Reprint: The Rev. Clifton H. White

A reprint from the Christ Church Looks Back series: The Rev. Clifton H. White, Vicar from 1946-1953
by Joseph A. Tomberlin
Posted March 12, 2013

This topic from the “Christ Church Looks Back” series, written by Joseph A Tomberlin, originally appeared in the Vineyard issues of March through August, 2010, and those separate articles have been combined below to appear as a single document in this reprint.

Joseph Tomberlin

From the March 2010 Vineyard:

Clifton H. White served Christ Church as Vicar from June 24, 1946, until his resignation on March 21, 1953. He continued teaching full-time at Georgia State Womans College/Valdosta State College and performed his duties as Vicar on a part-time basis. Without written sources of personal information, we cannot know how Fr. White viewed his tenure at Christ Church. However, a May 7, 1952, letter from Bishop Middleton S. Barnwell alludes to the vicar’s having experienced “several discouraging years” in Valdosta. Perhaps his disappointments explain developments recounted in the Minutes of the Vestry meeting of May 4, 1952.

Fr. White reported to the Vestry that he recently had traveled to Salisbury, North Carolina, to speak to lay people of an Episcopal church there and added that he had “not yet made up his mind whether to accept any call, and it is largely a question of whether we are able to become a parish here in Valdosta.” White’s statement initiated “a confidential discussion of various aspects of service and cooperation between the Vicar, Vestry, the Guilds, and the members of the Church at large.” The Minutes declared, “Support of the Vicar . . . absolutely essential. Details of said discussion not made a matter or record.”

On May 5, Senior Warden Glen P. Robinson informed Bishop Barnwell by letter of the situation. He recounted Fr. White’s having been offered “a new charge” at a slightly larger salary than the “combined salaries” paid him by Christ Church and Valdosta State College. His church stipend was $1,400 a year, and the church contributed $245 annually toward his pension and provided the “Rectory” on West North Street as free housing. Robinson noted that Fr. White had not decided yet to accept the call from Salisbury but planned to teach in the summer school at Valdosta State. Accordingly, vestrymen assumed that, if he chose to move to Salisbury, he would not leave until late summer.

Robinson contended that “we are all pleased” with Christ Church’s recent progress and wished it to continue. Conse­quently, the “loss of Clifton would be . . . serious unless a very capable young man could be had” to replace him. He suggested that, although the budget was too tight to provide a significant salary increase, “it could be done by making smaller payments on the mortgage” still outstanding from Parish Hall construction in 1949. He emphasized that, “unless you can assure us of a very capable minister and perhaps a slight supplement in his salary, we should make some inducement for Clifton to remain here. . . .” He reiterated the possibility of a higher salary for Fr. White and raised the prospect of asking White to request that V.S.C. reduce his teaching load effective Fall Quarter 1952 to provide more time for his church work.

Robinson’s correspondence prompted Bishop Barnwell’s letter of May 7, 1952 to Fr. White, in which he wrote that he understood “you have a call to some parish in the Carolina’s [sic] that you feel inclined to accept.” Barnwell said he did not want to “do anything to influence” White’s decision but believed the Vicar had overcome his troubles at Christ Church and felt vestrymen were “most anxious that I make every effort to hold you where you are.” He thought it “quite possible to match any salary which the Carolina Church is offering if that is an important consideration.” Doing so might involve repaying the mortgage over a longer time, “but that would not make much difference.” Barnwell declared, “I personally should be very happy to see you stay where you are and will do all in my power to make it possible.” The Bishop followed the Senior Warden’s lead by saying he believed “it is most to your advantage to be free from school duties so that you can give your whole time to the work of the Church. . . .” He requested that White “let me know the exact situation and also . . . if there is anything I can do to help you make up your mind.” When he mailed his letter to Fr. White, the Bishop sent a copy to Mr. Robinson, with the brief comment, “let us wait until I hear from him before we do anything.”

From the April 2010 Vineyard:

Our story continues with a called Vestry meeting on the evening of May 16, 1952, from which only Jerome Tillman was absent. Senior Warden Glen Robinson began by reading to the Vestry recent letters he exchanged with Bishop Barnwell that related to Vicar Clifton H. White’s being called by a North Carolina parish. He read also correspondence between Mr. White and the Bishop. Extended discussion followed and focused upon Christ Church’s “financial capacity” and “the authority of the Vestry to commit itself for future action. . . .”

James D. Carroll then presented a motion requiring, first, that between September 1, 1952, and September 1, 1954, Mr. White, still a full-time faculty member at Valdosta State College, would drop his entire teaching load and end his V.S.C. work. In return for White’s phasing out his academic position, the Vestry would increase his salary as Vicar by $1,733 in 1952, $867 in 1953, and $1,300 in 1954. Second, the motion provided for improvements to the “Rectory,” including construction of a downstairs bathroom, to begin by September 1, 1952. Third, the Vestry was to call Mr. White as Rector of Christ Church, “subject to approval of Ecclesiastical Authority (Canon 22).” Robert G. Macks seconded the complex motion, which received unanimous approval. Immediately afterward, Senior Warden Robinson moved that the Vestry “extend at this time a call as Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, to Rev. Clifton H. White, subject to the approval of Ecclesiastical Authority (Canon 22).” Seconded by D.C. Roddey, the motion passed unanimously.

Though his letter no longer exists in Christ Church’s records, Mr. Robinson quickly informed Bishop Barnwell in writing of the Vestry’s momentous actions, as the Bishop confirmed in his return letter of May 20, 1952. He made clear that “some difficulties” existed with the Vestry’s actions, and the first was that Christ Church could not call Mr. White as Rector because of its status as a mission of the Diocese of Georgia. Mr. White could not be Rector until Christ Church became a parish, and that was possible only by an act of the Diocesan Convention.

He also wrote, “I am going along with you on your financial program as outlined and I feel sure you can meet the new obligations you are assuming. You are, however, taking on a pretty heavy increase for the next three years and I’m wondering if you are doing this on faith or if you know where the money is coming from.” The Bishop said that if the Vestry were certain it could carry its new financial commitments and made “proper application,” he was confident the next convention would approve parish status for Christ Church. At that point, he asserted, “you can satisfy Clifton about being a ‘rector.’ You should bear in mind, however, that when you get him as a ‘rector’ you will have him permanently. . . . [Once] he becomes head of the parish I will have no further control over him.” Finally, Bishop Barnwell added, “I think Clifton is turning out all right but it would not be fatal if he accepted a call to North Carolina, as I feel sure I can find some good man to put into Valdosta.”

The Bishop’s letter caused consternation among some vestrymen, who, at their next meeting on June 1, 1952, displayed reluctance about the motions they had approved on May 16. Discussion resumed about the salary increases promised to the Vicar. Both Mr. Fry and Dr. Perry expressed the opinion that keeping the salary pledge was impossible “under present circumstances.” Mr. White agreed that the financial situation was difficult but explained how the church’s income could be increased by present members bringing in new members and thus new pledges. Mr. Carroll then brought Vestry back to the essential point, which was that the group had made a “firm agreement” on May 16 and that “it remained for the Vestry to devise . . . ways-and-means to fulfill it.” He recommended that Senior Warden Robinson and Mr. Fry draft a letter to church members calling for a discussion of the financial future at a meeting after a Parish dinner on June 11, 1952.

And the story goes on, slowly, in the May Vineyard and becomes increasingly murky.

From the May 2010 Vineyard:

As promised, our story continues and becomes “increasingly murky.” The Vestry convened, with the Vicar presiding, on Tuesday, July 8, 1952. Judging from the Minutes, nothing unusual occurred, and the group dealt only with routine business. Following adjournment and the Vicar’s departure, a far from ordinary event happened that Mr. White later described in a long letter to vestrymen as a “private caucus of the Vestry.” This “caucus” is the major reason for lack of clarity in this part of our story because no record exists of the discussion or of the decisions made.
Mr. White did not hear about the “caucus” until July 13, 1952, and, given the agitated tone of his letter, he was incensed. He asserted that not inviting him to the “caucus” smacked of “some ‘behind the back’ activity” or suggested that the participants did not “trust the kindness or discretion of their Vicar.” “In either case,” he wrote, “I am not complimented in the slightest by this activity. . . .” He reminded vestrymen of “another ‘caucus’ some years ago [in 1946] which led to the removal of your then Vicar [Thomas Mundy]; some of you remember it also. . . .”

Mr. White pointed out that the Vestry could not meet legally without the designated presiding officer, meaning, in the instance of a mission, as Christ Church was, either the Vicar or the Bishop. Under the Canons as they then existed, other than the Vicar or the Bishop, only the Senior Warden could call the Vestry together — by written notice to the full membership three days in advance and specifying the reason for the meeting. As the Vicar put the situation: “If the meeting was for the good of the Church, I should have been notified. If it was NOT for the good of the Church, it should not have been held.”

Mr. White then devoted three paragraphs to a discussion of Christ Church’s financial position. He declared that the decision by the American Church Building Fund Commission to grant a loan of $16,000 to Christ Church [see December 2009 Vineyard] afforded a new perspective on the contract the Vestry had approved for him in the called meeting on May 16, 1952 [see April 2010 Vineyard]. In Mr. White’s words, “It is clear to me, and I know to you also that you cannot carry . . . [a] sizeable loan of this kind AND the tremendous financial obligation you have already pledged to me.” His reference was to the salary increase of $3,900 over three years the Vestry promised him in return for his ending his teaching career at Valdosta State College over the three-year period. He was willing, however, to alter his May agreement with the Vestry: he would teach for “a longer time, as necessary.” In return, the Vestry could reduce the portion “of my college salary . . . [it would] assume.” The money thereby saved could be applied to loan payments. Then he wrote:

None of this would really be necessary, of course, if you and our other members really did what you ought; that is, tithed your income for the Church’s work, which means giving back to God what is really his. But in this I may have failed to impress you as I should have done. For this failure I am penitent and offer to pay the cost therefor . . . [by] continuing to serve as teacher and as your Vicar combined.

Mr. White also observed that he believed that Christ Church had made “good progress” during his tenure. He had tried, he said, “to be cooperative with you; what you have asked me to do, I have done: and what the Bishop has asked me to do, I have done. . . .” As examples he noted that the Vestry had requested that he not use the title “Father”; not to include any listing of the sacraments in newspaper articles; not to make statements about other denominations in his sermons; and to use the title “Protestant Episcopal” on the church’s signboard; to refer to the Communion by that term only at the early service; to “give you a strictly Prayer-Book service.” “All you have asked,” he claimed, “I have done; I don’t think I have failed you anywhere in conforming to what you have asked which was proper (or reasonably possible without violating my ordination vows).”

More of this in June.

From the June 2010 Vineyard:

In addition to the points Fr. Clifton White made in his letter of July 13, 1952, to the Vestry and summarized in May’s article, he asked, as he put it, that the Vestry “work WITH me instead of BEHIND me in forwarding our program here . . . .” This meant that the Vestry should “seriously consider using the [American Church Building Fund Commission] loan to our advantage. . . .” He wanted the Vestry to “seriously apply for Parish status” and call him as the first Rector, as agreed previously. The salary increase to be paid him by Christ Church could be “proportionally what you CAN assume of . . . [his] college salary” while he continued to do some teaching at V.S.C. With those steps accomplished, Fr. White declared, “we shall . . . be moving forward in a spiritual sense.”

On the material side, he insisted that Vestry either “fix up” the existing Rectory on West North Street, “as agreed,” or acquire “a new Rectory at once.” Fr. White outlined for the Vestry the steps that he had taken “to keep your property up.” He had painted the Rectory’s interior, had the house ceiled and roofed, had the porch and steps repaired, and had the exterior painted. He and Mrs. White had placed plants in the yard and had grassed the lawn. Consequently, the Rectory was in good condition to be sold. If vestrymen did not wish to sell the house, they could modernize the downstairs by adding a new room and a bath, as approved already. Either, Fr. White said, was a “progressive step” that should be viewed “as a Church advance.”
Regarding the issue of what Bishop Barnwell had once referred to as his “churchmanship,” he wrote:

You need not worry. . . . I can be a Prayer Book Churchman, as I should, without going to the ridiculous (to me) excesses of the High Church position, or going to the neglectful excesses of the Low Church position. I hope we can be good churchmen – you in your single ways, as I in mine, without anyone objecting to the other.

Fr. White pointed out that Valdosta was “a two-College town” [because Emory at Valdosta was still in operation at the time], and he believed that Christ Church needed a Vicar familiar with the collegiate environment. Given his nineteen years of college teaching, he could meet “College folk” with “familiar ease at the Church.” He wrote, “For the present, no other kind of Minister could serve appro­priately here. And since I seem to be that kind, I am willing to give up moving entirely out of the classroom to help our Church serve you AND the College group also.”
He concluded his letter by urging that he and the Vestry “consider seriously, in a PROPER kind of meeting, the points which I have here raised.” He reiterated that Christ Church could “use the $16,000,” referring to the loan offered by the A.C.B.F.C. The Vestry could pay him less than it had approved, increasing the amount “only as you CAN add. . . .” The Vestry could “help” Christ Church by upgrading “Rectory facilities. . . .” And the Vestry could “keep a minister here, as your Rector, who knows the needs of you and your fellow Churchmen as well as the needs of his charges at the College.”

The most immediate sequel to the Vicar’s letter was a called Vestry meeting on the evening of July 18, 1952, attended by Fr. White and six vestrymen. Here the story becomes muddy again, for the Minutes refer to Senior Warden Glen Robinson’s reading aloud a letter from Bishop Barnwell, dated June 27, 1952. That communication did not survive in Parish records, so its contents are unknown. The Minutes say only that Mr. Robinson “had attempted to contact the Bishop, without avail, and therefore need for immediate action on part of the Vestry [was] indicated.” Fr. White at once asked to be allowed to “state his position” and did so by reading his July 13th letter and by “discussing at length the differences between ‘high’ and ‘low’ Church.”A prolonged debate followed, dealing with the points Fr. White made and with “the desire . . .[of] the Congregation to have the Vicar remain here, his own wish to do so, and the wish of the Bishop,” (not known to us) presumably expressed in his missing letter of June 27.

More of this in July.

From the July 2010 Vineyard:

Our story continues with the Vestry meeting on July 18, 1952. Following Fr. White’s reading of his letter of July 13, 1952, and his explanation of differences between “low” church and “high” church and an ensuing debate, the Vestry moved to a motion by Mr. Dawson to repeal the portion of the May 16, 1952, agreement to increase Fr. White’s salary over three years in return for his ending his V.S.C. teaching. Four of the six vestrymen present voted for the motion, while two abstained. The gathering ended with “a general discussion of details of the Service, and items of publicity which were not received with favor by various members of the Vestry because of their possible tinge of a ‘high’ Church interpretation on the part of the public.” The Minutes become vague at this point and mention specifically only “the use of the title ‘Father’” and “chanting during the service,” and then add the generalized phrase “several other points.” Whatever “several other points” meant, Fr. White “agreed to carry out wishes expressed” by Vestry members.

Vestry met in regular session on August 3, 1952, and again covered some of the same ground. To clarify Mr. Dawson’s motion [see the paragraph above] for those absent from the July 18th meeting, Fr. White spelled out the decisive reason for his offer to relieve Vestry of its commitment to assume responsibility for his V.S.C. salary. He said he perceived that Vestry “would likely refuse the proposed $16,000 loan” from the American Church Building Fund Commission “if they had the additional salary burden for him to handle also.” He insisted that “he was more interested in the progress of this Church than in abandoning his teaching even though it still . . . [meant] more work for him.”

The issue of Fr. White’s long letter of July 13 to vestrymen then arose again owing to comments by two members about the missive. Because “they seemed to question his objections to caucus meetings,” the Vicar asked to have the floor to address the points they raised. Here a sentence written by Winston Churchill in November 1940 comes to mind:
“History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days.”
History is not a science. The statements Fr. White subsequently made to the Vestry seem relatively clear, but the correspondence with the Bishop that he refers to does not exist in Parish records, so we actually can see only part of the story.

The Vicar declared that he had reviewed the correspondence that “had prompted the caucuses” and in doing so “had discovered that the Bishop’s letters implied that he (the Vicar) was trying to trick the Vestry into carrying a heavier [financial] load than was wise.” The first phrase quoted suggests that the Vestry caucus after the regular Vestry meeting on July 6, 1952, was not the only such, but perhaps Fr. White intended to speak only of a single caucus. In any case, to counter the Bishop’s charge Fr. White showed “correspondence between himself and the Bishop” which, he claimed, demonstrated that Bishop Barnwell knew the Vicar had rejected a “call” from a church in Salisbury, North Carolina. Fr. White also displayed documents from the Salisbury church to prove that the salary and car allowance there would be about $400 more than he had told the Bishop would keep him at Christ Church. This aimed to rebut the Bishop’s contention that Fr. White had told him the Salisbury salary and car allowance would be $100 more than at Christ Church.

The materials offered by Fr. White seemed to show Bishop Barnwell had made errors, though we do not have the Bishop’s letters to confirm so. Fr. White asserted that he made no charge against the Bishop of having deliberately maligned him, but because “the Bishop erred, and such errors seemed to reflect ill against himself, the Vicar wished to prove his record clear.” Mr. Jamie Carroll then declared his intention to inform the five absent vestrymen “about these proofs of record.” Vestry Clerk Robert Macks being absent, Fr. White not only transcribed the Minutes but placed an intriguing remark at the end: “Other discussions followed, not made a matter of record. . . .”

This story continues in the August Vineyard, and perhaps ends.

From the August Vineyard:

A group of articles beginning in the September 2009 Vineyard focused initially on efforts by Christ Church’s Vestry to borrow money from the American Church Building Fund Commission to construct Sunday School rooms. Subsequent articles dealt with the conflicts that developed between the Vicar, Clifton H. White, and the Vestry and between Fr. White and the Bishop, Middleton S. Barnwell. What remains now is to tie together the two threads of the story.

One thread is the $16,000 loan offered to Christ Church by the A.C.B.F.C. via a letter dated October 3, 1952. The Vestry, in the meeting of October 17, 1952, discussed the proffered loan without deciding to accept it. Vestrymen decided that Clerk Robert G. Macks should confer that evening with Bishop Barnwell about the issue and report to a called meeting on the nineteenth. Macks’s later account of his conver­sa­tion with Barnwell was brief, “chiefly to the effect that the Bishop did not look with any particular favor on our desire to effect a loan through” A.C.B.F.C. Barnwell’s attitude, Macks explained, was that Christ Church should fortify its own financial position “before attempting any further expansion.”

Vestry therefore approved a Perry-Jones motion that Mr. Macks write A.C.B.F.C. “expressing our thanks and appreciation, and asking for a postponement of at least a year.” Macks sent a letter to Richard P. Kent, Secretary of A.C.B.F.C., on October 27, 1952, in which he said, “we have come to realize the justice of the comment by the Bishop that we were trying to make too much progress too rapidly, and that, for our size, we were enjoying a plant of adequate size.” He stated also that “there were other communities whose needs at this time . . . [are] greater than ours.” While thanking Kent for the favorable consideration of Christ Church’s loan application, he expressed his hope that “at a later date, in perhaps a year or eighteen months when we have improved both our size and financial position” the Commission would be “kind enough” to receive a new Christ Church loan request.

Regarding the second story thread, Vestry soon engaged in another round of talk about the controversies within the Parish recounted in previous articles. At a called meeting on December 23, 1952, Vestry opened the floor for an exchange of views on ”recent happenings in the Church.” Mr. Noah E. Fry, a former Senior Warden, according to the Minutes, “spoke feelingly and at length” about the disagreements that had occurred. Mr. Fry’s remarks generated “some discussion of all angles,” after which “it was agreed by all that the very best possible course would be to forget the whole matter—to bury it for good and all, and not mention it again.” Sadly for the historian and for posterity, Vestry agreed that “under the circumstances, it seemed best not to make any mention of details in the minutes of the meeting. The matter is settled, and a workable solution arrived at, acceptable to all. The main and sole object is to work together for the good of the Church, in an active and unified manner,”

The closing statement in the Minutes declared “Vote of confidence passed on all parties concerned.”

In the Vestry’s session on February 1, 1953, members first discussed the issue of rotation of Vestry member­ship and the question of finding $859 to pay off the balance of the mortgage on the Parish Hall. Fr. White thereupon announced that, on January 1, he had presented to the Bishop his resignation, effective March 21, 1953. The Minutes note quite briefly, “Motion made and passed to accept [the Vicar’s resignation] with regret.” Next, Mr. Jamie Carroll read aloud Bishop Barnwell’s letter about replacing Fr. White. Barnwell suggested that Christ Church provide a salary of around $400 per month for the new Vicar. The Vestry’s reaction was to approve a motion for Mr. Carroll to inform the Bishop that Christ Church had passed a budget for 1953 and could not afford to pay more than $200 monthly “at the most” for the remainder of 1953. A higher salary probably could be paid in 1954, depending “very heavily on the ability of the replacement sent to this Church.”

Thus the disputes between Vicar and Vestry and Vicar and Bishop affected rejection of the A.C.B.F.C. loan and led to the Vicar’s resignation.

In September we turn to the search for a new Vicar and to renewed pursuit of money for Sunday School rooms.