Bishop’s Address of 1842

The Rt. Rev. Stephen Elliott
First Bishop of Georgia

Brethren of the Clergy and Laity:

At the close of another year of labour and of privilege, we are assembled in Council to speak of the dealings of the Lord with our portion of his Church, and to advise together, in faith and prayer, for its advancement and prosperity. May the mighty power of the Holy Ghost direct, sanctify and govern us in our present work, inspiring us with the spirit of truth, unity and concord, and preserving us from all error, ignorance, pride and prejudice.

The Rt. Rev. Stephen Elliott

The past year has been one of unexampled public depression and pecuniary embarrassment, afflicting severely our Churches and our people, but it has also been one, I humbly trust, of steady spiritual improvement. The chastisements of the Lord have produced their proper effect, and the people, ashamed of their sacrifices, are turning from their idols to serve the living God. Let us pray that this spirit of true humiliation may increase and deepen, until our dross being purged away, the Lord shall turn aside his fierce anger and once again bless us with plenty and prosperity.

Immediately after the adjournment of our last Convention, I left Macon for the Montpelier Springs, with the double purpose of organizing our Schools at that place and a Church in connexion with them. I remained four days with our friends at that point, examining the property of the Institute and arranging the details of its management; and on the fourth Sunday after Easter, 1841, I confirmed in the temporary Chapel of the Springs, seventeen persons, thirteen of whom were slaves. After Morning Service a Church was organized, under the title of St. Luke’s Church, Montpelier Springs, Monroe, Co., Ga., by the election of Wardens and a Vestry. The Rev. Charles Fay, Rector of the Schools, will officiate regularly at this point.

On Monday, the 10th May, I visited Forsyth, the County site of Monroe County, accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Bragg, and officiated in the evening in the Baptist Meeting House. I found at this point several intelligent Episcopalians, who stand connected, at present, with the Churches at Macon and the Montpelier Springs.

From Forsyth I passed to Clarksville, in Habersham County, in the expectation of consecrating our Church in that village. I found it in too unfinished a state for consecration or even for service and officiated both morning and afternoon of the Fifth Sunday after Easter in the Methodist Meeting House. Our progress at this station has been hitherto very slow, owing to many unavoidable circumstances, and our ultimate success will depend very much, under God, upon the firmness and zeal of our friends for a year or two longer. The services of the Rev. J.B. Gallagher, during the past summer, were very acceptable t the whole community, and it is with pleasure that I state to the Convention that he will resume his Missionary labours in that field the ensuing summer.

On Tuesday, May 18th, I proceeded to Athens, still accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Bragg, and on Wednesday afternoon officiated in the Presbyterian Church, and at night in the Methodist Church. It was not deemed advisable to organize a Church in Athens upon this visit, as there was no clergyman prepared to take charge of the congregation, but I feel satisfied that there will ultimately be no difficulty in establishing ourselves firmly at this important place.

From Athens, I went down, on the 20th May, to Lexington, Oglethorpe county, at which place I remained four days, officiating daily. On Sunday the 23d May, I administered the Communion, assisted by the Rev. Messrs. Bragg and Hunt, to such persons as were prepared to unite in its celebration. There are, at this point, several zealous Church families, who have received Episcopal services from time to time, from the Rev. Mr. Hunt, of Washington. In consequence of the fewness of our members at Lexington and its proximity to Athens, it will be necessary for the present, to unite our people at this point with the contemplated congregation at Athens, and serve them once a month from Athens, and once a month from Washington, so long as Mr. Hunt shall remain there.

From Lexington, I proceeded to Washington, Wilkes County. Here I spent the night under the roof of the Rev. Mr. Hunt. In the afternoon, I baptized the child of Mr. Hunt, and at night officiated in the Presbyterian Church. Besides Mr. Hunt’s family, there are one or two individual Episcopalians in the Town of Washington, but no more. In the present condition of our Diocese, it would be lost labour to attempt any thing in this village.

From Washington, I returned to Augusta, and on the 26th May administered the rite of confirmation to twelve persons in St. Paul’s Church. These candidates were upon the list presented by the Rector of St. Paul’s for confirmation on Easter Sunday, but had been prevented from attendance by the extreme inclemency of the day. I reached Savannah on the 28th May, terminating my first Episcopal visitation, thanks be to God, without any accident or mischance.

From the 28th May until the 9th of June, I performed Parochial duty in the Parishes of Christ Church and St. John’s, Savannah, in conjunction with the Rev. Mr. Neufville. On the 9th, I left Savannah to meet the Board of Missions of the Protestant Episcopal Church at Philadelphia. Preached the Annual Sermon before the Board on Wednesday the 16th June, and attended the meetings of the Board until its adjournment on Friday the 18th. On Friday proceeded to New-York and spent Saturday in examining the Schools at Flushing, with reference to our Institute at Montpelier Springs. Returned to Savannah on Saturday morning the 26th June.

From the 26th June to the 25th September, I performed Parochial duty in the Parishes of Christ Church and St. John’s, Savannah, in conjunction with the Rev. Mr. Neufville. On the 25th September, I proceeded to New-York to attend the meeting of the General Convention. Attended without intermission the sessions of the House of Bishops from the 6th to the 19th October, and during the same time was present at the triennial meeting of the Board of Missions. The proceedings of both these bodies have been published and are before the Church for its judgment.

From the 30th October, the period at which I returned to Savannah, until the 3d December, I continued my ministerial duties in the united Parishes of Christ Church and St. John’s, and on the 3d December, proceeded to Montpelier Springs to attend the Semi-Annual Examination of our Schools. Remained at the Springs until the 9th, inspecting the Schools and making arrangements for the winter term. I found every thing in the very best condition, full of promise to the Church and to the State. Spent three days with our people at Macon and reached Savannah on the 14th December.

I resumed my Parochial duties in Savannah, and on the 23d January, (Septuagesima Sunday,) I admitted Mr. Edward T. Walker, a candidate for the Ministry, transferred from the Diocese of Virginia, to the Holy Order of Deacons. Mr. Walker has taken charge of the Parish at St. Simon’s Island, vacant by the resignation of the Rev. Mr. Bartow.

On the 18th February, I commenced my Spring visitation, accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Walker. Reached St. Simon’s Island on the 19th, and officiated four days in Christ Church. I found the Church and its enclosures in excellent order, although the people had been without Church services for nearly a year, owing to the continued illness of their late Rector, the Rev. Theo. B. Bartow. They were very anxious for the renewal of regular worship, gladly received their young minister, and cheerfully contributed to make his ministrations among them agreeable and successful. The Glebe land attached to this Church has been sold with the year, and the proceeds invested, the interest of the fund to be applied to the support of the minister of the Parish. This sum, added to a moderate pew assessment and a little help from our Diocesan Society, enables this limited congregation to maintain its Rector comfortably. While upon the Island I baptized four children.

On the 3d Sunday in Lent, the 27th February, I officiated in Darien in the Baptist and Presbyterian houses of worship, and at night administered the Communion to fourteen members of our Church, at the house of Dr. Holmes. Our church people in Darien and its neighborhood, have been prevented, by the embarrassment of the times, from erecting a Church edifice, but are prepared, the ensuing winter, to receive a clergyman and maintain him. I found no diminution of their interest in the establishment of a Church, and hope to see them represented in both orders at the next Convention.

Upon looking into some ancient records, the Vestry discovered that Darien was located in the Colonial Parish of St. Andrew, and they resolved that their Church should be known thereafter by the style of St. Andrew’s Church, instead of St. Peter’s as reported to our last Convention. During my visit to Darien, I baptized six children.

From Darien, I paid a visit to the Planters of Glynn County; remained with them three days and baptized four children. I have been since informed officially by one of the Wardens elect, that soon after my departure, a Parish was organized under the title of St. David’s, Glynn County, and that a small Church would be erected during the ensuing summer, and a fund provided for the larger portion of the maintenance of a clergyman. The neighbourhood is thinly settled, but the immense number of slaves makes it a very interesting point of missionary labours.

From Glynn County I returned to Savannah and continued at my Parish through the closing weeks of Lent. On the 5th Sunday in Lent (March 13) I administered the rite of Confirmation in Christ Church, for the united Parishes of Christ Church and St. John’s, when sixteen persons were confirmed.

On the 8th April I proceeded to Augusta, and on the second Sunday after Easter, administered Confirmation to eight persons, two of whom were colored. This Church I found suffering much from emigration, but firmly sustaining itself against depressing influences. I baptized a child at the request of the Rector.

On the 19th April I went to Milledgeville and remained two days with our people. I officiated one night in the Presbyterian Church to a very good congregation. During my visit I held a meeting of the Vestry of St. Stephen’s Church and arranged a contract for a Church edifice to be ready for service next February. This contract will be finally concluded at a visit which it is my intention to pay this place as I return to Savannah.

On the 22d April I reached Macon, and on the fourth Sunday after Easter I baptized three adults and confirmed twelve persons in the morning, and baptized eight infants in the afternoon, the Rector having been requested to act as sponsor and witness in the respective cases. Services were continued in this Church for several days, and although suffering from the pecuniary pressure which lies heavy upon the country, is rich, I trust, in faith and prayer. It has made steady increase during the past year.

On the 27th April, I proceeded to the Montpelier Springs and spent four days in examining the Schools and visiting the Church. On the fifth Sunday after Easter, I confirmed in the temporary chapel, four persons, two of them pupils of the school, and one a slave. In the afternoon, I administered the communion to a large body of communicants, white and colored. I also baptized a colored infant.

Our Schools have flourished at the Springs beyond our most sanguine expectation. In spite of the strict Episcopal principles upon which we arranged the enterprise—in spite of the numerous schools which are scattered over the State—in spite of the prejudices which were excited and fostered against us by designing and interested parties—in spite of the pecuniary embarrassment of the times, which has compelled every body to husband their resources to the uttermost, the excellence of the instruction and the devoted religious spirit which breathes around the Institute, have worked our Schools silently and surely into the favour of christian parents, and have made them anxious, of whatever denomination, to secure their advantages to their children. We lack by twelve, should all return who were attached to the Schools the last term, of our full complement.

It seems strange, that, among all the other plans which have been adopted in the slave-holding States for the promotion of education, the one, upon which turns the success of our Institute, should never before have engaged the public attention, especially when something of the same kind has been successfully carried on, for many years, in the Island of Barbadoes. Our plan—one struck out very much by the circumstances of the case—is to make a stock farm cultivated by a slave force owned by the Institute, pay all expenses of the Schools except the salaries of the Instructors. By throwing only this burden upon the tuition money, we are enabled, should the plan continue to work as well as it has hitherto done, to furnish the best education, together with all such accomplishments as christian parents should desire for their children, at a cost far below the usual charges, at the same time that we improve the property and enlarge the schools. Working at disadvantage the past year upon this plan—subjected to large expense in the improvement of the Institute, with many of our scholars coming in late in the year, we have been enabled, through the blessing of God and the admirable management of our Superintendent, to maintain the Institute upon the most liberal footing, and to say at the end of one year’s experience, that we owe no man any thing but love.

Another striking advantage of this plan is its expansiveness. It can be enlarged upon the same principles of arrangement to any extent, and twenty schools may be supported as easily as one: at the same time that the capital required to be invested in land and negroes for their support, will diminish in proportion as the schools increase. Our present investment sustains one school—double the farm and the number of labourers and we can make it sustain four schools—double that again and it shall sustain, not eight, but twelve schools—and this arises from the greater productiveness derived from a division of labour and the ability to concentrate a large force at any given moment upon any given point. My design is, with this result in view, to increase, with any money that may come into our hands, the landed and slave property of the Institute, until they shall be sufficient to supply any number of schools that we may need with every thing necessary for their comfortable support and maintenance. It will remain with the wealthy citizens of Georgia, and especially of the Episcopal Church, to determine whether this plan shall be developed slowly or rapidly, for not a step shall we take forward upon credit or upon hope. We are free from debt at this moment, and intend, by God’s blessing, to remain so. Very much of our usefulness will depend upon our independence of popular caprice: for the principles of education, like those of religion, have been long since settled upon their only sound basis, and any thing new in the one is just as likely to be false as any thing new in the other. Strict discipline, after the fashion of the Proverbs, religious training upon the system of the Church, thorough instruction along the old thorny road of hard study and minute accuracy; these, in which there is nothing new, I consider necessary to any good result, and these can only be maintained now-a-days, I regret to say it, by a perfect independence of parental whim—by an ability to say to any dissentient “the removal of your child is your loss and not ours.” Any increase in the number, &c. of schools, will not interfere with the present system of management. Instead of enlarging one building and accumulating numbers of children together, my intention is to multiply buildings, at suitable distances from each other, each constituting a separate family under distinct management of its own, and connected together only by some general government under my personal control. I pledge myself, as these schools increase, that they shall be furnished with the best teachers that can be procured from Europe or America, and it will remain with the citizens of Georgia to determine whether they will educate their children at their own doors, at a diminished expense as compared with a northern education, and upon religious principles, or whether they will still continue to drain the State of its resources and subject their children to the temptations necessarily incident to a residence remote from parental influence, and to the dangers arising from a change of constitution, by a long absence from the climate of the South at the most critical period of life.

Another part of my plan is to combine with the education and accomplishments of these schools some instruction, during leisure moments, in rural economy. Not that the boys will be required to labour at all: but if the farm be well cultivated and skillfully arranged, they may be taught many lessons of management and economy, to be turned to good account in after life. And whether much be gained or not in this particular, we are so imitative, that we will carry away from our early associations, feelings and habits that it will be difficult afterwards to get rid of. A long residence, during years of boyhood, upon a well kept and well arranged farm, will impress upon the eye and upon the feelings a habit of order and neatness which will make most of them, afterwards, attentive to these things in their own domestic relations. They will also be trained in the best mode of performing their duties as the owners of slaves and the masters of human beings for whose souls they must give an account.

On Monday, the 2d May, I visited Forsyth, accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Fay. I preached at night in the Baptist house of worship, and administered the rite of confirmation to three persons. The Rev. Thomas A. Cook, late of La Fayette, Ala., is now resident at this point, engaged in the business of instruction. This act closed my official operations previous to the meeting of this Convention.

It is with heartfelt gratitude that I acknowledge the goodness of God towards our Diocese, in raising up for us, during the past year, three Candidates for Holy Orders, Mr. Wm. J. Ellis, of Columbus, Dr. J.J. Ridley, of Forsyth, and Dr. William Bacon Stevens, of Savannah. It is indeed a special mercy to us, for I feel convinced that the enlargement of our borders will depend very much upon the building up of a native ministry, having at heart the spiritual interests of their countrymen, and prepared to live and die upon the soil of their nativity or adoption. It is extremely difficult for us to procure an efficient ministry from abroad, for the double reason, that every Diocese needs its own increase, and we have nothing to offer as an inducement to tempt men away from their homes and their associations. Our unsupplied Parishes are all Missionary stations, at which the Church will have to struggle up against prejudice and pre-occupation, and very few have the faith or zeal to cast themselves into such positions for Christ’s sake and the Church. Let us continue, therefore, beloved brethren, to supplicate the great Head of the Church for more labourers in the vineyard, for new supplies of good men, full of the Holy Ghost, that shall be willing to dedicate themselves to the service of the Lord. They will come at the summons of prayer, and such as we need will come in no other way.

During the past year, there have been very few clerical changes in our Diocese. The Rev. Theo. B. Bartow has resigned the Parish of St. Simon’s Island, and become a Chaplain in the Navy. He still retains his canonical connexion with this Diocese. The Rev. Edw. T. Walker has taken charge of the Parish left vacant by the resignation of Mr. Bartow. The Rev. J.B. Gallagher will resume his missionary labours at Clarkesville this summer. No clergyman has removed from the Diocese during the year, neither has one died or been degraded.

It gave me pleasure to perceive upon my late visitation, how generally my suggestions of last year, in relation to the religious instruction of negroes, have been acted upon. At almost every point I found a Sunday school for their benefit in full operation, and, for the most part, well attended, and taught by the most intelligent members of the congregation. Upon the Clergy would I urge a perseverance in this good work—this labour of love—nothing but perseverance—perseverance through every discouragement—perseverance in the most systematic manner, will produce the result which I desire to see—a body of well instructed colored communicants in every Episcopal Church. The Sunday School is the nursery whence these members must be drawn—the Sunday School, conducted as much as possible upon the system recommended in my last Conventional address. Upon the Laity would I also press this matter, especially upon the large slave owners of the Eastern and middle sections of the State, as demanding their most imperative attention. I know that to a certain extent it is attended to, but at the best, very imperfectly and inadequately. It can only be effectually carried out by a judicious union of adjacent plantations and the procurement of a clergyman who will live in the midst of them and be a Pastor—a Pastor in the old and primitive sense of that word—one feeding them with knowledge and with truth. It is difficult to find in our Church, men willing to labour perseveringly in this field; but I trust that they will be raised up of God for our necessities. The General Convention could aid us much in this matter by the passage of a Canon, such as was prepared and passed by the House of Bishops, and laid upon the table of the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies in October last, authorizing the admission of suitable men to a perpetual Deaconship, upon lower literary attainments than are required of those who intend to pass on to the higher grades of the ministry. We trust that we shall not be left much longer to mourn over the want of such an order of men in our Church. To others it may be a matter of choice or caprice; to us of the slave-holding States it involves the whole question of the kind of teaching which these people shall receive. It is now almost monopolized by the Methodists and Baptists, for the single reason that they have sent out men upon lesser literary qualifications, who were, at the same time, perfectly competent to instruct our slaves, and willing to live humbly and hardly for Christ’s sake. In a certain section of the State, the Presbyterians have laboured with most interesting results and have placed slave instruction upon a systematic basis which it would not be easy to surpass. While we give honor to whom honor is due, let us imitate this good example and strive to do our duty in connexion with those whom the Lord has committed to our especial keeping. It does not become us as the Church of Christ, whose treasures have always been the poor and the afflicted and the ignorant, to devolve the slaves whom the Lord has entrusted to us, upon any other teaching than our own. If we do, we shall have to answer for it to the Great Head of the Church; and we shall certainly suffer for it here upon earth.

Since the adjournment of the last General Convention, it has pleased our Lord to call to his rest, one of the most venerated of the Fathers of the Church. Our mourning is not for him. Having fought a good fight and finished his course and kept the faith, he has gone to receive the crown of righteousness laid up for him with Jesus. It is for the Church, which has been deprived of another of those holy men who framed her polity and guided her infancy and rejoiced in her rapid strides to maturity. It is for the Bench of Bishops which has lost its kindest heart, its most affectionate spirit. It is for the clergy, who loved to look upon his venerable form and dress themselves in the mirror of his excellence and sweetness. It is for his Diocese which has lost a Parent as well as a Bishop, a Father as well as a Pastor. May the Lord bless this affliction to the Church and the Ministry, teaching the one that his purposes are not wrought out by might nor by power, but by his spirit—warning the other to watch and be sober lest that day come upon them as a thief.

In conclusion, let me call your attention as a Diocesan Convention, to the proposed alteration in the Prayer Book, and the proposed addition to the Constitution, with copies of which you will be furnished. The former is of very little consequence; the latter of immense importance.

Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia.