Bishop’s Address of 1929

The Rt. Rev. Frederick Focke Reese

My Brethren of the Clergy and Laity:

I welcome you to the One Hundred and Seventh Annual Convention of the Diocese. We are about to celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion in preparation for our work. I hope that each one of us will enter into that service with earnest devotion, will offer praise and adoration to our Lord, whose servants we are, pray with especial intention for His Presence and guidance, and complete the Eucharistic Sacrifice by consecrating ourselves wholly to His service in the duties which we have come here to perform. Every detail of duty in this life is a sacred thing, when met and performed in the consciousness of God’s Presence and as an act of service to Him.

The Church has suffered during the past year serious losses by death among its Bishops.

The Rt. Rev. Charles Minnegerode Beckwith, D.D., Bishop of Alabama, died on April 18, 1928, aged 76 years, and in the 26th year of his consecration. Bishop Beckwith was a nephew of our own Bishop Beckwith and began his ministry in this diocese and was distinguished for his interest in religious education, and was the author of a valuable series of test-books based upon the Book of Common Prayer.

The Rt. Rev. Henry Beard Delaney, D.D., Suffragan Bishop of North Carolina, died April 14, 1925, 70 years of age, and in the 10th year of his consecration. He was a colored man and was the second man of his race consecrated as a Suffragan Bishop in the Church’s endeavor to provide Episcopal oversight for his people by one of their own race. He was a man of good sense, of consecrated spirit, and exceptional piety.

The Rt. Rev. William Alexander Guerry, D.D., Bishop of South Carolina, died June 9, 1928, 67 years of age, and in the 21st year of his consecration. The nature of his taking was a tragedy never before occurring in the history of our Church, and it is hoped never to occur again. He was a man of marked ability as a preacher, courageous and determined in the prosecution of his duty. He was frequently in our diocese and many of us were happy in enjoying his friendship.

The Rt. Rev. Joseph Horsfall Johnson, D.D., S.T.D., Bishop of Los Angeles, died May 16, 1928, 80 years of age, and in the 32nd year of his consecration.

Bishop Johnson on November 11, 1901, was nominated for the Episcopate of this diocese. The names of the Rev. Dr. Johnson and the Rev. Dr. C. K. Nelson were presented to the Convention as the result of an informal conference of the clergy, and as we all know, our late friend and Diocesan, Bishop Nelson, was elected.

The Rt. Rev. George Herbert Kinsolving, D.D., Bishop of Texas, died on October 23, 1928, aged 79 years, and in the 87th year of his Episcopate. My first service in the ministry was rendered in the parish of Bishop Kinsolving in Baltimore during his extended absence, and I cherish his memory as an old and valued friend.

The Rt. Rev. John Dominique LaMothe, D.D., Bishop of Honolulu, died on October 25, 1928, during the session of the General Convention, 60 years of age, and in the 8th year of his Episcopate. In the mystery of God’s wisdom, his work was cut off in the midst of his vigor and efficiency.

The Rt. Rev. Charles Henry Brent, D.D., LL.D., Bishop of Western New York, died March 26, 1929, 67 years of age. Bishop Brent was consecrated in 1901 as Bishop of the Philippine Islands, and in 1918 was elected Bishop of Western New York. He was one of the ablest and most widely known of our Bishops, and was a leader in the world movement to restrict and control the opium traffic, and was also one of the most devoted advocates of Christian unity, and was President of the World Conference on Faith and Order which met in Lausanne in 1927. His death removes a man of conspicuous ability, of spiritual vision and confident faith in the ultimate realization of the divine purpose in the redemption of the world.

I am thankful to report that the ranks of our clergy have been unbroken by death during the last year. During that period, two priests were received into the diocese and four deacons were ordained, while one deacon has been dimitted since January 1, 1929. There are now 36 clergymen canonically connected with the diocese, and one serving under license, making 37 in all. But of these, three are retired and five are non-parochial, so that on April 1st, there were 29 ministers in active service.

There have been several changes in cares which appear in the appendix to this address.

Under the amendment to the Canons of the General Convention, a Bishop is at liberty to transfer to the Presiding Bishop any minister who has been absent from his diocese for more than two years, who has failed to make the annual report to his Bishop required by Canon, and whose whereabouts are unknown. There are two or three priests on our roll of whom these conditions are true, and I propose to transfer them after this Convention has adjourned.

There are at present one postulant and three candidates, three men less than last year preparing for Holy Orders. I have ordained three men to the diaconate, two of whom will be advanced to the priesthood in a few weeks, and one has been dimitted to another diocese. I impress upon the clergy the sacred duty of looking up boys and young men of good ability and Christian character whom they may influence to enter the Holy Ministry. And I solemnly charge parents and god-parents to realize their responsibility to do the same. The spiritual vitality of the Church and of the homes of our people is not more thoroughly demonstrated than by our breeding our own ministers.

There were confirmed in 1928, 294 persons, 27 less than last year. I made 101 visits to the parishes and missions, held 19 confirmation services, took part in 118 services of all kinds, and celebrated the Holy Communion 55 times, and made 120 sermons and addresses, besides officiating at a few baptisms, marriages, and burials. I travelled 23,325 miles, including attendance at four meetings of the National Council, at the General Convention, and for other extra-diocesan duties.

In the report of the Executive Council, there will be presented to you a report on the matter of uniting with the Diocese of Atlanta in the management of the Fort Valley High & Industrial School, Fort Valley, Georgia. If this report is adopted by you, it will be necessary to elect four persons to represent the diocese on the Board of Trustees of that institution. The Woman’s Auxiliary of the diocese has given me $100.00 for the School and I have received gifts from friends, not resident in the diocese, fur the same purpose. I hope that in the future some way may he found by which the diocese can make an annual contribution to the maintenance of the school.

It is worthy of note that we have been able to make necessary repairs and to build a recess chancel to St. James’ Church, Pooler. This was made possible by the gift of $907.00 by the Branches of the Woman’s Auxiliary in Savannah and elsewhere, towards the rebuilding of Holy Trinity Church, Pineora, as a memorial to Mrs. Kate Anderson Wilson. When it was decided that it would be inadvisable to rebuild that Church, this money was used for the building of the chancel at Pooler. This is now completed, and some of the furniture and chancel ornaments formerly at Pineora have been placed in this Church. A tablet will be placed in the chancel in memory of the late Mrs. Wilson, whose untimely death deprived the diocese and the Auxiliary of the companionship and devoted service of this good woman, whose love and labor was given so intelligently and so constantly to her Lord as a member and a diocesan officer of the Auxiliary.

A new Church building for St. Mary’s Mission, Augusta, was completed just about one year ago. The old Church had been used for many years and was in fairly good condition, but It was located in a neighborhood where few colored people lived, and it had long been my desire as well as that of the congregation to have a church in the vicinity of their homes. A large lot, costing $2,800.00, was bought out of the accumulated interest of a fund left to the Mission by the late Mrs. Mary G. Harrison who provided by bequest money with which to purchase a lot and build the former Church. The new Church was built at a cost of $7,200.00, a frame building covered with stucco. The money for this purpose was derived from the corpus of what was known as the Harrison Fund, to which was added the proceeds of the sale of two chapels, one in Augusta, and one in the country near that city, both of which, due to changed conditions, had ceased to be used and were not needed. All of these funds were legally available for this purpose. With a fine new Church, suitably located, it is hoped that in a few years, the congregation will grow to such an extent as to become an independent and self-supporting parish. They are already showing a disposition for self-support by contributing a much larger portion of their minister’s salary than ever before. The financial details of these transactions appear in the Journal of this Convention.

During the year, there was transferred to my custody as Bishop a fund held in Augusta, and known as the Louise Nees Fund, and I was appointed Sole Trustee by the Superior Court of Richmond County. The fund now amounts to about $5,000.00. It was a bequest made a number of years ago by the lady whose name it bears to establish an industrial school for the training of boys and girls in Augusta. The sum being, however, insufficient to carry out the specific intent of the testator, permission has been granted by the Court to the Trustee to use the income of the fund to provide scholarships for young men and women in a Business College in Augusta, the beneficiaries to be appointed by the Bishop upon nomination by the Rectors and Vestries of St. Paul’s Church, and the Churches of the Good Shepherd and the Atonement in the city of Augusta, each being entitled to an equal number of scholarships as the funds are available. A statement of the fund will be found among the financial statements of funds held by me, and printed in the Journal of this Convention.

The General Convention in Washington in October last, finally completed the revision and enrichment of the Book of Common Prayer, which was first authorized fifteen years ago at the Convention held in the city of New York. Portions of this revision which had been previously adopted, have been in use in the Church for some years, and are familiar to clergy and people. The printing of the completed book is a difficult and delicate task. There must be accuracy to the minutest detail, and the Standard Book must first be printed before other editions can be issued by the publishers. This Prayer Book is now the only authorized book set forth by the Church for our public worship. But, until it is in the hands of the people, it is impossible for it to be generally used. But, when it is available, it must, of course, be used in all congregations and must supercede the present book entirely. Clergy and congregations must provide themselves with the new book, and individuals should do so also.

There has grown up for some time a great variety of uses in details of the services, due partly to the uncertainty involved in the process of change and partly to the exaggerated emphasis upon personal liberty and to an increasing disregard of law, both civil and ecclesiastical. Individualism seems to be assuming the prerogative of deciding our actions irrespective of what the corporate judgment as expressed by lawful authority may be. Such a course must certainly produce confusion and disturb the minds of many earnest people who look to the Church and not to the idiosyncrasies of individual clergymen to guide their devotions. I am aware that some of our people regard the Prayer Book as a minimum of prescribed forms of worship and feel at liberty to add to them other practices derived from other sources. Some, on the other hand, regard the Prayer Book as a maximum of ritual observances and feel at liberty to omit or change what does not conform to their taste and opinions. But as long as the Church pursues the policy of setting forth by its constituted authorities, an authorized manual for its corporate worship, it does seem that the spirit of loyalty and obedience to the Church, to which we belong, would he a recognized and primary duty.

The Prayer Book, as now established, offers much liberty in the conduct of the services, especially in Morning and Evening Prayer. It has been enriched with many new collects. It permits many ways of abbreviating the services. It gives much discretion to the minister in substitutions. But, while greatly improved and adapted to the changed conditions of our times, it practically remains the same as the one with which we have been familiar for many years.

There is also still retained the authority vested in the diocesan Bishop to prescribe services for special occasions as they may arise, so that when wisely needed and desired, the clergy can secure permission to use such special services.

I have no reason to believe that the clergy of this diocese have any intention or desire to be indifferent to their obligation of loyalty or obedience to the Church’s order or to the Bishop, or that they in practice disregard the directions and rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer. But, I have on occasions observed on the part of some a disposition to take minor matters into their own hands. This may not he serious, but it is unreasonable and unnecessary. It exhibits an egotistical individualism, which seems to indicate that the brother thinks he knows better than the Church.

But, be that as it may, I do now most earnestly and affectionately appeal to you, my brethren, to use the revised Prayer Book in conformity with its directions, enjoying all the liberty which it gives you, and no more. Obey the rubrics, and in your conduct of the services, carry out the spirit and intention of the Church. Add no devotions or forms which are not distinctly provided for and omit nothing that is plainly and manifestly required. And, in all you do, consider that the primary purpose of corporate worship is to enable the people to worship God and receive edification in a way which will not disturb their minds or perturb their spirits.

I believe that we have in the diocese a fairly united spirit. We have no extremes of opinion or practice with reference to any essential or legitimate conception as to what the Church is and what its principles of divine worship and spiritual discipline are. Let us manifest Christian unity among ourselves. I believe our Church has a great opportunity to lead men unto a more definite and simple conception of what the Christian Faith essentially is, unto a more reverent and uplifting idea of worship and unto a more spiritual conception of the function of religion and the sphere of activity of the Church in human life. We must bear a united testimony so that the light we shed shall not be refracted and broken and be confusing to men’s minds and hearts.

The comparative failure of our canvass for this year has been, of course, somewhat of a disappointment. For the first time since the Nation-Wide Campaign, as it was called, and the Every-Member Canvass was inaugurated we have been unable to pledge our full quota to the National Council and have had to cut our own budget. The National Council is in the some difficulty. To cut budgets always means retrogression instead of progress and also sometimes a reduction in the salaries of missionaries and a cause of depression to both missionary Bishops and clergy who are doing the work which the Church sent them to do.

The reason given for this reduction in pledges is said to be the bad condition of business in the diocese. I do not venture to doubt that that is in a measure true. As one of those who in their personal fortunes are not so immediately subject to the burdens and anxieties and the disappointments and losses due to business contingencies, I feel sincere sympathy for those who are their victims. I would not say one word of criticism or comment which would show any lack of consideration for them.

But, I cannot believe that this explanation is the only one. In a letter received from England a short time since, my correspondent, in writing of the business depression in Great Britain, says, “Prosperity in England seems to be confined to the luxury trades.” That is apparently true also to some extent in this country. The immense number of pleasure motor cars and other facts seem to indicate that people are indulging in large expenditures for personal gratification and pleasure, at the same time that they are pleading “hard times” as an excuse for reducing their gifts, not only to the Church, but also to all benevolent and charitable enterprises.

In 1919, the Nation-Wide Campaign and Every-Member Canvass was first introduced. In that year, that is, for the year 1920, the results were remarkable and most encouraging. There was it more extended and generous response to the appeal for missions and the associated activities of the Church than ever before had been known. At the same time, the parish and diocesan revenues were greatly increased, and the salaries of the clergy were much advanced. It may have been that that year was an exceptionally prosperous one and people felt more able to give. But, it did seem that as a result of a new method men and women were lifted to a higher level of generosity and inspired by a higher spirit of loyalty to our Lord and His Church. Probably we could not expect such a high level to be maintained. For several years there has been a letting down, though not entirely uninterrupted, and now for three years the National Council has been compelled under orders from the General Convention to cut its budget about $200,000.00 with all the tragic consequences involved. But, until this year, we in Georgia have been able to maintain our budget, pay our salaries and other diocesan obligations, and our full quota to the National Council.

Of course, even new we are in a far better condition than was the case before 1920. In parish, diocese, and General Church, we have reached a higher level of service and we have not reverted to the earlier standard of giving, and pray God we cannot and will not. During these years we have tried by approved methods to educate our clergy and people, both in the facts of the Church’s missionary work and in the duty and principles of Christian liberality, in personal loyalty and service, as well as in money. The Every-Member Canvass has, I think, been adopted in nearly every congregation and is, I fancy, carried out more or less efficiently in most of them, We have made great progress, but we haven’t arrived, In some parishes the progress is gratifying, and in some, remarkable. We have no occasion to be downcast, but I am less exuberant and more thoughtful. We have not succeeded in enlisting all of our people to recognize the privilege of bearing their share of the common duty to promote God’s Kingdom and to obey our Lord’s parting injunction to preach the Gospel to every creature. The question, therefore, arises, what is the reason? What is the matter? We are not looking for immediate perfection, but we are looking for steady improvement. One reason, of course, is that most of us clergy and people are not more genuinely Christian. We who are, perforce, leaders have not done our full duty. We are not yet sufficiently constrained by the love of Christ. We clergy and you vestrymen can lay that to heart. Any improvement in our intelligent devotion to God’s cause, will show improvement in those whom we can influence.

But are our methods worn out? The principle is all right, i.e., to reach every individual in the Church to tell them individually about the Church’s work, and to influence them, as for as possible, to accept gladly for Christ’s sake their part in the common responsibility. Membership in the Church must mean that, or it means nothing.

But, are our methods worn out? I do not think so. Is Christianity a failure? On the other hand, has Christianity ever been honestly applied to the direction of human lives, individually, socially, and nationally? I do not know of any other methods which would produce better results or even as good. Faith and prayer—I wonder how much our efforts in education and canvass are sanctified by prayer, conducted in faith that it is God’s work, and trusting Him to give us success. Do we convey to those we approach the spirit of reverent devotion with which we approach them?

Are many of our people tired of what they call this everlasting begging for money—this constant repetition year after year of solicitations for money to run the parish and to promote missions? Are they bored and do they resent it? There is indeed no more effective way to arouse resentment than to press upon people a truth they do not wish to accept or a duty they do not wish to do. If so, that is our challenge. As long as we are convinced that the cause is right, we cannot stop. We must accept the challenge and run the risk. We must learn how better and in a finer spirit to approach them. I hate the expression, so often used, of “selling the Church” to people. But, we might learn something of the art of persuasion from clever salesmen, without copying all the methods of what is called “forced salesmanship.”

But, after a while; there is no doubt that all methods become wearisome. The routine duties of life after a while become almost hateful. A man committed suicide because he said he got tired of buttoning and unbuttoning. Machinery seems to enslave us and destroy the freedom of our individuality. The necessity for obedience to social order conflicts with our impulses and meets with irritable resistance. The reason the inescapable routine becomes wearisome and seemingly useless is because we lose sight of the great purpose and end of our activity in association with our fellow men. We are like people performing some very minor part in the intricate process of manufacturing some large and complicated product. The individual sees nothing of the whole. He loses sense of his relations to some worthy end. His work in its separateness seems useless and becomes so monotonous that he hates it. He works without enthusiasm or pride in accomplishment. His only interest is to draw the pay.

It seems to me that this principle applies to the condition we are thinking of. Most of our people belong to some small mission or parish or even to some large parish. To them, that is the Church. Their knowledge and their interest are restricted to it. Generally, they are willing to give their service and their money for its support more or less liberally. They are interested in religion, largely because of the benefits which they believe they can receive from it. There is a large element of selfishness in the religion of many people. They accept Christ as their Saviour because they want to be saved. Salvation to them means future happiness for themselves and those whom they immediately love. Their conception of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is very limited. In religion and the Church their vision is restricted. They are like people living in some secluded spot, having little contact with the big world. In religion, we are all more or less provincial, as we are in fact politically. The world as Christ conceived it and loved it is beyond their ken. They are not interested in it. Consequently, their religion lacks joy and enthusiasm. Even with men with wider outlook, and national or world-wide interest, the world exists mainly to be exploited, a field for business and profits. And as their religion has no world-wide appeal, it is a small thing, and not a man’s job.

What a travesty this, on the religion of Jesus Christ! How meaningless is His life and His Cross, His words, and His love! How insignificant is God and how incomprehensible His purpose of salvation to a sinful world of men! How distant and unappealing are the spiritual needs of other men and women and of other peoples! How dead and insincere is our conception of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man!

The only thing, therefore, which will arouse our spirits, excite our enthusiasm, and deliver us from the bondage of our littleness, and which will open our hearts with large and generous deeds and gifts, is to put ourselves into grateful and loving relationship with Christ. We must draw from Him the inspiring vision of His sublime purpose of love and take our place as His servants and co-workers in the eternal scheme of the world’s salvation.

The man who has no concern or part in missionary endeavor, how can he be a Christian? We say we believe in the Holy Catholic Church—not merely in St. James’ or St. Peter’s Church in our village or city, or even in the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Georgia, or the United States of America. What possible meaning can there be in a Holy Catholic Church, a Church purchased by the blood of Jesus, which is not intended to gather in and embrace all those for whom He died? We dare not limit geographically or racially the boundaries of the Church which He died to establish, and which He founded to complete His work of love for all who need the truth and the life eternal.

Christianity is either a missionary religion or it is nothing, and every Christian is a missionary or he denies the faith in his life, if not in his words. So this is the great purpose of our giving for missions. This alone will give dignity and worth to our own lives, and give significance to our necessarily limited efforts in the service of God. Every prayer, however feeble, and every gift, however small, and every act, however modest, done with a generous spirit of love for Christ and for our brethren, shines with the brilliancy and beauty of God’s love. Nothing will seem wearisome and troublesome which is related to His eternal purpose to gather into one fold and as one flock all his children who are burdened with sin, shrouded in the darkness of ignorance, and living without hope in this present world.

Brethren, all the machinery and methods of this Every-Member Canvass are related to this supreme end. As such, they cease to be insignificant and wearisome. There is no such thing as begging for money for God and His Church. And to bring it about that after a while through our devoted service as clergy and vestrymen and Woman’s Auxiliary and every other agency, we shall save the souls not only of the heathen, but of the men and women who comprise our congregations, but who apparently as yet really do not know Christ and what. He means. Our souls must be saved in service and in giving, if they are to be saved at all.

And now the God of Peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, through the blood of the everlasting Covenant, make your perfect in every good work, to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.