Bishop’s Address of 1938

The Rt. Rev. Middleton Stuart Barnwell

Bishop M.S. BarnwellThe longer I live the more simple my own religion becomes. Religion requires but one thing of us; that God’s will should be master of our own. That is all there is to it for that includes all. Everything in the Christian scheme of things if it be worth while ministers to that end, and when that end is achieved all problems are solved and all victories won. God’s will must be master of our own.

The first thing involved in this simple statement is that we shall know what God’s will is. We do not learn that by giving ourselves entirely to the things of this world. There is nothing in careless living which teaches me the will of God, therefore I may not live carelessly and know it. As necessary as it is to earn a living, earning a living is not enough. There is very little in the ways of the business of this world which teaches me what God’s will is. Earning a living is one thing, but entering into life is another, for man does not live by bread alone. We have a right to pleasure, but if we make pleasure the end of life, the time soon comes when we have neither one. You point your camera toward the sun and snap it, and the picture is a blank. The perfect picture is a thing of lights and shadows. The perfect life is a blending of pleasure and labor; of joy and sacrifice, for the joy of tomorrow is the result of sacrifice today, and the sacrifice of today gives keen edge to that joy when it comes. So into your life the stern dark colors of personal sacrifice must enter, for it is most of all by self-surrender that we come to learn the Father’s will.

And to learn what God’s will is means prayer, for prayer is in it’s essence opening our hearts to God and consciously asking him to fill it. We learn God’s will by listening and waiting to hear Him speak. And this means meditation, and hearing His word read and preached; receiving His sacraments; entering into His worship. These are simple and practical ways to power and understanding. I do not ask you to go to Church as a pious gesture. I ask you to go with the conscious determination to get a little more of God into your life. If you do this you will find the hours you spend there the most practical and useful hours of all, for they will teach you what is God’s will for you.

When you have found out what is God’s will for you, you have found the way to a balanced life, and a life must be balanced to be happy. A life to be happy must be in harmony with the world in which it finds itself, and we with our lives find ourselves in God’s world. Therefore God’s way is the way to happiness here. There are plenty who try to find it in other ways. The prisons are filled with them. Even the electric chair and gallows have their quota. These of course are violent extremes, and the misery which is the end of their selfishness is obvious. It is not so obvious to the world with most of us, but one thing is true almost without exception. THE MEASURE OF OUR DISSATISFACTION WITH LIFE IS THE DISTANCE BETWEEN OUR PRESENT ATTITUDE AND AN ATTITUDE OF PERFECT SURRENDER TO GOD.

This is true alike of priest and people. I find unhappy laity within the church, and they are unhappy because they are thinking of themselves. The minister does not call on them as often as they deserve: Or their voice is not sufficiently heeded in parish councils, nor their importance sufficiently recognized. All of these things may be true, for no man is perfect in the exercise of his ministry, but the important thing is that these failures would not render the laity unhappy, unless they were thinking of themselves and of what was due to them. If we are busy giving ourselves out we have no time nor thought for worry over what we think is the failure of others to give out to us.

And lest the laity think I am criticizing them unduly, I hasten to say that in this respect I believe we clergy are even more guilty. I have been a clergyman and have been watching and studying clergymen for thirty years this coming June. The clergy fall generally into two types. There is the happy looking clergyman. He walks with a lift and a spring. There is always a smile lurking somewhere in the corner of his lips, that looks as if it would spring to life at the slightest provocation. He has a cheery word for everyone he chances to meet. He walks through the street with his head up, looking into people’s eyes. He calls upon his people and they are glad when he comes and he leaves brightness behind him when he goes. He is looking out upon a beautiful world filled with beautiful people, and he preaches the joy of a Christian life and the happiness of serving God. THE SECRET OF HIS HAPPINESS IS THAT HE IS THINKING OF WHAT HE CAN GIVE AND NOT OF WHAT HE GETS. In thirty years I never saw such a man who was dissatisfied with his job, nor have I ever heard of a vestry or a congregation asking of the bishop that such a man be removed.

Then there is another type. He walks about like a cloud of gloom. Young people do not seek him out, and older people avoid him. He is not appreciated by his people. Other men of less ability receive better calls than he. Other men receive more preferment in positions of diocesan responsibility. Resentment and bitterness are rooted in his heart and they flower forth into tactless and cutting remarks and hard, fault-finding sermons. And soon there is a discontented congregation. In thirty years I never knew a discontented clergyman in charge of a happy parish. If a clergyman does not like his people it is as sure as tomorrow’s dawn that soon the people will not like him. And lest the clergy think I am criticizing them unduly, I hasten on to say that these things are true of Bishops also!

The simple truth is that these things are true of us all. You may say that it is a matter of personality and that a man cannot change that. You are half right and half wrong. It IS a matter of personality, but you can change it, for personality is nothing but the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Change your inner attitude and your outward and visible signs will also change. If you will develop your love of God your love of people will take care of itself, and if you love people they cannot help loving you, and so life becomes a thing of expanding love and increasing splendor. I cannot bear to see an unhappy Christian, and happiness comes from giving one’s self. Our Wills are self-centered. It is God’s will that we should GIVE OUT. When God’s will has mastered ours we are on the way to usefulness and joy.

If I am a layman, when God’s will has mastered mine:
1. I will send my children, or take my children to Church School, for it is God’s will that they be there.
2. I will work in the Church School if I am needed. I will organize and conduct a church school in my home town if there is no resident minister, for it is God’s will that I do this work for him.
3. I will be in my pew on Sunday morning, for I cannot know God’s will for me unless I pray and hear and receive His Word.
4. I will give of my substance for the building of His Kingdom here and the spread of it throughout the world, for it is God’s will that this world be His.

If I am a clergyman, when God’s will has mastered mine:
1. I will begin each day alone with God and ask Him to abide in my heart and show Himself forth in my life.
2. I will tell myself over and over again that there is nothing in life but happiness and victory if I go hand in hand with Him.
3. I will definitely program my life, with God as the judge of the program: mornings for meditation and study; afternoons for parish calls; and I will keep a list of parishioners and check off calls so that none be neglected.
4. I will have one day a week for holiday, Sunday with it’s regular duties and the other five days I will work morning and evening as the layman has to do.
5. I will cultivate that inner joy which comes to those who work with God, and that sense of inevitable victory which one who walks with God always knows.

It is MY will to be happy. It is GOD’S will that I shall find that happiness through loving service. When we have learned this we have learned about all of practical value that life has to give.

I wonder how many of our clergy know intimately the Greeks of their communities. For the most part these Greeks are fine people and fine churchmen and their own church is in inter-communion with ours. For the most part also, they have no resident priest, and many of them are rather lonely in a religious and spiritual way. There are many ways in which we can be of help to them. We can seek out their children for the Sunday school. We can make friends with them and let them know that we are ready to serve them whenever they need us. We can lend them our churches for their own services whenever one of their priests comes to visit. We can invite them to our own services and to our communions. Many of them would like to be identified with our Church, but are afraid to come uninvited. I commend these people to the clergy for special attention. They are a neglected, but fruitful field, and where they have no resident priest, they are our especial responsibility. They have nothing in common with Rome, nor with our Protestant brethren. If you have not already done so, seek them out in your community. You will be of help to them and they to you.

Last Fall we held two conferences at St. Simon’s Island, one for the laity and one for the clergy. Practically all the clergy attended and twenty-five of the laity. We spent altogether three days discussing our diocesan problems. I believe they were days well spent, and that we made a good beginning. Out of these conferences two definite things came. A committee of five was appointed to study the missionary problems of the diocese and to make recommendations to this convention. This committee met in Savannah during December, and they made one recommendation which while short, goes to the very heart of our missionary problem. It was their opinion that missionary money should be spent increasingly in those centers which show some signs and promise of self-support, and decreasingly in those places which have remained more or less static for years with almost no baptisms or confirmations, and they maintained that within this diocese “Missionary work” should be primarily “Church Extension” rather than the very expensive and unproductive task of “ministering to scattered communicants.” With these recommendations I am in complete agreement. I think we should do both if we can, but if we are forced to make a choice (and we are with our present missionary income) emphasis should be laid on the most promising communities. I believe that this question should be thoroughly discussed at this convention and some principle of missionary enterprise adopted which truly represents the mind of the diocese.

The second definite recommendation came from the lay-men’s conference and was somewhat revolutionary in character so far as the established custom and canon law of this church are concerned. The laymen’s recommendation is as follows—leaving out the preamble—Resolved: that pending the consideration of the rotation system by General Convention, it is the sense of the Laymen’s Conference of the Diocese of Georgia that all vestries should call priests for a definite period of time, not less than two or more than four years, and that at the end of such period there should rest no obligation upon the priest to remain in the parish, nor upon the vestries to re-elect the Priest.

And be it Further Resolved: That the policy of the Diocese of Georgia be understood and announced as favoring the retirement of all Clergy at retirement age of 68, subject to special ruling in, specific cases by the Bishop and Standing Committee of the Diocese. And be it further Resolved that these resolutions be introduced at the next Diocesan Convention. And that “next Convention” is this one!

I presided over the two conferences at which these actions were taken. I had nothing to do with their introduction, nor did I even know they were to be presented. I think they should be discussed fully by this convention and recommend that a memorial covering our ultimate decision be sent to the next General Convention. I shall follow my usual custom and take no part in debate, but I now record myself as being opposed to the call for two or four years, as being quite too revolutionary in character, but in favor of compulsory resignation at some pre-determined age—which resignation may or may not be accepted. The very simple reason for this is that the work is more important than the man. Perhaps you would like to raise this age limit to seventy. That is not important. The important thing is that no man shall take advantage of the letter of the church’s present law to stand in the way of the on-coming younger life of the Church.

The General Convention expressed the deliberate judgment of the whole Church when it declared that the Presiding Bishop MUST retire on the first of January next succeeding the General Convention after his sixty-eighth birthday. Why was this? Was it because he will then become incompetent, or too old for active service in the Church? Not at all, but because the Church is a living organism and new blood must be continually provided in it’s head and branches. Leadership is trained by the responsibility of leadership, and not by watching some one else do it, however competent.

If this is true in regard to the office of Presiding Bishop of the Church—and the Church through General Convention has said that it is—then it is true of all of us; bishops, priests and laymen alike. While every individual is necessary to the carrying out of God’s plan on earth, no individual is indispensable to the particular position in which he happens to find himself at any given moment.
People may try to flatter us into believing otherwise, but death always proves the vanity of their words. The Church is a living organism and moves on without any one of us, but it would move more effectively if we would all realize that there is always young life coming on that can do the job more effectively; young life which is more in sympathy with the ever-changing currents of this swiftly moving age.

And here is something which perhaps you have not thought of. Such a program would open the door of opportunity in the matter of calls to the clergy of middle age. I find that vestries are increasingly unwilling to call middle aged men for fear that we will grow old on their hands. I do not blame them for this, for frequently we have done just this. If we clergy who are growing old were committed to retirement when our normal age limit was reached, I believe that vestries would adopt a different attitude, and that the doors to useful service in our riper years would be opened as they are not today. This is a matter which has concerned me very much, as I see vestries everywhere looking for extreme youth in men whom they call, for I am convinced that the normal clergyman’s best years as a pastor and a guide and friend are those between fifty and seventy, if his health continues good. Such a man has seen life and lived life and is better qualified to shepherd and to guide than men just out of boyhood. But there should be a definite limit set, which the clergyman himself should recognize. This would be to his advantage and to that of the parish as well. It is also true of bishops and their dioceses. I would say that on the whole I favor the age of seventy rather than sixty-eight. If a man has served satisfactorily until he is sixty-eight he can almost always serve until seventy. I am sorry to have to bring this matter before you, for nearly all of us are thinking of it in terms of our own peculiar circumstance.
We should not do it. I would gladly push aside myself and every one in this convention for the good of the Church and the growth of God’s Kingdom. We, as persons, amount to nothing. The Church and it’s growth amount to everything. They are the only things to be considered. This matter should be discussed as impersonally as if none of us even existed. How can the Church grow and the Kingdom of God come? This is our job and it is the only job we have. Perhaps some priest will feel that this resolution is aimed directly at us as a class or group. He is right. It is. He will also remember that it is proposed by the Laymen’s Conference. It is quite within the rights of the clergy to bring before this house a similar resolution affecting the laymen who hold official position in the church, for believe it or not, old age affects them the same as it does us, (and they as well as we can hold on too long). There are a few simple truths it will be well for us all to remember. The prophet Joel writes that “old men shall dream dreams and the young men shall see visions.” This is true. Old age looks backward, youth looks forward, and the Kingdom of God is ahead of us, and we all grow old. These are facts which may disturb us as time passes on, but disturb us or not, facts they remain.

We come now to the really sad part of this address. We laid before you last Fall a tentative budget for 1938 which contemplated no advance work, but merely provided for holding the present line for another year, in the hope that things would then be brighter.
This budget you have failed to pledge by the amount of three thousand dollars. The Executive Council is proposing to you a revised budget. What this revision will be I do not know at this time of writing. (February 2nd.) I do know it is going to mean less work done, or more money raised, and this is for you to decide.

The tragedy of this situation is that there is no need for it to happen. The poorest of our communicants even those on relief can afford to give a dime a week for missions, and if this average were maintained throughout the diocese we would have thirty thousand dollars pledged instead of our present sixteen. For missionary enterprise, which is the tremendous task of building God’s Kingdom throughout the world we are getting at present the munificent sum of five cents per week per communicant. I think the solution of our problem is for you to go back home and get another nickel.

Definitely, I do not believe that this is a financial problem. I believe the fault lies with our local leadership. If there were a positive conviction in our hearts that the spread of Christ’s Kingdom among all men is our chief job, we would do something about it. If we had this conviction, our leadership would be more enthusiastic, and our organization would be so effective that the last reluctant communicant would be reached. I do not think we are poverty-stricken. I think we are failing in conviction, organization and work. These are things which can be corrected when we will to have it so.

Personally, I do not accept much responsibility for this failure in missionary giving. I think I worked harder this last Fall than I have ever done in my life. During the period of preparation for the campaign and canvass, I drove about a thousand miles a week, and addressed every meeting that I could persuade the local people to arrange. I circled this diocese three times, once carrying with me a member of the National Council, who had come from New York for this purpose. Many of these meetings I am sorry to say, were poorly attended. There was a mass-meeting for women held here in August for instance, which had been announced weeks in advance, on a Sunday afternoon. I think there were about sixteen people present. I can drive around this diocese and pour out my heart about building the Kingdom of God, and this I have done, but I cannot go into the parishes and missions and organize them and conduct effective canvasses, and this I believe is where we are falling down.

I have been thinking of a Spring Conference of clergy and laity at Camp Reese for discussion of these matters, but I have come to the conclusion that such would not be effective, for only the more interested men will come. I have decided to ask for dates with each separate vestry this Spring, to see if I cannot lay before them, and sell them on, some simple and effective plan of canvass which will entail more work for both the rector and vestry, but which I believe will solve our problems. Something has got to be done, and I am going to continue to trouble you about this matter until we find a solution. I say right now to you clergy and laymen that you are not going to know any peace, until this diocese begins to live for the growth of Christ’s Kingdom among men. You called me down here to lead you in this enterprise, and so help me God, that is what I am going to, do.

(There is one thing that you have the power to do, but which if it is done, will be done not only without my consent, but over my deepest protest. You can save your diocesan budget by cutting into our pledge to the National Church. This is to penalize the dying people of China for our lethargy and lack of vision. This is definitely to with-hold the knowledge of Christ from men for whom He died, because we in Georgia are seeking the easier way. Even now we have a pledged income of nineteen thousand dollars, and the six thousand we hope to send to the General Church means but one-third for the world while we keep two-thirds for ourselves. Surely this is not being too generous. If we want more for ourselves than the two-thirds remaining after the world gets a pitiful third, we should beyond a doubt go back to our parishes and missions and secure it.)

I would like to see our whole financial set-up ordered on a two-thirds and one-third basis. It would not be ideal. A fifty-fifty one would be better. But for the present I believe we could operate on a one-third-two-third basis. Do away with your duplex envelopes and separate pledges. Let the people lump their giving and then drive in your parish UNTIL you have SECURED such PLEDGES AS WILL ENABLE you to OPERATE YOUR PARISH on TWO-THIRDS OF IT. Then send one-third of your receipts to the Diocesan Office and we will send one-third of what we receive to the National Church and do our own diocesan work with the two-thirds remaining.

Such a plan is simple, and such a plan will work if we PLEDGE ourselves to it and are ACCURATE and HONEST in our BOOKKEEPING, and LOYAL in CARRYING it THROUGH. In this way you would make your own missionary quota, for you would determine it when you built your own parish budget.

There is another call that we should hear: that we DO hear, and which we should answer immediately. That is the call of our Christian brethren in China. I do not have to draw for you any heart-rending picture of the situation there. It is drawn for us all each morning as we read the daily paper. Among these pitiful refugees, torn by flying fragments of shrapnel, cold and hungry and homeless in the bitter Chinese winter are thousands of our own, to whom we have taught the love of Christ. They are now looking to see that love manifest in us. By order of the General Convention a special offering is now being made throughout the Church for this purpose. Every Church member in this diocese is represented by you who are here, and through you every church member CAN be reached, IF YOU DO YOUR PART. Subject to your approval I am designating Quinquagesima Sunday, February 27th as the date on which this offering shall be received. Literature will be furnished you for distribution during the next two Sundays, and I ask you clergymen to speak on it and to see to it that every person in your parish has a chance to share in this most Christian effort. And I ask that the money so received be forwarded to the Diocesan Office and not to New York. And I ask that this be done so soon as it is received.

Someone says “I grow so tired of these special appeals. When will they be ended?” The answer is “Never.” At least not until the Kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of Christ. Until that time, our labor and sacrifice must be unceasing. For through and by means of labor and sacrifice does Christ live in us—and we in Him. This is true from the cradle to the grave, and beyond the grave the love and service we have rendered, shall be our joy. That is about all there is to this business of religion. It is just that simple; and just that easy; and just that hard—and just that glorious!