Three centuries of Revival in the Diocese of Georgia

While this week’s tent revival at Honey Creek may seem out of character for the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Georgia’s history has been marked by revivals, including these three notable examples from our history:

18th century – Beef and Beer Dinners Lead to a Colony
Thomas Bray (1656-1730) was for most of his life, the rector of St. Botolph-Without-the-Walls, in London, but a brief tour of Maryland expanded the scope of his ministry. The Bishop of London, who was responsible for the colonies, sent Bray to the colony as his representative. Bray returned to England with a passion for assisting the work of the Gospel in the colonies. He developed a group of friends who ministered with beef and beer meals in the prisons on Sundays. A young James Oglethorpe joined him in this work. Bray suggested the idea of a colony where people could have a new chance at life. Though he died before Georgia was founded, the charter reflects his Christian utopian vision. Georgia was founded as a place where there would be no slaves, lawyers, and no accumulation of land beyond 150 acres per family.

Another product of his two-and-a-half month tour was that Bray saw the terrible shortage of both pastors and books-Bibles and Prayer Books. On his return to England, he founded the SPG, the Society for the Proclamation of the Gospel, to provide priests with stipends for churches in the colonies. The SPG would later provide clergy for Christ Church, Savannah, and St. Paul’s, Augusta. He then founded the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK), to provide books. While not a revival preacher like John Wesley who would serve in Savannah, Bray’s Beef and Beer Dinners were a different kind of revival, giving hope to those in prison, which was more fully realized in the new lives made possible in Georgia.

19th century – Georgia’s First Bishop Converted in Revival
The first Bishop of Georgia came to faith through a revival held at St. Helena’s Episcopal Church in Beaufort, South Carolina. Stephen Elliott Jr. was a local attorney when he heard the Presbyterian preacher Daniel Baker was coming to Beaufort and would be preaching in the Episcopal Church he attended. Morning, noon, and night for a series of days in 1831, Episcopal liturgies at the historic church concluded with Baker climbing into the pulpit to open the scripture anew.

Of the eighty persons who experienced a conversion experience at St. Helena’s during that revival were eight young men who became ministers. Among these was Elliott, who would a decade later become the first bishop of Georgia. Baker’s memoir records an attorney converted in that revival exclaiming to him, “O, Mr. Baker, I have an ocean of joy!” -adding, “what would have become of me, if you had not come here.” Baker’s account of that revival is online here.

20th Century – Bishop Brings Revival to Georgia
In 1965, Georgia’s sixth bishop, invited 12 bishops from across the church to come to this Diocese to lead a Bishops’ Crusade. Bishop Albert Rhett Stuart told the

Savannah Evening Press, “The purpose of the Crusade is not to foster our Episcopalianism, but to bring the Gospel to the people of South Georgia.”

The bishops gathered with our diocesan convention at the Aquarama on Jekyll Island where the Primate of Canada preached and Bishop Stuart commissioned the team to go preach the Gospel. They were sent out to 12 communities to preach from January 31-February 4, with the group giving 60 sermons as well as radio and TV interview and informal talks in factories, knitting mills, and railroad yards. Every night averaged more than 3,000 people taking part in the events and every morning sizeable groups turned up at 50 churches for the daily celebration of Eucharist Bishop Stuart named as essential to the work. The revival led immediately to the founding of St. Philip’s Hinesville as an out-growth of the Jesup meetings and there were many large classes of confirmations soon after the meetings.

Bishop Stuart led the Diocese through a time of unprecedented growth as the Diocese of Georgia added parishioners at a pace that was not only faster than population growth, but exceeded the rate the Georgia Baptist Convention grew in the same time period. To bring the story of these three revivals full circle, the offerings taken during the 1965 Bishops’ Crusade were given to fund the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in thanksgiving for Thomas Bray’s work. Click here to read the article from the May 1965 issue of The Episcopalian: Crusaders in Georgia.

 

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