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Feast of Albert Rhett Stuart (July 8)   Leave a comment

Above:  The Flag of The Episcopal Church

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

An Episcopal flag hangs in my bedroom.  This is a rotated image.

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ALBERT RHETT STUART (1905-APRIL 21, 1973)

Episcopal Bishop of Georgia and Advocate for Civil Rights

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People are discovering that a life full of gadgets is no satisfactory substitute for a life lived in the power and presence of God.

–Bishop Albert Rhett Stuart, 1956; quoted in Henry Thompson Malone, The Episcopal Church in Georgia, 1733-1957 (Atlanta:  Diocese of Atlanta, 1960), 195

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This feast comes to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via Saints of Georgia (1998, 2004), by Henry Irving Louttit, Jr., Bishop of Georgia from 1995 to 2010.  Bishop Louttit set the feast day on July 8 and concluded his profile of Bishop Stuart with:

Pray that we may stand with integrity for justice in our world, but always with compassion for sinners, including perpetrators of injustice.

–Page 16

That is consistent with the spirit Bishop Stuart embodied.

Scanned from Malone, The Episcopal Church in Georgia, 1733-1957 (1960) by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Albert Rhett Stuart, born in Washington, D.C., in 1905, was a prophetic (in the best sense of that word) presence in the Church.  Prior to his tenure as the Sixth Bishop of Georgia (1954-1971) he was:

  1. Rector of the Church of the Redeemer, Greensboro, South Carolina (1931-1936);
  2. Rector of St. Michael’s Church, Charleston, South Carolina (1936-1947); and
  3. Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, New Orleans, Louisiana (1947-1954).

He also served on the denominational National Council from 1939 to 1943.

The date of Stuart’s consecration as Bishop of Georgia was October 20, 1954.

Above:  Episcopal Dioceses in Georgia, 1960

Scanned from Malone, The Episcopal Church in Georgia, 1733-1957 (1960) by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Bishop Stuart presided over a mostly rural and deeply conservative diocese, the northern boundary of which was south of Columbus, to the south and east of Macon, and to the west and north of Augusta.  The Diocese of Atlanta (“the great northern diocese,” as Bishop Louttit called it in my presence once) filled out the rest of the state.  The Diocese of Florida was to the south, the Diocese of Alabama was to the west, and the Dioceses of South Carolina and Upper South Carolina were to the east.  Toward the end of Bishop Stuart’s tenure the Diocese of Alabama divided; the lower portion joined with the part of the Diocese of Florida in the Central Time Zone to form the Diocese of Central Gulf Coast.

Aside:  I grew up in southern and central Georgia–in the rural areas, to be precise.  My experiences taught me that these parts of the state have never been bastions of social, theological, and political progressivism, certainly not in the realms of race and gender.  Open racism was bad in the 1980s, when came of age.  Many of my neighbors and fellow parishioners could have walked off the screen at a screening of Blazing Saddles (1974).  The blatant racism was worse in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, when Stuart was the Bishop of Georgia.  Long have I had strong social, theological, and political differences with the majority in southern and central Georgia, a place where I felt like a resident heretic.  When I felt especially snarky, I called myself a Godless communist.  I have, of course, been a Christian as long as I can recall and have never been a communist.  Fabian Socialism has come to make much sense to me, however.

Bishop Stuart’s support for evangelism was vigorous.  He founded missions in growing communities and in towns lacking an Episcopal Church presence.  He also encouraged choirs and year-round Sunday school programs.  As he built up the Diocese of Georgia Bishop Stuart also oversaw the opening of the new camp and conference center, Honey Creek, in northern Camden County, in 1960.

Above:  Lodge 1, Honey Creek, May 15-16, 1998

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

With regard to emotional and difficult issues Bishop Stuart led the way while calling for patience and grace.  The latter of Stuart’s episcopate overlapped with the beginnings of the revision of The Book of Common Prayer (1928).  Early stages of the road to The Book of Common Prayer (1979) included The Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper (1967) and Services for Trial Use (1971).  Mainly in reference to the former, due to the chronology, Bishop Stuart called for calm and encouraged people to do as The Episcopal Church requested–send feedback via official channels.  Bishop Stuart also supported the expansion of roles for women in ecclesiastical life.  During his time as the Bishop of Georgia that mainly meant permitting women to full more leadership roles on the parish and diocesan levels.  “Laymen,” he insisted, meant men and women.

The major storm with which Bishop Stuart had to struggle was institutionalized racism.  At the 1956 diocesan convention he called for

patience and charity in the midst of prejudice.

–Quoted in Malone, The Episcopal Church in Georgia, 1733-1957 (1960), 196

For most of the existence of the Diocese of Georgia the African-American minority had been, as Father Charles Lwanga Hoskins, author of Black Episcopalians in Georgia:  Strife, Struggle and Salvation (1980), wrote, a

troublesome presence,

from the perspective of many in the white majority.  Under Bishop Stuart, however, African Americans in the Diocese of Georgia became, as Hoskins wrote,

part of the family.

This did not meet with the approval of many lay people, who were more conservative than their bishop and most of the priests.  This did not meet with the approval of some the priests either.  And, when Bishop Stuart, in segregationist Savannah, was one of the few white leaders who dared to go on television to support racial integration, he created more controversy.  In 1964 Bishop Stuart was one of 39 Jewish and Christian clergymen who signed the following statement:

Let every citizen recognize that all human rights and freedoms are given by God Almighty to be shared equally among all men, to be preserved, guaranteed and protected by government, and to be upheld by all persons for their mutual benefit and employment.

Thomas J. McDonough, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Savannah, signed the statement.  So did John Owen Smith, the bishop with jurisdiction over the North and South Georgia Conferences of The Methodist Church (later The United Methodist Church).  Yet many evangelical and fundamentalist religious leaders refused to sign the statement.  So did Father Ernest Risley, the Rector of St. John’s Church, Savannah, and one of the sixteen unsuccessful nominees for Bishop of Georgia in 1954.

Risley, a segregationist, refused to permit African Americans to worship on a regular basis at St. John’s Church.  In 1965 to wrote Fathers Harry Woolston Shipps (later the Bishop of Georgia, as Louttit’s immediate predecessor) and Mark Becton, priests of the diocese,

I believe that integration is contrary to God’s will. I will resign as a minister before I’ll allow Negroes in St. John’s.

That year Risley renounced his Episcopal ministry and led the overwhelming majority of St. John’s Church (the vote to leave had been 785-75) out of the denomination.  Most of the secessionists reunited with The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Georgia at Pentecost 1969, minus Risley and those who with him had formed St. Andrew’s Independent Episcopal Church in 1968.  St. Andrew’s Church affiliated with the Reformed Episcopal Church in 2006.  For the last few years the congregation has called itself St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, due to its affiliation with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

Bishop Stuart retired in 1971.  He died in Savannah on April 21, 1973.  His wife, Isabella Alston Stuart (b. 1915) had predeceased him in 1964.  Their two children survived him.

Sometimes we in the church need bishops and other leaders who contradict our prejudices, to which we cling stubbornly.  We might recognize the greatness and moral courage of such leaders after they have left office or died.  But do we dare to recognize their greatness and moral courage in real time?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 9, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS STEFAN AND KAZIMIERZ GRELEWSKI, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS,  1941 AND 1942

THE FEAST OF DIETRICH BUXTEHUDE, LUTHERAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY DAY AND PETER LAURIN, COFOUNDERS OF THE CATHOLIC WORKER MOVEMENT

THE FEAST OF THOMAS TOKE LYNCH, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Almighty God, we praise you for your servant Albert Rhett Stuart,

through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.

Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,

whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:35-45

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60

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