Bishop’s Address of 1844

The Rt. Rev. Stephen Elliott
First Bishop of Georgia


Upon this fourth occasion since my Consecration, of meeting you in Convention, I am again permitted to speak of the loving kindness of the Lord to us as a Church and as Individuals.  Nothing has occurred within our Diocese, to cast the slightest shade over our prospects and much of success and of blessing has been vouchsafed to us.  Our older Parishes have continued their unwearied course of hearty and liberal co-operation with their Bishop.  Our younger Churches, without any striking manifestation of God’s presence in the midst of them, have yet been strengthened by valuable accessions to their Communion—Our Ministry has been increased by the addition of several pious and active Clergymen.  Our candidates for orders have doubled in number.  Our schools have advanced in prosperity and efficiency.  Three Churches have been consecrated within the year and two others are nearly ready for the same interesting office and to crown the whole, points are opening before me, more than I can visit or supply. For these unmerited blessings, let us give humble and hearty thanks to Almighty God, and prepare ourselves, during this solemn meeting, for yet greater exertions and still higher success in the work of Christ and his Church.

The Rt. Rev. Stephen Elliott

My  first official act after the adjournment of our last Convention, was the  consecration, upon the second Sunday in July, of St. Michael’s Church, in the village of Springfield, Effingham county.  This is a small Church of wood, very neatly  finished and fitted with every thing necessary for comfortable worship.  The congregation at this point is made up,  for the most part, of families from Savannah,  who have resorted to Springfield  as a retreat for the summer.  During the  last year it was kept open by Lay Reading, with occasional services from the Rev.  Geo. White of Savannah.  During the coming summer the congregation will be smaller than usual but I shall make an effort to keep the Church from being closed.

On  the first Tuesday in September, Confirmation was administered in St. John’s Church,  Savannah, for the united Parishes of Christ Church and St. John’s, when eleven persons were confirmed.

On the 22d of October, I admitted to the Holy order of Deacons, Mr. Jonathan B.T. Smith, a candidate transferred to my Diocese from that of Virginia. Mr. Smith offered himself as a Missionary among the negroes and was appointed soon after his ordination, to a station in Baker County, not far from the Town of Albany.  It is my prayer that the Consecration of himself to this noble work by a young man of extensive acquirement, may excite others to devote themselves in like manner, to the same cause of true Missionary benevolence.

With the exception of these three official acts, I was engaged from May until November in the performance of Parochial duty in Savannah.

Early in November, I visited St. James’ Church in Marietta, where I found a very good congregation in regular attendance upon the worship of the Church and two persons ready for confirmation.  Since that time, the prospects of this Parish have become still more encouraging and the friends of the Church have purchased a lot of twenty acres of land with the intention of erecting a Parsonage and perhaps a School House.  The Rector is residing upon the purchase in a cabin which he has fitted up for his temporary accommodation.  The liberal spirit which presided over the foundation of this Parish continues still to characterize it.

On the 6th of November I made a visit to the Etowah River, Cass County, accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Scott.  We were encouraged to take incipient steps for the formation of a Parish in this most interesting country.  I preached on the morning of the 8th Nov. at the Pettis Creek Baptist Meeting House and it was determined among the friends of the Church in that quarter, that we should erect a Church, a Parsonage and a School House at a point central to this rich farming neighbourhood.  Fifty or sixty acres of land were immediately procured, partly by gift and partly by purchase, and the materials for building are probably by this time upon the spot.  The Rev. Mr. Scott has been most active in this advancement of the Church into a county hitherto untrodden by an Episcopal Clergyman and continues to superintend the erection of the buildings in progress.  A Church organization will take place so soon as the Summer shall bring together the gentlemen interested in the undertaking.

From the Etowah River we proceeded to Rome in Floyd County, and I preached in the Court House on Sunday the 12th  November. Mr. Scott preached in the afternoon, and at night I confirmed one person and administered the communion at the house of Mr. Beers.  Soon after my visit, the Rev. Carter Page entered upon his work as a Missionary in this section of the State, and the Rev. Messrs. Scott and Page have since organized a Parish at Rome, and it is probably that a building will be commenced at some time during the year.

On the evening of the 13th November, I preached at Friendship Meeting House, Long’s Ferry, Etowah River, and the succeeding evening officiated at St. James’ Church, Marietta.

On the 17th November, I reached Athens, and on the morning of the 19th consecrated Emmanuel Church, confirming in the afternoon eight persons.  This is a very beautiful edifice, with about four hundred sittings finished and furnished in a most excellent taste.  It is surmounted by a very handsome spire and has recently been provided with an organ of fine compass.  Too much praise cannot be bestowed upon the energy and perseverance of the handful of Episcopalians who have raised such a structure to the glory of God and I trust that it will be richly rewarded into their bosoms and the bosoms of their children.  The Rev. Professor Stevens was duly elected the Rector of the Parish.

On the 27th November I paid my semi-annual visit to the Schools at Montpelier and while there confirmed three pupils of the Institute. From Montpelier I proceeded to Milledgeville and consecrated St. Stephen’s Church in that place on Sunday, the 10th December.  The interior of this little Church is remarkably beautiful and commands the admiration of all who visit it.  It is finished and entirely paid for, and the congregation is prepared to go forward without embarrassment of any kind.  The Rev. Rufus M. White, its minister, having reached Milledgeville only a few days before the consecration, confirmation was deferred until such time as he could become acquainted with the spiritual condition of his flock.

From the 13th December until the 1st of January, I was occupied in visiting, at the request of the Standing Committee of that Diocese, the Churches in Florida.  Tallahassee, Monticello, Quincy and Apalachicola were the only points which I could reach and at each of these places a few were added to the Church by confirmation.  I found the Parishes recovering themselves from the depressed state into which the misfortunes of Florida had cast them and providing themselves with suitable Pastors.  The Rev. Mr. Bragg accompanied me as far as Tallahassee and during my visit to the other points of the Diocese, employed himself in strengthening the hands, and cheering the hearts, of his old Parishioners.

The meeting of the Convention of the Diocese of Florida took place at the end of January and early in February I was informed that I had been unanimously requested to take provisional charge of the Diocese.  This new call upon me has caused me much anxiety.  While I have become very deeply interested in the Churches of Florida and while I perceived at a glance, that Episcopal supervision was essentially necessary to their spiritual advancement, the idea of adding a territory of eighty six thousand square miles to the very large Diocese over which I preside, was trully appalling, and it is only at this late hour that I have determined it to be my duty, at whatever sacrifice, to see that the churches of my Master in that section are properly cared for.  I have considered  every mode by which that Diocese might obtain Episcopal supervision, without taking the charge upon myself and cannot be satisfied that any one of them is feasible. I must undertake it or the Churches of Florida must be left without the care of a Bishop.  Under such circumstances, the call is from God and must be obeyed.

I trust, Brethren of the Clergy and Laity, that this determination on my part will meet with your approbation.  I have not believed, in the consideration of this question, that you could forget the struggles of your own infancy, when the hand of a neighbouring Bishop was stretched out for your support and comfort.  “Freely ye have received freely give,” and God will bless any sacrifice it may involve to your own rapid advancement.  There is no truth more certain than that expressed in the saying of the wise king of Israel, “There is that scattereth and yet increaseth” and I firmly believe that every sacrifice we make for Christ will be returned to us an hundred fold.  I have been confirmed in my determination by the very unanimous agreement of the Clergy of my Diocese that no alternative was offered me, save to accept the charge or refuse to give heed to a very solemn call.  I shall endeavour so to arrange my visitations of that Diocese as to interfere very little, if at all, with the supervision of my own.

As I returned from Florida I visited the plantations of Messrs. Nightingale and Johnston in Baker county, the point at which the Rev. Mr. Smith is labouring.  On the 1st January I preached in the morning at Mr. Nightingale’s house to a mixed congregation of whites and blacks.  During the service I baptized an infant, and confirmed two persons, one white adult and one colored adult.  It is the intention of these gentlemen to build a small plantation church so soon as proper arrangements can be made.

In the afternoon I proceeded seventeen miles to Albany, Baker county and preached in the school house of the village to a very large and attentive congregation.  On Monday night I explained to the citizens of the town the doctrine, discipline and worship of the church and organized a very strong Parish by the title of St. Paul’s, Albany.  About seven hundred and fifty dollars were subscribed for the erection of a Church and the wardens are now engaged in making a contract for a building to be ready for consecration in Dec. next.  I received a letter yesterday, mentioning that the papers necessary for the admission of this vigorous young Parish into connexion with the Diocese would be forwarded to meet the convention at this place, but I fear they will come too late.  We shall probably receive St. Paul’s next year, as we have already received several of our Parishes, in full operation, with Church, Minister, and Congregation.

From Albany I returned to Savannah and on the first Sunday after Epiphany admitted the Rev. Wm. B. Stevens to the holy order of Priest.  On the first Sunday in Lent, the Rev. Thomas F. Scott was admitted in Christ’s Church, Macon, to the same degree in the ministry and for the first time in the history of Georgia was the Episcopal Church fully represented to the N. West of the Chattahoochee.

On Sunday the 17th March, I commenced my visitation of Christ’s Church, St. Simons, accompanied by the Rev. R.T. Brown of St. Andrews.  I confirmed one colored person in the morning of that day.  Service was held again on Monday morning.

This Parish had been vacant from the period of the resignation of Mr. Walker in the summer, until the arrival of the present minister in the beginning of this year.  Mr. Brown had been so little time at work that he was not prepared to present any candidates for confirmation.  He is laboring very assiduously among the negroes and will prove a blessing to the Island.

On Tuesday the 19th March, I proceeded to St. Davids, Glynn county, and officiated on that and the following day at the Church. During my visit I baptized two white children, and as the Church was without a Pastor, there were no candidates for confirmation.

It is but justice to this interesting Parish to say, that their lack of a Pastor did not arise from any want of zeal on their part, but from a necessity which was laid upon me, in connexion with our boy’s school at Montpelier, of urging Dr. Vaughan, their Rector, to take charge of that Institution.  It was a sacrifice of their individual feelings to a great public good, which will meet its due reward.  Altho’ cast down at the loss of such a pastor, they were still determined to carry on zealously their good work.  Since my previous visit, the Church had been enclosed with a neat railing and a comfortable Vestry-room had been built and furnished, their next movement is the erection of a parsonage, which will be built during the summer and be ready for the reception of their Pastor, the ensuing winter.  Dr. Vaughan’s labors among them, during the months he was with them, had been peculiarly interesting and the separation was a very painful one on both sides.

On Friday the 22d March, I commenced my visitation of St. Andrew’s Parish, when I had the pleasure of officiating in our own Church edifice.  It was in too unfinished a state for consecration, but was very comfortable and worship is held there statedly by the Rector.  On Sunday morning I confirmed twelve persons, two of whom were from St. David’s Parish.  St. Andrew’s is under the charge of the Rev. Richard T. Brown, late of Virginia, whose labors have been already very much blessed.  It is growing rapidly and should the population admit of it, will be very soon a strong Church.

On the 31st March, I held my usual spring confirmation in Christ’s Church Savannah, when nine persons were confirmed. This Parish has suffered during the past year more than usual from removal of its communicants.

During the first week in April I proceeded to Columbus, accompanied by the Rev. Dr. Boone, our Missionary to China, and on Easter day confirmed seven persons, one of them a colored person.  Dr. Boone addressed the congregation on the evening of the same day and produced a very decided interest in the behalf of the China mission.  I regret to add to this report that I found the Rev. Mr. Cairns still suffering from severe indisposition and preparing to leave his flock for the summer in pursuit of health.  The Rev. Mr. Gay of Alabama will give his Parish occasional services, and the intervening Sundays will be supplied by lay reading.

April 12th I commenced my visitation of St. Stephens Church, Milledgeville, and on Sunday the 14th, I confirmed six persons. Mr. White, the Minister of the Parish has reason to be encouraged by the success which has attended his labors. May the Lord give him the spirit of wisdom and a right judgment in all things, for he occupies a most important point in the Diocese.

April 17th my visitation of Christ’s Church, Macon, began and continued until the 21st, when I confirmed seven persons.  I found this congregation, as usual, in an interesting spiritual state and slowly yet surely increasing its number of communicants.

On the 22nd April I commenced the examination of the schools at Montpelier and continued there until Saturday the 27th.  They were very satisfactory and well calculated to increase confidence in the system pursued there.

The prosperity of these schools calls for devout thankfulness on our part, to Almighty God.  We have had during the past year, an average of eighty children under our charge, and had not our limit of fifty pupils to each school been strictly adhered to, we might have received, such has been the constant application for places in the girls school, fifty more.  But we shall not depart from the determination with which we set out, never to receive in one school more than fifty scholars; for we believe it to be the only method of uniting the family system with that of the public school.  It is neither numbers, nor profit, nor popularity which we seek.  Our desires is to give a finished education upon strictly religious principles, and everything else will be sacrificed to that object. But it becomes under existing circumstances, a question well deserving the consideration of the Church, whether we should not be enabled to put another school for girls into operation.  This will require, according to the calculations of Mr. Fay, for building, furniture and equipment of every kind, the sum of ten thousand dollars. An outfit like this would put us into a condition for receiving at once fifty girls more, upon the same plan of education with those already under our care.  The endowment of three scholarships at $3000 each would effect the object; for which endowment paid in cash, the donor would be entitled to the education of a child at the school—so long as it endures, free of cost, its clothing excepted.  If we cannot carry out the project in this way, we shall not attempt it in any other, for we are determined, by God’s grace, not to embarrass ourselves with debt, nor to ask assistance from any quarter, where we do not make a suitable return.  Since my connexion with the Diocese, whatever has been done in the way of Church building and debt paying, has been done by ourselves, with one trifling exception.

During the time we have managed to build eight very nice Churches, to furnish them, to pay for them and to roll off a very heavy burden of debt from some of our older Parishes.  It is my earnest desire that we should continue this line of policy and then we shall have no mushroom growth.  Every step we take will be upon our own feet and in perfect independence of all external influences.  The Parochial reports to be read at this convention exhibit an unbounded liberality on the part of the Churches and whom has it injured?  Nay, whom has it not benefited?  whose Christian sympathy has not been deepened, whose christian charity has not been enlarged by these generous contributions to Christ and his Church?  It is this spirit of liberality, united with the perfect harmony of all our operations, which has given us the rapid growth in which we now rejoice.

And here let us beseech you, Brethren of the Clergy, to permit the same unity of spirit to prevail among us, which has hitherto characterized us. Upon you it rests whether is shall be preserved.  At this moment is there a controversy going on in the Church, sprung upon us in the midst of the most unexampled prosperity, which, if introduced here, must produce a like excitement with that which it has elsewhere aroused.  However vital it may be, and I conceive it to be most vital, we can exclude it from the midst of us, by excluding the writings which have given rise to it and the newspapers which have fanned the flame. Let each clergyman determine that he will dissuade his people from the perusal of this controverted Theology—that he will discountenance among them any publications which may influence their feelings or destroy their charity—that he will lead them back to the green pastures and still waters of our established theology and there will be no heart burnings among us.  How much higher would be the standard of christian knowledge—how much deeper the tone of christian feelings, if we would build up our people upon such writers Jewel and Hooker and Andrews and Hall and Pearson and Beveridge, instead of weakening their minds and inflaming their passions with a current theological literature which must be as fleeting as the times which produce it.  Our people need to drink from the deep wells of our ancient theology and not to be made familiar with the crude opinions which are daily and hourly issuing from the press.  If this theology be identical with the standard theology of the church, then circulate, my brethren, among your people this standard theology and there can be no disputation.  If it be new, we all know that any thing new in theology is certainly dangerous, not to say erroneous and should not be furnished as spiritual aliment for the people. We can avoid this controversy by walking in the paths in which the whole church was walking but a few years back—walking in harmony and peace until the storm be over past.  Whatever direct responsibilities may come upon us as Clergymen and as Laymen, let us meet them as becomes men whose consciences must be clear in the sight of God, but let us, at least, not waste our strength in vain wrangling, which always ends just where it begins, in every one’s retaining his own opinions and taking sides according to his previous sympathies.

So long as this controversy does not pretend to meddle with the established formularies of the church there can be no danger to the church itself.  Opinion on either side of it is a matter of private judgment, having proper tribunals before which it must account and to which it must be left for its account.

The attempt to introduce any other rule of conduct must lead to endless confusion and to a perpetual antagonism of one portion of the church with another.  But when the opinion becomes connected with the public authorized teaching of the church, or with its legislative action, then is it at once changed in its character and in its degree of importance.  Hence the points of our system which need watching and guarding most carefully are our several Theological Seminaries and our general Convention. Our Trustees in the one, and our Delegates in the other, must meet the only questions whose determination can affect the church.  Let them ask for the old paths and determine to walk therein, and the church will rise from the roaring surges which are breaking over her, as does the rock, which buried for a moment, yet stands as unmovable as the foundations of the everlasting hills.

Messrs. William J. Ellis and Benj. F. Mower the candidates for orders reported at our last convention, are still pursuing their studies at the Theological Seminary of Virginia.  To these have been added Mr. William C. Williams and Mr. Shanklin, transferred to this Diocese from Virginia, and Mr. Nicholas A. Okeson, who has become a candidate in this Diocese.

Since our last convention, Dr. John A. Vaughan has been transferred to Georgia from the Diocese of New York; the Rev. Rufus M. White from that of Western New York; the Rev. E.P. Brown from that of Delaware; the Rev. Alexander J. Berger from that of Maryland; and the Rev. Richard T. Brown, and Rev. Carter Page, from that of Virginia.  The Rev. John Fielding, formerly a Roman Catholic Priest, has, after examination, been licensed, and the Rev. Charles Fay, formerly Rector of St. Luke’s, has been transferred to the Diocese of Louisiana. The number of Clergy canonically connected with the Diocese is twenty.

During the past year I have been called upon to give my consent to the consecration of the Rev. J.P.L. Henshaw to the Episcopate of Rhode Island.  His consecration met with my hearty approbation and I feel sure that his administration will prove a blessing to his Diocese.

One topic more and I am done.  The church has just opened before us a missionary field, a large and a melancholly field, one to which Georgia especially owes a heavy debt.  The ancient people of this land, those whose hunting grounds stretched over the beautiful hills and the rich vallies of our own State—whose warm welcome was the first greeting which our forefathers received in this western world, have been taken into the hearts of Churchmen, and their own special committee has determined, which the consent of the church and the help of God, to give them a complete ecclesiastical organization.  I pray you let us give a hearty response to this appeal, a response not only of approval, but of earnest co-operation. There is no work in which as Georgians, we could more appropriately engage than this—no mission that we could take hold of with more singular propriety.

But a few years since, and all that rich territory which spreads from the Ocmulgee to the Lookout Mountain—a territory already covered over with Towns and Villages, with Schools, Colleges and Churches, was the home of the red men, the same red men who now cry for the Gospel.  It is so little while, that a generation has not passed away.  Were we there, we could hear them mourning, not over the land of their Fathers, but over their own homes and pleasant places.  Their ancient hills are covered for us with the finest wheat—their vallies groan for us under the weight of richest harvests—their gold and their silver is ours and the cattle upon a thousand hills.  Is it not our christian duty to repay some of these riches, for their worldly things to send unto them spiritual things? Let us determine that we will take this mission most especially under our care and foster it to the full extent of our ability.  We can give it our hearty good will, and earnest prayer and such a measure of our wealth as a Christian liberality can always command.  Let our Master be enabled to say our Diocese, as he said of the woman in the Gospel, “She hath done what she could” and it will suffice for duty, for peace and for reward.