Bishop’s Address of 2003

FEBRUARY 6TH – 8TH, 2003


Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

God has set us at an exciting moment of history. All kinds of opportunity are before us and all kinds of danger. In the 18th century coming out of years of religious wars in Europe there was a clear sense of the failure of churches, of the Christian religion, to lead to peace and health and freedom for human beings. There was awareness of the charlatans who used religion for their own aggrandizement. Often churches had allowed themselves to be used by the state to gather power for those elite who controlled the country. A number of leaders, philosophers, and statesman sought for a new giver of value, “a new god.” There were a number of breakthroughs in the field of science due to the serious use of human minds thinking about the world in which we live. Thus, many philosophers and leaders began to move to a position that human beings, through the use of their reason, could build peace and health and freedom for all people – could build a world in which people could have a full life. This period is known in history as the “Enlightenment.” In its worldview science seemed able to solve all problems. If people were educated to use their minds and reason a great new age would dawn. Well, the most educated country, perhaps in history, but certainly in the western world, led in great part by Ph.D’s or their equivalent became Nazi Germany. The Second World War for some people revealed the failure of “reason” as “the god” – the giver of meaning.

The Rt. Rev. Henry I. Louttit, Jr.

Not everyone came to the same conclusion at the same time. For example, Bishop Spong is still busy trying to fit some sort of Jesus into an enlightenment worldview as many of the theologians of the 20th century tried. His books are mostly popularizations of their work. However, his sales indicate that there is a sizable number of “enlightenment shaped” folk still in our culture. Though I’m not sure whether they’re looking to see if Bishop Spong is making sense of Christ in their worldview, or whether they really like Bishop Spong because they think he is proving that Christianity is false or inadequate.

The science of the enlightenment thought all problems could be solved. Interestingly today, in my opinion some of the best theologians writing are scientists. Scientists on the forefront of science recognize the majesty and the complexity of the universe – know every answer is partial and approximate and brings with it hundreds of new questions. And most of all, know that the issue of value “should we do it or should we not do it?” is a question that science cannot answer. Most of our culture, at least the people in the generations that dominates the Episcopal Church, still believes “if we can do it through science it must be good.” However, Hiroshima and the science of the North Koreans and the Iraqis should give us pause. They can do it – they are doing it – but should they? Should we? How do we make a decision?

Unfortunately, the Episcopal Church has lost most of two younger generations. If you look around our parishes you will recognize that we had many members of the generation of great benefactors. We have people your bishop’s age, but we get pretty thin when we get below the fifties. Now we do have congregations that are filled with people of different generations and we have some congregations that have only young people but they are very unusual. But the reality is that the current generations coming to maturity, to leadership in the world, now come with a worldview that does not believe in reason. It realizes reason has failed. (Now note: what’s true of a whole group of people is never true of every individual. There are always exceptions.) But overwhelmingly the younger generations today distrust reason. Basically they don’t think there is objective truth. That’s fairly frightening if you think about it. If you don’t believe there’s any objective truth, the only truth is “what I want” or “what I need.” This seems a good basis for tolerance, but it doesn’t give much hope for human community or peace or the end of violence (“violence to get what I want”). Each person is left with only the value of what that individual thinks is good for him/her. The great majority of the two younger generations believe with “The Enlightment” that the Christian religion doesn’t work and they are even clearer that reason/education doesn’t work.

On the positive side; they do know that there are no simple answers – they won’t be taken in by “sound bite” communication! This fact will have enormous influence on politics, sales, and the church, whatever our reaction to their worldview! Of course, if someone says there is no objective truth that is a faith statement. Or, to put it another way, if there is no objective truth, how can one say, “there is no objective truth?” However, since they understand reason as bankrupt, one cannot argue about objective truth with them. Arguments don’t work; they are futile if there is no agreement that there is truth to be reached.

Another major fact about the new generations is that they seek mystery. Mystery, of course, was the “bad side” of religion to the enlightment. It is mystery that Bishop Spong wants out of Christianity in order to appeal to those reasonable people outside the Church. “Mystery” in this view assures there are things we cannot understand. However, the enlightenment believes that human reason can understand and control everything. However, mystery has been a player in the Episcopal Church through its liturgy on a continual basis. Mystery has to do with a relationship to something larger and richer than your or my ideas – richer than I can understand or diagram. “Christian Mystery” has to do with a relationship that empowers hope and love with something bigger and more wonderful and more loving than we are.

Now brothers and sisters, if you look at the strengths of the Episcopal Church as they have been understood by the great majority of our members since the Reformation, ours is a church that is open to questions and lives with a liturgy that points beyond and intends to set an environment in which the mystery of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is present for us to relate to. You could say that we major in questions and mystery.

I’m fairly clear that the great majority of us here are here because, despite our up – bringing in the “Enlightment” or “Post-Modern” worldviews “mystery” and “the freedom to question” gave us meaning in our lives. We often met them in the Episcopal Church or found the Episcopal Church a place that welcomed what we had already found as a source of meaning in our lives.

Brothers and sisters if you look at our future in terms of the people outside of the Church we are positioned to lead many to be fed by Christ and many of those will choose to live in our tradition.

The problem is not in our liturgy, not in our theology, and not in our clergy. The problem is whether we see ourselves as the ministers of God’s presence for His world or whether we see ourselves as very special folk whom God especially loves – people who are very comfortable in God’s club in which we have been well fed, and in which we want no change. Some of us are busy trying to build lasting monuments to the people who are here with us, assuming and even comfortable with the idea that we are going out of business. Of course, it’s not possible to stay the same and include new folk with very different worldviews. It wouldn’t be easy even if they were our blood relatives!

Oh, the Church can’t accept that truth is relative – but you know, once people are in touch with the mystery of God in Christ – the real truth – they no longer fear objective truth. When they are in touch with “the Mystery” they know that their truth is only partial and they can be comfortable being fallible and not having absolute certainty about many questions in the light that they know the giver of life and the lover of mankind, Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)

God has placed us in a situation of great opportunity. Every generation seeks ways to make life meaningful. I believe those who know they have a relationship with God – the loving, mysterious creator who never deserts us – have a great gift to share with those who are seeking.

The question before us as leaders of this part of God’s family – Christians belonging to the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Georgia – is what are we going to do because of the love we know from God. Some of us feel compelled to share the love we have met and we’re looking for ways that we can serve God’s world and the people that are hopeless all around us. Of course, this is expensive. Not everyone will respond. Some believe no one will. However, if we really share the love that is in us, we will be joined by some whose needs and ideas will create changes in our congregation in order to feed them as well as us.

For those of us who decide we want to be active servants of Christ in His world – we need to look not at how little we’ve got to use, but rather at the opportunities God has given us. We have to realize to do this job we must learn to share with one another across congregational lines.

We must work to develop funds for ministry through our parish by planned giving. That means asking every member of our congregation to seriously consider placing the Church in his or her will and having a vestry policy that allows this money to be protected to be used for ministry in the name of the Church and not for maintenance or discouraging the congregation from its need to learn to give and welcome new people.

We will need to join together to raise funds as the 70 congregations who are the Diocese of Georgia to start new congregations where the unchurched people are, and to fund programs that reach the younger generations. We will need funds for our training center for ministry at Honey Creek and to fund “short time ministry” of special talented staff to live with and help congregations reach out to groups of people not already represented in their congregation. To do this will require a capitol funds campaign.

To enter this new age requires that we know the story and we know not only what we think but also what other groups in our culture think. This makes continuing education in “Our Story – God’s Story” the Bible critical. It means our active member ministers need to understand our worship and theology (which is thinking about God and us). They need to know the questions and issues of those around so we can tell God’s story in away that touches the unchurched all around us. That is called apologetics. We have wonderful programs for our young people. We need programs to shape congregational leaders and apologists. Honey Creek is our “ministry of every member” training center. We need to provide it with facilities and funds for programming such training. Unfortunately, we have had some inadequate management and also much deferred maintenance that leave us with the center carrying $380,000 worth of debt. We need to give them the tools to move ahead to grow our ministry programs. The Diocese allowed this to happen through our neglect – we are responsible for overcoming our past neglect.

I dream of the Diocese being able to put specially trained people: youth ministers, outreach ministry developers, missionaries to unreached subsections of our towns populations, we need to place these people in parishes who invite them to do a term ministry – say three years, to develop a specific ministry through recruiting and through training the parish and new members from the target population to carry the ministry on.

To start new congregations “front end” money is needed. You have to pay for a church planter (a priest) and some staff with gifts for building a new congregation. There has to be a sense that this is a real commitment and, therefore, there needs to be enough money for a dowry in the form of some land on which this congregation can ultimately live. I thought for a while we could do this for several hundred thousand dollars. Now I think 500,000 – 750,000 over seven years is probably reasonable to start a new congregation. Remember, that a minimum salaried priest costs about $60,000 a year and remember the cost of land: meaning we need at least $100,000 – $350,000 for the site.

How do we do these things? Well first these things are the needs your Bishop sees – they need to be discussed and prayed about and then corrected and/or complimented by needs you see. You the Diocesan leaders need to think and pray about what God is calling us, the 70 congregations that together are the Diocese, to do next to serve Him in this century. Our Diocesan motivating vision has to be the result of sharing and that means modifying my vision. We need a vision statement that we all own and believe.

Secondly, you will hear from the Conference Center and from the Long Range Planning Committee about our needs. One possibility is to seriously consider a “co-campaign” that offers each congregation a tailored approach to improve their financial resources by choosing to; improve their annual stewardship or – two; building an endowment through planned giving for particular ministries of the congregation or – three; a capital funds drive for needs of the ministry of your congregation. Doing this jointly would allow us to share the costs of expert advisors for each of us. I would suggest we ask the Long Range Planning Committee and the Bishop to set up a committee to oversee a series of opportunities for congregational leaders, clergy and lay, to think about and pray about such possibilities and if those meetings seem positive to obtain a feasibility study about our member’s ability to give at this time and to be ready to report an action plan for developing the program at the 182nd Diocesan Convention next February.

I do call your attention to the fact that if you look at congregations in our diocese who are growing in members and budget, they are all congregations who give significantly to work beyond their walls, in their community, in their diocese, and in the mission of the world Church. Those who financially are at risk are always trying to figure a way to get a cheaper priest – to find a way to patch up problems inexpensively with no concern for ministry beyond our door. Oh it’s so easy to critique what people do wrong in some other part of the church and, therefore, excuse ourselves by saying, “We really shouldn’t give any money to them.” But the real issue is our selfishness. We are colored by the mindset of the current generations that the ultimate value is “what I get out of it.”

To be true to our need to be responsible for ministry, but not only in our own local congregation and diocese, it is necessary that in any kind of planning for new capital for the 70 congregations working together, the Diocese, we would need also to be committed to tithe those funds to the ministry of mission of our brothers and sisters overseas particularly in our companion diocese.

The gospel, says that we are in this because God loved us even when we were selfish, turned in on ourselves, and unlovable. When we know he calls us into His love and opens us to His love, that love overflows to His other children in His world. So be it.