believe factors beyond the congregation’s control makes any significant growth very difficult.

A year ago seven of our churches were growing at the rate of 15 members or more a year:

St. Andrew’s, Darien
Christ Church, St. Simons Island
Grace Church, Waycross
Good Shepherd, Augusta
St. Elizabeth’s, Richmond Hill
All Saints’, Tybee Island
Good Shepherd, Swainsboro

Also, seven churches were growing at about 10 members a year, one-half towards what we need:

St. Mark’s, Woodbine
St. Andrew’s, Douglas
St. Augustine’s, Augusta
St. Thomas’, Thomasville
Calvary, Americus
Trinity, Cochran
Trinity, Statesboro

In addition to these, 5 other churches whose growth were relatively flat in 1998, showed an annual growth of 15 members or more in the proceeding three years:

Christ Church, Savannah
St. Francis’, Savannah
St. Matthew’s, Savannah
St. Peter’s, Savannah
St. John’s, Bainbridge

During the last four years, almost one-third of our congregations has experienced the growth necessary to double the membership in our diocese in the next five years. Among them are some of our bigger churches, (those with over 300 people in church on a normal Sunday), and some of our smaller churches, (those with fewer than 50 people in church on a normal Sunday)! They’re in cities and small towns! Episcopal churches are growing. Most of our Episcopal churches could grow.

In more recent days I have gotten another formal and serious response to my request for prayer about our congregation’s purpose from the vestry of Christ Church, Savannah, which has adopted a concrete growth priority, stating numbers to attain and a plan. Before my address last year, we already had such a priority established in the parishes of:

Good Shepherd, Augusta
Christ Church, St. Simons Island
Grace Church, Waycross
St. Elizabeth’s, Richmond Hill
Good Shepherd, Swainsboro

I suspect that many of our other congregations have a commitment to grow – but they have never developed a concrete objective stating numbers to be added in a given year and, therefore, no concrete plans. Many of us have not even found out who the unchurched people are in our cities and towns.

To prepare for this year’s 2000 address, I read the address of the Third Bishop of Georgia, Bishop Cleland Nelson, to this convention in the year 1900. He talked about how the larger congregations were interested only in their own ministry to their people. “The fields in Georgia are ripe to harvest, but there was no energy in the parishes to reach out to them.” It is interesting to note that the Diocese of Georgia in those days called priests serving small congregations, “missionaries.” Unaware of that aspect of our history, we have now been moving towards calling pastors of our growing smaller congregations, “missioners.” We’ve done that to remind ourselves that priests supported from beyond the local congregations are clearly being supported by the other congregations in order to help these smaller congregations grow. The salutary reminder in the 1900 address is that a number of churches in Camden County and Glynn County, as well in the Savannah, Augusta, and Albany areas were present in 1900 and do not exist today. Churches that don’t grow, die – it may happen slowly, but they die no matter how much they are loved. On the other hand, congregations that were made up of only one or two people in 1900 are now:

St. Paul’s, Jesup
St. Mark’s, Woodbine
Grace Church, Sandersville
St. Andrews’s, Douglas

This contrasts with the no longer existing congregations of 1900 in Ocilla, Rochele, McRae, Vienna, Blackshear.

Enough about 100 years ago – what’s happening among us now? As far a I know, only the leaders of two congregations have studied and prayed about “the purpose of their congregation” in response to my request last year, but as I have gone about talking to vestries and visiting congregations I have seen the Holy Spirit at work in many, many of our communities:

1. In St. Stephen’s, Lee County, at my first official visitation for the year 2000, a man of mature years was presented for baptism. He came forward without Prayer Book – he answered all the questions from his heart. The entire congregation – men, women, and young people – were crying. He was radiant. He has found new life in Jesus Christ through St. Stephen’s!

We are purchasing a seven-acre lot between Lee County middle school and the new elementary school, across the street from the high school. It includes a ranch style house. A monetary gift to the diocese, over 30 years ago, has grown to a $100,000.00. It was given to help us start a new congregation in the Albany area. This gift from the diocese together with $100,000.00 borrowed by the congregation will purchase the land and develop an appropriate worship space. Their current income should be able to repay the loan. The diocese will provide continuing (but decreasing) support towards the cost of a “church planter” priest for three more years. St. Stephen’s, Lee County is reaching people for Christ and it’s leadership has pledged to work for the growth of the congregation.

2. I make my first Bishop’s visitation to our new church plant in Columbia County, the Church of the Holy Comforter, with church planter, Pastor Cynthia Taylor, this Sunday. They held their first worship service on Christmas Eve with 117 people participating. They meet on Sunday afternoons because that’s when the meeting space is available. They have about 75 members. You will meet their representatives to this convention tomorrow. St. Paul’s, Augusta, has graciously provided office space and office support to Pastor Cynthia Taylor, their long-time assistant, as she organized and found families this fall for the new congregation. The planting of the Church of the Holy Comforter in Columbia County has been supported by many individuals and congregations of the Augusta Convocation. The Church of the Good Shepherd has placed a line item in their budget for the year 2000 to support Holy Comforter in the amount of $5,000 a year. The last Diocesan Capital Funds drive with the support and leadership of the Augusta Convocation made funds available for the purchase of land in Columbia County to facilitate the planting of their new congregation.

3. You and I provide half of the financial support for our Korean Missioner, Fr. Daniel Lee, who gets half of his support from St. James’, Hinesville, which is the seventh Korean speaking congregation in the Episcopal Church and the only one in the South. Fr. Lee is currently forming a second Korean-speaking congregation in our diocese, “nested in” space provided by St. Augustine’s Church here in Augusta. It is called St. Francis’. Fr. Daniel Lee has also had a sizeable part in bringing into the Episcopal Church this fall two Korean speaking congregations, one in Tampa, Florida, and one in Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to that, he has inspired at least four Korean pastors of other denominations to seek Episcopal ordination. In my Episcopal visitations this year you have heard or will hear more about our part in sharing the Gospel in the Korean language in the south of the United States.

4. Mr. Frank Logue is one of those who will be ordained a deacon here Saturday morning. After his graduation from Virginia Seminary in May, he will be assigned to Camden County to plant a new congregation in the rapidly growing area around Kings Bay Naval Base. He will be supported by our gifts through the diocesan budget and, I hope, by the love and work of members of our congregations, Christ Church in St. Marys and St. Mark’s, Woodbine. Christ Church plans to increase the size of their Parish House by one-third, preparing the way for steady growth in this small parish. They are looking forward to building a larger church building on the corner of their property in the near future.

5. What about growth in long-time congregations who have less than 100 people in church on Sunday? With their commitment to try to grow we have placed priests with special training in “redevelopment and rebirth” as their pastors: Pastor James N. Parker is working with Holy Angels’, Pooler, Fr. Kurt Miller is working with Atonement, Augusta, Pastor Susan Panton is working with Holy Cross, Thomson. Then in the west, around I-75, we have eight small missions that have been there a long time. Most of them have at best been able to pay for between one-twelfth and one-eighth of a pastor’s time. Fr. Jim Parker, with the part time help of Fr. Jerry Crook, has been named our Western Missioner. Interestingly, 100 years ago we also had a Western Missionary. With Fr. Parker’s church growth and church planting skills, we are trying to discover which of these three congregations, Christ Church, Cordele, St. Matthew’s, Fitzgerald, and Trinity, Blakely, can grow and how to best responsibly support the others in their ministries at this time. In the southwest, we also have three congregations – St. Barnarbas’ and Christ the King, Valdosta, and St. John’s, Bainbridge – which are self supporting while paying a full time priest. We also have three missions which are currently self supporting while paying a full time priest and we have St. Stephen’s, Lee County, which is paying about one-half of the church planter’s salary. All of these expect to be parishes in the near future. Two other congregations are working together to support a pastor, whom they will share. A couple are supplied at this time by retired priests. One has a priest come in once a month from a nearby large parish. We have services in most of them every Sunday, but that is not secured very long into the future. With our experiences in Cordele, Fitzgerald, and Blakely we hope to develop a technique for working with and supporting congregations that have been in their communities a long time, to bring about rebirth and growth in ministry.

6. St. John and St. Mark’s, Radium Springs, with Pastor Joe Clift is the product of rebirth and growth. Two struggling missions destroyed by the Albany floods, one Black and one mostly White, have come together and have been reborn. This year they are self-supporting with a lovely new $200,000.00 parish house under construction. This will house their community which has far outgrown the facilities they currently use, with the exception of the church which itself is comfortably full. The good news is not that they are self-supporting or have a lovely new facility under construction, but they have grown up as St. John and St. Mark’s and have discovered a mission of witnessing to how Christ can overcome racial divisions in a culture that, if not racist, still has sizable racist segments.

They are justly proud in their offering of a seminar on Nature Spirituality to which they invited people from the Albany region. They have been drawing 40 to 50 non-members to each session. They are also proud of the growth within their own community of a large adult Sunday school class. Life is everywhere visible in the people and the priest.

7. Last school year we held several conferences for the leaders of congregations with less than 50 people in church on Sunday. We have 22 congregations this size. At these conferences a number of members of our diocese talked about what needed to happen for growth to at least sustain our current size and perhaps to become stronger so that we could do more ministry. All but a couple of our smaller congregations responded and most of the people that came reported being encouraged in their ministries. This year we have had one of two such conferences for small parishes – those between 50 and 150 people on Sunday morning. . At the lower end of that spectrum, we actually have 21 congregations that have 50 to 100 people on Sunday morning. Many of these support a full time pastor, but it becomes more and more difficult to pay the bills. These conferences begin with an overview of the changes that have happened to our culture and the job market, which has placed our congregations in a different situation in their communities. Then there are working groups which the various members of the vestry can choose to participate in:

a. How to prepare for growth
b. How to have a successful Sunday school for one child or a few
c. How to discern and support members in developing their ministries within the congregation and keep them from burning out
d. How to teach and share stewardship in a small congregation
e. How to use the media to make the larger community aware that we are in the community and alive. (Unless they know that we are there we can hardly expect to be an option for someone looking for a church.)

Those that came to the first conference were very positive in their feed back. All wished that more members of their congregation had been able to come. The second of these conferences will be held next Saturday at St. Anne’s, Tifton. It’s not too late for you and your friends to come. But do please call so that we can plan and provide the number for lunch (free) which we need for those who are going to be there.

8. In my first six visitations this year of our Lord 2000, I was present at baptisms at five including at least the baptism of one adult in each of them! Is the Holy Spirit moving within and among ourselves in our church? Yes! Alleluia!
a. The parishioners of St. Mark’s, Brunswick, each Sunday prepare and serve lunch to their neighbors, many of whom are street people. This happens in an inadequate parish house from which they have to move out their adult hospitality and education in order to share with their neighbors. The same congregation has a Spanish Eucharist on Sunday evenings.
b. Grace Church, Waycross, commissioned a ministry team to begin Episcopal worship in surrounding towns. This team is prepared to facilitate worship, hospitality, Christian education, ministry to others, and to gather new folk into our part of the family in branch congregations supported by the larger parish of Grace Church. The towns in which this work will be done are small enough that there is not the expectation that these congregations must be expected to grow to the size to support a full time pastor.
c. Christ Church, Savannah, has a growing number of young couples taking their place in the regular life of the parish.
d. Christ the King, Valdosta, is offering the people in Lowdnes County innovative opportunities to grow in their spirituality through a number of offerings to learn about prayer in a number of different forms.
e. St. Andrew’s, Darien, is moving to use some of their endowment fund income to support seminarians from our diocese.
f. Christ Church, Frederica, is moving towards encouraging ministry in mission in our diocese by grants from a portion of their endowment fund to congregations who need funds in order to develop their ministry.
g. Good Shepherd, Augusta, is building a new 2.3 million-dollar addition to the Episcopal Day School. This is a clear statement to the Richmond County area that the Episcopal Church cares about young people.
h. St. Paul’s, Jesup, is taking on a ministry with St. Thomas Aquinas’ in Baxley and is sharing their priest with the people of St. Thomas Aquinas’.
i. St. Margaret of Scotland, Moultrie, has purchased a beautiful site on Main Street in Moultrie and is preparing to build a church/parish house facility upon it.
j. Trinity Church, Statesboro, has its 1.3 million-dollar church and parish house under construction on a new location on the by-pass.
k. Christ Church, Augusta, has created with endowment income a reading enrichment program after school in their neighboring elementary school, which serves some of the poorest children here in Richmond County. The success rate has been highly encouraging – and interestingly one adult working at that school was so struck that any Christian congregation would fund a program of that kind for other people’s children that she came to find out what Christ Church was about and has become an active member.
l. Another sign of the Spirit working among us is the support pledge by most of our congregations for work of our church in the diocese and beyond. We are particularly thankful for those who accept 100% of their asking which make up for those who can not or will not give their share of the budget. (About 17% of parish income would support our budget if everybody gave at that level) A special thanks to those who have moved closer to accepting their asking this year.
19 Congregations who received no subsidy pledged 100% of their asking:

Calvary, Americus
St. Michael’s, Waynesboro
St. Mark’s, Brunswick
St. Andrew’s, Darien
Trinity, Statesboro
Annunciation, Vidalia
St. Peter’s, Savannah
Trinity, Cochran
St. Luke’s, Hawkinsville
St. Mary Magdalene, Louisville
St. John & St. Mark’s, Albany
Trinity, Blakely
Christ Church, Cordele
St. Matthew’s, Fitzgerald
St. Richard’s, Jekyll Island
All Saints’, Tybee Island
St. John’s, Bainbridge
St. James’, Quitman
Atonement, Augusta

10 Congregations made a significant increase in their pledges for the year 2000:

Good Shepherd, Augusta
Our Savior, Martinez
Christ Church, St. Simons Island
St. Paul’s, Savannah
St. Thomas’, Savannah
St. Thomas’, Thomasville
St. Paul’s, Jesup
Christ the King, Valdosta
Holy Angels’, Pooler
St. Margaret’s, Moultrie

The problem with lists such as this is that my memory is far from perfect. I hope you will forgive this Bishop for any oversights and rejoice in the ministries of your brothers and sisters that I have told you about and remind me of the good stories of God’s love at work in your area.

Now to support the ministries God is calling us to do here in our area of Georgia we have to have ordained leaders, priests, and deacons – and some would say we need more Bishop. We, also, clearly need more “exchangeable energy,” which is what we Americans call money.

I would report that a year ago the Diocesan Council agreed that the most important thing we could do as 69 congregations together was to encourage good teaching about stewardship. We have a history of this in the Diocese of Georgia, but we have to be reminded and called back to the task on a regular basis. Thus we invited one of the outstanding teachers of stewardship today, Dr. Douglas Meeks, a professor from Vanderbilt and active Methodist leader. He’s agreed to come and preach and speak to us Episcopalians about Christian stewardship.

Your Bishop knows that the Gospel is about living for Christ and that there is no way to be a Christian without realizing that everything that we have is God’s gift to us. We are not self made – you have been given much. God is a great lover and the greatest giver of all. I hope Dr. Meeks can remind us in encouraging ways and help us remember how to share the good news with our friends so that they will rejoice in God’s good gifts to us and share them with others.

We have provided presentations to the clergy and the Diocesan Council and have a conference planned for February 25 & 26 at Honey Creek for your wardens and leaders either currently in place or who might be in place to help your congregation teach and hold up to people “Planned Giving.” This is to remind people that good stewardship includes caring for our family and providing funds we leave at our death for charitable causes. To do this, Christians need to have a prayerfully thought out will. For a number of people more can actually be left to a family if there are thoughtful charitable gifts. Otherwise, the government taxes and, if there is no will, the cost of court process and lawyers will use up a considerable amount of an estate. Unfortunately, most people in Georgia die without wills. I know none of us want to think about our own death and so, therefore, we put off writing a will or updating it. But since 1549 our church’s Prayer Book has a rubric that directs the priests to make sure members have thought about their stewardship for their family and their on going charitable interests and to prepare a will. You can find it in the Book of Common Prayer on page 445, which states that the duty of Christian parents is “to make prudent provision for the well-being of their families, and of all persons to make wills while they are in health, arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, not neglecting, if they are able, to leave bequest for religious and charitable uses.”

Very few of our congregations have endowments. Costs keep going up. This is a wonderful opportunity for congregations to begin to encourage the development of endowment funds, which will allow the ministry that we appreciate to continue into the future. I hope that you will have members of your congregation present at the wardens’ and leaders’ conference on planned giving.

In closing, I ask you to pray for our stewardship as congregations in providing active members reaching out in God’s love to God’s world around us. Pray for our stewardship of our assets both as individual members of the church and as congregations to further Christ’s work in the world. Pray for our stewardship of people that we call forth, people with the gifts that we need, to be ordained priests and deacons and to serve in the many ministries of leadership within our parishes. Pray that your vestry will study and pray about the purpose of your congregation from God’s view point and that they will prepare concrete objectives to move to fulfilling that purpose. Perhaps you could ask every vestry member in your congregation to read the selection from my 1999 Diocesan Address and to get started in this process of prayer and meditation on God’s will for us in this decade and century in south and east Georgia.