REVEREND FATHERS IN CHRIST, AND DEAR BRETHREN OF THE LAITY:
ASCRIBING high praise to Him who in His providence has brought us together, I extend you my greetings in His Name.
Year by year, in obedience to our Canon law, the Bishop, Presbyters, Deacons, and Laymen of the Diocese assemble together in Council. For the origin of such Church assembly we must look far back, beyond even primitive times, even to the Gospel itself. The earliest example of a Diocesan Synod is to be found in the 21st chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. There in that Church at Jerusalem where we have the divinely given model of Church government, we see the Church established, complete in its threefold ministerial orders. There are the Deacons, who were something more than almoners of the Church's bounty, seeing that they were set apart for ministerial functions and by the laying on of the Apostles' hands. There we find the Presbyters, so called to note their connection with Jesus Christ, the great High Priest, their Elder Brother, into whose Priesthood they have been gathered. Presiding over all with a locally defined jurisdiction is St. James, the cousin of our Lord, the first Bishop of Jerusalem. From thence the Apostles went out on their missionary labors, north, south, east, and west; St. Peter to the Circumcision; St. Paul to the Gentiles. As they planted Missions they ordained Deacons, Presbyters, and gradually and finally, as we know from Holy Scripture, raised some by consecration, as St. Paul did St. Timothy, to the highest order of the ministry. So the three orders were everywhere established. Thus, as the Church grew, she everywhere conformed herself to the model which the Apostles, acting under the immediate guidance of the Holy Ghost, had established at Jerusalem. And there, as in the 2ist. chapter of the Acts it is recorded, was held the first Diocesan Synod. St. James is seen convening and presiding over his Presbyters. At this Synod the previous decisions of the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem over which St. James also presided was recited and enforced, and St. Paul, being present, gave an account of his third great missionary journey.
It is not unbecoming to remind ourselves how our American Church has preserved this ancient order. At a time of much inquiry after the principles of Church union, it is well to notice our accord in this with the Apostolic Church. Here the Bishop, not, the nominee of the crown, as in England and Europe, but chosen of the Clergy and laity, is seen surrounded by his Presbyters and official counselors and the attending laity. So St. Ignatius describes the Presbyters as "the counselors and assistants of Bishops." St. Chrysostom speaks of them as "the court and Sanhedrin of presbyters," St. Cyprian as "the Venerable Bench of Clergy," St. Jerome as "the Church's Senate," Origen as "the Council of the Church."
In England the Bishop rules over his Diocese, having no Presbyters as official counselors, and his Diocese is without any Synodical action, and the laymen have comparatively little power in Church affairs. In America all this has been changed. The laity have their voice in the election of their Clergy and in members to the Diocesan Council. The Presbyters according to the primitive order of the Church gather in yearly synod around their Bishop.
The Diocese elects yearly a body of Presbyters and laymen who act as the official counselors of the Bishop, and restrain in many ways his official action. The system is practically a combination of Congregational, Presbyterian, and Episcopal form of government. Dr. P. C. Campbell, the Presbyterian Principal of Aberdeen, writes in his book on "Lay Eldership," "The Episcopal Church of the United States, by its admirable Constitution, combines the advantages of the Presbytery and Episcopacy." Here the Bishop is found in council, surrounded by his coronal of Priests. Those who belong to the higher order of Priesthood than that of Aaron, who by ordination have been incorporated into the Melchizedecian order and by spiritual descent made spiritual physicians and guides, fathers of the faithful, Priests under the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. And with them to aid by their practical wisdom come hither the faithful laity.
May it be given to all Bishops to be surrounded by a cordon of such loyal Priests and Laymen as God's providence has vouchsafed to me; and may my leadership, my sons, be not unworthy of such resolute devotion to the interests of Christ and Holy Church.
The objects of the Diocesan Synod are now as they ever have been from the earliest time. "The Priests of the Diocese went in solemn procession to the church appointed by the Bishop, taking their seats according to the period of their respective ordinations. "They assemble first of all, as a Diocese, to offer up high praise and Eucharist to God for His manifold blessings vouchsafed to them, and to beseech His Majesty for some further largesse of His bounty, some charismata of His gifts of grace. It is therefore with special solemnity and careful ceremonial and musical accompaniment we celebrate the Divine Mysteries. The Conciliar celebration is not therefore to be regarded as a mere appropriate opening religious service to the more important business exercises. It is one of the chief purposes of our assembling. It is one of the highest works of the Council. It is the coming together of all the Presbyters and representative laymen to make their united solemn Eucharistic offering to Almighty God. It is a unique as well as a Holy Sacrifice. The Collect, Epistle, and Gospel we assign to it is that of Whitsunday. And if, when two or three are gathered together in Christ's Name we may expect a response, how much more when a whole Diocese, one in faith, with hearts aglow with charity, make as one man their petition to Almighty God for a blessing on the Diocese. Your leaving your respective homes and business, the sacrifice of your time, postponement of other duties, together with the actual expense involved, tend to make your presence here before God more significant than on ordinary occasions of public worship. Let your gathering here then, year by year, be animated and enkindled with this high purpose: "I am going up to the Council to meet there my brethren in the Lord, those with whom--united in the enduring bond of Divine grace, with whom I share the tremendous responsibility of Diocesan development--I go to offer at our Cathedral Altar the most Holy and prevailing gospel Sacrifice." If the heart of the Jew thrilled with joy, as year by year he drew near to Jerusalem and caught sight of its hallowed temple, so may your yearly pilgrimage to your Cathedral be an inspiration laden with blessings to yourselves, and our united offering of Sacrifice bring our Diocese a special benediction from Heaven.
Now the ancient objects of a Diocesan Synod were, as we find it to have been at the first Synod at Jerusalem, that the Bishop might make known officially to his Clergy, the acts of the Provincial Council, or of any General One which might have been held. Next, the Church being thus assembled, that the Bishop might address its representatives upon matters of theological or ecclesiastical moment as is provided for by our General Canons requiring the Bishop "at special times to deliver in addition to his report, a charge." My own engagements have not enabled me thus far to do this, but possibly I may be able to perform this duty of my office at some future time.
Subordinate in importance to the charge comes the Bishop's yearly address, in which he gives an account of his official acts, and presents for the consideration of the Council suggestions respecting its work.
Although the handing in on the part of the Clergy of their parochial reports seems a small part of the Council's business, yet, spiritually considered, it is a deeply significant one. The Priest in charge of a Parish or Mission comes to appear before the Lord with the report of the acts of his outward service. The inward spirit which has animated it can be known only to Him. But it is in the way of formally presenting the work to Him, and laying it at His feet, that the report is made. It may seem dry and uninteresting to hear the reports of the various committees of the Diocese, and persons may be tempted to undervalue them in contrast to a debate on some small matter of legislative detail. But do not all these reports which tabulate a vast amount of quiet, hidden work, again remind us of the Master's presence, and the encouraging seal upon our labors? It is all done for Him and in Him, and may look for His "well done."
The matters which come up before us for deliberation are not like those which engage the attention of the Church of a great triennial assemblage, but deal only with practical matters of diocesan organization, and the furtherance of its own missionary work. Let our deliberations be governed by the charity which controls our fraternal intercourse, and with the dignity which belongs to our sacred calling. Let us endeavor to keep our Diocesan Synod unlike a political convention, or a religious parliament, as a council of the Church, by the Spirit of God.
You have been detained already too long. It does us good to meet thus together and strengthen our hearts in each other's love and cooperation. In the old councils we read that they closed the different days' celebrations with different blessings. May that with which the Bishop of old closed the first day of the session rest upon you. May He who gathereth together the dispersed of Israel defend you both here and everywhere. Amen. And not only may He defend you, but make you fruitful shepherds of His sheep. So that with Christ, the Chief Shepherd, ye may rejoice in heaven, being in the pasture of His flock. Amen. Which may He deign to grant us all who died for us all, Jesus Christ our Lord.