Five Things I Learned at the Diocese of Georgia Revival
Deaconess Alexander was an extraordinary person.
A focus of the weekend, along with a general renewal of spirit and revival of our faith, was the life and ministry of Deaconess Anna Alexander. The deaconess was born in 1865 to recently emancipated slaves on Butler Plantation in McIntosh County, Georgia. In a calling of more than 60 years, her indomitable spirit and fierce devotion to God still illuminates our understanding of ministry.
Deaconess Alexander’s call was to serve the people of Pennick and Darien, Georgia. She founded Good Shepherd Church in rural Glynn County’s Pennick community, where she taught children to read – by tradition, from the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible—in a one-room schoolhouse. The school was later expanded to two rooms with a loft where she lived. In addition to her ministry at Good Shepherd, she traveled on foot for 15 miles and rowed a small boat on the Altamaha River to serve St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in Darien. Her tireless work was to teach her pupils about the world and Christian responsibility to all peoples.
This is not to say that Deaconess Alexander served in easy times. The diocese segregated her congregations in 1907 and African American congregations were not invited to another diocesan convention until 1947. Similarly, it was only in the 1950s, after her death, that a woman set aside as a deaconess was recognized as being in deacon’s orders. However, her witness – wearing the distinctive dress of a deaconess, traveling by foot from Brunswick through Darien to Pennick, showing care and love for all she met—represents the best in Christian witness.
Being in the schoolhouse at Pennick, which still stands next to Deaconess Alexander’s church, was extraordinary. Knowing that generations of pupils were educated here, in a sparse, pine building in the low country of Georgia, and would go on to lift up their communities through the dedication and persistence of one woman—that was a powerful thing indeed.
Episcopalians can do tent revivals… and how!
Even I was a little curious about the idea of a tent revival. I initially thought that Episcopal and tent revival were incongruous concepts; there was no way people would understand that this would be different than those revivals with Charles Grandison Finney’s anxious benches, or an altar call that would determine who in the audience was worthy of salvation and who was not.
No, the experience of this revival was one of God’s abounding grace. From the music of the Savannah Children’s Choir and the Albany State University Concert Chorale, to a video on the life and ministry of Deaconess Alexander, to the preaching of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, every moment under the tent was one that testified to the love of God for all people.
We noticed in our social media posts that some Episcopalians were initially uncomfortable with the language of “revival” and “evangelism” – perhaps because they have come from traditions that meant something entirely different by those terms. We hope that by experiencing Fearless Faith, Boundless Love either in-person or online, that they might find the cause redeemed.
Honey Creek is beautiful.
The setting of the tent revival was Honey Creek, the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia’s Retreat Center, in Waverly, Ga. The camp is exceedingly beautiful, nestled between marshes and forest. The folks of the Diocese of Georgia take this resource seriously, even calling it “the parish hall of the diocese.” If you’re ever in this neck of the woods, we recommend stepping off the beaten track, enjoying a chapel service, playing some disc golf, and reconnecting with God through the gorgeous creation.
To learn more about some of the ministries of Honey Creek, check out Katelyn Kenney’s article, the United Thank Offering in Georgia.
There are numerous “Saints of Georgia”
Given the diocese’s long recorded history (Christ Church Savannah is the Mother Church of Georgia, having been founded in 1733), it should not be surprising that numerous Episcopal and Anglican figures from throughout the years are recognized as saints of Georgia. At the diocesan house, just off Bay Street in Savannah’s historic district, numerous icons of these saints line the walls. Among the illustrious figures are:
- Sir Thomas Bray, founder of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge. While never a Georgian himself, Bray is credited with giving James Oglethorpe the idea for a new colony in America, dedicated to the relief of debtors, tolerance of other religions, and new beginnings
- John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist, or evangelical, revival in 18th century England. In 1735, the brothers visited Georgia—John as a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and Charles as a secretary to Governor Oglethorpe.
- The Rev. Anson Dodge, priest and missionary. Fr. Dodge, whose wealthy family owned a timber property on nearby St. Simons Island, would visit the property from his home in New York City, and following the Civil War, committed himself to the rebuilding of the churches of Georgia. According to the Diocese of Georgia, Dodge “[preached] to all he could gather, regardless of race, and [formed] them into congregations.”
To learn more about the saints of Georgia, click here.
The Holy Spirit was well at work.
Perhaps most importantly was the reminder, near constant, that the Holy Spirit is always at work in and around us. We on the Digital Evangelism team had set up an overflow room in the parish hall at Good Shepherd, Pennick, Deaconess Alexander’s church. Even though we were in deeply rural country, when we tested the live streaming capabilities the night before the service, all was well and we picked up just enough signal to broadcast to the wider world and the overflow room. Come the next morning, with a packed church and a bus full of diocesan youth waiting, we simply could not get the bandwidth necessary to stream the service into the parish hall.
There were several moments of panic, along with likely wailing and gnashing of teeth, when we realized that we were in a jam. The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, the canon to the ordinary, walked up to the youth and said, “Come on folks, God is doing a new thing.” He led the youth into the packed church, where they would sit in the pews with families, in the middle of the aisle, gathered around the organist, and near the foot of the altar.
In the moments that we saw this gathering, something changed in us; I have no doubt that the Spirit was calling this group to worship together, all ages and races and backgrounds, all beloved by God, all followers of Jesus. There, in a place that was formerly the site of a segregated congregation, under the purview of a tireless saint, all of us sang and worshipped and communed together. This was a testament: to the vision of Deaconess Alexander, to the faithful of Good Shepherd, to the grace of a God who calls us to behold how good and pleasant it is to dwell in unity.