Revolutionary and Antebellum Years
Despite their strength prior to the American Revolution, Georgia's Episcopalians struggled during and after the war. Understandably, the former members of the official British denomination were divided on many issues, ranging from attitudes about the war itself to elements of liturgical expression in their revised prayer book. When British authorities were expelled from the colony after the war, Georgians scrabbled to find clergy. They also had to battle non-Episcopalians' lingering suspicions of the group's loyalty to England. These factors led to a period of dormancy for all of Georgia's Episcopal congregations except for Christ Church in Savannah, the oldest and largest congregation in Georgia.
In the rest of the state a small number of determined Episcopalians worked steadily to rebuild their membership, and by 1823 there were three parish churches: Christ Church, Savannah; Christ Church,
The first bishop in Georgia was Stephen Elliott Jr., a South Carolina native. Educated at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, he had been a member of the Charleston bar before studying for the priesthood. Elliott's peers, recognizing his talents, elevated him to the episcopate in 1841, just five years after his ordination. As bishop, Elliott founded missions and new parishes across the state. He also founded a number of schools for the religious education of slave children. Twenty years after he took office, the Episcopal Church in Georgia had grown from 6 to 28 parishes and from 300 to 2,000 communicants, becoming the fifth-largest denomination in the state.
Civil War and Reconstruction
Although he had led his colleagues and their congregations to form the Episcopal Church in the Confederacy, Elliott was just as active in persuading them to dissolve the organization after the war. This was accomplished formally in November 1865 at the Second General Council in Augusta, and as a result the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States welcomed the southern dioceses back.
The Civil War depleted the churches of numerous young men and, along with a subsequent national depression in 1870, severely reduced their fiscal resources. Despite these difficulties, leaders of the church in Georgia held to their humanitarian beliefs during Reconstruction. Survivors in many congregations formed guilds to help the unemployed find jobs and to provide charity for those unable to work, and they sometimes diverted donations from outside the South for the rebuilding of churches to the care of war orphans.
Elliott died suddenly in 1866. His successor, John Watrous Beckwith, continued to urge Georgia's Episcopalians to provide newly freed slaves with religious training and other help. Mission churches for the freedmen and -women were supported by established congregations around the state, and the Episcopal Commission of Home Missions to Colored People opened schools (both for religious and industrial training), in addition to supporting a number of black clergymen in the South. Beckwith's death in 1890 left the state's Episcopalians without someone to perform crucial ceremonies. In 1892, after a difficult search, the diocese found its third bishop, Cleland Kinloch Nelson.
Following the creation of the Diocese of Atlanta, the Diocese of Georgia, seated in Savannah, selected Frederick Focke Reese as bishop. He served from 1908 until his death in 1936. Inheriting as his charge a large sector of the less-prosperous agricultural parts of the state, Reese was nevertheless a capable leader through World War I and the first years of the Great Depression.
The number of
The Great Depression of the 1930s affected both of the state's dioceses. The leadership and congregants found it difficult to pay salaries, so they cut expenses by reducing or eliminating support for some of their publications and schools. However, they managed to fund a celebration, consisting of ceremonies and special services, in 1933 to commemorate the bicentennial of the Anglican Church's founding in Georgia. World War II (1941-45) brought challenges similar to the ones seen during previous conflicts—the financial resources of the churches were diverted to the war effort, and many of the congregations' young men were called to military service.
Integration and Dissension
During the 1960s the Episcopal Church on the national level became more active in political causes, especially in the case of the Vietnam War (1964-73). This activity, as well as changes made in 1979 to the denomination's prayer book and accompanying rituals, the first such changes since 1928, brought dissension and led some congregations, including some in Georgia, to leave the majority and form independent churches.
African American Bishops
Between 1874 and 1989, four of the Episcopal Church's African American bishops were born in Georgia. The first was Henry Bard Delaney, born in St. Marys in 1858. From 1918 until his death in 1928, he served as Suffragan Bishop for Colored Work in the Diocese of North Carolina. A second African American bishop from Georgia was Dillard Houston Brown, born in 1912 in Marietta. He was consecrated Bishop Coadjutor of Liberia in 1961 and was assassinated in 1969. John Thomas Walker was the third black Episcopal bishop from Georgia. Born in Barnesville in 1925, he was consecrated Bishop of Washington in 1977. The fourth African American bishop was Quintin Ebenezer Primo Jr., born in Liberty County in 1918. After serving as Suffragan Bishop of Chicago from 1972 until 1985, he became Interim Bishop of Delaware.
As of 2003 the Diocese of Atlanta consisted of 93 congregations throughout north Georgia with 54,006 baptized members. The bishop of the diocese is seated at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, one of the largest congregations in the denomination, with more than 5,000 members. In addition to reaching out to the region's growing Hispanic population, members of the Atlanta diocese have joined with Muslim community members to assist refugees settling in the metropolitan area. The southern part of the state continues under the Diocese of Georgia, with the seat of administration located in Savannah. As of 2003, it consisted of 72 congregations with 18,631 baptized members. The Diocese of Georgia actively ministers to the Korean and Hispanic people living in south Georgia, thereby carrying on the tradition of missionary work begun there by English settlers in the eighteenth century.
Raymond W. Albright, A History of the Protestant Episcopal Church (New York: Macmillan, ).
Doris Kirk Collins, The Episcopal Church in Georgia from the Revolutionary War to 1860 (master's thesis, Emory University, 1961).
Henry Thompson Malone, The Episcopal Church in Georgia, 1733-1957 (Atlanta: Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Atlanta, ).
Roger K. Warlick, As Grain Once Scattered: The History of Christ Church, Savannah, Georgia, 1733-1983 (Columbia, S.C.: State Printing Company, 1987).
David S. Williams, From Mounds to Megachurches: Georgia's Religious Heritage (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008).
Elizabeth B. Cooksey, Savannah
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