Bishops’ Addresses of 1971

The following address by the Rt. Rev. Paul Reeves was preceeded by the final bishop’s address of the Rt. Rev. Albert Rhett Stuart, which is online here: Bishop Stuart’s Address of 1971.


Bishop Stuart, and my brethren of the Diocese:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul ReevesAs I complete my first Convention year with you, I must acknowledge two sentiments. The first is my gratitude to you all for your hospitality, your cooperation, and your thoughtfulness to me and to my family. By now we feel thoroughly at home, and that is a wonderful feeling.

The second is my growing awareness of the opportunities and challenges that are open to the Church in Georgia, opportunities afforded by the peculiar times in which we live, and my awareness of the resources the Church has at hand to answer the needs of people in these times. I call on you to venture into a renewed commitment to a more responsible stewardship of these resources.

For some time I had intended to make the theme of this address “The Diocesan Clergy”; it is an important theme at all times, but especially so in these days when there is confusion in the minds of many lay people and of some clergy just what the real role or roles of a priest is today and what it should be. This, I intend to speak of at another time, for several recent events and experiences lead me to confine my address to you today about Stewardship.

The 148 Convention of this Diocese committed us to a Stewardship program, from which already have come some remarkable positive results, and also from which have surfaced some remarkable misunderstandings.

The misunderstanding that probably is the most crippling is one which a news commentator might call a credibility gap. We define Stewardship as an attitude, but some of our people believe it really is only a device for fund-raising, and that our definition is a sugar-coating for what would be an otherwise unpalatable-pill we want you to swallow.

Please let us be clear on this point. The word and the concept of Stewardship can be used, and no doubt have been used as a way of increasing Church income. But our intention has been, and is, to teach Stewardship as a principle of responsible Christian living, in which the stewardship of money is but one element.

Indeed, I believe that one reason some stewardship programs fail is that they concentrate on the money element alone. Only when we understand the broad principle, and accept it, and become responsible stewards of our time, our energy, our bodies, our spirits, our influence, and our activities, will we become also good stewards of our money.

The stewardship principle is crucial because it is an attitude which either pervades and informs a life, or else is absent from it. If it is present, we have what we call a responsible person, if absent, an irresponsible.

What then do we mean by “Stewardship”? In our program, we are defining it as the systematic and proportionate giving of time, talent, and treasure, based on the conviction that these are trusts from God, to be used in His service, in grateful recognition of His redeeming love. We might consider that definition in the light of the dictionary definition of a steward as being “one who acts as a custodian, administrator or supervisor” -note, not as an owner. And here we put our finger on a sore spot. The years that I have to live, the abilities I have, the possessions I number – are not these things my own? All my human nature cries “Yes!”, and all the bent of our competitive, acquisitive society shouts, “Of course they are!”

But God says: “Not so: They are Mine – loaned to you for a while. Use them well. Be not like the Rich Fool in My Son’s parable, to whom it was said, ‘Poor Fool’ tonight you must surrender your LIFE-whose do you think will be these THINGS you call ‘yours’?”

The concept and the principle of Stewardship thus never will be popular because they run counter to our natural possessiveness; but popular or not, they are woven into the very fabric of Christian belief. Sermons and addresses on the generalities of the Christian religion usually find willing agreement. It is when these generalities are made particular that difficulties arise, whether in the area of prayer, of race relations, of church attendance, of sacramentalism, of politics, or of money.

Ours is becoming increasingly an age of permissiveness. The very words, ‘duty’, ‘law.’ ‘requirement’, ‘obligation’ are scoffed at in virtually every area of life, family, education, government, even military service — and nowhere more so than within the Church. Already Brethren we are reaping bitter fruits of this sowing in our homes, all across the nation, and in the Church. No doubt it is true that every Christian act ought to proceed from love of God and love for the brethren, and no doubt our actions will be but imperfectly Christian until such spontaneous love is their motivation. But until we have so learned to love, what shall we do? Is it enough for me to pray when I feel like it, to attend church when I am ‘in the mood’, to give as I feel inclined, to help my neighbor if I like him and if it is convenient, to accept the principles of expediency in business and politics, excusing myself on the grounds that, ‘After all, I’m only human!’?

I think not. We are called to be disciples, and the very word shows us that disciples are people who are under discipline. Of course we should yearn for that day when we will be so indwelt by Christ that we will need no discipline, no rules, when we shall have reached Christian maturity, but must of us fall short of that state of grace. In humility and in love, then, let us accept the role of disciples, gladly submitting to the laws of God, and accepting the proven wisdom of God’s Church, a wisdom that has been flexible enough for all times and all places, even to our own often exhilarating yet sometimes frightening age.

In our concept of Stewardship we run head-on into a spiritual principle widely accepted in the field of psychology, but oddly neglected in religion, and this is the principle that an action itself reinforces the motive or the feeling behind the action. I believe it was Baron von Hugel who said, I kiss my child because I love her, but also I kiss her in order that I may love her more. And so, the act of praying (I do not say, ‘saying prayers’) will increase the desire to pray. A cruel act to a person – or an animal – not only expresses cruelty but strengthens it. The act of becoming involved with a person or a cause will increase interest and concern. To invest in anything in any way – in time or effort or money – is to become concerned with it. Our Lord knew us when He said that wherever we put our treasure our hearts follow. In that profound tale of Antoine de St. Exupery, THE LITTLE PRINCE; this principle is phrased in a whimsy that goes deep: “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

I said that we easily accept generalities but prefer not to have them made concrete. So we agree with generalities about preserving or reclaiming our environment, but resent local efforts to curb pollution if they threaten our convenience or economic interest. We agree that all men are brothers in Christ, but oppose movements or legislation that strike at racial prejudice. We agree that Christians ought to give to the support of the Church, but we resent specific guidelines to giving. But resent as we may, written into the Bible, the New as well as the Old Testament, is the principle of the tithe – the giving to God thru His Church of one tenth of income, and this not as the ultimate, but as the floor, the basis, of offering. (Parenthetically, I must point out that this word ‘tithe’ is tied to a specific percentage – ten. Recently I have heard people use the word simply to refer to giving in general. Let us, please, use a technical word accurately.) Uneasily, many Christians admit that the tithe may have applied to Jews and early Christians, but that it no longer is in effect. Identifying the tithe as a form of surtax, they rebel -against giving to the Church on a ‘duty’ or ‘tax’ basis, and opt for such flexible principles as ‘proportionate giving’, ‘sacrificial giving’, ‘fair-share’ giving. But, so permissive and so subjective are these ‘standards’ that they really are not standards at all, little better than vague ideals. Given our high cost of living (and the cost of ‘high living’!), the multiple demands on us, and our materialistic orientation, these pseudo-‘standards’ have led us to a national giving standard for Episcopalians of something like 1.5% of income. Our most popular pledge, numerically, is $2.00 per week – which, incidentally, would be a tithe on an annual income of 1,040.00! – all this from probably the most affluent group of Christians in the most affluent of societies.

And what is the result? Internally and personally, the old principle of the action strengthening the attitude works out: token giving leads to a low estimate in the mind of the giver of the importance of the Church and of religion. We assume that as a person becomes genuinely converted, be will become generous, and no doubt this is true. But it is also true – and I have witnessed this – that the practice of generosity however begun, often becomes an instrument in conversion.

Externally, the result of our pitiful level of giving is a Church that is barely subsisting, on the national level, in the Diocese of Georgia, and in many of our local congregations. Large areas of potential have to remain unexplored and others have to be abandoned. Many of our clergy, educated in four years of college and three of seminary, are paid on a scale that unskilled laborers demand and receive. In recent months I have had to tell prospective postulants that neither could I promise the support if they went to seminary, nor placement-if they completed seminary training. We struggle along on a catch-as-catch-can, hand-to-mouth, AD HOC basis, most tragically assuming that this is just the way things are; and the way they will be.

Nor does this obtain in the area of finances alone. Church schools often lack competent teachers, choirs lack competent singers, programs in parishes lack workers, all because people are not willing to pledge their time, their abilities, their efforts, to the work of the Church. Long-time Churchmen never get beyond the intellectual level of their teen-age confirmation, partly because they have not been good stewards of their minds and their time. Increasingly prayer is thought of an optional activity for the peculiarly pious or the leisured, and for the same reason.

We should not be surprised when the culmination of us process is what this Convention is called on to do, namely to accept and adopt a deficit budget, minimal at that, in the shaky faith and hope that the deficit will come from somewhere.

Too often, your leaders – your Vestries, your priests, your bishops – are put in the position of having to beg. What is so wrong and what is so scandalous about this is not that our dignity is threatened. What is scandalous and upsetting is the very nature of the Church is being denied. Consider: What is the Church? We define it as The Body of Christ, as Christ at work in the world here and now. Consider again: You have seen many representations of Christ, in stained glass, in painting, in sculpture, in many scenes. Have you ever seen a begging Christ? No, brethren, for Christ comes not to beg alms, but to at men to a joyous fellowship and partnership. Thus to make of the Church a beggar is to deny the nature of the Church and to insult our Lord.

I have spoken of the tithe. Many of our clergy – often the most poorly paid have joined your bishops in witnessing to their giving of a tithe of income. Believe me no one of us takes pride in having accepted this Biblical standard, and those who have accepted it acknowledge that they want and intend to increase their level of giving. It is my hope and my prayer that thru this diocese will spread the acceptance of this standard of financial stewardship, and a resolve to move towards it. It is my hope that this Convention will place itself on record as endorsing and accepting the tithing standard, not as a law or a regulation, but as a principle; and. that it further will place itself on record as intending to move towards a realization of the principle.

But I counsel care in this. It would be irresponsible to give vocal acceptance of the standard unless there is inner acceptance too, and acceptance coupled with determination to do something about it. In all conscience I cannot see how, once confronted with the proposition, we can fail to act. I know that what I have said will not be popular; for some, this position is too traditional; for others it is too demanding. But please weigh these words with care. I believe that they express not only the mind of the Church, but also furnish a sane, practical approach that both would enrich many lives and would give new vitality and power to local congregations and to the Diocese.

Finally, brethren, I must mention a stewardship that is on other than the personal level. Twenty-one years’ experience with Vestries has convinced me that most Vestries feel a real responsibility for their handling of Church funds. The one area in which they are most likely to fall down is that of the local congregation’s responsibility to the Diocese and thin the Diocese to the larger Church. Almost always this is a manifestation of congregationalism or parochialism, which in turn is a misunderstanding of the nature of the Church. A mature parish has been defined as one which gives outside its bounds at least as much as it spends on itself. As with the stewardship of the individual, so such parish stewardship is not arrived at overnight, but can be approached a little closer each year.

When this diocese went off the assessment-and-quota system i in 1964, and adopted our present voluntary plan, the average giving from parishes to the Diocese was about 24%; last year it had fallen to about 18%. Our work cannot be done at all decently unless this level is at least 20%. Many congregations fall shamefully below this level; a few exceed it gloriously. I quote from Bishop Stuart’s address to the Convention in 1961, words as apposite now as then: “We forget the kind of witness we give to the world about the authority of the faith when, with our hands and lives full of possessions, we cannot give enough to operate the Church in the county next to us, while the Lord says, ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel.’”

As St. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth (I Cor. 16:13-14), so do I charge you, and so do I pray for us all: “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”