Bishop’s Address of 1928

The Rt. Rev. Frederick Focke Reese

My Brethren of the Clergy and Laity:

I welcome you to this One hundred and Sixth Annual Convention of the Diocese, and the twentieth over which I have presided as Bishop. I ask you not to consider as trivial any matter which may come before you and to give to every question mature deliberation. Let no resolutions be passed which do not express the serious purpose of the Convention and of every member who votes for it. I thank God that during the years of my Episcopate, we have had no dissension or partisan divisions among us. We have differed, if at all, as Christian gentlemen, and trusted one another’s sincerity and honesty of purpose. But, we must be loyal to the truth as we reverently understand it, and be true to our convictions. This attitude of fellowship with one another, even though we may differ from one another, will always characterize us, if we all realize that God is over us all and that we are brethren united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and our supreme desire is that with one mind and one mouth, we may glorify God.

Since our last Convention, three of our Bishops have entered into Paradise:

The Rt. Rev. William Cabell Brown, D. D., Bishop of Virginia, died suddenly of heart failure in London, England, on July 25, 1927, aged sixty-five years. Bishop Brown immediately on his ordination went to Brazil as a missionary, and his entire ministry prior to his election as Bishop Coadjutor of Virginia was spent in Brazil. His outstanding service was in the translation of the Prayer Book, and in collaboration with others, of the Bible, into Portugese. He was consecrated on October 28, 1914, and in 1919 succeeded as the Diocesan of Virginia. As such, as Chairman of the House of Bishops, and as a member of the National Council, and in every other capacity, he won the respect and esteem and affection of his brethren and of the whole Church. His death, as it seemed to us, most untimely, was one of those perplexities which we can only solve by our faith in the love and wisdom of our heavenly Father.

The Rt. Rev. Edwin Stevens Lines, D. D., Bishop of Newark, died October 25, 1927, in the eighty-second year of his age, and in the twenty-fourth year of his Episcopate. Bishop Lines was a native of Connecticut and spent his entire ministry in his native diocese until his consecration. He was a man of great ability, of great learning, a wide reader, and a profound thinker, an able administrator, a wise counsellor, a man of broad sympathies, deeply touched by the disorders and inequities of our social and industrial system, and constant in his efforts to advocate and promote a truer realization of the Kingdom of God among men and classes.

The Rt. Rev. Ethelbert Talbott, D. D. and LL. D., Bishop of Bethlehem, died February 27, 1928, in the eightieth year of his age, and the forty-first year of his consecration. He was consecrated as the first missionary Bishop of Wyoming and Idaho. In 1891, he was elected Bishop of this diocese, but felt compelled to decline from a sense of duty and loyalty to the Church which had only a few years before sent him as a pioneer to the missionary field of the great West. In 1898, he was elected Bishop of Bethlehem and accepted. In 1924, he became by seniority of consecration, Presiding Bishop of the Church and continued in office until January 1, 1926, when the Bishop of Maryland became Presiding Bishop by election, as provided by the amended constitution of the General Convention. Bishop Talbot’s life and service are well known, I am sure, to many if not to all of you—a pioneer Bishop, a genial, hearty, humane man among men, winning the friendship of all classes—a Bishop of the people, loving and serving them, with a genial humor and a ready sympathy for any man who had in him a spark of manhood, however far from the conventional standards of propriety and virtue he might be.

The roll of our own family has been sadly broken during the past year.

The Rev. Chauncey C. Williams, D. D., died October 29, 1927. He was the senior priest of the Diocese and for thirty years the Rector of St Paul’s Church, Augusta, from which he resigned in 1907, retiring from the active exercise of his ministry and living at Mobile, Alabama. He was ordained deacon in 1874 and priest in 1876, serving first as assistant Minister of St Philip’s Church, Atlanta, then as Rector of Christ Church, Macon, from which parish he went to Augusta. Few of you probably who are here, knew him, so soon do we pass out of memory when we retire from active contact with our fellowmen. But it was my privilege to have known him from the time when I first came to Georgia in 1890. We were closely associated as brother priests and also in the work of the diocese for fourteen years and as friends for thirty-eight years. “No man was more honored and loved in his parish or in the diocese.” He filled from time to time every position of honor and responsibility in its gift. He possessed a lovable and attractive personality, was a devoted parish priest and pastor, a loyal Churchman of the type once considered “high”, but now reduced in ecclesiastical altitude by the towering elevation of those who move in the upper ranges of ‘Catholic’ Churchmanship. He was a scholarly and thoughtful theologian, and a preacher of marked ability, and a faithful friend and to the last devoted to his Diocese.

Among all the friends whom we remember in the diocese and in the Convention, none was more highly esteemed than Mr. J. Moultrie Lee of Christ Church, Savannah. He was for many years a vestryman and treasurer of his parish, representing it frequently in the convention, and from the beginning of the Nation Wide Campaign until May 6, 1926, was treasurer of the Executive Council Mr. Lee was one of God’s saints, a noble Christian gentleman, faithful to every duty and responsibility, modest and retiring and gentle, but steady and reliable—a dependable layman. His presence was to me a benediction, and I thank God, as many do, that we were privileged to know and be associated with him. To his interested fidelity and efficiency, parish and diocese are deeply indebted. He lived to be an old man, but in spite of a serious physical infirmity, went steadily on in the path of duty. He died September 25, 1927, and though we miss his presence here, we cannot grieve that now he has found his resting place in the paradise of God.

On December 4, 1927, we were shocked to learn that our fiend, Mr. J. K. McIver, had suddenly passed away. For eight years, he had been treasurer of Missions, and since 1926, treasurer of the Executive Council. No missionary ever failed to receive his salary promptly during his term of office as treasurer of Missions. He was glad to serve the Church in the two offices he held. He was interested in his work, generous of his time and labor, and always ready to respond to any request which I might make of him. He was faithful, accurate, and efficient.

During the calendar year, two clergymen retired from active service, two were dimitted, and one died. Three were received by letter dimissory and the number on the roll was on January 1, 1928, the same as last year with one priest officiating by license, making thirty-two in all. Since January 1st, two have been received and I have ordained to the diaconate one candidate. There were three candidates for holy orders and four postulants, and one has been admitted since the first of the year.

The confirmations are slightly larger than last year, but there is a noticeable decrease from those confirmed in 1925 and 1926. In this connection, I impress upon the clergy and the laity that the great responsibility and duty of the Church is Evangelism, the preaching of the Gospel by pulpit and pew, by priest and layman, to win men and women to Christ, to save souls. Some of our clergy and laity are not indifferent to this sacred responsibility. Our Laymen’s Association is an effort to stimulate the men and women of the Church to this duty. But every man and woman must be a witness for Christ. He must feel the responsibility of doing that, by word and example, and according to the Church’s method of spiritual discipline, that means that every member of a congregation must actively concern himself or herself in seeking out and bringing to confirmation those whom they find opportunity to influence. It must be the subject of their prayers and their wise and tactful effort. If such a revival of religion in the hearts and minds of our communicants could be brought about, the number of those confirmed would represent the united effort of the whole diocese. We should not then be compelled to lament the slow progress of the Church, and our confirmations would not be the limited number now reported, nor would we suffer the tragic losses of lost and lapsed communicants which every year we are compelled to face.

There have been confirmed in the twenty years of my Episcopate 5198, an average of about 260 a year. There were reported in 1908 at the division of the diocese 4439 communicants, and there were reported in 1927, 6052, a gain of 1613, or 3585 less than those confirmed. How many communicants have been received and transferred, 1 do not know, nor how many have died. But, at any rate, the gain per annum has been only 81 as against 260 confirmed. What became of the rest of those confirmed, even allowing for the deaths, is a mystery.

Brethren of the clergy and laity, would not a greater zeal and industry in Evangelism on the part of all of us show a greater result in souls? Please do not listen to this with genteel but unresponsive courtesy. Are we not responsible to God for our own souls and also for the souls who by our efforts might be saved? Do we realize that we are ministers of Jesus Christ, who gave His life for the world; and that He has sent as to fulfil his ministry of reconciliation? We must be more fired with zeal, more instant in season and out of season, more prayerful, more industrious, more courageous, more confident of His presence and help. It will not do for us merely to say that there are no children in the congregation of the age for confirmation. Are there no unconverted men and women in the community? Can we not reach them? Are we so unconcerned or so powerless that we can do nothing? The clergy are not merely rectors or vicars, but they are pastors of the flock, and of those, too, without the fold, Evangelists of the Word, preaching, teaching, shepherding. Do we remember the words addressed to us by the Church when we were ordained priests, that we were “to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for His children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ forever”? The difficulties and obstacles with which necessarily we meet, I fear tend to make us relax and succumb to them and tempt us to loss of courage and to indolence, or to take the line of least resistance and to be content to do only what is forced upon us. On the other hand, we are on the firing line, not in secluded posts in the rear. We must be aggressively, though wisely, on the offensive.

What I say to the clergy, I say to the laity. You, too, are priests unto God. Do our people realize that they possess the priesthood of the laity? That they can and ought to be preachers of righteousness and witness of Christ? It is not impossible for lay men and women to be active and successful in ministering the Word of God, in leading other men and women through their parish priests to confirmation. I am sure that as a Church and diocese, we shall never fulfil our mission and do what the Church is commissioned by the Lord to do, until the lay people recognize this duty and privilege. I know of two large parishes in which this lay ministry of personal evangelism has been most successfully employed. One is a parish of six hundred communicants in a town of nine thousand people, where a confirmation class of one hundred eleven (111) was presented to the Bishop, seventy-five were brought to holy Baptism, most of them adults, lapsed communicants were restored to the worship and work of the parish, and forty-four letters of transfer secured for people living in the town but unconnected with the parish. Is there no suggestion in these facts which we might apply to our work, even though our results would not be so striking?

One word more to you, Brethren of the Clergy, the results in the two parishes were gained under the leadership of the Rector. A word to the wise is sufficient. I submit a letter from four Bishops, members of the National Commission on Evangelism, which I should like to have referred to our Committee on the State of the Church.

In the report of the Executive Council, reference is made to and a resolution will be submitted proposing the affiliation of this Diocese with the Diocese of Atlanta in the control and management of The Fort Valley High and Industrial School at Fort Valley, Georgia. I desire to urge your serious consideration of the resolution, and I submit letters from the Bishop of Atlanta, President of the Board of Trustees, and the Rev. Dr. Patton, Director of the American Church Institute, bearing upon this matter, and which I shall be prepared to submit to any committee to which you may refer this matter.

The Fort Valley School is one of the schools under the supervision of the American Church Institute and it is one of the largest of them. Indeed, it is one of the outstanding institutions in the South for the industrial education of negroes. It has a large number of students, a fine plant, and money is now being raised by Dr. Patton to secure a large gift from the General Education Board for its further development. Its importance and efficiency is sufficiently attested by the fact that the General Education Board has offered to give it a large sum of money for equipment.

The American Church Institute, as you know, made an annual appropriation for a number of years to St. Athanasius’ School at Brunswick. But, in spite of this, we were not able to operate it without recurring deficits. It was a first class school, but its limited plant and property in the city of Brunswick made it impossible to look forward to any considerable development for industrial training. The Institute was appropriating a larger percentage of its budget to St. Athanasius’ than to any other school affiliated with it. In order, therefore, that it might concentrate its appropriation upon the larger school, which has so much promise of large development and at the same time carry out its policy of developing one efficient school in each Southern State, the Institute was compelled to reduce its appropriation so materially that it has been found impossible to operate St. Athanasius’ and it has been closed. There being therefore, no such institution in the Diocese, it is felt that our diocese should be interested in and give out assistance to the support and management of the Fort Valley School.

The education of the negro is one of the most important matters which we as Southerners and as Americans, in co-operation with the people of the East and North, are faced with. We must realize that no nation or community can preserve its civilization with a vast body of ignorance and incapacity existing in its midst. The economic and industrial as well as the social progress of the country and of our section cannot be maintained without equipping all the people of every race included in its population, to develop their life and their powers to the utmost limit of their capacity. They must be given the opportunity to become intelligent, as individuals, and efficient and capable as members of the social and industrial body. They must have a fair chance to became and to do their best. It is not only cruel and inhuman to deny them the opportunity, but it is foolish. Whatever may be the evils which inhere in the fact of two races so radically different being mingled in the population of our land, and whatever may be the weaknesses and limitations of the negro, as some picture them, ignorance is no cure for these evils. An ignorant, unskilled, inefficient, and economically repressed body of people in any community will inevitably fester and produce ills far more deadly than those from which we now consider that we are suffering. These statements are so manifestly true and recognized to be so, that it may seem useless to emphasize them. Such has been done and is being done to remedy conditions which would, if not remedied, surely come to be an intolerable condition.

No intelligent person can doubt the value of the work being done by Tuskegee and Hampton. The American Church Institute of our Church is doing similar work and just as effectively, in Fort Valley and its other large schools. It is influencing the minds and characters of about seven thousand negro youth every year. The money with which it is doing this work comes mainly from the North. The people of the North are, of course, far wealthier than our people in the South, but at any rate, many of them realize that this problem is theirs as well as ours. But, the problem is just as much ours, nay, more so, both as Americans and as Southerners. The larger part of the negroes live in the South and will doubtless continue to do so for generations to come. And the time has long since passed when we of the South could with good grace and truthfulness plead poverty for failure to make our contribution to this great social, civic, and religious responsibility. The American Church Institute, therefore, is perfectly justified in asking that the Southern dioceses should be interested and generous in helping to maintain these schools located in our midst.

The Diocese of Atlanta now controls the Fort Valley School with a majority of its trustees, and its Bishop as President. It contributes to its maintenance $2000.00 a year. It is located just near the border of the two dioceses and a large number of its pupils are from South Georgia. The Institute asks and the Diocese of Atlanta asks us to co-operate with them. It seems to me to be a reasonable request and I hope that we will give an affirmative reply. How Georgia shall he represented on the Board of Trustees and how much money we shall be able to give in the future are questions which must he considered. Of course, we cannot now put into our budget anything like the amount Atlanta gives, but we can and ought to give some modest amount now in the hope that in the future, both the Diocese and individuals will give more largely.

There was held last August in the city of Lausanne, Switzerland, a Worldwide Conference on Faith and Order. There were in attendance official representatives of nearly every large religious communion in the world, the Roman Catholic Church and the Baptist Churches in our Southland, and in England being practically the only ones not represented.

This Conference was first projected by the General Convention of our Church in 1910, meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. Preparations for it had therefore extended over a period of nearly eighteen years, suspended, however, during the years of the World War. The primary object in view was to assemble these representatives of the church, that they might meet each other face to face and discuss with each other under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, with frankness and friendliness, the questions which have during the past centuries caused the separations and divisions between Christians, and broken the unity of the Body of Christ. The first step was to ascertain in this way wherein all the disciples of our Lord agreed and wherein they differed as to the substance of the Faith and the Order and discipline of the Church.

The ultimate object hoped and prayed for is to discover some plan by which these differing and separated communions may be brought again into the visible and organic unity of the Holy Catholic Church of our Lord Jesus, and thus accomplish the fulfilment of our Lord’s prayer, “Neither pray I for these alone, but far them also which believe on me through their word; also that they all may be one as thou; Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me”.

The consciousness of the sin and the weakness of division has been growing for many years in the minds and hearts of many Christian people of all communions. The desire for unity, the breaking down of the walls of partition which human failure and ignorance and selfishness have built up between those who acknowledge Jesus Christ as divine Lord and Saviour, is becoming more and more a passion with many devout and faithful souls. The evil effects of division are manifest everywhere, and most disastrously in the mission field among non-Christians. The hostility and bitterness between communions which are the inheritance of past centuries of controversy and persecution, have manifestly been softened, and the time was evidently ripe for such a Conference. That it should meet must be accepted as in accordance with the Will of God. That during its sessions those who composed it were under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, there can be no doubt, judging from the testimonies given by so many men of different antecedents and of different communions. Their attitude was practically without exception, sympathetic; their temper was sweet and reasonable. There was manifested the spirit of friendly frankness and a consciousness of brotherly fellowship, as these representative leaders of the Churches discussed the grave issues presented to them.

The program accepted by the Conference provided for the discussion of the following subjects:
The Church’s Message to the World—the Gospel.
The Nature of the Church.
The Church’s Common Confession of Faith.
The Ministry of the Church.
The Sacraments.
The Unity of Christendom and the Relation thereto of Existing Churches.

Each of these subjects was considered, first in the fill Assembly then referred to a section of more than a hundred members. Each section was in turn divided into groups, and each group considered the question referred to the section. The group reports were formulated and unified by a special committee, and as approved by the section, were presented to the Conference for further discussion. When finally approved, they were “accepted” by it, as expressing its mind and judgment. Nothing was formally adopted as a “resolution”.

Reports on every one of the subjects were “accepted” by the Conference except the last one. This was not “accepted” as presented, but referred for final formulation to a large continuation committee. The Representatives of the Orthodox Eastern Church declined to assent to the acceptance to any report except the first.

This is a very crude and imperfect statement of the methods employed by the Conference to arrive at its conclusions, but it will, at any rate, make it clear that there was the utmost care and deliberation and these conclusions were accepted both in the sections and in the full conference with practical unanimity.

All of their reports are to be submitted to the authorities of every communion represented in the Conference. It is hoped and expected that these various bodies will each in its own way give them serious consideration, at the same time, giving them the widest publicity among their members. Of course, this process of consideration will continue for years, until vast numbers of Christians of every name can absorb into their consciousness the meaning and significance of these utterances, as bearing upon the question of Christian Unity. What effect they will have, time only can tell. We must hope and pray that men in groups and individually will submit their minds and hearts to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and that prayer will be made everywhere and all times that God may bring out of this process the Will for Unity in greater measure than ever, and the desire to advance, by the Spirit of our Lord, frankly, sympathetically, and reverently the ultimate attainment of the great cause for which this first step has been taken. It is of course, impossible for me to introduce into this address the full text of the reports. It is to be hoped that they will be published in such a form that they may be distributed widely and that millions of people will possess and read them.

No attempt was made to formulate a plan for Christian Unity. Such would have been premature and ended in failure. The effort thus far made was to get Christian people through their representatives, to face the question of our divisions, to discuss frankly the many questions involved in them. What are the agreements between us and what are the disagreements? How far are the disagreements of vital importance? These questions must be talked over face to face in brotherly conference, each communion making a clean breast of its convictions as to the Faith and Order of the Church. And the reports made and accepted register these honest convictions as to what agreement there is among us as to these questions discussed by the Conference, and also as to those matters in which we do not agree. That is in my judgment, a great step.

It was a great gain that the Conference met. An English Bishop is quoted as saying, “The great thing about our Conference is that it happened.” Such a Conference would have been impossible a generation ago. Some of these divisions have existed for ten centuries. Until comparatively recently, these were accepted as inevitable and right. Now, men are coming to see that they are utterly wrong and disastrous. The Conference brought men measurably nearer together in the Spirit. They confessed the sins of the past and did what they could to make amendment. They did it in the conscious presence of God. In time this Spirit will percolate into the minds of the masses of Christian people. The next step will be easier because instead of controversy and hostility, there will be respect and sympathy between those who have and do differ. God will provide for the ultimate issue. It is in His Hands. None of us will live to see the accomplishment, but with God, a thousand years is as one day. The more nearly we approach Him in humility and in the love of truth and the desire for the Unity of His Church, the sooner it will come.

As for us Churchmen, we must be nimble and patient and kind and friendly, not haughty in the belief in our superiority. We have much to contribute to the Reunited Church, but we must recognize that others have something also. No man can teach who is not willing to learn. There is a temper which somebody has described as “The Hard Church”. God save us from that and bless us that we may not be obstinate and proud, and while loyal to our convictions, we shall respect the convictions of others, and then some day in God’s good providence, these apparently conflicting convictions will he harmonized into a larger unity and a richer life for the world through our Lord, Jesus Christ, “That they all may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”