Bishop’s Testimony before NH Senate

April 4, 2014
A. Robert Hirschfeld, Tenth Bishop of New Hampshire, Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire

4.4.2014(Photo courtesy of Pete Cross)

Honorable Senators, I am proud to have the privilege to address you on this matter of ultimate importance.

I am A. Robert Hirschfeld, and I serve as Bishop of the Episcopal Churches in New Hampshire.

Many Christians are currently observing the season of Lent.  It is a time when we prepare ourselves to contemplate the meaning of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.   As we approach Good Friday, we are called to consider how followers of Christ, both individually and corporately, have regretfully chosen to participate in and perpetuate the violence and brutality of society.   Some of our liturgies on Passion Sunday and Good Friday even call upon the pastors and people to report the words of the avenging and rage-filled crowds that demanded the execution of one they came to hate.  Reading the stories of the crucifixion from the Gospels, we answer Pilate’s question about what to do with Jesus by answering, “Crucify him!”

It’s a painful and starkly honest ritual reenactment of how good men and women are swept up in the same sin and evil that we would otherwise condemn.  The effect of this reenactment is to remind us all of how broken, flawed, and fallen we are.  To shout for Jesus’ crucifixion brings us to the abyss that opens between fallen humanity’s grasping for vengeance on the one hand and God’s infinite passion for love and mercy on the other.

Regardless of how clinically or mechanically it may be administered, the Death Penalty is an instrument of violence and vengeance that only widens that abyss and further coarsens and contaminates our collective souls.

Over the past several months, crowds of people have come forward in our State to stay something else.  The have peacefully, and with dignity and respect for all victims of violence and murder, urged repeal of the Death Penalty.   They do not wish to deny consequences or punishment for brutality and violence.  Rather, they say simply that they wish not to participate in, or amplify, brutality and violence. Many of them, like myself, are people of faith.

As Bishop, I continue to learn about the blood-soaked history of the Church, where executions were often justified by distorted attitudes about righteous vengeance or retribution in the name of God.   It is fitting that this debate takes place during this season.  Lent is a time of contrition, of changing minds and hearts toward a more civil and just realm, a realm where trust in mercy can bring about a deep healing and true peace that further killing has never succeeded in providing.  My hope and prayer is that you may be led to vote for repeal so that our communities will uphold and restore the dignity of our citizens that the death penalty callously diminishes.

Thank you for your service to our beloved State, and for your time.

Delivered April 3, 2014

Print Testimony

 

Bishop’s Column: March/April NHEN

Diocesan Shield for sign2Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

At a meeting in early December, the Standing and the Mission Resources committees, along with some other representatives of the Episcopal churches in New Hampshire, met with me to do some praying, listening, and visioning about the direction of our collective ministry in this diocese.  We studied some statistics and trends of our life here.  We shared stories about where we sense the Holy Spirit is leading us.  There will soon be a more full report about some clear directions we sense the Spirit is leading us.  But for now I would say that we did not come out of the meeting with any blueprint or five-year strategic plan.  We came away with a mixture of exhaustion, fear, and joy.  That might sound frustrating.

As soon as I say this, I am reminded of the Easter gospel:

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, `He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’  This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.   (Matthew 28…)

As I travel around the Church in New Hampshire, it’s increasingly clear that we are living in a time of such mixed feelings.   Fear and joy.  We could add other feelings that the first women and men who followed Jesus from his baptism to his crucifixion and resurrection felt as well.  Imagine that first Easter morning. What other emotions might you have had if you “were there when they crucified the Lord?”  How about anger at Jesus’ choice not to raise an army to throw down his opponents, but instead to make himself vulnerable to the powers of the Empire, even unto death?  How about unbearable sadness at this suffering and death, as of a lost child?  How about despair bordering on apathy at the way things are and are becoming?  How about the cabin-fever like annoyance and irritation at the friends and colleagues with whom you have journeyed so long, only to end in a public failure?   How about the desire to cling to and to attend to Jesus’ body, even battered and cold in the tomb and the shock at its disappearance?  The Gospels offer examples of all these responses.

If you were to travel with me on the visits I make at various congregations, you would recognize all of these emotions, even today.   They are the emotions of good, loving, faithful, and committed followers of Christ who are experiencing a kind of death of a kind of church as it becomes, as it were, an empty tomb.   Churches all over the diocese, even the ones who have felt immune to such tremors and shocks, are seeing that their health and life cannot be measured by the usual vital signs of Average Sunday Attendance and the number of Pledging Households.  However, the parish churches that are experiencing some of that Easter fear-joy mix are the ones that are running out from their buildings to see how Jesus “indeed is going ahead of you to Galilee,” that is, to the beginning of the story and the place where the religious experts would least expect Jesus to be.

There is incredible, brilliant, spine-tingling joy in following the Jesus who is going from his spiced tomb in Jerusalem to gritty Galilee   Here are some places where Jesus has gone before us:

Bishop’s Column March-April 2014

Bishop’s Column – Jan./Feb. NHEN

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

We have heard some fascinating stories about religion in the world news recently. A few weeks ago a minister in Utah disguised himself as a homeless man and visited one of the congregations he served.  As he entered the church, he was particularly unwelcomed by at least five of the worshippers, one of whom reportedly told him he did not belong there.  When he revealed his true identity, as one of their own, many were tearfully shocked, embarrassed, and chastened. One said he was ashamed of himself.

Another story tells of the custom Pope Francis is adopting — leaving his apartment in the Vatican at night.  Dressed in clothes, neither of a bishop nor a pontiff, but of a simple priest, he walks among the poor and dispossessed of Rome where he gives alms, shares food, and tells them they are loved by God.

As we enter the season of Epiphany, we are asked to reflect on how the Presence of God “shows up.”  An epiphany is a showing, a revealing, an appearance, a manifestation.  The Magi travel from the East to see the “showing up” of God in the surprising birth of Jesus. The Holy Spirit shows up in a visible way at the Baptism of our Lord.  In his Sermon on the Mount,  Jesus teaches us that God’s light shows up in the world through humanity in some astonishing ways: among the poor in spirit, the merciful, the hungry and thirsty for God, the peacemakers, the persecuted and reviled.  Jesus even says that we can be the light of the world and we are not to hide this light under a basket.   Epiphany is the season when the scriptures, the preaching, the storytelling, and the prayers urge us to look, to see through the eyes of our faith, to behold God’s presence in all persons, places, events, especially when we would least expect it.  Those who were once covered by a veil of shame and remorse are nothing less than the bearers of God’s presence.  “As you did it to the least of these,” Jesus says, “you did it to me.” (Matthew 25)

Bishop’s column Jan-Feb 14.2

Bishop’s Column – Nov/Dec NHEN

Gratitude is not about quid pro quo

Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.  —Cicero

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The reading from Luke’s Gospel that we just heard (Luke 17:11-19, Oct. 13) tells the story of the Ten Lepers who are healed after pleading with Jesus to have mercy on them. Only one returns to offer his thanks to Jesus. It is the Samaritan, the “foreigner” as Jesus himself calls him, the one who has no claim or right to ask the Jewish Rabbi for anything, who is the one who praises God with a loud voice, falls at Jesus’ feet, and thanks him.  And Jesus tells him that not only is he cured of his physical ailment; he is healed and made well in his soul. The original Greek tells us that the thankful leper is “saved” by his faithful attitude of gratitude.

As we head into the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, we are put in mind of the state of our gratitude.   I admit it— when people tell me I should have an “attitude of gratitude,” I normally react with just the opposite.  When we confuse gratitude with a sense of indebtedness, we can get grumpy.  In a capitalist, consumer society, our relationships are infected by what we might call “transactionalism” where our interactions one to another are reduced to an inner calculation that says,  “I’ll do you good so that I can expect you’ll do me good in return.” Or as an old song went, “What have you done for me lately?”  How flat and sorry our life is when it’s reduced to such reasoning!   It creates a kind of entitlement where we expect benefits to come to us because we feel the world owes us for benefits we have provided,  however small or great.  Worse, we can sometimes descend to feelings of entitlement that have a narcissistic tone that says, “I deserve to be treated with favor simply because I am who I am.”  We wonder if that was the attitude of the Nine who demanded mercy and then went on without thanking Jesus.  The Samaritan may have been especially grateful because he knew he had no prior claim to ask Jesus for anything, being an outsider to Jesus’ religion and community.

Continue reading…

Typhoon Haiyan

Note: Offering from Convention Eucharist has been designated for relief efforts in the Philippines through Episcopal Relief and Development.

From Bishop Hirschfeld:

“I encourage my friends to contribute generously to ERD as a faithful response to the deepening crisis in the Philippines. Their work in partnering ecumenically to alleviate the suffering there needs cash and our prayers. A link to give is on their website which I share below. Kyrie eleison.”"

From the Rev Curtis Metzger, Diocesan Disaster Response Coordinator:

Episcopal Relief and Development is working with the Episcopal Church of the Philippines to respond to Typhoon Haiyan and will coordinate relief efforts with them. There are many organizations and governments that will address immediate needs, but often, when the media leaves, it is the long term recovery efforts that need sustained support. The work of the local church with world-wide partners is often well positioned to address these needs. Please consider giving to Episcopal Relief and Development for this effort.

http://www.episcopalrelief.org/

From the Bishop’s Office

The Right Reverend Douglas Edwin Theuner
VIII Bishop of New Hampshire
15 November 1938 – 8 November 2013

It is with deep sadness that I share this news. Our beloved bishop, Doug Theuner, died peacefully in his sleep while in hospice care November 8, 2013. We celebrate his life and ministry on November 11, 2013.

Monday, November 11, 2013

10:00 a.m. Burial Office ~ St. Paul’s Church, 21 Centre St., Concord

3:00 p.m. Requiem Eucharist ~ Church of the Epiphany, 2 Cedar St., Newport

Clergy may vest. White stoles.

Memorial Donations may be made to:

The Trustees of the Protestant Episcopal Church in NH
63 Green Street
Concord NH 03301

Donations designated for:

The Bishop Charles Francis Hall Scholarship Fund at the White Mountain School

OR

The Bishop Philip Alan Smith Scholarship Fund at the Holderness School.

 

Please  keep Bishop Theuner’s wife Jane (Sue), his daughter Elizabeth Susan DiTommaso and her husband Frank, his son Nicholas Frederick Kipp Theuner and his wife Charlotte Driver, his grandchildren Amy Carmela DiTommaso and her husband Jarrod Manzer, Alexandra Marie and Mariana Teresa DiTommaso, Dakota Jean and Megan Nicole Theuner and great-granddaughter Ophelia Manzer DiTommaso in your thoughts and prayers.

May his soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

+Rob

 

Bishop’s Convention Address

Bishop’s Address to the 211th Convention of the
Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire

 Almighty God, You have knit us together in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, now give us a renewed sense of our being woven into your Presence, alive and active in this world, that all may know the power of your forgiveness and the hope of your resurrection and the promise of your glory.  Amen.

This is the feast of All Saints’.  At the core, All Saints’ is a celebration of our baptism.  In our dying in the waters of our baptism, each of us has been given the most amazing gift of all…the power to overcome our fear of death.  We have already died in Christ.   In his letter to the Romans, Paul puts it this way:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  (Romans 6:3-5)

This truth is at the very core of our faith.  This triumph over death is the lived reality that distinguishes us from every other society, every organization, every non-profit and humanitarian agency, every philanthropic or political concern we know.  In our baptism into Christ, we have been brought into fellowship with the Eternal One because death, the only hindrance between us and eternity, between us and the infinite harmony of the universe—death– has been overcome, destroyed, dissolved as it were, in water.  Knowing ourselves to be immune to eternal death, we can more freely and fully follow Jesus according to the Beatitudes, joining in solidarity with the poor, the meek, the grieving and those who strive for justice and peace and righteousness wherever and whoever they are.

All Saints’ is the Feast Day when we celebrate one effect of the victory of Life over death.  It is the day when we are invited to rejoice that we are joined with all those saints who have gone before us, and who know worship and serve God on that other shore.  We get to make fun of death on All Saints’.  We get to ridicule death.  We can laugh about Zombies and goblins, and skeletons, and gore, because through the lens of our having been rescued from death we can to make fun of all that might frighten us in this life. We stand with God, the One who loves us and who protects and draws us out of sin, corruption and death into God’s fellowship.

2013 convention address continue reading…..

Invitation to Convention

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.

Prayer

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.

Bishop’s Column – September/October NH Episcopal News

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Walking back from the ‘Y’ in Concord recently, I saw a car with a bumper sticker on a van I’ve never seen before. In large, capital, sans serif, lettering were the words: GO TO CHURCH.  Now there are a lot of thought-provoking signs on vehicles these days. Some make me smile, some make me frown. Some especially vulgar, intentionally offensive, ones make me want to say, ‘You know, I don’t think the framers of the Bill of Rights had that in mind when they guaranteed freedom of speech.’

But the GO TO CHURCH sticker got me thinking. A simple imperative. It could have said COME TO CHURCH. It didn’t. It was a challenge, but a mild command that one could easily dismiss. It also didn’t indicate what church, or even what denomination, I should go to. That made me think that, possibly, here is someone who trusts that it would be OK for me to go to any church whatsoever:  conservative, progressive, evangelical, mainline, or free, open and affirming, Bible or liturgical.  The bumper sticker didn’t discriminate. All that matters is that I meet a body of faithful people and be changed, and even change the church. I suspect the owner of the car believes that if more people go to church the world would be a better place.  I believe that, too. That should not come as a surprise—it’s in the Book of Common Prayer, after all.

You may think otherwise, but I actually believe that the bumper sticker might work on someone.  I imagine someone who is driving or stuck behind that rusting van, someone who is  saying to himself or herself, ‘There has got to be more to this life than this. Is this all there is?’ Or someone who is suffering from the pain of grief, sickness, fear, loss. It may not have occurred to that person to go to church. We assume that the thousands of persons and families in our communities are not in church because they’ve rejected it, they disdain it, they dismiss it. That may be true for many, but I can also tell you that the statistics show that many just never heard an invitation or even a suggestion, that they might be welcome. Sure, the generation before them may have left the church, or religion altogether. That leaves a generation behind them (at least one generation) whose only experience of religion is from the news reports that generally highlight stories of religious institutions at their worst.

I attended a Gathering of Leaders of the church this summer.  The GoL is a movement that seeks to renew the Christian faith within the Episcopal Church by inviting young(er) committed clergy to share time together in prayer, bible study, and conversation about the ministry. I met one person whose congregation had all the signs of health and effective mission: regular weekly attendance at worship that was both reverent and vibrant; outreach programs that engaged the members of the congregation personally and not merely with their checkbooks; collaborative connections with neighboring churches and the interfaith community; strong sacrificial giving among its members; youth who felt they really were known and loved and who belonged in the worship and leadership. The place grew under this pastor’s several years’ presence.

I asked her, “What’s the secret to what we all see as the effectiveness of your church’s ministry?”  She paused, and said, “I don’t know, really. But when we talk about growing the church I realized early on that I needed to go to church.  Sure. It’s what I’m supposed to do, right? I’m the pastor, after all.  But when I say go to church, I mean go to church as though for the first time, to meet Jesus, to hear Jesus invite me to live in God’s love, to hear every day the words of Jesus by reading the Bible, a little bit every day.  I decided that if this church was going to come alive, I had to bring one person to the belief in God’s love in Christ every day.  One person. Every day. And that person had to be me. So I go to church every day, even when I’m not in the building.  When I strive, and sometimes it is a struggle, to love my brothers and sisters in Christ, to love my neighbor, to love my enemy, I go to church. When I pray with the parish directory in front of me, I go to church. And the coolest thing is that there are lots of members in this parish who are doing the exact same thing. They ask God to convert them to God’s love in Christ every day. And along the way, someone seems to want to come along with them.”

Her words converted me, now a bishop in the church, to a new way of going to church that is more about being the church, the church the world is longing for us to become. Perhaps her words can convert you to the same high calling of being Christ’s presence in the world, wherever you are, whomever you are with.

So, I look forward to seeing you in Church—wherever you are.

Yours in the Risen Christ,
+Rob