Bishop’s Address of 2006

FEBRUARY 2, 2006

“Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth grant us your peace.” (Collect for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany)

Do I believe that God is in charge of the future including the future of the Episcopal Church?

The Scripture last Sunday suggests that Jesus, in addition to being a teacher, a healer, a salvation bringer and a community builder, was a Prophet like Moses.

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

A prophet tells us what God is preparing to do! The biblical assumption is that God is in charge of our future, which may become recorded history after it is no longer a future. But our problem is we still have to make a decision about whether we are hearing a true prophet. The final answer is does it happen? That means history proves true prophecies. But how do we determine whether to trust the prophet. Well in our scripture from last Sunday, Jesus’ words themselves brought immediate release from bondage to evil, and so sometimes teachings that come from God are authoritative in that they change lives immediately. Prophecy is always about the future. However, we can evaluate these proclamations or promises because we can witness how God acts and who he is (his character, if you will) in the great love story of God for humans that we call the Bible. Thus, we can test prophecy through looking at our and our people’s experience with God in our history – our past.

From the context of my being reminded that God is in charge now and in the future, I wish to speak to you as the Georgia Diocesan Family in Christ.

I can tell you that in our diocese, growth in money and members has occurred in those congregations that are asking God to empower their ministry to those outside their congregation, and to lead them to ministries that God wants them to pursue in his name – in their town – and in his world.

I read parts of all the material circulating about our church. It’s absolutely clear that there are at least two pictures that can’t both be true. I do know what the picture looks like in 71 congregations that I serve as bishop. God has given me no word about how the two views of the church can be reconciled, or even a way to name one as true and the other as false. He appears not to have chosen me to be his prophet for the National Church or the World Communion.

However, I’m absolutely certain that he is with – and in – the ministry of the 71 congregations that are the Diocese of Georgia with this Bishop.

This is not the first hard time through which people have lived in this diocese. I would remind you that 100 years ago the convention of this diocese was voting not to allow the seating of priests or lay delegates from the “colored” parishes (until then they had been members of the convention). The bishop said that our black members did not want a separate church, but would meet separately from the convention and in separate congregations. Fifty years later the struggle against racism was beginning. I wasn’t here when it began, but I was here when the bishop being shot would not have been a surprise, although it would have been a tremendous loss to me and to many others. I lived with some communicants who hated Bishop Stuart and the actions of our National Church so much that they could have committed murder. In time, however together we grew.

Although some of us Episcopalians did die as martyrs in the sixties God was in control of our future. Our church was not destroyed. In fact where the church took very unpopular stands we grew together.

Of course we cannot see the outcome of the current issue from where we stand. The place of homosexuals in monogamous same sex relationships in our church’s ordained leadership will not be settled for a number of years. We now live in a world where what our church does, not only affects us, but all the cultures in the United States and, even more terrifyingly, the other cultures of the world – whether we wish it to or not!

In this context what God is clear about to me is that we are to love each other and to show his love to all the hurting people in our communities and his world. We in the Diocese of Georgia have great gifts among our people. We have the financial resources that are necessary to make a tremendous contribution to God’s mission here and abroad. But we meet in scattered groups of 30 to 70 people, a few in congregations of 100 to 200, and a very few in churches with over 300 on Sundays. To do what God is calling us to do requires that we know each other across the congregational and geographic barriers that now exist. Then we can ask other members of our family, with their particular gifts, to come and help us when we need them and they can do likewise. With God’s grace together we grow.
Together we can minister in our culture where jobs for those not highly educated are becoming scarcer, where the education system is in deep trouble trying to prepare young people to be useful citizens, where the privileged receive ever larger returns for their money on a global economy, while jobs for everyone else are outsourced so as to provide ever cheaper goods for those of us with money.

Our Diocesan Council, elected by your area Convocation Councils and at the Diocesan Convention, has been working hard with a great consultant, Mr. Belton Zeigler, Chancellor of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina and an executive with South Carolina’s Power Company, about what we need to do to get this diocese ready for ministry with new leadership. I’m excited about what we will be presenting tomorrow as our three-year plan to be what God wants us to be.

I ask you to prayerfully listen tomorrow to our vision for the diocese. Each of you is needed to shape and energize it, so that together we will grow, moving into the future with confidence, knowing that we are part of God’s plan to bring people into his family – the Body of Christ. And let that confidence empower us to be God’s hands and voice in healing and freeing the hurt, the sick, the rejected, the despondent, the addict, all those who don’t yet know themselves to be children of a loving God, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The future is God’s. He is calling us to become serious about our faith. Knowing his story – the Bible – in which we are given the words and images to recognize his presence acting in our world and hear his call to mission in his name.

I began my adult ministry in the slums of Washington in a great church known as St. Stephen and the Incarnation. We believed we could save that neighborhood through Christ and change the whole city. You know we did not even save the Adams – Morgan area of Washington – but we freed many people from living 15 or 20 in two-room apartments to living in the suburbs. We did not stop people dying of drugs on the church steps, they still do – but we prevented many young people from leading the meaningless lives of the streets or the suburbs, which lead to the drug world.

I still have a passion for ministry with young people and I am still reenergized by my encounters with them. In many ways their Happening weekend at Honey Creek is a living out of the idea of growing together. The experience speaks to those in my generation of the power of simply loving one another as our greatest gift to Christ.

As you may well know I consider Honey Creek the parish hall of the diocese and a place where we can grow together. I look forward to the day when that vision can be supported by at least a two million dollar endowment.

We have so much potential as a Diocese. We have the ability to do what God wants us to do. Even across congregational and geographical space barriers we can grow together as the Body of Christ.

Since I have been your Bishop I have ordained 53 people called by God as priests in the Episcopal Church. That holy time always reminds me of when I was 26 years of age and stood before Bishop Stuart. As your Bishop, I ask the candidate for ordination “Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you in accordance with the canons of this Church obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?”

And the person to be ordained responds: “I am wiling and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary for salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the (Protestant) Episcopal Church (in the United States of America).”

In this year of our Lord 2006, at age 67 I now stand as your Bishop affirming that same ordination vow as Jesus calls us to go forth in this uncertain world as brothers and sisters, beloved of God and rejoicing in the power of the Spirit as together we grow.