Bishop’s Address of 1967

given by the Rt. Rev. Albert Rhett Stuart
to the 145th Convention of the Diocese of Georgia
meeting at Christ Church, Valdosta, on February 3, 1967

I greet you all in the Name of the Father, and the. Son, and the Holy Ghost, and give thanks for our fellowship in the Body of Christ which is the blessed company of all faithful people.

This is the first time a diocesan convention has assembled here in Valdosta. I rejoice in this historic occasion as it indicates the growth of the Church in Valdosta to a strength capable of entertaining a convention and to a vision encompassing the whole family of God. Nearly a 100 years ago, at the Diocesan Convention in 1870, the convocational system for promoting missionary work in the Diocese was established. Lowndes County was then included in what was known as the Savannah Convocation. In 1871 the Dean of the Savannah Convocation, reported to the Convention that there were a group of Episcopalians in Valdosta who had raised $100.00, secured a lot for a church, and were working on a building program. The first Christ Church, Valdosta was consecrated in 1888 by Bishop Weed of Florida in the absence of Bishop Beckwith who was then the Bishop of Georgia and at the time was out of the Diocese on a trip abroad. More than 60 years later the congregation moved to the present site on North Patterson Street, strategically located across from Valdosta State College. The first service was held in the present building on February 20, 1949. Christ Church was admitted to the diocesan convention in 1954 as a parish and the Rev. Michael Kippenbrock was the first rector of the parish. It was at the Convention, held in St. Paul’s Church, Savannah, that the present Bishop of the Diocese was elected, so that Christ Church and I share the same canonical seniority in the Diocese.

The vitality of the parish is indicated by the fact that the plans and work of entertaining the Convention have been entirely carried forward by the laymen of the parish in an interim between rectors. Great credit is due the Wardens and Vestry and especially Mr. Harrison Tillman, Chairman of Arrangements, for the way in which they have planned and arranged for our work at this Convention.

Gathered here with the members of this 145th Convention of the Diocese is the 75th Annual Meeting of the Episcopal Churchwomen of the Diocese. It is significant that at this “diamond anniversary” of the Women of the Diocese there are two women sitting as delegates in the Diocesan Convention for the first time. Diamonds have indicated traditionally a desirable change in the status of women;

“In the matter of the status of women, the Church is considerably behind secular society. As long ago as 1930 the bishops in the Lambeth Conference pointed out the need for opening responsible positions of leadership in Church to women. They pointed out women should be given opportunities for leadership “which provide full scope for their powers and bring them to real partnership with those who direct the work of the Church and genuine responsibility for their, share in it, whether in parish or diocese.” The implementation of his statement has lagged. The General Convention has been unable to allow women deputies in the House of Deputies, and only last year did we in Georgia change the Constitution to allow women to sit in the Convention of the Diocese. In the meantime, secular society has encouraged women to take their place on the basis of their respective qualifications and achievements. Women are, therefore, making their contribution as lawyers, doctors, Judges, legislators, professors and in science, technology, business, and commerce.

At the Anglican Congress in Toronto in 1963 the whole Church was called upon to seek renewal and a realignment of structure to meet today’s needs. We are engaged in such a study here in Georgia. The first overdue result has been to take steps to bring the Women of the Church to full participation in the organized life of the Church, and to study means for releasing the great spiritual power of the womanhood of the Church into the Mission of the Church. I rejoice in their presence in this Convention and I sincerely hope that this Convention will take the necessary action to revise the diocesan canons so that any limitations on women serving the Church at the local level of parish and mission may be removed. Gone is the day when the Women of the Church were auxiliary to the Mission of the Church and expected only to be coffee makers, casserole producers, or hawkers at a bazaar for a missionary box or sellers of tickets for a production to buy a new carpet for the sanctuary.

It is expected that the Women of the Diocese will take their place on the Bishop and Council and all diocesan boards and committees. It is likely that the diocesan board of Episcopal Churchwomen will simplify its organization and decentralize its function in order to place the full power of the women behind the lay ministry of the Church in its one mission.

This leads me to deal with a question that needs to be clarified. What is a layman? I am convinced that confusion in the answer to this question underlies much of the weakness of the Church today and produces many of the difficulties we face in this Diocese. In common speech, layman is used to describe some one who lacks expert knowledge, so that I am a layman to a doctor or a stock broker and not qualified to pronounce on matters of medicine or the stock exchange. As Christians we allow a definition of layman in completely negative terms. Our definition of the word is, a layman is a member of the Christian Church who does not belong to the Clergy. It is astonishing to define the laity in terms of what they are not. We talk about the vocation of the laity or the ministry of the laity but no one is inspired or excited about a vocation not to be something. In actual fact the word laity has a tremendous positive sense. It comes from the Greek word laos meaning people, the people of God, enjoying all the privileges and bearing all the responsibilities of the People of God. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people.” There is nothing negative about those words of St. Peter. A layman is a member of the holy people of God redeemed and sanctified by the blood of Christ and incorporated into His body in order to be His body in the world. The laity are the Church and the Church is the body of Christ. We have allowed the Church to become clericalized and so we miss the implications of this great truth. Because the clergy have given their whole time to their specialized function in the laos and have been paid for it, the laity have relinquished the Church’s mission to them. In answer to the question “What does the average layman really want?”, the answer was given: “He wants a building that looks like a Church, a clergyman dressed the way he approves, services of the kind he has been accustomed to, and to be left alone.” But how can he be left alone when he is a part of Christ’s body? Christ cannot live in the world he disengaged from it. He cannot be uninvolved in its pain, its hunger, its need, its joys. A layman is just as much a member of the body of Christ as the Presiding Bishop. His responsibility is no less. His commission is the same. Some one has said “The laity are not helpers of the clergy so the clergy can get their job done, but the clergy are helpers of the whole people of God so that the laity can be the church.” It is true, of course, that the Lord appointed Holy Orders within the people of God with authority to discharge certain functions within the body. The New Testament has a high doctrine of the ordained ministry but only because it has a high doctrine of the laity. Clergy and laity alike have one mission and that is to embody and implement Christ’s love and compassion in the world. We are often tempted to think how much better and purer we would be if we separated ourselves from the world, but our vocation is to be the Church in the world. Archbishop Temple used to say “the Church is the one society which exists primarily for the sake of those who are outside of it.” You wouldn’t think so if you read parish bulletins, or listen to criticism of the Church’s effort to deal with the poor, the underprivileged, the uneducated, or the social evils robbing our fellowman of freedom and dignity; you wouldn’t think so if you watch the giving of Episcopalians in Georgia to the world-wide mission of the Church. The most any congregation gives is 39% while the average is 18-1/2%. We cannot risk the tension of being in the world but not of it, so we busy ourselves with so-called religious activities and become Holy Joes or pious women devoting more and more time to in-group religious activities. This is safe – this Church work – no one objects to this, in fact it lends itself to status. Hitler didn’t object to that kind of religion, the Communists of Russia permit this. What is objected to is the kind of religion that affects the way men work and the way they govern and the way they teach and the way they make love and the way they keep up their families – and that is exactly the kind of religion we see in the New Testament. The Church is never criticized until it begins to deal in problem areas of the social order, and it is to this task we are called – clergy and laity. Let us get on with the mission – “Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”

The purpose of a diocese is to make it possible for a household of Christian faith consisting of a bishop, clergy, and people to gather together do express its faith in worship, witness, and work in society. Parish buildings and arrangements as well as diocesan structures and arrangements are all subordinate to the mission of the Church. Parishes do not exist to strengthen the work of a diocese nor to serve a diocese – they are the diocese. The diocese does not exist to support a mission congregation – the mission congregation is the diocese in a certain locality. We have lost our sense of we identity, with each other because of a “we – they” syndrome. The Church in Guyana is not a foreign mission – it is the body of Christ in Guyana of which we are a part. We need structures and forms that emphasize the inter-dependence of missions and parishes upon each other, and of this diocese upon other dioceses. For this reason we are taking a hard look at the structure and organization of this diocese. A hard-working committee is making a first report to this Convention. I commend their thinking to your thought and prayers. They have a very difficult task and they are addressing themselves to it with determination and hope. Parishes and missions and dioceses must learn truly to accept each other. Each must listen to the other and hear what the other is saying. Each must be ready to give to the other in generosity and to receive in humbleness from the other not as rights but as privileges. Each must work with the other in total strategy. The organization of the Church in the Diocese must be such as to facilitate this process and fellowship. “All one body we, one in hope, and doctrine and one in charity.” It is my opinion that the Bishop and Council of Georgia should become a place of meeting between parishes and missions and clergy and laity in which strategy and long-range planning, coordination and evaluation are worked out under the over-all mission of the Church at home and overseas. The Bishop and Council should not have responsibility for the direct operation of the diocesan program. The program should be administered in the parishes and missions with executive heads. The Diocesan Convention should be a gathering of the family to rejoice in our fellowship with one another, to give thanks to God for His great mercies, to be inspired and renewed in our mission, and to bear witness with joy and gladness to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Our Commission on Mutual Responsibility and Independence in the Body of Christ is recommending a great opportunity for growth in the understanding of our world-wide mission in suggesting that we enter a companion relationship with the Diocese of Guyana. We are indeed honored to have as our guest at this Convention His Grace, the Archbishop of the West Indies who is the Bishop of Guyana and will be our preacher at the Holy Eucharist tomorrow. The Archbishop was a wonderful host to the Archdeacon and myself when we visited Guyana last year. We are grateful for his interest in this diocese and for his patience with your bishop. I am sure that a liaison between Guyana and Georgia would prove a blessing to us all in our one mission.

You have probably noticed that I have made no attempt in this address to look back on the past year. The statistical reports of the Bishop’s Office are presented by title herewith to the Secretary of the Convention and may be read in the Journal of the Convention. Other reports of the life and work of the Church in this diocese in 1966 will hear or can read in the Journal. It is not that there has not been much to be thankful for and for which to give God the praise both in the Church and in the world. It is not that there has not been much of which to be ashamed in our stewardship and for which we ask God’s pardon and forgiveness both in the Church and in the world. It is simply that we have reached a point in the history of this diocese where it seems proper that we look at ourselves as we are right now in 1967 in a world in flux, in a world where change is the status quo. Urbanization, civil rights, cybernation, poverty, population explosion, theological ferment, moral confusion – these are words that label some of the facts of our world. Our involvement in this world is a fact – not a choice. The Church is the body of Jesus Christ. We are members of that Body so we have a mission of salvation thru Jesus Christ in our involvement. With a sense of that mission, we can not only hold steady in the midst of the rapid changes, but actually rejoice in the opportunities which the changes present to us for advancing the mission of the Church. With a consciousness of our membership in the body we can only exercise restraint in the midst of frenzied anxiety, but actually grow in the faith that sends the Church to the needs of today. With the knowledge of our fellowship with those who find life’s meaning in Jesus Christ, we can not only live patiently in the midst of fear and frustration, but actually hope to be an instrument of redeeming love for the glory of God.

Involved in the present world, convinced of our mission as the Lord’s people, we have five years before we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of this Diocese. I call you to five years of intensive work in preparation for a proper celebration of an-important milestone in the history of this part of the Body of Christ known as the Diocese of Georgia. A Sesquicentennial is an exciting and challenging anniversary. It must be planned for carefully with thanksgiving for a strong heritage, with renewed dedication to the life and mission of the Church today, and with plans for the future whereby we might fulfil our responsibility to those gone before and to the generations that will follow. I hope this Convention will see fit to establish a Sesquicentennial Committee to guide us in the five years ahead to a proper offering to the Lord at the 150th Convention of the Diocese in 1972. Some of the aspects of this offering might well include updating or a new writing of the history of the Diocese, an evangelistic objective of 15,000 communicants by 1972. A Sesquicentennial offering of $300,000 – $150,000 for the mission of the Church, in the world and $150,000 for the development of the Church in the Diocese, a modernizing and restructuring of the diocesan, organization and of the parish organization to fulfil more adequately the mission of the Church today, a program of devotional and spiritual endeavor leading to the deepening and enriching of the lives of our people, an objective of growth both qualitatively and quantitatively to the point where additional episcopal leadership may be secured for the future; a more effective program for dealing with the needs of boys and girls who are victims of broken homes and domestic chaos; the initiation of a program for clergy refreshment and further study that the Gospel may be more effectively interpreted in a rapidly changing order; a more imaginative use of the diocesan Conference Center for the total community, both the diocesan family and the society which we serve; a greater participation by the Church in every locality in the program of the government in its war on poverty; the adoption of patterns of study and projects of action by every congregation to implement our participation in the ecumenical movement which is one of the most exciting and hopeful developments in this age of Christendom; consideration of the Church’s ministry to the aging both in terms of enlisting their time, experience, and wisdom in the mission of the Church and in providing a retirement home or nursing care; the establishment of a Center in Augusta for pastoral care utilizing our priests, psychiatrists, and psychologists; the creation of a Cathedral Church to be a center of unity, inspiration, education, and service to the Diocese and this area of Georgia; and finally, the realization of the Partnership Principle in our stewardship in the parishes and missions and in our relationship to the National Church. Are these 15 objectives too much to consider as an offering to God in thanksgiving for 150 years of the love and mercy He has poured out on this Diocese? I am sure some of you think the Bishop has been on an LSD trip. No – remember “old men dream dreams and young men see visions.” It is not difficult to decide which is applicable!

It is no exaggeration to say that the years immediately ahead of us, beginning now, can be a major Milestone in the long and distinguished life of this Diocese. We read the signs of the times. These are the years the Episcopal Church can break out of the bondage of inertia. These are the years for us to move, and this Diocese is on the move. The Holy Spirit is driving us.

The Book of Exodus tells us of the people of Israel who found themselves immigrants, faced with major bewildering changes as they left Egypt in search of the Promised Land. They, too, were confused insecure, resentful, and homesick for old patterns. And God’s word was:

“Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward.” and they did
God’s word for us is:
“Speak to the people of God here that they go forward.” and we will.

Albert R. Stuart, Bishop