Bishops’ Addresses of 1971

FEBRUARY 5, 1971

Albert Rhett StuartMy Brother in the Episcopate, my brothers of the Clergy and Laity: I welcome you to this 149th Convention of the Diocese of Georgia. We are gathered here, a representative body of the Lord’s Church in this Diocese, and as such are gathered together in His Name. We remember that He promised “where two or three gathered together in My Name there am I in the midst of them.” We must be consciously and constantly aware of His promised Presence in our midst so all our thinking, all our speaking, and all our voting may be as we believe He will have us think, speak, act, and vote. I pray that we may never lose the conscious sense of His Presence in our midst either here or in our parishes and missions so that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in Him we may glorify His Holy Name.

We give thanks to our Lord that we are able to be here at St. John’s Church, Savannah. The last time we were assembled here for a diocesan convention was in 1961 – ten years ago. What a chaotic, harrowing, devastating, and astounding ten years it has been for the world, for the Church, and for this diocese! I spoke to you then of the crisis of the sixth decade of our century and of the greatness of God. You and I really know the wonder of that divine greatness as we gather here today in this parish. We rejoice in the present lay leadership of the parish and in the talented and sensitive priest who is the eleventh Rector of the parish and who in the few months of his leadership has demonstrated clearly the pastoral concern and homiletical skill so essential to the great task of St. John’s Church in the City of Savannah and in the Diocese.

I am resisting the temptation to review the successes, failures, and statistics of the past ten years and move on to consider our present situation. I cannot resist, however, reminding you that it was in 1961 that the Sisters of St. Helena came into the Diocese at our invitation and have been such a great blessing to us all. It was also the year that we evaluated our first summer program at the then new Camp and Conference Center. These two facts will impress you as they have me with the swiftness of the passage of a decade.

I here with submit to the Secretary of the Convention for publication in the journal of the Convention the canonical and statistical reports of the Bishop’s office and the record of official acts for the past year.

In November the Reverend Thaddeus P. Martin, Rector of St. Athanasius Church, Brunswick and priest-in-charge of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Pennick entered the Church Expectant. Fr. Martin was second in seniority among the clergy of the Diocese, having come to the Diocese in 1944. His whole ministry in the Diocese was at St. Athanasius where he was greatly beloved and respected. He and his wife and family were held in high esteem in the community by black and white citizens of all walks of life and various religious affiliations. He was a faithful and loyal priest who served the Church here well.

Earlier in the year the Rev. Turner Norris, Vicar of St. Mary’s Church, Augusta, died after several years of ill health. His courage and patience were an inspiration not only to his congregation but to the whole Augusta community. His work and leadership in the Diocese for ten years gives us much for which to be thankful. May Thaddeus and Turner rest in peace and go from strength to strength in the Paradise of God.

Now let me speak to you of several matters that are on my mind. It is fashionable nowadays to decry or belittle the parish church of local congregations of Christians. We are told that the parish is an anachronism, a vestigial remnant from another era, which has outlived its usefulness. Men entering the ministry are not looking forward to being parish priests, we are told, but to serving in some specialized form of ministry. We are told that the parish church is not “with it” and will soon be extinct. I admit the fact that there are parishes that seem not to realize the nature of the world in which they exist and concern themselves with pointless and archaic patterns designed mostly to preserve their own fabric. They can really be described as chapels of ease for the unconcerned. Nevertheless, I am certain that whatever pattern Christianity takes in the age into which we are moving, the parish church will be with us.

There must be a place to which all people can gather to celebrate life, to respond gratefully and joyously to the manifestation of God’s love in Jesus Christ. It may be a table, it may be an altar, it may be a room, it may be a building – but this is the parish, a point in time and space, where the Faith is expressed in Word, Sacrament, Community, and Action. Here Christians are made, by God’s grace, in Baptism. Here children and adults are incorporated into the traditions, history, and hope of the people of God. Here men and women of all sorts stand and kneel before the mystery of God’s presence, sharing a common faith and a common hope. Here Christians find a community in which they are equipped for mission in whatever society exists.

This means that the parish church must and will find and develop resources, spiritual and material, which will enable it to minister to the changing patterns of society. This will come by the working of the Holy Spirit in creating imagination and courage not only to change the pattern of a parish but to make it an agent of change itself. We may be dismayed by the complex and difficult problems confronting us in a revolutionary time, but through the changes all around us the Spirit is moving and also within the Parish Church the Spirit is moving. He is moulding it to a new and more effective servanthood. I am convinced the parish church has a great and exciting future.

At the same time, though the parish church is basic, we must be open to other forms of ministry and service – forms which are specialized to meet unusual demands and situations. These specialized ministries are not substitutes for the parish ministry but dependent upon it and auxiliary to it. One of the most challenging of these ministries in this Diocese is that of the chaplaincy at the Georgia Medical College in Augusta. Here we have been asked by the administration to offer a service and be an official Christian presence in this rapidly developing complex of medical school – students and faculty – dental school, school of nursing – all caught up in many changes to provide the best possible training in new and different concepts of professions concerned with health. Our Chaplain there began his ministry last September and rightly conceives of his task in ecumenical terms. I am happy to report that the Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church, South are deeply interested and are participating with us in this ministry by both financial and advisory assistance to the Chaplain. The possibilities for this ministry, with this cooperative witness and the attitude of the administration, make this one of the most exciting opportunities in the Diocese of Georgia.

Another remarkable opportunity is presented by the work of three priests in a specialized ministry at the Pastoral Counseling Center in Augusta. Here is a service of technical assistance to innumerable people victimized in one way or another by the pressures and sins of our society – people who could not otherwise afford the kind of help they need and whose parish priests, if they have such, have neither the time or the technical knowledge necessary to help. The Counseling Center is proving more and more an asset to the parish clergy and to the Bishops in the manifold problems with which we are presented today. This work also is definitely ecumenical in nature, and a witness to the concern of the Church for all the people of God. We can be thankful that this ministry originated with the Diocese of Georgia and three of our clergy are providing the professional service, but I do not think it is wise, for us to make this a diocesan institution. In the first place we cannot afford it financially to assume responsibility for the program as an institution of the Diocese. We can be and are a sponsoring agent giving such advice and financial assistance as we can. In the second place the program must be ecumenical in scope and in support. Other sponsoring agencies must be sought and welcomed to maintain this program. To institutionalize the Pastoral Centers as belonging to the Diocese would be to foster limitations upon the program. The influence of the Church can be maintained by the membership of the Board and through such financial gifts as can be made through us as one of the sponsoring agencies. The role of the Church is to recognize human needs, to highlight these needs to a community, to provide leadership and help in meeting the needs, and to encourage the widest possible response to the needs. We have this opportunity in the Pastoral Counseling Center.

A third specialized ministry is yet again different. One of our priests with episcopal consent and approval, has offered himself to the community in Savannah to lead in the development of a Center to deal with one of the greatest problems in our society today – the problem of drug abuse. He has won the support of the community and is engaged in a redemptive and educational ministry which is increasingly recognized and appreciated. This also is an ecumenical thrust and a witness to the concern of the Church. No one misses the point that the Center is led by a priest of the Church even though the support is not from the Church and the work can in no way be described as an activity of the Diocese of Georgia. In all of these specialized ministries the clergy are identified with an altar in a parish church and understand themselves to be extensions of the parish priesthood. Without the parish church; these ministries would not exist. They speak to the imagination of the manifold opportunities of the Church’s ministry both in special categories and in the more usual patterns of parish life and work. And so I come back again to the importance of the parish priest, it is the basic ministry of the Church, however many specialized ministries there may be. As the home is the basic unit of community life and the strengthening of home life essential to the preservation of Christian civilization, so it is with the parish in the life of the Church. There is nothing sadder than when a parish priest loses his pastoral zeal and his interest in people and closes his heart and mind to the crying needs of those around him, or becomes impatient with their ignorance and indifference and idiosyncrasies, or fails to use his imagination for their needs. The fault nine times out of ten lies in the inner life of the Priest rather than with the people, because he is the one who has had the opportunities given to him by God, which many of his flock have not had to the same extent. On the other hand there is nothing more beautiful in the life of the Church than the devoted, dedicated, self-sacrificing imaginative zeal of a parish priest – and we can thank God there are many such in this Diocese. The real basic life and grass roots of the Church depends on them. There is no greater concern before us than a more adequate financial support of our clergy. A study has been made of clergy salaries by the National Church which shows that the median cash stipend for parochial clergy has been $6,000 per year. The total median-remuneration for men serving in parishes has been $7,500 which includes housing and utilities; Automobile or travel allowances were not considered in the Study as part of the salary. Most clergymen subsidize their ministry out of their cash salary because of inadequate reimbursement for professionally incurred automobile expenses. In some instances there are fringe benefits, such as health insurance, but such benefits are more than compensated for in expenses covered by the clergyman himself. This national picture unfortunately reflects the situation in the Diocese, although we have been working to improve the very bad situation of our clergy salaries. This year our base salary of mission priests is 6,600 and vestries have been urged to improve the salary scale of rectors. But, we are still pitifully low. We are only a little above the national median income for clergymen. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated last year the annual costs for an intermediate budget for a family of 4 was $10,000. This is approximately a thousand dollars more than the median total remuneration of our clergy. A clergyman’s total income is less than any other professional group and about $2500 less than the income of a man with 5 year’s college training. This situation must not continue. We should begin now to see that no priest in this diocese in 1972 receives less than $7,200 with housing and utilities and a minimum of $100 per month auto allowance.

We have been thinking of the ordained ministry but that if only one aspect of the ministry of the Church – the great ministry is that of the men and women of the Church who with the ordained ministry make up the whole people of God. We have had an incredible illusion for too long – we have thought of lay people or lay persons as helpers of the clergy in their task of ministry. Exactly the reverse is the actual situation. The ordained ministry is a resource to lay people to help them fulfil the ministry to which God has called them. With the old, limited concept of laymen helping a priest, men and women were engaged in “church work” or functions of ecclesiastical housekeeping. The more realistic concept is that men and women are called to the work of the Church which is Christ’s ministry in the world for which there are resources of Word and Sacrament. This is, I think, dramatically illustrated in the liturgical changes taking place in the Church. The chief work of the Church is the worship of God and we are seeking new patterns or shapes for that worship which can be more expressive and appropriate for modern man. This is not being done by the House of Bishops, thank God nor by a select group of highly trained clergy. It is being done through trial use by the men and women of the Church with their clergy and scholars as resource people. We are committed in this Work, which is of utmost importance, to listen to the articulate voice of the people of the Church reflecting their experience in worship. I have been pleased by the participation of our people in the Diocese in this process and expect this concern and work to continue. It is the first time since the earliest days of Christianity that men and woman in the pew have been directly involved in the decision-making process of liturgical change. Each of us, clergy and people is called upon to make our contribution in this trial use that the worship of the Church may be more expressive and worthy of God’s glory. The chief purpose of the various proposals is to set forth more clearly the words and action of God and to provide us with a greater means for response that I may come to a deeper communion with Him is no more important aspect of our ministry today than the responsible participation in liturgical change.

There is one other facet of our ministry on which I must comment. It is the stewardship of our material possessions. For many years I have urged attention to our failure as stewards of our money. I am a tither and I firmly believe this to be the basic standard by which a Christian can fulfil responsibility to God for what he has been given. Some of you have joined your bishops in this pattern of giving, but the Church in the Diocese has been sorely handicapped by poor stewardship. Last year, we faced up to this matter and requested outside help in dealing with the problem. As a result the expected giving to the Diocese this year is up about 7-1/2%, which is not great, but is an improvement. This is, indeed, encouraging and indicates that we can deal with the problem. We intend to continue an intensified stewardship program this year and I am confident that real progress will be made. We have a long way to go not only with the stewardship of individual members of the Church, but with the stewardship of vestries and mission councils in fulfilling their responsibilites to the Diocese and the Church in the world. A basic principle of the Spiritual life was enunciated long ago by the writer of the Book of Proverbs –

“There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that which withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.” (Prov. 11:24). And St. Paul reminds us that the Church that lives to itself will die to itself. One of the gravest concerns I have is the gradual diminishing percentage of our giving as a Diocese to the world-wide mission of the Church; if we are going to live to ourselves, we will die to ourselves. We once reached 30% hoping to go on to 50% of our pledged giving but we have reversed process now so that we are now designating scarcely 20%. This is a dreadfully serious matter for this diocese.

There is another concern I have in terms of our stewardship. During the years of my episcopate, I can only remember seven bequests to the Diocese in a total amount of some $25,000. I know of very few bequests made by our people to-our parishes, and none to the University of the South, or to the National Church, the world-wide program of Christianity. We are explicitly reminded by the Prayer Book to make wills for the disposal of our temporal goods and to leave bequests for religious and charitable uses. We have made little effort to remind our people of this responsibility of the Christian. I hope that steps will be taken to remedy this failure in a very important aspect of stewardship.

We are beginning next year to celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the Diocese. It would seem appropriate at this time to appoint a Development Committee to devise ways and means of realizing a thank offering for 150 years of faith and work in Georgia. I would conceive the purpose of this offering to provide for program and personnel – and not bricks and mortar. Our concern is not buildings but people and more adequate programs by which we teach people about the love of God. Perhaps this same committee might extend its work to include stimulation of bequests and large gifts for capital purposes in the Diocese. It is scarcely feasible for the Diocesan Council or the Board of Officers of the Corporation with all their responsibilities to be able to perform this task. It may be that such a Development Committee should be a continuing or standing committee of the diocesan structure with a rotating membership named by the Diocesan Convention to which the committee would be responsible. As we face the changes and chances of this life, the uncertainties and confusion of revolution, the failures and frustrations of society, the excitement and anxiety of a new age, we do well to recall the warning of the 78th Psalm – “they limited the Holy One of Israel.” The Old Testament is a dramatic account of the struggle between those who would limit God and those who knew the futility of trying to put limitations on Him. Moses. smashed a golden calf and destroyed limitations. Amos stepped into the courts of the mighty and challenged the limited and self-contained concept of God. Our Lord in His ministry confronted those who would limit God in caste circle or in credal circle. Let us be sure we are not attempting to limit God in our concepts of ministry, liturgy, stewardship, and mission. The great Belgian Cardinal writes – “I believe that God is creating the world today, at this very moment. He did not just create it in the long ago and then forget about it. That means we have to expect the unexpected as the normal way of God’s providence at work. That “unexpectedness” of God is exactly what saves and liberates us from determinism, from sociologism of gloomy statistics about the state of human affairs in the present.”

The unexpectedness of God is seen in the developments and changes in the world around us and above all in the Church itself. The time has come for a change in the leadership of the Diocese. I am in my seventeenth year as your Bishop, Last month I observed my 40th anniversary in Holy Orders and my 65th birthday. These dates along with other factors have brought me to the determination to submit my resignation to the House of Bishops this year and to retire from the jurisdiction of the Diocese. I am thankful with you for my Episcopal colleague and brother in Christ, the Bishop Coadjutor. In the year and a half that he has been serving the Diocese we have realized how greatly blessed we are that God sent him and his family to us. I cannot begin to tell you how much he has meant to me personally. Our relationship has never been an official one but one of brotherliness and mutual understanding in a task that we both know is impossible except for the grace of God. Because of him and because of you and because of the good Lord, the transition in leadership of the Diocese will be accomplished this year smoothly and advantageously to the Lord’s purpose and work. This is a change and that reminds us that “here we have no continuing city but we seek one to come.” We are a pilgrim people, rejoicing in a Lord who leads us in unexpected ways to new experiences of His love – we dare not attempt to limit the Holy One.

This final Bishop’s Address by Bishop Stuart, was followed by an address from Bishop Reeves, who was then the Bishop Coadjutor. That address is online here: Bishop Reeves’ Address of 1971.