Bishop’s Address of 1941

The Rt. Rev. Middleton Stuart Barnwell
Savannah, Ga., April 23, 1941

To my brethren of the clergy and laity:

I welcome you to the One Hundred and Nineteenth Annual Convention of the Diocese. We are about to celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion in preparation for our work. And let us pray with special intention for the restoration of peace throughout the world, consecrating ourselves more fully to God’s service.


I would first call your attention to the Forward in Service program which has been laid before the Church by the Presiding Bishop. This is most definitely not some new thing which we are trying, but merely trying to do old things in more effective ways. It might well be regarded as the continuation of the Forward Movement, with special emphasis on the outward and visible signs. The Forward Movement was primarily concerned with the inward and spiritual grace. Through the little booklets, Forward Day by Day, many have been led into the habit of daily meditation and daily Bible Reading. Many I am sure have discovered new depths in their own hearts. But the feeling has grown with us that this is not enough. We need more than a converted heart. We need a converted life: It is not enough that we be good. Our goodness must flow forth in Christian service, witness bearing and Gospel preaching in the city, the State, the Nation and the world. What we are trying to do now is to bring the loving lives of our people to bear on the empty heart of the world. We are trying to create a more effective Church through which converted hearts may function.

To this end, your rector will lay before you certain forms of parish activity. I am asking you, and through you those people back home whom you represent, to back your rector up with loyal cooperation. We have the finest Church in the world and do less with it than almost any other group of Christians that I know. The Forward in Service Movement is an effort to change all this, and to become what God would have us be.

I am not now going into any details as to what your parish program may be. You will learn this from your rector and lay leaders very shortly. I am now asking you to be ready to help when your own parish program is formulated, that along with the rest of the Church we here in Georgia may go Forward In Service of Christ.


The General Convention meeting in Kansas City last fall voted some $300,000.00 in aid to British Missions. In this opportunity, the Diocese of Georgia must of course share. We are asking that every parish and mission in the Diocese receive an offering for this purpose at some service to be designated a week or two in advance. So far, we have received offerings from a few of the parishes, but there has been no general effort along this line. We are asking that every unit of the Diocese participate in this good work and that you receive this offering, if you have not already done so, at the earliest possible opportunity, remitting the amount received to the Bishop’s office.

We certainly should deem it a privilege to give this assistance to our Mother Church in her hour of need and peril. Again we are concerned with the shrinkage in missionary giving. I do not know what can be the reason for this as we have more money today for every other purpose than we have had for many years. I am wondering how much we are doing in the way of missionary education and how often we stress in our Sunday sermons the obligation to extend the Church. I believe the chief difficulty is that our people are not informed about the Church and its work both in the Diocese and throughout the world. I believe they would give all that we need if the opportunity were frequently and adequately presented. I hope that every clergyman in the Diocese will set for himself a program of missionary preaching during the coming year, and of missionary instruction to all organized groups in his parish or mission. There is no way that this educational work can be done from a central diocesan office. It is peculiarly the responsibility of the resident priest. I often wonder why it is that we are willing to pay so liberally for the purposes of war, and do so little to spread the Gospel, which alone can ultimately prevent it. With a reduced missionary income this year, we are being forced to the unhappy policy of leaving certain mission stations unfilled for the time being. This seems to me to be a very poor way to balance a budget if we are in earnest about building the Kingdom of God.

As we face, not only the future, but even the present moment, we have the choice between two courses. We must make our every member canvasses more productive of missionary income, or we must further reduce even the small amount of work we are doing. It is difficult to increase missionary income, and it is easy to curtail the work. To increase missoinary income means among other things; that in every parish and mission there must be a priest who will steadfastly fight for this cause—and he must be backed up by at least a few laymen and laywomen who also believe. With nearly seven thousand communicants, we have about 4,500 contributors to the missionary cause. I believe that our whole problem can be solved by the painstaking and constant education of the remainder.

The times in which we are living are troubled times, and I know of no way to understand the present except to view it in the light of the past. Our journey from the dust to God has been in progress for a long time, and while from one day to another, there is infinite variety, in the long run, an orderly procedure has developed. There seems to be through the years an upward thrust to life. This may be held in check for centuries by the dead inertia of the established order. But in the long run the upward surge of life breaks through. That is because God has called us to Himself. We are on the way from the mud to the Kingdom of God and the gates of hell cannot hold us back.

Trying then to understand today in the light of yesterday, we look back and see that from time to time at irregular periods, the restraint of custom and established order have been ruthlessly pushed aside and that out of the destruction new forms and ways of life have sprung which have continued life’s upward journey and brought men nearer to God. From the moral welter of the jungle, we see the human family emerging; from the lawlessness of the savage, we see the idea of government taking hold of the minds of men. After centuries of governmental tyranny, we see the ideal of constitutional liberty uprise. After centuries of kings, truth breaks through that the common people can rule themselves. So it is that in the realm of politics, from century to century we see new and better forms emerging as slowly we advance step by step—slowly but irrestibly.

In religion we find this same slow Godward progress. The dawn of God-consciousness goes back beyond the bounds of recorded history, but it too had its beginning somewhere on the journey. Physical science has little to say about this, but the Word of God says that God took this creature whom he had raised from the dust and breathed upon him and he became a living soul. We know something of the early gropings of this infant soul after God. Through slowly moving millenniums God was a storm, God was a sacred oak, God was a thunder, and fire, and wind. And then there came at last the upward thrust of new truth through the Children of Israel, and God was Jehovah King. We watch that idea work for centuries until the simple faith of Abraham has been transformed into the glittering sterility of temple worship with its bloody sacrifices and its money changers. And then after all these years, the revelation of God in Christ and the idea of God as Father breaks through. But that was not the end of revelation. It was a stage, a phase, a landmark on the Godward climb. Christ himself stated this so clearly it is strange that a Christ believer could ever fail to see it. “I have many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, he will lead you into all truth.” St. Paul speaks of it, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. For now we see through a glass darkly, then face to face. Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.” St. John expresses it beautifully, “Beloved, now are we the Sons of God and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Through all of these there was clearly a vision of life as an upward struggle and a Godward climb and a journey continually enriched by a deepening understanding of God—a journey upon which we are continually refreshed and strengthened by a sluffing off of old outmoded ways of thought and life—a journey on which our straining faces are increasingly brightened as we draw nearer to Him, who in the end is our Goal and our King. Viewed from this angle, life is more than a bitter struggle. It becomes a glorious unfolding through the centuries of the plans and purposes of God.

Since that new beginning two thousand years ago, we have travelled onward. The spirit of truth has led us into new and wonderful ways. Much that was in part has been done away. We are not yet like Him, but we are more like Him than we were, for we see Him more clearly than we did. The early Christians looked for His visible coming at once, gathering in little groups for their memorial supper and waiting to be snatched to heaven in clouds of glory, with a lost and forgotten world left behind. We see the missionary spirit being born, pioneered by men like St. Paul and St. Peter who ceased to be self-savers and went out to be savers of the world. We see the slow crystallizing of Christian faith into set forms and moulds, following exactly the mode of the Jewish faith from Abraham to Christ’s time; the Christian faith transformed into the glittering sterility of medieval Rome until the white light of the Father’s personal relationship to each one of His children bursts through that ecclesiastical crust at the time of the Reformation. And we see the spirit of this new truth crystallizing again into the dead form of Calvinism—Christians again placing all the emphasis upon personal relationship to God down to this very day. Now a new dawn is breaking, and we are really beginning to believe not merely in the salvation of our souls, but in the Kingdom of God on earth as an attainable ideal. We are beginning to see that religion really means man’s duty to man as well as man’s duty to God, that religion is more than creeds and confessions and sacraments and ritual and worship, more than a meticulous striving after the exact definition of that which never can be defined. We are beginning to see that the religion of God in Christ is the religion of God in man. And this brings us face to face with many things, with the glory of human personality and the imperfection of human program, with slums and play grounds, with problems of work and leisure, with wage scales and profits from investment, production and dividends germs and sanitation, hospitals and schools as well as churches. It brings us face to face with war and peace, for all of these things go to make up our life on this developing world. We do not go to God’s Kingdom. We are taught to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” The Kingdom of God is within you. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The field is the world. “Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” The sky is black today, but a new dawn is breaking. You and I are privileged to live and are called to labor in one of those critical points in human history when new vistas are opening, when crystallized forms are breaking up and the dead inertia of the established order is again being overcome. And this is the overwhelming significance, as I see it, of that point of time at which we stand today. It calls for an openness of mind and a clarity of judgment to which we are unaccustomed. It calls for the breaking of our own mental schackles, a changing of our habits of thought. It calls for daring enterprise, which is strange and new in the light of yesterday, but which will be the accepted order tomorrow, and which will in turn be outmoded and left behind in the growing brilliance of the days that are yet to come. The reason I believe this will be the case is because it has always been the way, and I believe it will be the way until all of life is God’s and God is all of life.

That this unfolding of God’s purpose comes today through struggle, suffering, and chaos need not be surprising. It has always come that way. It makes no difference that the earth is without form and void and darkness is on the face of the deep, for it is still true that the Spirit of God moves on the face of the waters. These changes come as life advances, but they never come easily. Light breaks forth in the heart of a dreamer and he is at first but a voice crying in the wilderness. And then light spreads from heart to heart until there is a troublesome minority crying for a break with things as they are. And then come the flame and the scourge and the rack and cross and martyrs perishing, and each one a living voice converting millions by his death. And truth emerges once more and the martyrs are canonized as saints and life moves on. And in a hundred or a thousand years, the tragic, splendid thing is repeated, and God is waiting at the journey’s end.

And so today, my brethren, if we are men of God, we must of necessity be rebels. We must not make the mistake of thinking that all rebels are men of God. This is a species of spiritual casuistry with which too many have comforted themselves and many are doing so today. But in a world yet far from perfect, all men of God must be rebels, for selfishness and evil are entrenched in the established order. These things speak through the mouths of rulers and kings and systms which are doomed, but up to the last moment of their existence, though doomed, they are powerful to kill and crucify. These are perils which John the Baptist must face in every age. Along with love, I place the spirit of rebellion, properly expressed, as a sister virtue in Christian hearts. Some of these rebels coming to mind are Abraham against the idols of Ur; Huss, and Wicklyf, Savonarola in the field of religion. In the field of social relationship, Wilberforce thundering against human slavery in England, and Abraham Lincoln and Henry Ward Beecher in America. In the field of industry, Adam Smith breaking the bonds of medieval trade guilds, paving the way for the now fading system of imperalistic capitalism. And over and above all these rebels was Christ, thundering against the literalism and barren legalism of the Pharisees and driving in righteous anger the money changers from the temple of God. There have been millions of others, quietly dying for their glorious on-beliefs. And the entrenched evils of the present day call for the same stern stuff in the lives of those who would see God. We have come to one of those ages in which the old machine can no longer be patched up. Life is definitely heading out in a new direction. The first requirement in such a case is always faith to see God as life’s permanent and inevitable objective.

I suppose we must name some of these entrenched evils against which we are called to rebel. The first one I think of, which is the wicked mother of many evil children, is the selfish spirit of nationalism. Germany over all. Britannia rules the waves. America first. Each nation has its slogan, born in hatred and baptized in blood. This sort of nationalism calls itself patriotism. They are as much alike as lust is like love. Out of this sort of nationalism, which can see no good in other men, are born jealousies, misunderstandings, hatreds, and wars. The flames of all these are fed by sinister propaganda fostered and financed by those who make money out of the suffering and death of their brethren. There were the Krupps, and now their modern successors in Germany. There was Cruzeot in France, the far flung Vickers organization in England, and Bethlehem Steel in America. Think what the word Bethlehem means to a christian—and what it means to the world at war. Men torn to pieces by shrapnel made from Bethlehem steel. Nationalism and war are part of the established order of things. They have existed from time immemorial, but they are utterly and irrevocably doomed because we cannot carry them with us into the Kingdom of God, and it is God’s Kingdom toward which we and life are moving. They are crystallized custom through which we are breaking. The storm of
the present moment is only another proof that death agonies are always the most violent. Those who foster and believe in these evil things will be crushed beneath the iron heel of God, at last grown impatient.

And then there was the curse of human slavery. Ships of England swept the oceans, and Northern armies swept the South. But exploitation of human life did not end. The exploitation of human life for profit has to this day been a part of this established order. The proposed amendment to the United States Constitution prohibiting child labor has been bitterly attacked by the evangels of the established order. You are interfering with the freedom of business and the freedom of little children to cough out their lungs in the dust filled mills of the North and West and the lint filled cotton mills of the South. One man may not sell another man. But a worse thing is that often in our present industrial system, a man must sell his wife and his children and himself. I wonder if after all, the basic evil of the system of slavery was not that one man may live in idleness by the bloody sweat of his brother’s brow. The examples of this today are too numerous and prominent to mention. For the inequalities and injustices of our present economic system, I have no program to offer. It is a field in which even an expert should walk warily. The Church has no program in these fields. But these injustices exist and against them, Christian men should cry out.

In a world which God made and which was good when God finished it, such conditions can exist only through human stupidity and sin, which can have no place in God’s Kingdom and which must be left behind as we go.

I could go on for a long time naming other evils in present day life, which must be sluffed off but you are as familiar with them as I am. The thing to which I call you as Christian men is a steadfast rebellion against them; and in the presence of the change which is inevitable in a living world, I call you to the fearlessness of a complete certainty that through light and darkness, through calm and storm, life moves Godward.

The tragedy of the world at this present moment deeply stirs us. It is a new Calvary, and like the old, it is the price paid for sin. How dark the sky may become, how high and bitter the cross, how long drawn out the agony, we do not know, for the end is not yet, and we have sinned against God’s love for a very long time. I think I can hear Jesus saying again, “I thirst.” He thirsts for the love we have not given to Him and for the love we have not given each other. And I can hear Him say again, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness comprehendeth it not. Everywhere we see a willingness of men to pay the last bitter price for those things in which they believe. There is no failure of human spirit. But there is tragic failure in human faith. Disaster has come because so many men are worshipping false gods. “Yet ye say the way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O House of Israel, is not my way equal? Is not you way unequal? Therefore I will judge you every one according to his ways, said the Lord God. Repent and turn yourselves from all your trangressions so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Make you a new heart and a new spirit. For why will ye die? I have no pleasure in the death of him who dieth, saith the Lord God. Wherefore, turn yourselves and live.

There is no evil anywhere in the world except in men’s hearts. Change the heart and change all. A complete answer to war and to every other form of human sin is the heart changing Gospel of Christ. Our solemn responsibility is that we have it in our keeping. We may hold it back through our own lack of faith in it, or we may send it forth to save the world.

I hear the cry of the psalmist going up from the peoples of the earth, “Judge me, O God. Plead my cause against an ungodly nation. O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man, for Thou are the God of my strength. Why dost Thou cast me off? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? O send out Thy light and Thy truth! Let them lead me, and bring me unto Thy holy hill and to Thy dwelling!”