October 8, 2013
Dear Friends in Christ,
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)
There is a sense that the Holy Spirit is up to something among us in the Diocese of New Hampshire, in the Episcopal Church, and indeed, among all Christianity. And this “new thing” is both awful and awesome. Far from just rolling out another gimmick or a new product off the church-growth assembly line, God seems to be calling us to a way of being that might actually be the kind of thing Jesus asked of the first apostles when he said, repeatedly, “Go.” (Matthew 28:19; Mark 1:38; Luke 10:1-2)
There is a new spirit of mission and evangelism that looks quite unlike the kind of mission most of us remember in the past. Mission is far more than getting new members into our pews. It’s not about roping in more of what we used to call “pledging units.” (God help us!) More and more, mission is about going and listening to what God is already doing in the world, sometimes with the church, sometimes not. We are forced to admit that despite our very best and noble efforts — beautiful websites and our carefully devised techniques to attract new members–have not had the results we had hoped or planned for. I am more convinced that the line graphs that show the decline in attendance in the “mainline” Christian denominations (as well as among the moderate Jewish denominations and Muslim sects) are telling a truth about the changing state of many of our communities of faith. I believe that the truth, whatever it is, represents the Holy Spirit speaking to us.
A poet from neighboring Vermont, Galway Kinnell, has a prayer-poem that has helped me face with courage the state of things.
Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.
What might the “new thing” that God is working among us look like? Where have you seen it emerging in your parish or your wider community? Whatever it is, we can be sure that we are being called to a commitment to a life that is WAY beyond the obligation to keep our buildings standing and heated, as important as that may be in some cases. We are called to a WAY of life where Christ seeks to meet us in every area of our life in the world, whatever and wherever we find ourselves. I look forward to our upcoming Diocesan Convention because of the opportunity it gives us to listen and learn from each other how the Spirit is moving among us, sometimes to break down, sometimes to rebuild, rarely to keep things the way they are.
What follows is an annotated schedule for the Convention:
On Friday, November 1, (All Saints’ Day) St. Paul’s Church, Concord
There will be an opportunity to hear from the drafters of the resolutions that will come before us on Saturday afternoon
5:00 p.m. Light refreshments
5:30 p.m. Forum on resolutions in Ordway Hall
7:00 pm. Liturgy of the Word
We will weave our prayer, our conversations, and our legislative business into the shape of the Holy Eucharist. I will share with you my observations and reflections about the life and direction of our Diocese during my homily. We will also commission Hannah Anderson as Canon to the Ordinary and Kathryn Buttrick as Canon for Mission Resources, concluding that portion of the Eucharist with prayers for a safe and restful night.
Saturday, November 2, 7:30 a.m. Grappone Convention Center, Concord. Credentials Opens
9:00 a.m. Convention begins with opening prayers and Call to Order.
9:30 a.m. Once we are convened again on Saturday morning, we will meet at round tables to host a holy conversation (like the World Café that many have already experienced) as a way of inviting the Holy Spirit to speak among and with us about the present and future mission of our diocese. For this portion of the convention we will be sitting among brothers and sisters from congregations not our own in order for us to deepen the sense that we are all in this life and work together. This will be a small opportunity for us to follow Jesus when he told the disciples to go to the other towns, among the other people. (Luke 10) A plenary session will allow us to listen to what God is up to among and with us for the sake of the Gospel.
11:15 a.m. We will then offer the Peace, sing hymns of praise, collect the offering, including the United Thank Offering ingathering, and offer the Great Thanksgiving and share Communion at our tables. Lunch will follow.
1:00 p.m. The legislative session of the Convention will commence as we elect new deputies to General Convention of The Episcopal Church, Standing Task Force members, adopt a budget and consider the resolutions that have been presented at our Convocation meetings over the recent past weeks.
A word about the resolutions: Already we are hearing with some curiosity and consternation about some of the work of the Clergy Compensation Task Force and its proposals to change the salary and insurance structure for our clergy. The issues this task force has been grappling with reflect some of the deeper ground shifting in our culture and throughout the Church. We are also going to consider a call to join spiritually and materially our Savior by committing our households to a budget that reflects those living in poverty among us in New Hampshire.
Whatever the outcome of the resolutions, I am heartened we are boldly reimagining how to fulfill both the New Commandment to love one another as Christ loves us (John 13:34) and the Great Commission “to go and make disciples of all nations and to baptize (Matthew 28:19). May we see and know that the Church is becoming less an institution obsessed with its own survival and more like the movement Jesus unleashed—a movement to restore all people, even all creation, to the bright, abundant, peace-filled, and holy relationship God has desired for us from the Beginning.
It is my hope that we will be able to adjourn the Convention by 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and be dismissed, sent out, as apostles into the world to love and serve the Lord and rejoice in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Faithfully Yours in Christ,
A. Robert Hirschfeld
Bishop of New Hampshire
Hard copy of letter mailed to delegates on Oct. 10.