The Episcopal Diocese of Georgia’s beginnings date back to the beginning of the colony itself, in 1733. In 1907, the Annual Convention of the diocese officially voted to divide, and the Diocese of Atlanta was formed. The Diocese of Georgia now comprises 69 congregations spread across roughly the lower half of the state. We are seeking our next bishop, and we hope you will be a part of our search. Whether you are a potential nominee, a faithful member of our diocese, or just a curious visitor brought here by the vagaries of an internet search, before you leave this site today, please offer a prayer for our diocese, our search, and our next bishop.
On these pages you will find the story of our diocese - who we are, how we got here, and where we believe God is calling us now. You will see all sorts of information about the Diocese of Georgia, our congregations, and our people. You will read about some of our successes and a few of our failings, about the hopes we hold and the challenges that confront us, about the community we believe ourselves to be and the person we envision the Holy Spirit drawing to us.
Mostly what you will find is a snapshot of a unique part of the Body of Christ at work in the southern part of Georgia, a group of imperfect lovers held together in the perfect love of Jesus Christ, committed to our common life as disciples of our Lord and witnesses to his Resurrection.
Who We Are
Organized into 6 convocations spanning the state from the agricultural west to the marshes and coastlands in the east, the Diocese of Georgia is home to 65 parishes and 1 Aided Parish, diverse in size, theology and liturgical style.
Average Sunday attendance at our largest congregation is around 500, and 34 of our congregations average 50 or fewer people on a given Sunday.
We also have several newer worshiping communities not yet organized as Aided Congregations, including The Community of St. Joseph in Savannah; Epiphany, Savannah; and Grovetown Episcopal-Lutheran Congregation. Additionally, St. Bartholomew’s, Burroughs, on the south side of Savannah, is a parochial mission under the charge of St. Paul’s, Savannah.
Members of smaller congregations throughout the diocese live with the usual challenges to their viability as they try to live the faith in challenging contexts.
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76 canonically resident priests comprise the College of Presbyters of the Diocese, 16 of whom are bi-vocational priests working in a variety of professions while serving in congregations. 47 full-time priests serve in the Diocese, including 9 assisting priests working in 7 churches. 51 congregations have a male priest in charge, while 15 congregations have a female priest in charge. Included in the clergy are 28 vocational deacons, 21 of whom are active. The Deacons Formation Committee has in the past year celebrated the ordination of 3 new deacons, and 2 new postulants were recently welcomed into the formation process.
Our vocational deacons are active across the diocese building relationships beyond church walls as they minister to those on the margins of society. They are often first responders in natural disasters and personal calamities in our communities. We are actively redeveloping deacon-led recruitment and formation programs to expand the diaconate, believing that deacons have an essential role to play in the growth of the church’s ministry and the spread of the Gospel in the world.
Our clergy spouses have developed a strong and supportive network throughout the diocese. Nurturing bonds of friendship and collegiality, our Bishop and his wife host a breakfast for clergy spouses during the annual diocesan convention, and an annual weekend retreat is planned by and for clergy spouses. Members of the group also communicate regularly via social media, sharing prayer requests, information on upcoming events, photos, and birthday remembrances, and many gather regularly in their convocations for meals and fellowship.
A Saint for the Ages
Born to newly freed parents during 1865, the year of Emancipation, Anna Alexander lived a life of selfless service in rural Georgia and went on to become the first African-American Deaconess in the Episcopal Church. Deaconess Anna Ellison Butler Alexander felt a call to serve the people of Pennick and Darien, two small communities near Brunswick, Georgia. In Pennick she planted a church, Good Shepherd, and built a (still-standing) school next door. Generations of schoolchildren learned to read and write, largely from the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, in that two-room schoolhouse. From her room above the schoolhouse at Good Shepherd, she would travel on foot for 15 miles and row a small boat on the Altamaha River to serve St. Cyprian’s in Darien. Serving for more than 60 years in these two communities, she taught her pupils about the world and Christian responsibility to all peoples.
Deaconess Alexander served in difficult times, however. The diocese segregated its Annual Convention in 1907, and African-American congregations were not invited to another diocesan convention until 1947. She died in that year and, following the required minimum 50-year wait, through the persistent efforts of those she taught and their descendants, was made a Saint of Georgia in 1998. In 2018, The General Convention voted to include Deaconess Alexander in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018.
In one more effort to memorialize this remarkable woman, descendants of her students and other local church members are in the process of acquiring National Historic Preservation Landmark status for the schoolhouse in which Deaconess Alexander lived and loved and changed so many lives for the better.
Ministries Beyond the Walls
All congregations are encouraged to develop their own or cooperative signature ministries, and many have done so.Food kitchens, after school tutoring programs, summer camps, Habitat For Humanity builds and other community-oriented service projects thrive in our Diocese. Here are some of our more creative ministries.
St. Joseph, Savannah
The Community of St Joseph in Savannah is a ministry with and for homeless persons with a liturgy each Sunday led by a missioner of the Diocese in a field near a homeless camp. Breakfast is served at 8 am followed by a service at 9 am, with congregants providing the music and participating in leading the service. The ministry also provides worship services at Christ Church, Savannah’s Parish House every third Friday.Members of local parishes have assisted congregants in a variety of ways, including transportation, food, and medical and counseling referrals. The Community of St. Joseph coordinates with the city’s Homeless Authority that estimates the number of homeless persons in Savannah at about 4,200.
Three Congregations, One Mission
Oak Street Episcopal Mission is a joint ministry project of the three Episcopal churches in Thomasville, a town of 20,000 people in Southwest Georgia. All Saints’ and St. Thomas Episcopal Churches have united with the historically African-American Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, located in the Stevens Street historic district of Thomasville, with a commitment to revitalize the neighborhood through service. Good Shepherd’s vicarage has been renovated to serve as the Oak Street Episcopal Mission’s headquarters.A community garden yields seasonal vegetables for the neighborhood, and a feeding program serves locals at lunchtime five days a week. A summer camp for area children was established in 2015. Additional programs focus on health and the winterizing of homes.
Flowing Wells: A Place to Grow
Since 1944, the Church of the Good Shepherd in Augusta has owned and operated the Episcopal Day School, the only Pre-K – 8th grade school in the Diocese. Over time the parish and school have acquired over 38 acres on Flowing Wells Road and begun work to create a new outdoor campus that will serve the larger community, the school and the parish for generations to come.
The Flowing Wells Campus seeks to prepare students for a rapidly changing world by immersing them in an “offline,” outdoor setting for hands-on engagement with the world. This unique place will not only provide students with exciting educational opportunities, but also introduce them to God’s ongoing action in the world calling us to deeper relationship with our Creator.
This beautiful setting intends to provide opportunities for worship, recreation, service, and education for all congregations in Augusta to enjoy.
Down by the Riverside
With a Campaign for Congregational Development grant that helped to make a full-time priest possible, Christ Church Cordele’s inspiring growth in recent years grew out of the initially lay-led worship services at dockside on Lake Blackshear. Seizing on an opportunity to take the Gospel beyond the walls of the church, leaders at Christ Church made plans for an innovative service at the lake.Thus was born Worship on the Water (WOW!).Services in the Church are ongoing while those at the lakeside are held between Memorial Day and Labor Day.The first service of the year is always a Blessing of the Boats (power boats, pontoon boats, canoes, kayaks and jet skis all worthy of blessing!) and usually brings out well in excess of 100 people. Otherwise, attendance ranges from 30 to over 100, depending on weather and relevant holidays, averaging around 50. WOW services have become the “summer church” for a number of residents of Lake Blackshear, many of whom are faithful members of other denominations, and some who don’t attend church regularly during the rest of the year.
Children and Youth
We value what the Diocese provides for children and youth, recognizing that they are a vital presence in the Church. In 2017, acknowledging diocesan-wide support for formation of our young people, the Bishop appointed a Canon Missioner for Children and Youth. Their mission is to help our young Episcopalians “grow into the full stature of Christ” by giving them the language and stories of our faith.
Year-round programing includes developmentally appropriate offerings on both congregational and Diocesan levels. Congregational ministry is supported through the work of the Canon Missioner for Children and Youth in person, on the phone, and online. Diocesan programs take place at Honey Creek and elsewhere in the Diocese, and in recent years have averaged about 400 participants per school year. Some programs, such as Happening and New Beginnings, offer youth an opportunity to exercise leadership by serving on staff, while others are led by adults, allowing our youth to focus on their own reflection and growth in different ways. In the summer, diocesan youth also have the opportunity to attend our camp at Honey Creek, and to travel on our annual youth mission trip.
All diocesan programs depend on and enjoy strong support from our congregations and the adults in them, including youth advisors, parents, and clergy. Many parishes in the Diocese host pre-k, “parent’s morning out,” and after school tutoring programs.
The Christ Church Valdosta College Ministry is a place of fellowship, prayer, and service, with nine interns currently living on the church campus. In exchange for housing, these interns work approximately 20 hours per week running Grace Café, helping with the Thursday Dinners program, and serving in other areas of ministry at Christ Church. Louttit Hall is the home of Grace Café where students can gather for refreshments, study, prayer, or just to relax. Prepared by members of Christ Church, Thursday Dinners are open to all students.A noon Sunday worship service is led by interns and geared toward Valdosta State University students, although members of the community outside of VSU are always welcome.
The Episcopal Campus Ministry at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro is an active outreach to students with its own home located just across the street from campus. The recently updated house has three bedrooms and two baths and houses three student interns. The Chapel seats up to 34 people. ECM@GSU meets on Tuesday evenings through the school year, beginning with Eucharist at 6:30 followed by a home-cooked meal and programs including Bible study, spiritual formation, service projects, socials, and game nights. Parents, alumni, and others are invited to special events like Family Weekend, Homecoming and more. Thanks to diocesan support for part-time clergy presence in Statesboro, the past several years have seen significant growth in student participation in the ministry. The group currently numbers about 24, and average weekly attendance is around 15. The Diocesan office has also been very supportive of the development of student leadership within the ministry, both locally and in programming from the national Church.
Canterbury Club of Augusta University re-launched early in 2018. The group meets for lunch and discussion on campus each Monday at noon when 20 to 30 students stop by during their lunch break for free food and fellowship.An Ashes-to-Go event was held on campus this past Ash Wednesday. In addition to on-campus activities, weekly meetings are held on Thursday nights at St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church where the students enjoy a home-cooked meal provided by parishioners. After sharing a meal and lively discussion on faith’s intersection with contemporary issues, the evening closes with Eucharist or Compline. The group names social justice as one of their primary interests and participated in the diocesan-wide Lenten study of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. They are also looking forward to having an active presence at Augusta Pride this summer.
All Are Welcome
Our embrace of our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters was not without heartbreak and painful separations, but on the whole the Diocese has responded with wisdom and grace. General sentiment about the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ folk in the life of the church, including marriage and ordination, has been positive. Gay clergy have been ordained and serve in the diocese, and other aspirants/postulants are currently engaged in the discernment process with the Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee. All are truly welcome in the Diocese of Georgia.
Extending across the theological and liturgical spectrum, this welcome includes a minority within the diocese who maintain conservative positions on the hotly contested issues of recent decades - human sexuality, marriage, and ordination. Two of our congregations continue to use the 1928 Prayer Book exclusively, and one has Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO), generously granted by Bishop Benhase in accordance with the provisions of the House of Bishops.
We value the capaciousness of our Anglican heritage, the toleration of reasonable and conscientious dissent. This generosity of spirit, the “big tent” aspect of our common life, has relieved tensions and fostered a culture of mutual trust in the Diocese of Georgia, deepening the collegiality among the clergy and laity across the spectrum of theological opinion, and enabling conservative and other minorities to participate fully in diocesan life.
Honey Creek Camp & Retreat Center
Thanks to the vision of our forebears, we are the fortunate benefactors of an extraordinary natural “park,” our much-loved Camp and Retreat Center at Honey Creek, located on the inland waterway conveniently close to I-95 just south of Brunswick in Camden County. Since the 1950s Honey Creek has offered a unique place for retreats and other events. The 100-acre grounds on a tidal creek look across the marsh to Jekyll Island on Georgia’s coast. Honey Creek has 40 lodge rooms, three dormitory buildings, a large dining hall, two large meeting rooms, a chapel, and a variety of smaller meeting rooms. Visitors find peace and sanctuary in the natural beauty and serenity of our Diocesan gathering place. The Center also hosts a summer camp program in a variety of sessions for children from 3rd through 12th grade. Honey Creek is a popular and well-equipped site for youth programs and activity.
Finance and Management
Especially among those attuned to matters financial within the Diocese, widespread appreciation has been expressed for the fiscal and organizational management of the Diocese during the past decade. Parish assessments were streamlined and standardized at 10%, although diocesan leadership voted at the 2018 Convention to raise assessments temporarily to 12%, with the additional funds directed toward retiring the debt incurred through more than a decade of deficit spending on our Honey Creek Retreat Center. Thanks to diligent and creative leadership, operations at the Retreat Center, which has struggled financially in the past, have become self-supporting. We continue to strive toward pay equity between male and female clergy, as well as among clergy in diverse congregations, some of which struggle to provide adequate compensation to their priests. Insurance policies have been optimized and communications between the Diocesan office and the parishes have been enhanced, with continual efforts to adopt up-to-date communications technology and media. Overall the Diocese is in good financial health, as attested by recent figures: total revenues for 2017 were $2,115,779; total expenditures for that period were $2,091,019.
How We Got Here
The history of our diocese is the history of challenges, and the overcoming of those challenges, through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ: from the struggle to establish and minister word and sacrament to far-flung settler churches, beginning in colonial times, through more than a century of slavery, civil war and Reconstruction, the legacy of segregation, and our more recent struggles with LGBTQ+ inclusion and the ensuing divisions in some of our churches.
In our conversations around the diocese, one thing has become abundantly clear – our relationships with one another are among the things Georgia Episcopalians cherish most. Those relationships, across boundaries of race, sexual orientation, and gender, have been deepened and strengthened over the past decade. We have made significant progress bridging former separations and healing old wounds, but we recognize that there is still work to do. There are some among us – especially among our brothers and sisters of color, women, and LGBTQ+ Christians – for whom the sense of work yet-to-be-done is especially acute. Our efforts to maintain relationships across the range of theological conviction also present challenges, at times painful.
Georgia Episcopalians have been both the perpetrators and the victims of injustice, the exhorters and the exhorted, proclaimers of the Gospel of Christ, and transformed recipients of its proclamation. From our beginnings in the middle of the 18th century until today, the common thread of our communion has been our search for the way of faithfulness to our Savior. We are committed to searching for this pathway together, across a wide range of conscientious differences. Sometimes we falter, but together we “stagger onward rejoicing.”
Where We Believe God is Calling Us
So now what? We’ve shared with you some of our story, of who we are, and how we got here. The task before us has been to discern where we believe God is calling us from this point and now to ask whom God might be calling to be our chief pastor and guide along the way. What do we imagine the Episcopal Church in Georgia will look like in the years to come? What are the abiding characteristics of our part of the Body of the Christ that equip us for fulfilling that vision?
We believe that God is calling us into more honest relationship with one another, so that we may move beyond polite conversations to experiences of actual transformation. As the Greeks said to Philip, “We wish to see Jesus.”
To accomplish that goal, God first calls us into ever deeper and more authentic relationship with Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We seek…
A better understanding, both within and beyond church walls, of our Episcopal identity, with full involvement of all four orders of ministry – laity, bishops, priests and deacons.
A stronger will and greater capacity for effective evangelism in a skeptical culture.
Theological literacy in our churches.
To be formed by excellent preaching and worship as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.
A fuller sense of discipleship through ongoing spiritual formation for both lay and ordained leaders.
For our youth, deeper spiritual formation and a closer relationship with their bishop.
To develop Honey Creek as the diocesan center for formation of youth and adults.
Ways to continue ministry in areas where the expense of a priest is prohibitive.
Profile of a Bishop
From our communal reflections we have begun to form an image of someone to minister to and lead us into the future. We are looking for someone who will:
Be a person of prayer, both believing in and committed to the teaching of the historic creeds of the Christian church.
Be an encourager of the clergy, colleague to clergy peers, mentor to less-experienced clergy and pastor to all.
Be open to sharing the burdens of leadership with qualified lay and clergy leaders.
Relate well to people of all ages, but particularly to young people, with a passion for strengthening diocesan ministry among youth and college students, enabling them to encounter Jesus Christ in life-changing ways.
Think outside the traditional method of clergy recruitment and retention and look for creative solutions that might include more part-time or bi-vocational clergy.
Be committed to optimizing communication across various platforms with a strong emphasis on available social media.
Be steadfast in affirming and seeking to establish pay equity among clergy.
Focus on building trust and fostering strong relationships among laity and clergy.
Understand and seek creative ways to address the geographical challenges of our large diocese.
Take responsibility for the financial health and transparency of the Diocese.
Move beyond failures; build on successes.
Be a consensus builder, maintaining and strengthening our sense of common life and mission, while honoring the diversity among us.