Azure that morning. Later we learned that the flight paths
may have taken all three planes directly over our home.
Did they fly above the lawn, the forest in which the kids
imagined a perfect world away from adults, the path through the woods that led to their school playground?
Had I looked up, I would have seen those contrails in the
cerulean sky, never guessing such hatred could soar so.
This Sunday, we imagine the Good Shepherd coming for us.
Scanning the landscape to find us,
not to destroy or dismember or dis...
but to search, restore us and all that we've lost,
before that day, on that day, and after that day.
Centuries ago, from the borderlands of Syria,
--Aleppo?-- came a praying poet.
Ephrem saw the Shepherd who seeks us,
not merely on the pasture ground,
but from the skies. He praised:
"The Shepherd of all flew down
in search of Adam, the sheep had strayed;
on His shoulders He carried him, taking him up;
he was an offering for the Lord of the flock
Blessed is his His descent, his hovering!
Blessed is Your rising up!"1.
O Savior, fly down again. O carry us up from the smouldering Pile.
1. Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 CE) The Paradoxes of the Incarnation
Live without fear, your creator has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you with a power and a presence that is stronger than death.
These words, adapted from a prayer of the twelfth century abbess St. Clare of Assisi, seem to resonant with many in the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire as they form a kind of preamble to the final blessing of the bishop at the conclusion of the Holy Eucharist. This coming Sunday morning, a week after the horrible news from Orlando was just being reported, I will say them again from an altar where we celebrate the Resurrection. I address this prayer as much to myself as I do to the congregations. Even when we know that God’s intervention may not protect us from all suffering cause by disease or violence in this life, we all stand in need to be reminded of the indomitable power of God’s love, exhibited most supremely in the course of his own brutal and unjust death. Even there on the Cross, the Gospel and the witness of theologians and artists through the ages assure us, even there on the Cross, God is at hand creating a good that is beyond our imagining or vision.
As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminded us at his visit just last week, we are members of the Jesus Movement. After the murder in Orlando of 49 LGBTQ persons, brothers and sisters all because they are children of God, we who remain have work to do. After the vigils, the Supplications, and the moments of silence that are taking place this week--all holy and important responses to our national crisis--it’s time for us to take action to reclaim the Gospel of Peace.
Recently, our Church published a series of essays by that title: Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: Challenging the Epidemic of Gun Violence. I am supplying each of our parochial clergy with a copy as I urge them to use it in the coming year to begin deliberate conversations with our communities about this life and death issue facing our nation. Our own Father Bill Exner, recently retired Rector of St. Matthew’s Church in Goffstown, contributed a chapter in this book in which he describes how he engaged in conversation with local gun shops. Such conversations represent real and courageous leadership in these times. They are actions that can come out of the many moments of silence we have all been invited to after such events as Orlando, San Bernadino, Charleston, Sandy Hook…
Bill readily agreed to help us organize and lead holy conversations in our congregations about guns, the Cross, and our Church’s response through the Resolutions of General Convention and more locally. I look forward to working with him, a man who knows how to lead healthful, respectful discussions about difficult topics. Without doubt, more actions, guided by the Holy Spirit, will come of these conversations.
Within each of our communities are persons like me. I do not own a gun, having been raised by a veteran who instilled in me a robust fear of weapons. There are members of our Church who own guns, not merely for sport, but to put food on the table. There are also those who are adamant that any new restrictive gun legislation, even involving military assault weapons, will be an unwelcome infringement on their Constitutional rights. I suspect that we have not spoken about these differences, not so much out of courtesy, but out of fear of hearing things that frighten us.
America’s relationship with the gun is an issue that engages some of our deepest fears--fears about our society, about personal safety, fears about the security of community in an age of terrorism. I am convinced it is also a deeply theological issue that asks each of us: to whom do we put our ultimate trust as a follower of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who told his disciples to put down their own weapons?
Clearly, there is a range of acceptable responses to this question. As the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement, the Church would be negligent if we did not consult with Scripture, Reason, and Tradition to help inform our conscience about these critical matters that plague us now: terrorism, homophobia, the epidemic of violence of so many kinds, racism, xenophobia of all kinds, and the ongoing threats to our planet’s fragile health. These are all matters of deep and ongoing concern. But at this moment, guns have our attention. May our churches be places of civil and respectful conversation.
My deepest and continual prayer is that we do not give our lives over to fear, but may live in that radical freedom that comes when we live fully in the Risen Christ.
Yours in the Peace and Love of Christ,
The Right Reverend A. Robert Hirschfeld, Bishop, Episcopal Church of New Hampshire
The problem that every preacher has when approaching Easter is that the event it celebrates is simply too big, too meaningful, too life altering, too world-changing for words. Every attempt to condense the meaning of the Resurrection into a 10-15 minute homily always makes us feel so inadequate and futile. To borrow a poet’s phrase, each of our attempts to describe the mystery of Jesus’ rising from the dead is a “raid against the inarticulate.”
But we try anyway. Once more we go, into the breaches of our rationality, our sense making. Once more into the Garden of Joseph of Arimathea, where are face the puzzlement of the Empty Tomb, once more on the road to Emmaeus, once more onto the beach where the risen Jesus has prepared breakfast for us. We try anyway because we need to share the message, the Good News. It’s as though there is a force of hope within the hardness and coldness of hearts that can’t resist sharing hope, even in the face of hopelessness and terror.
We’ve been drowning in terrible news recently. The most recent is the horrific acts of terror in Brussels, the heart of the European Union, in the name of a twisted and hate-filled distortion of Islam. Closer to home, in 2015 over 400 of our neighbors in New Hampshire died to drug overdoses, and its very likely that this year will see even more fall victim to drug deaths. The world where hopelessness, desperation, violence in word and deed seem to be reign, our world, is the same world where God has shown up in Jesus. It’s the same world where Jesus is born and is baptized. Our fractured and frenzied world is the same world where Jesus heals, teaches, is ridiculed by frightened authorities, where he drives out demons and evil spirits from tortured minds, where he talks with outcasts, and makes friends with feared foreigners. It’s this world where Jesus is among us, this world where Jesus is still being crucified, is suffering, longing to hold all human kind, all creation in an embrace of love that can change us by joining us to none other than God.
Jesus is dying along with us, and Jesus is descending into the hell of our world and our histories to rescue us, and grabbing each of us by the wrist so that we won’t get lost. Jesus is taking us out of the tombs of our sins, our fear, even our deaths, to new life.
This is news that I believe, news that I seek to throw my heart into. This is the extravagantly good news that I still believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, will change the world. It starts with you, and it starts with me.
The earliest witnesses to the resurrection were women like Mary Magdalene, who had no standing or legal status in the world of their day. And yet, through their word, the world was turned upside down. As we go into the Episcopal Churches of New Hampshire, this Easter weekend, I hope your vision of the world will also be turned upside down, so that you’ll literally taste and see that God in the Risen Jesus is bringing us “out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.”
May the God of Hope fill you will all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
--The Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld
Bishop, Episcopal Church of New Hampshire
Watch a Video of Bishop Rob's Easter Message 2016 HERE.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
At our spring meeting of the House of Bishops, I joined with several of my fellow bishops in prayers of lament and distress at the increasingly reckless rhetoric, and the violence that it is provoking, in this present political season. A result of our prayers was a statement that the Bishops unanimously endorsed as a statement of the "Mind of the House." This statement, entitled, "A Word to the Church" is below.
This statement should be considered as a Pastoral Letter from the Bishops, and as such, the clergy of the Church of New Hampshire are instructed to make this available to our congregations and people as soon as possible.
The statement, in its content and brevity, would be appropriate to be read from the pulpit on either Palm Sunday or Good Friday as we lead our people in the contemplation of the collision of powers, worldly and divine, that culminates on the Cross, and leads ultimately to the Empty Tomb.
May God lead this nation into the ways of God's truth, justice, and peace.
Yours Faithfully in the Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ,
The Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld
Episcopal Church of New Hampshire
Episcopal Bishops Issue A Word to the Church
"We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some
by sacrificing the hopes of others."
The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church, meeting in retreat, unanimously approved the following Word To The Church:
A Word to the Church
Holy Week 2016
"We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others."
On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.
In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season's political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.
In this moment, we resemble God's children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.
We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.
The Episcopal Church House of Bishops met in retreat March 11 - 15 at Camp Allen Conference Center in Navasota, TX.
To read this on the web or to share a link:
Episcopal Bishops Issue A Word to the Church
NOTE: Senate Bill 463, in the NH Legislature, proposes to suspend the implementation of the death penalty until it can be ensured that it is not being imposed on innocent people. The NH State Senate will debate and vote on SB 463 on Thursday, March 3, 2016. The following is Bishop Hirschfeld's statement, shared as a Letter to the Editor for NH newspapers:
As the Senate deliberates SB 463, we can reasonably expect its members to consider carefully the strong reasons for the suspension of the Death Penalty in New Hampshire. These reasons range from capital punishment’s limited value as a deterrent to its exorbitant expense to the state in legal appeals to the many moral and religious proscriptions against the state taking human life. All of the arguments against state-sponsored homicide are gaining traction across our nation, indeed, throughout the world, as more and more states and nations are suspending, if not outright eliminating, its practice.
Christians who observe Lent are moving closer to Good Friday, the solemn day when we contemplate, among other things, the futility of a public execution to accomplish its supporters’ intended and short-sighted goals. The Christian convert Simone Weil, studying violence during the one of the most blood-soaked decades of the twentieth century, wrote: “Without room for reflection there is also no room for prudence and justice.”
Put in this context, SB463 is about more than the death penalty, more than a request to ensure ample room for reflection before making the only decision that cannot be revoked. As well, this bill is a call to reclaim eroding civic dignity in a time of rampant and impetuous rage that is infecting and damaging the body of our society. It is a call for civic restraint and increased protection from the rage-fueled impulsiveness that threatens to destroy the soul of this great state and nation.
Three Temptations—Three Lies
This First Sunday in Lent we’ll read the passage from the fourth chapter of Luke where Jesus withstands three trials from Satan. The temptations come to Jesus as Three Big Lies.
Here they are:
- You do not have enough.
- You are worthless in the eyes of anyone and everyone.
- Your faith won’t save you or help you.
It might take some explaining to show how we get from the story in Scripture to these Three Big Lies—it’s taken me over fifty years of striving to walk with Jesus through these Lenten Wildernesses to get here-- but I can assure you, these are lies we seem always to contend against.
The lies are vain attempts to divide us (the word devil means “the divider”) from a God who, in Jesus, tells us three Truths.
Here they are:
- God gives us plenty enough. So much that there’s plenty for everybody. Everybody.
- God sees us, made in God’s image, as already full of beauty and glory.
- Worldly fame, power, glory are counterfeit. God, in the Resurrected Jesus, will pluck us from even death.
Jesus, filled with the Spirit, refuses to accept any of the lies and chooses to hold fast to the truths. During his life and ministry he will himself become bread for the life of the world, he will display a power and a glory that make puny the powers of this world, and he will do that by utterly trusting in the protection of God’s love, that is even stronger than death.
This Lent, let’s walk together in the light of God’s truth, encouraging each other when we are tempted to see ourselves as less than God’s children, and abiding in the Spirit that empowers us to walk with Jesus and serve boldly and fearlessly in his name.
Let’s stay close to Jesus this Lent, friends!
The Right Reverend A. Robert Hirschfeld, Bishop, Episcopal Church of NH
They can create or destroy possibilities. Human beings, perhaps unique in all earthly creation, have access to a linguistic power that can influence, for good or ill, our relationship with each other, with other communities, with ourselves, and with God.
I would like to begin my address by introducing the 213th Annual Convention to our new Presiding Bishop, Michael Bruce Curry, by video presentation.
By introducing Presiding Bishop Curry, I am also introducing the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire to ourselves and to our mission as members of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.
Every time we share communion, we restore our identity as members of the Risen Christ, an identity given to us when we are buried with Christ and raised to new life in him through baptism. It is fitting that, as we recommit ourselves to Christian service as a Church, we renew the promises made at baptism. There’s a prayer that we offer at every baptism, and I now make it a practice not just to pray it myself, but to invite the whole congregation to join in its petition. Please join me.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy
Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the
forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of
grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them
an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to
persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy
and wonder in all your works. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 308)
Now, we could pray this only for our own kids, the ones who come into our church, our doors. But I am convinced that Jesus would tell us that that’s not enough. As God spoke to God’s people through the prophet Isaiah, so God urges us:
It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel:
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
In other words, it’s not enough for us to be fixated on the life of the Church and on those who make up our church directories and membership lists. The Church is here as a light to the world, a light to reach the despairing and hopeless and distressed places right here in New Hampshire.
For decades we have been overly concerned with things too light, too easy: the survival of the local parish church, the institutional stability of the church in the face of the culture wars, sparked by debates about human sexuality and gender. There was a season for this.
In the meantime, more and more of the youth of our communities know nothing of the love of God in Jesus. More of our children are caught up in a culture that is becoming dangerously sexualized, unhealthy, violent, and spiritually deadening.
Visiting our churches on any given Sunday, I see fewer children or teenagers sharing stories with me about where they encountered God in school or on a service trip or on an athletic field or anywhere else. As if this is not enough, the agonizing trial this summer in Concord of a recent St. Paul’s School graduate reminded us all how perilous a world it is for our youth.
The challenges that face children in New Hampshire are of critical concern to me, and it and it pains me deeply to see how God’s children are growing up in an increasingly unsteady and confusing world.
But today we have good news. We have what it takes to bring Gospel light and hope into our communities. As part of the Jesus Movement, we are called to be apostles, which simply means to be sent in Jesus’ name. As apostles, we get to bring the loving concern of Jesus to the youth and at-risk families in our own Galilee, here in the Granite State.
We get to look for those places where God is already at work, showing up to protect, nourish, guide, mentor, teach, and raise youth who are falling off the cliff of a culture that breeds violence, addiction, fear, and hatred toward the neighbor. The call is to GO, to be sent, pushed out of our comfort zone, to wear down the soles of our shoes, to put on our coats and parkas and windbreakers and get out to the playing fields, hockey rinks, dance studios, and classrooms, and cafeterias where all our kids need us.
That’s what it means to be apostolic church, a church that is eager to share in God’s mission rather than waiting for people to come through our intimidating red doors. Our new presiding bishop, Michael Curry, told us at his Installation this week that The Episcopal Church is now committed to two of the hardest things -- not light things or easy things, but essential things.
We are to be about evangelism and reconciliation. We are to be about bearing good news and about bringing together those who have been divided by race, class, nationality, gender, or religion. What the scissor graphs this morning showed as cutting us into divided classes, we can help heal by being apostles.
Let me be blunt. Lamenting over the lost youth in our churches is not apostolic. Stressing over just the right Sunday school curriculum in the hopes that it will be the magic formula to bring in all those kids in town -- along with their pledge-making parents -- is not apostolic. We have for too long bought into the myth that if we had just the right Sunday school teacher, or youth director, the kids would just pour into our churches, like following the Pied Piper of Hamlet.
I’ve seen the annual reports of our churches, and I can tell you it’s a myth. It doesn’t bear up to close scrutiny. And, when we hold on to such myths, such illusions, while expecting different results, we can either be diagnosed as delusional, or be accused of the age-old sin of sloth. Either way, we are not being apostolic. Not being sent.
So here’s what we are called to do: Over the next year, we will establish a new, apostolic Commission for Youth. The Commission’s charter will be to determine the ways our churches are furthering the mission of God to give the children and youth “inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.”
The Commission will be charged to review ways in which each of our convocations or parishes will partner with others in an effort that will bridge the gap between those kids who come to church and those who don’t; between those who can get supplemental tutoring for their SAT’s and those who don’t; between those who can afford to go to private schools and those who don’t. The question, “Why aren’t kids coming to church anymore?” needs to be transformed by the waters of our baptism to “Why isn’t the Church where Our Kids are?”
To get this party for Our Kids started, I am requesting that this Convention approve the 2016 proposed budget, as Amended, which designates over $46,000 for youth and young adult ministry. Additionally, I am pleased to announce that, thanks to a generous donor who wishes to support the Jesus Movement here in New Hampshire, we will be able to make even more funds available in the near future.
By similar fundraising and budgeting, I want to make $100,000 available in the 2017 budget for after-school programs, mentorships, music and art schools that reach those kids that would otherwise be excluded from such opportunities. (Just to remind us, the total funding in this area of our mission in 2015 was $29,000, only $5,000 of that was for children).
More effective than hiring another staff position in Diocesan House, a Commission will actually go out to see the way that godly people, whether Episcopal or not, are already furthering God’s mission among all our children and then come back to seek the prayers and the support of the Church. That’s the one, holy, apostolic church that we believe in.
We heard of several ways this morning of how we can partner with schools, agencies, and organizations that are already doing the mission of God.
What if we heard Jesus speak to you right now, right here in the Grappone Center in Concord, telling us this: “Your parochial report may tell you that you have less than a dozen kids in your church. But I say unto you, you have several hundreds in your parish, the region that falls within the influence of your church. I am already out there among them,” says, Jesus. “I’m waiting for you. When are you going to go out and meet me out there, in the Galilees of New Hampshire?”
Epiphany Church, Newport heard the voice of Jesus say that. They met with the principal of the Middle School across the street. Many parents have to get to work early in the morning and have to leave their kids at the school, but the school can’t open early enough to in the day. So members of the newly formed team ministry of St. Andrew’s, New London and Epiphany get up way early, just like the first apostles did at the empty tomb on the first Easter. They welcome children before the school hours, keep them safe, get to know who they are and to hear their stories. Apostolic.
St. Paul’s, Lancaster and St. Mark’s, Groveton, Trinity, Claremont, Grace, East Concord, all feed children who would otherwise go hungry during school or during the weekend when school lunch is not available. St.John’s, Portsmouth, and Union, Claremont, St. John’s, Walpole, St. Andrew’s, Hopkinton all seek to strengthen children through the healthy discipline of art or music. St. Andrew’s, Manchester invites students from West Manchester High School to partner with them in feeding the hungry and they offer a scholarship to a college bound senior committed to a life of service.
That’s being apostolic. These are Our Kids, and God’s mission.
The Gospel says, “Go!” and we are going.
Apostolic evangelism is not about “come and see” as much as it is about “go and listen.” Go and be formed and shaped by the people we encounter in the parks where addicts hang out, on the soccer fields where kids are striving, in the homeless shelters and soup kitchens, on the committees for social justice and environmental stewardship, in our prisons where art classes and bible studies are offered, in the halls of the State House when we advocate against the death penalty and work for gun safety.
Wherever we go is a chance to find Jesus and join God’s mission. Go. The model for evangelism that Jesus showed wasn’t one that would have us hunker down in safe church bunkers until we feel adequately prepared for mission. He said, “Go, seek me in Galilee,” which is to say, outside the religious establishment, among the secular, the spiritual but non-religious, and among those whose religion does not look like our own.
The presence of the Resurrected Jesus presence is not weak. It is powerful, stronger than death. It embraces all. We learn about and become like Jesus in the seeking, in the serving, in the listening. So, here are some examples of how the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire is poised for a new age of mission:
Thanks to the dedicated and courageous efforts of Grace Church, East Concord, they have been endorsed as the first Episcopal Service Corps Center in northern New England, choosing the name of Assisi House after St. Francis of Assisi.
Assisi House will host five young adults in an intentional residential community of prayer and service. The interns will be sent to serve in social service agencies that address issues such as poverty, care for the creation, and homelessness as they practice showing up, telling stories, splashing water, sharing food and witnessing how God surprises.
With the ambitious apostolic vision of a little seasonal chapel on the Seacoast, we are actively exploring building a community of women who seek freedom from the shackles of human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual exploitation. Based on the pioneering work of the Rev. Becca Stevens and her sisters at the Magdalene Project and Thistle Farm in Nashville, we are gathering funds and energy to proclaim, “love heals” and bring release to the captives and good news to the oppressed. That same chapel is also setting aside funds for a new curate position, being envisioned as we speak, to do critical mission work.
Last year, in faith of a promised but unforeseen future, the Convention voted to allow Trinity Church, Tilton to close. This happened in February.
Since then we have established close communication with leaders in that town who are eager and excited for this building to be an economic, social and spiritual center in their community. We will soon be reviewing proposals from town leaders as, together, we envision this property as a centerpiece of the downtown.
Likewise, I am seriously considering the establishment of a new Episcopal worshipping community in Franklin or Tilton. The Spirit of Christ is urging us to go to this suffering part of our State and find Jesus. One of the windows of the former St. Jude’s Church depicts a phoenix rising from the ashes of desolation. The phoenix has become a sign of crucifixion, resurrection and stored hope. We are being guided by the light of Christ to bring hope to those in the grips of despair, addiction, poverty and who feel forgotten by the Church.
To be apostolic means that we will strive to establish up to three new missions a year…that’s right, three new missions every year, where God’s people, expelled from the waters of our baptism, will be sent out in mission to meet the risen Christ. Whether on the streets of Tilton or Manchester, on the ships in the port of Portsmouth, in the schools of the Groveton and Lancaster, in the prisons of Berlin or Goffstown, God’s mission is happening already, we just have to go after it.
Here’s the thing: when we do these apostolic things, I promise you, we will not be siphoning off energy or resources from the congregations. In fact, our churches will be reenergized and renewed. Every church that is involved in its community is enlivened, just like the most robust of the vines that insinuate and push out of the limit of the pot which can both nourish but limit its growth.
The churches that are growing in that way, you know who you are. The parishes that are not actively involved with the community are suffering from a kind of fetid claustrophobic enmeshment. And you know who you are. The good news is that the Jesus Movement seeks to push you out of the tomb and unbind you to show the glory of God.
To paraphrase Jesus:
“Go. Make disciple of all the nations, imbuing them with the water of life in the name of the God whose love draws all into true freedom and life: the Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I will be with you always to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)