Bishop’s Address of 1927

The Rt. Rev. Frederick Focke Reese

My Brethren of the Clergy and Laity:

“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,” said the Patriarch Job, “and are spent without hope.” We are thankful that we do not have to subscribe to the latter sentiment, but the rapidity with which these annual conventions roll around impresses me, at any rate, with the truth of the first statement. This is now the one hundred and fifth Convention of the Diocese, and the nineteenth over which I have presided as Bishop. Such a reflection ought to make us realize the imperativeness of life and the impressive forcefulness of duty. “We must work while it is called to-day. The night cometh when no man can work.” So with serious and thoughtful interest, but without impatience or haste, let us attend to the matters which have brought us together. They are things, which however apparently trivial, are things which pertain to the Kingdom of God.

Since our last meeting, only one of our Bishops has entered into his rest:

The Rt. Rev. Edward William Osborne, D.D., sometime Bishop of Springfield, Illinois, was consecrated as the second Bishop of that diocese on October 23, 1901, and owing to ill health, he resigned his jurisdiction in 1916, and died in San Diego, California, on July 5, 1926, at eighty-one years of age. Bishop Osborne lived for several years in Savannah, and some of us came to know him well, and we remember him with respect and affection.

Two of our own clergy passed away during the year, 1926:

The Rev. Herbert William Robinson, a retired priest, died on June 11, 1926, aged seventy-nine years. Mr. Robinson was born in England, and was ordained priest in 1878. He came to the Diocese in 1912 and served missions at Sandersville, Dublin, Hawkinsville, and was Priest in charge of St. Andrew’s Church, Darien, until 1920, when he retired by reason of age and infirmity, and went to live in Macon with his children. Mrs. Robinson also passed away shortly after her husband. Mr. Robinson was a faithful and devoted priest and a man of pure and beautiful character, and was greatly esteemed and loved by the people whom he served as a minister of our Lord Jesus Christ.

On October 21, 1926, while the Departments of the Executive Council were meeting, we were shocked and grieved to receive notice of the sudden death of our dear old friend, the Rev. David Watson Winn, Rector of Christ Church, Frederica, and Vicar of Camden County Missions. It is difficult for me to speak of Mr. Winn with moderation. I had known him for thirty-six years when I first came to Georgia. After I became Bishop, he became one of my most faithful and valued co-workers and counsellors, and my very dear friend. It is hard to believe that he has gone. He had been in bad health for some years, but in spite of it, was indefatigable in labor, unsparing of himself in his devotion to his parishioners and to his duty in every sphere of his varied services to the Church and community. Had he been more considerate of himself, he might have been with us yet. But that was impossible for him, a man of extraordinary industry and incessant activity, he simply wore himself out in service. After all, he lived his life to its full measure as God gave him capacity, and having done it, he entered into rest, well earned.

He was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1857, and was made deacon in 1880 and priest in 1881, a graduate of the Virginia Theological Seminary. After serving in his native diocese for two years, he came to Georgia as Assistant Minister of Christ Church, Macon. After two years be became Missionary at Grace Church, Waycross, and as such traveled throughout the coast counties doing Missionary work wherever opportunity offered. He then became Assistant Minister of Christ Church, Frederica, St. Simon’s Island, under the late Rev. A. G. P. Dodge, and later Missionary at St. Jude’s, Brunswick, and finally was elected Associate Rector of the parish on St. Simon’s Island, in 1898, succeeding to the Rectorship on the death of Mr. Dodge on August 20, 1898. He filled at various times, positions of honor and usefulness in the diocese; Examining Chaplain; Member, Vice-Chairman, and Treasurer of the Board of Missions; Archdeacon of Brunswick; Delegate to the Missionary Conference; Alternate Deputy to the General Convention in 1916; and member of the Standing Committee. At the time of his death, he was a member of the Executive Council of the Diocese, and of the Department of Missions, and a delegate to the Provincial Synod.

I also regret to note the death on March 18th of Mrs. Anna D. Dodge, the widow of the late Rev. Anson G. P. Dodge, for many years the Rector of Christ Church, Frederica, and the generous benefactor of the Diocese.

Among his benefactions was the gift of a fund for the maintenance of a Home for Boys on St. Simon’s Island in memory of his only child, Anson G. P. Dodge, Jr. Mrs. Dodge gave her life to the care and nurture of the children who became the beneficiaries of her husband’s generosity, and deserves our recognition for her devoted labors and her Christian character consecrated to so noble a duty. As we estimate things, her death was untimely. But, she leaves behind her many fine monuments in the redeemed and useful lives of the boys whom she sent out into the world fitted to live worthily as good citizens and as Christian men.

During the calendar year, four of our clergy were dimitted to other dioceses, and one was received, and three deacons were advanced to the priesthood. Since January first, I have dimitted one and received one. On that date, there were thirty-one clergy canonically resident, and one officiating by license. Of these, five were non-parochial, two being retired, and the other three have removed and I do not know their addresses. There are three candidates and three postulants for Holy Orders.

The confirmations during the year amounted to two hundred ninety-one, one hundred twenty-three less than last year, which is not an encouraging indication. In the year previous, in two parishes, unusually large numbers were presented for confirmation, which last year failed to maintain the same standard. During the year, I made ninety-eight visits to parishes and missions, held forty-four confirmations, celebrated the Holy Communion forty-three times, took part in one hundred twenty services of all kinds, and delivered one hundred thirty-one sermons and addresses.

The work of the diocese through its Executive Council will appear in its report. All churches are supplied with the services of a clergyman, except Christ Church, Frederica, and the missions in Camden County. This vacancy, however, will in a week or two be filled by a clergyman who has accepted a call to them.

The Department of Religious Education has been acceptably administered, and is full of good works, as will be seen in its report.

The Field Department, though much handicapped, has carried on, and the result of the annual canvass, while not entirely satisfactory, promises sufficient income for our budget needs, and for our budget quota to the National Council. We have not so far in any year, failed to pay our bills and our quota to the National Council in full: and trusting in the generosity and loyalty of clergy and laity, we have again for this year, pledged to the Council our full budget quota. We were able to make some contribution to our Advance Work quota, but fell far short of meeting it in full. The pledges for 1927 amount to $27,757.68, which is less by several hundred dollars than last year. It will require more complete payment of the pledges than last year to meet our obligations. Our collections from pledges in 1926 amounted to only 85.6 per cent of the amounts pledged which would have been insufficient to pay our bills. The situation was saved by the Church School Lenten offerings, the Woman’s Auxiliary, and individual gifts.

I hope it is not visionary to express the hope that in time, the parishes and missions and the people will recognize the sacred responsibility of supporting their diocese and their Church by pledging and paying the full amount of their quotas. It seems to be, but is it? inevitable that some part of the people must bear the burden of the whole, because others fail to bear their share of the common responsibility. During 1926, two large parishes and a number of small congregations paid their full quotas for budget and Advance Work. If other congregations paid their quotas in full, the money which churches paid over their share of the budget requirements could have gone to meet our obligations for Advance Work. But that could not be done, because, their money had to be used to pay budget bills, which were the responsibility of the churches which did not pay their quotas.

Some dioceses permit other dioceses to bear some part of their burden. Some parishes do the same. My brethren, is it fair? The quotas are, I believe, fairly assigned on the bases of what churches pay for their own support. It ought not to be any more difficult for one church to meet its obligations to the diocese and National Church than for another. Is it not a question of the will to do it and of efficiency in carrying out the method of preparation for and of conducting the canvass? I believe that most people are loyal to the Church, and her mission, and if the common responsibilities are explained to them and put upon a high plane of service to our Lord and His Kingdom they will respond with their support. We must trust them more fully and our trust in them depends upon the degree of our confidence that God is with us and that His Spirit will give us power to do our duty to the full.

One of the difficulties in the administration of the Church is the lack of prompt and full cooperation on the part of the diocesan and parish officers. The National Council suffers from the failure of the diocesan officers—but I must say, not of our diocesan treasurers—the diocese suffers from the failure of parish officers. It is reasonably expected that every cent which any person contributes on the red side of the duplex envelope, should be considered by the parish treasurer and vestry as a trust fund. It should under no circumstances be borrowed or used for any parish purposes. It should be remitted promptly and regularly each month to the diocesan treasurer, whether it be much or little. If a vestry has guaranteed the parish quota, one twelfth should be remitted monthly. This is not a counsel of perfection. It is a matter of common fairness and good business. Churches and their members should certainly be as accurate and correct in their business methods as business men and business concerns are. If they do not meet their obligations, they go bankrupt. If they do not pay their notes when due, they are protested and credit is lost. The Church cannot protest pledges due it. It cannot be dragged into a bankruptcy court. Its obligations are moral and matters of honor, and should be so regarded. Will parish treasurers and vestries therefore see to it that they conduct their business as such, promptly and accurately, and thus save the credit of their parishes, and help and not retard the business of the King?

There are two matters upon which I desire to make some comment, both of which will be presented to you in the report of the Executive Council:

The first is a resolution proposing the election of an Executive Secretary for the Diocese and suggesting ways and means by which to provide a salary for such an officer, if authorized. In saying anything on this subject, I wish to disclaim any desire or intention to influence in the slightest degree the action of the Convention, and I hope that you will consider it solely on its merits and for the good of the Diocese. The administration of our dioceses is becoming more and more exacting and burdensome, and more and more important. This is, as you know, the day of organization. The modern way of doing things is by corporations—cooperative effort. It has its dangers undoubtedly, but it is inevitable, and the world’s work could not be done without it. If you are tempted to complain of the increasing organization in the Church and of the consequent loss in some degree of local independence, and I suppose we all feel that way sometimes,—please reflect that the very existence of the Church in the beginning and all through the ages, depended upon its organization, as you clergy know who are familiar with the history of the Church in the sub-apostolic age. Even in small dioceses like our own, it is impossible for the Bishop alone to carry all the responsibility and perform all the necessary detailed duties which devolve upon him as its head administrative officer. This is not only true of matters of special diocesan concern, but also of diocesan responsibilities to the General Church. Dioceses are now linked up in partnership with the Church through the National Council. The Church’s Program is a joint responsibility of vital concern to both. To promote the Program and to secure the cooperation of all the congregations for complete success requires more thought and labor than it is possible for a Bishop to give to it. More or less during the entire year, there is something which ought to be done. First, there is the necessity of preparing for the annual canvass—in educational effort, and in assisting in promoting effective plans for a thorough and successful canvass in every parish, and the further necessity of follow-up work after the canvass. There is also the necessity for publicity and for conferences, general and parochial. All these duties are very important. They require more or less experienced assistance to clergy and vestries, and more or less constant attention. Waiting till a few weeks before the date of the canvass to make preparations results in a hasty and frequently an imperfect effort, and consequently imperfect results. May I remind you that the annual Every-member Canvass is a method of financing the Church’s work, not merely for the missionary and other enterprises under the direction of the National Council, but for the work of the diocese, in its general activities, under its Executive Council, and also, be it noted, for the support of each parish. The Church is one, and its work is one great enterprise of missionary endeavor, of Evangelistic effort, first in the parish, then in the diocese, and then in domestic and foreign fields. The Every-Member Canvass has greatly improved the financial condition of most of our parishes. It has greatly helped the diocese, and last and least, it has helped the National Council. They all stand together, and they all are liable to fall together. So that in proposing an officer whose duty will to a considerable extent consist in helping to promote effective methods and results in the campaign and canvass, it is, in my judgement, just as important for you clergy and laity in your respective parishes as it is for the diocese and the General Church.

You will understand, of course, that this proposed officer will have no right or authority to intrude into your parishes without the consent of their rectors and vestries. He will stand ready to give assistance where desired and needed. I am sure that as results have indicated in the past, there will be both a need and a readiness to accept such assistance. And it is also to be understood that he will be under the direction and authority of the Bishop, and all plans and methods will be subject to the Bishop’s revision and approval. In some of your parishes, the Nation Wide Campaign has met with a very gratifying success, and I recognize with gratitude the full and loyal support which the Church’s. Program receives from them. But, in none of our congregations have we succeeded in enlisting the spiritual and financial support of “Every Member.” That that can be accomplished completely is probably too much to hope for. Perfection is not easily attainable and may be never attainable on earth. But that is the ideal at any rate and it is a fatal error ever to lower our standard or desert our ideals. And is it not true that with more experience and under efficient guidance, we can get nearer the goal than we are getting now? There must be ways by which this can be more nearly accomplished—new methods and greater care in carrying out already tested methods. It is, I think, true that in a number of congregations, there is a failure to appreciate the value of approved suggestions from general and diocesan headquarters. In some cases, the canvass is very imperfect and hence the results are imperfect. There is still a large amount of educational work to be done and missionary and evangelistic effort to be made to bring all of our people into sympathy with the Church’s Program, including parish, diocesan and National Church, and to enlist their prayers and service and support. The comparative failure is not always due to indifference and the hard-heartedness of the people, but to our inability to know how to reach them. As I have said many times, this is not merely a question of money getting, but of converting people, and converting them not merely to willingness to give money, but to their privilege and responsibilities as members of God’s Church. And unless we go about it in the right way, we cannot get results. The art of reaching and persuading people is the art of accomplishing success, which every sales department of business is constantly studying in order to improve its methods. Why should not we church people be as zealous and energetic in our efforts as business men are? “The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” That saying of our Lord, however, should be not a narcotic but a stimulant.

It may seem that I have got a long way from the question of an Executive Secretary and maybe you think I have exaggerated the possibilities of such an officer. There is, no doubt, an element of experiment in the plan. But experiment is no novel element in human affairs. Without it, no human endeavor would ever get anywhere.

There are other duties in the administration of the diocese which I should assign to an Executive Secretary, and which I hope would increase our efficiency. I do not, however, wish to speak of them in detail, because they are somewhat personal to myself, and I want this question to be considered mainly as a matter of advantage to our diocesan growth and improvement. I may say in conclusion on this subject that a number of dioceses have created such an office and have found it of great advantage. I know of two of them which have especially found them to be invaluable. Much will naturally depend upon the ability and fitness of the man and upon our knowledge as to how to use him. I will submit to the committee which may be appointed to report upon this matter a summary of an address lately made by a very efficient Executive Secretary of one of our dioceses, which I think will give, some valuable suggestions as to the functions of such an officer. I leave the matter to your judgment and whatever you decide, I shall willingly acquiesce in.

The other matter upon which I desire to comment is also unfortunately a question of money. I regret the necessity of bringing it before you, as it will be in the report of the Executive Council. When the General Convention met in New Orleans in 1925, the National Council reported an accumulated deficit of $1,500,000. At a joint session of the two Houses, pledges were made by dioceses and districts toward the payment of this debt. Eighty-three of them did so, and sixty-eight of them according to the last report have paid their pledges in full. There have been received $1,271,088, leaving $268,216 unprovided.

Neither I nor the clerical and lay deputies in New Orleans made any pledge. We are therefore one of the eight dioceses and districts which did not. Somebody in the diocese has sent $5.00 to the National Treasurer and that is the smallest amount credited to any diocese, except one which has given nothing.

At the time when pledges were made, I felt that the deficit was due to the fact that other dioceses had failed in their duty by not paying their budget quotas. A good deal of glory has been accorded some of them who were responsible for the deficit for their large contributions toward it. However, I hope it was a day of repentance for some of them, and they have shown that it was so because they greatly improved in their payments on their quotas in 1926.

But, feeling as we in General Convention did at that time, we thought it was a good opportunity for the delinquents to pay their debts and which some of them have nobly done. However, it would not be well for us to congratulate ourselves too much for our past performances in meeting our budget quotas, nor to cherish a holier than thou feeling. Other dioceses also have always paid their budget quotas, and some of our dioceses in the Province of Sewanee. And yet, these same dioceses, feeling doubtless as we did about our delinquent sisters, still made pledges for the deficit and have paid them, some in full. So that as far as this goes, we are without excuse.

Sometime ago, I received a letter from the Presiding Bishop directing my attention to the situation and to the fact that we mere one of eight dioceses which had not contributed, and asking whether it was not possible for us to do something to meet the amount of the deficit still unprovided for. I submitted this letter to the Finance Department as there was no opportunity to submit it to the Executive Council. The Department, after consideration, voted to submit the letter to the Convention with a resolution which is appended to the report of the Council. I urge upon you the respectful consideration which is due it both for its matter, and for our distinguished and beloved Presiding Bishop.

These matters of finance are necessary to be brought before you and considered. I realize that they may involve heavier burdens upon the parishes, and upon our people. I do not desire to be unsympathetic or unreasonable. I know that we have a small diocese, but we have shown in the past our loyalty and our willingness to do what is rightly expected of us, and I have every confidence in you and in all of our people that you will do your duty to the utmost. May I just add this? If all of us gave to God according as He has blessed us; if we all recognized the stewardship of our earthly possessions; if we all gave, say a tithe of our incomes, especially those persons with large means, could we not do even more than we are asked and expected to do, and at the same time make no great sacrifice or deprive ourselves of the provision for our reasonable necessities and comforts?

During the last few months, throughout the Church, there has been held what we called “The Bishop’s Crusade.” In some of our churches in the Diocese there have been held missions lasting a week; in others for shorter periods. In those, about which I have received information, this Crusade was evidently very helpful, as evidenced by the zeal and earnestness of the preachers and by the attendance of the people. There are evidences that the Blessed Spirit touched the hearts of many, and these hearts were stirred and people’s faith strengthened and their lives deepened. For this result, may God be praised!
It was unfortunate indeed that it was not possible to provide for at least a week’s mission in every church. Indeed for an effective mission, one week is insufficient to make the impression upon people that should be made. It requires the accumulative power of more continued prayer and preaching to drive home the truth and make more permanent the effect.

But the Crusade was not intended or expected to consist only of the services provided in the original plan. These were intended to be only the beginning of a spiritual effort, which should continue for months or years and reach every soul in the church and all others who might in any way be influenced. As I understand it, the motive which suggested the Crusade was to emphasize the need of, and to result in, an Evangelical revival in the Church, and by the Church, and of course, such a result could not be expected to be attained in so brief a time as was allotted to the Crusade. That could do no more possibly than open the door, and arouse the attention of priests and people. It could only originate a movement which should continue and should give increasing strength to our awakened consciousness of duty and to stir us all up into a conviction that the Church was not doing its duty to the world. The deplorable condition of the people of our country, with respect to religion, where so many millions are not connected with any religious communion, and when so vast a number of children are growing up in a pagan atmosphere, and the tragic condition of the whole world, is a tremendous and appealing challenge to the Church. In what sense can we say that this is a Christian country? In what sense can we speak of the nations which are ordinarily so described, as contributing “Christendom”? Millions are living as pagans; many, I hope, manifesting at any rate the virtues of paganism; many also the views of paganism.

Is it not also true that in our Church, with its million or more communicants, there are entirely too many who regard but lightly their privileges and are indifferent to their responsibilities as Christians? There is scarcely a parish which has not on its roll the names of communicants who are largely strangers to the Church’s worship and work, to whom prayer and personal religion are, if practiced at all, merely casual incidents in their lives, to whom God is a far distant stranger, a notion of the head and not a blessed Companion and Friend. These, facts constitute our problem and challenge us to a greater degree of devotion and high endeavor to preach and live the Gospel of our Blessed Lord. To meet the challenge will require more than a passing period of activity. It will require constant energy and industry; constant prayer and intercession on the part of both priest and godly laymen.

But the first requirement will be to deepen and enrich our own spiritual lives by living more with God and gaining thereby the greater power which can only come from a growing and deepening Christian life. We cannot teach what we do not know. We cannot inspire others with a spirit which we do not possess. The measure of every man’s power is the measure of his own character—the sincerity and reality of his own spiritual experience. We cannot lead others to God unless we ourselves know and walk in the way that leads to Him. And once again, we are all, especially we of the ministry, subject to the deadening effects of too superficial a familiarity with the outward forms and exercises of religion. Poverty of religious opportunities is hardly more conducive to insensibility than too great an abundance of opportunities participated in without spiritual earnestness. May I say to you, my brethren of the clergy, that you and I need to exercise more diligence in the study of God’s Word, more thoughtful reading to keep our minds and hearts nurtured and growing in truth and wisdom; more prayer and meditation; more quiet and silence in communion with God. And this, not merely that we may save our own souls, but that we may be finer instruments for the Spirit to use in His Ministry of life and salvation. I desire to impress this with special emphasis upon my younger brethren. Our souls become dry and desiccated and our ministrations lifeless and unimpressive unless we are constantly refreshed at the fountain of the Water of life.

But, this is all equally true of you, my lay brethren. Each one of you is a priest unto God. You all constitute a royal priesthood. Some of you are alive to the duty of Evangelism. I pray God’s blessing upon you in your renewed consecration. The real power of the Church is in its laity. They constitute its great body. Their spiritual life constitutes the spiritual momentum of the Church. Compare the six thousand of the clergy with the million or more of lay communicants. How can so small a number of priests accomplish the results which require the energy and spiritual force of such a body of men and women, living with God, and consecrated to His service? And so, I say to you, “See ye to it that you go forth to the conflict clad in the whole armour of God, with the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” Do valiant service for your Lord in season and out of season, as He gives you ability and opportunity. Let us all in lowliness of mind, in the spirit of love, and with undaunted faith be content to serve for Christ’s sake in the Armageddon of truth against falsehood, of righteousness against unrighteousness, of unity and peace against division and strife. In this conflict are our brethren for whom Christ died, being mislead and deceived, debauched and corrupted, and their souls lost in worldliness and sin.

Brethren, all, clergy and laity, we must carry on. We must follow up those whom the Crusade influenced. We must with inspired ingenuity devise means to perpetuate and extend its results. Arrange for missions in your Churches. Learn anew how to preach with simplicity and clearness of thought and expression and with the convincing power of love and manifest earnestness, the Gospel of Jesus Christ by which alone can men find eternal life. “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” Let us lift Him up before men in our words and our acts and by our own spiritual character.

I commend you to God and pray for His presence and blessing with us in our deliberations.