We gather at night to celebrate the Light.

 There is meaning in this, is there not?  To be a Christian means that we belong to a truth that says that light pierces the darkness, even as forces of darkness pierced the body of our Savior and God.  Witness the tiny flicker of flame borne aloft on the Paschal Candle, literally, the candle of suffering that bears the nails, this year’s nails, that are stabbed into its beeswax flesh.

 The wounds to the body of Jesus, though fatal, are not the ultimate end of our truth.

 Christians believe that when night surrounds and envelops us, we are not afraid, not without hope.  Ezekiel’s dry bones, the detritus of our despair, are being joined together in a joyful rattle. Sinews and tendons and ligaments are again covering their powdery surfaces. Muscles, blood, flesh and skin are covering faces long forgotten.  And soon there will be dancing and eating and drinking in community. What had been torn apart, is being brought together.  This is what God keeps doing, in spite of us.

 We know tearing.  We know what it means to be torn apart.  We know the impulse among us and within us that says, “It would be better if that person were no longer among us.” Some of us have even heard a voice within us say, “It would be better if I was no longer here among the living.”  We know the human tendency to discard other humans, presuming to know what God wants with the creation God has not yet completed. We know that night, that darkness.

 But nevertheless, in spite of this night, notwithstanding that gloom and despair and loss and grief, we gather around this flame, newly kindled. That flame is ignited by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit that enters our night in answer to our flickering hope.

 Tonight, we celebrate and shout “Alleluia!” for the life that God insists on giving us, whether we are ready or not, whether we feel we deserve it or not. Whether we actually deserve it or not. And let’s be honest—for our times demand honesty--we don’t deserve it.

 Whenever we come together when the ways of night would keep us alone and a part, there is a Rising.  Whenever we look kindly on each other as a child of God when the world would prefer you see a label or a bumper sticker, there is Resurrection.  (By the way, I am not much interested in renewing a church as the voice of a new religious left or right. Good Friday teaches us that such labels only lead to our mutual assured crucifixions.  Rather let us renew our dedication to the more costly and holy work of recognizing the child of God in those whom our labels hide, mar, and disguise in masks that may even disgust us.) Wherever we reach out to someone in pain, not to say anything we may think wise, but simply to share a loving presence, there is Resurrection.  Whenever we welcome a stranger, teach a child, or allow a child to teach us how to see the world freshly made, there is New Life bursting.  Wherever we strive peaceably to seek the truth, among those with whom we are in conflict, we can hear the joyful rattling of bones coming together in true re-lig-ament--that is, true religion. This is God’s new creation. 

 We celebrate not only the rising of one human being, the spark of diving light that emerged from a damp and dark tomb two millennia ago. We celebrate the myriad and infinite ways that God is raising us, too.  Even in the night of the present time.  All of us, you and me, this whole fractured world, are being re-woven in a new Body, the risen Body of Jesus Christ, in whom the whole creation, lives and breathes again. And so we sing in the dark and in the light.  Alleluia!

 This is the night of our birthing into a new day.  Alleluia. Let us go out of our tombs and live again. Alleluia.

Bishop A. Robert Hirschfeld

New Hampshire

Posted
AuthorLynn Eaton

February 18, 2019

 Dear Members of the House Committee on Criminal Justice:

 I write you in support of House Bill 455 to repeal the Death Penalty in New Hampshire.

 The Death Penalty is morally repugnant because it makes us all complicit in homicide. The Death Penalty is ineffective as a deterrent to capital crimes. The Death Penalty is an obscene waste of public resources that could otherwise advance more wholesome duties of good government; for instance, in addressing the ever-growing gap in educational opportunity in the Granite State or enhancing our response to mental illness and our continuing opioid crisis.

 Though as a Christian bishop, I am careful to apply pastoral theology or scriptural teaching to a public political process, I am led to do so because of the distortion of Christian teaching put forward by supporters of the Death Penalty. I have heard legislators in these halls tell me that Jesus’ own execution at the hands of the state serves as sufficient justification for the state’s perpetuation of this inhumane practice. “Just look at all the good that came out of the crucifixion,” I have been told.  Such reasoning defies logic and reflects a toxic perversion of the Gospel message, the clear heart of which is that violence and hatred are not overcome, conquered or transformed by more acts of violence, but by the power of mercy.

 When we put to death, even criminals who have committed heinous and contemptible acts, we do little but show how evil has succeeding in ensnaring us and in drawing us deeper into pernicious web of increasing malice, hatred and violence.  We move closer to committing the very heinous and contemptible atrocities that those who have been convicted for the very inhumanity we condemn. 

 Alternatively, it is the hard work and high calling of good and sound government to prevent and protect society from being contaminated by this lethal dynamic. I urge, hope and pray that this legislature will not shirk its obligation to this hard, moral work and high calling and will finally Repeal the Death Penalty in our Great State of New Hampshire.  Please put our money to more wholesome purposes.  Much more importantly, save our consciences from the high and brutal cost of the moral injury capital punishment inflicts on us all.

 Respectfully Yours,

 The Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld 

Bishop of the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire

Posted
AuthorLynn Eaton

November 16, 2018

 Dear Friends in Christ,

 In recent years the Church has become more alert to patterns of exploitation of the vulnerable at the hands of the powerful. We continue to hear news reports of how members of the Church, regardless of denomination, have either perpetrated or have implicitly condoned sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or other forms of physical and verbal violence by clergy or those who have enjoyed some privilege of gender or position. Though the Episcopal Church has put many safe-guards in place, including requiring "Safe Church" training extensively, we still hear of accounts of the pain and suffering of those who have survived such damaging behavior.

 God's mission is for healing, justice, amendment of life, reconciliation and the flourishing of all God's children. I believe it has been in the life giving and truth-telling Spirit of this mission for health and life that Resolution D034 was passed at the last General Convention. This amendment to our disciplinary canon (Title IV) suspends the statute of limitations for acts of abuse or exploitation that have been committed by members of the clergy. Previous to this resolution, acts alleged to have been committed by clergy over ten years ago would be outside the time limit for Title IV proceedings. From January 1, 2019 until December 21, 2021, this limitation has been lifted. For any act alleged to have been committed against children (defined as anyone under the age of 21), there has been, and continues to be, no statute of limitations.

 It is also in this spirit that St. Paul's School in Concord, along with many Episcopal independent schools, has sought to be deliberate in acknowledging their own histories of abuse. On May 4, 2019, St. Paul's will host a service of lament and forgiveness and offer a time when stories of past trespasses may be shared in the hope of Christ's healing. As bishop, I look forward to participating in this service and the continuing work it represents. I hope you will continue to keep the St. Paul's School community in your prayers.

 If you have an experience to share, we are prepared to provide listening ears and pastoral care. Canon Tina Pickering and the Rev. Caroline Hines are our Title IV Intake Officers and are available to listen and respond if you have anything to share about clergy who have not upheld appropriate standards of conduct. For more information about Title IV and clergy standard of conduct, click HERE. The Rev. Louise Howlett serves as the Bishop's Assistant for Pastoral Care and is also available for support, pastoral care, and referrals if you have experienced harassment, exploitation or assault of any kind.

 Faithfully Yours in Christ,

 The Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld

Posted
AuthorLynn Eaton

The Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld

Bishop

  November 11, 2018

 This weekend we are invited to honor those among us who have sacrificed their time, their comforts, and untold other opportunities available to them, even their own physical, emotional and spiritual comfort, so that our world can meet real threats to our security and freedom.  Daily I am privileged to serve among men and women in the Church whose character and generosity of spirit was somehow shaped and strengthened by their time in one of the service branches of our military. 

 Mr. Steve Baker, Marine; Ms. Jo Brooks, Marine; Mr. Bob Cotton, Army; Mr. Bob Wells, Navy; Mr. Bill Sloane, Navy, Mr. Andre Garcia, Marine, Mr. Matthew Markiewicz, Marine, the Rev. Richard Matthews, Air Force, the Rev. Richard Davenport, Navy. These are just a few of the courageous, dedicated, and loving hearts whose service to both God and Country has allowed me, a non-Veteran, to be able to express and live my faith in a God of peace and justice without government restraint or rebuke.  I honor and thank them, along with those in many in of our churches whom I have not named, and I wish to offer this prayer for all Veterans:

 Lord, our God, look favorably on all those who have served this nation in our armed forces. We thank you for your presence with them in their service. Help them and us to remember their fallen comrades, that the sacrifices we honor this day may never be forgotten. Let the light of liberty and the love of justice and mercy burn brightly in the heart of this and all nations, through Jesus Christ our Savior.

 We also remember on this day the end of the First World War, the war that was hoped to end all wars for its incomprehensible brutality many believed was unprecedented in the history of warfare.  Sadly, our sinful and fallen nature still leads humanity into violence. And so we pray for world peace:

 O God of all the living, lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth. Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust. Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace. Let your peace fill our hearts, our nation, our world, through the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

  Bishop Rob Hirschfeld

Bishop of New Hampshire

Posted
AuthorLynn Eaton

At this Convention, we focus on three elements of our life together--three aspects that give shape and structure to how we become more and more the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement here in New Hampshire.  The three foci are these: Renewing the Faithful; Revitalizing the Church; Reconciling the World. They could be seen as three posts of a trellis that allow us to better tend the vital and vibrant Vine of Christ’s love and presence in this Church and in the world.

Movement I

Renewing the Faithful

 

Let’s start with “Renewing the Faithful.” This theme speaks to how we renew and refresh our relationship with Jesus Christ.  By Renewing the Faithful we mean how are we once again commit to being disciples of Jesus, learners, and students of the Rabbi Jesus. The first step to learn about Jesus is to go to the Bible, so let’s look at this morning’s gospel as a way to focus on our own renewal and discipleship.

 

A scribe approaches Jesus with a question. This is a test. There’s a division in the society that has infected the religious community with division. What is the greatest commandment?  The scribe is asking in order to settle a political dispute between two competing groups within the Jewish religious environment. (Kind of like now). The division between the Pharisees and the Sadducees are not unlike roughly similar to the liberals or conservatives, the high church party or the evangelicals, viewers of MSNBC or Fox News.

 

In the time the Gospels are written, the culture is under tremendous strain. (Kind of like now) The temple has already been destroyed by an Emperor afraid of losing his grip on global prestige and power. Religious practices are in decline (Kind of like now). The occupying empire at best tolerates, but still constantly demeans the spiritual values of the Jews who are not accustomed to being in exile in their own land. (Kind of like us.)  There may have been no lawn signs, bumper stickers or t-shirts that said Don’t Tread on Me or Resist—The Romans would not have tolerated those expressions of free speech. But the effect of the religious and political division was the same:  the weight of hatred, mutual suspicion, mistrust, fear and anger made the Jewish people, our ancestors in the faith, pin their trust in a Lord who was above Caesar, a Sovereign whose power was infinitely more merciful and loving, liberating and life giving than the Emperor’s.

 

Today we read from Mark’s version of the encounter between the religious expert and the Rabbi from Nazareth.  In Luke’s version, the scholar asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And when Jesus asks him, “How do you read?,”  the lawyer answers, with the Love Commandment that we just heard: what Jews refer to as the Sh’ma based on the first words “Hear, O Israel! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus answered him: You have answered rightly. Do this as, and you shall live.”  You shall live.  The implication is clear: If we love, we shall live.  If we hate, we shall die.”

 

I don’t like to use the phrase this is what was like “in Jesus’ day” as those “in Jesus’ day” refers to a time over 2000 years ago.  Because this, 2018 is as much Jesus’ day as it was when these gospels were written.  And this place, this Granite State, is as much the Holy Land where Jesus’ walks and teaches and is rejected, executed and raised from a granite hewn tomb to live with us and show us the way of love, liberation, life, as it was in 1st century Palestine.  This is Jesus’ time. This is the place of Jesus. 

 

God knows people are forgetful and distractible. Almost throughout the Episcopal Church of NH, when I ask about their faith journey of our members, they might tell me, “You know, I felt I was closer to Jesus once, but it feels like a long time ago.” They share that they are not comfortable talking about Jesus, even with their best friends.  It’s probably no surprise, but if you were to compare the amount of time how much time we spend focusing on our buildings, and the survival of our congregations, in contrast to time spent in prayer, or sharing our storieds of how God showed up for us on any given day, the contrast would be stark.  I want to tell two stories on myself that illustrate how a religious leader is not immune to this spiritual distractibility.

 

Two weeks ago, we heard from one of our more public figures who happens to be a faithful Episcopalian.  Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (an appointee of President Ronald Reagan). As she declared that due to her increasing dementia she would be withdrawing from public life, she pleaded for the restoration of civility and respect in our political culture.  And God have mercy, I hope we are all working and praying for a spiritual and moral renewal in or society.  Her appearance two weeks ago reminded me of my own personal memory of this leader and to many mind, American icon.  Some years ago, I sat on a board of trustees at my seminary, and we decided to award Justice O’Connor with an honorary doctorate in recognition for her faithful service to both Church and Society, as judge, public legal intellectual, and member of our Church.   It was a privilege to get to meet her.  On the day of the ceremony, we had a chance to sit around the table with her and to ask her whatever we wanted.  I remember asking her about some aspect of the Constitution.  She paused and then said, “Hold on.” She reached into her modest black purse and pulled out a dog-eared, worn out, well-creased copy of the U.S. Constitution, the same one I was given by the ACLU.  (A good stocking stuffer, by the way). The Trustees, made up mostly of lay leaders, priest, deacons and bishops of the Church, chuckled, amused that a seasoned Supreme Court Justice would have her Constitution in her purse.

 

She glared at us. And said, “Why, I would assume you would have a copy of the Gospel and the Psalms, or the Book of Common Prayer on your person.”

Our own discipleship was questioned, and we were taken to school.

 

Another confession.  Once I applied for a job in the Church.  The bishop of that diocese wanted to see if I would be a fit in that diocese.  I arrived. Sat down in his study. And he asked me, “So, Rob.  How has the Gospel changed your life?”  Now I went to some pretty good schools, learned to answer hard questions. Learned how to master Blue Books, (maybe there are some here who remember Blue Books at examination time?) But I was stumped.  Lost. Wordless.  I couldn’t even come up with the words Love God. Love Neighbor.  I’m telling these stories on myself, because, well, I’m in my seventh year as your bishop, and I hope we can trust each other, but I also know that my story is not unusual for Episcopalians.  And, let’s say what rarely gets said in settings such as this, is it any wonder why our membership, across the land, might be in decline? As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry has said, we are in danger of becoming the Starbuck’s whose smell of melting cheese from the croissants is overpowering the smell of coffee, leading the CEO to wonder, “Why are our sales in the tank?”

 

Our salvation, the liberation of our world from the oppression of sin, hatred, fear, will not come from our political parties, my brothers and sisters.  This is neither the Democratic or the Republican party at prayer.  We are the body of Christ, and as such, the aim and purpose of the Church is to learn and know the teachings of God which point us to the love of Jesus, who points us to the renewal of the life that God longs for all people, indeed for all creation.

 

It’s time for us to renew our commitment to meet Jesus again for the first time.  That’s done together.  In small groups.  Jesus called twelve disciples, as foolish and selfish and clumsy as they were, because it was in community that they learn.  Small groups of bible study, gathering in homes for meals and prayers, Advent or Lenten quiet days, reading passages from Isaiah, the prophet of Advent before meals during the days before Christmas, congregations undertaking a full reading of the Bible in the next year, or two years.  I am so grateful for the leadership of Tina Pickering, our Canon for Ministry development, who, in tandem with the Commission on Ministry, invites us to our call to become learners, to be humble enough to say we want to know more, to learn more, from the Bible, and from each other what is the Good News for the present age.

 

In the past few months, the congregations of Grace Church, East Concord, St. Paul’s, Concord, St. Thomas, Dover, St. Andrew’s, Manchester, and Holy Spirit, Plymouth and St. Mark’s, Ashland have undertaken a program called RenewalWorks, an intensive survey provided by Forward Movement.  After taking a congregational survey, they are uncovering some truths about our life in Christ, some of which may not be surprising.  We are not so different from the rest of the Episcopal Church, where, statistics taken from over 200 churches and over 2000 people, say,  72% of us are merely scratching the surface in our spiritual development, identifying as “exploring,” considering, or at best growing in Christ, rather than being deeply centered in Christ. 55% of our parishes are spiritually hungry and longing for more opportunities to deepen our knowledge and grounding in Christ. The word that has been used is to describe that 55% is “troubled.”  We have troubled churches...full of folk who are hungry for more connection to the Gospel, longing to become more ready and able to answer the question, “What is the Good News for you?”

 

We love our churches, we are committed to social engagement, we are strong in programs of outreach, community engagement and compassion, but we feel spiritually tired, disconnected, our awareness of God and confidence in our discipleship is flagging.  If sometimes we feel like we are another Town Meeting but with hymns,  is it any wonder why our attendance is depressed...and by that, I mean lower in numbers, but also low in joy?

 

I actually see these statistics as good news. Troubling, sure. But think of the invitation God is giving us!  God is troubling our waters. We get to rediscover, again, as though for the first time, the absolute joy that comes from loving Jesus, and learning again, what it can be to be utterly cleared of our sins, to experience the freedom that comes when you take your troubles to Jesus whose love and presence is stronger than even death on the cross.  We get to learn how to pray together, without shame or fear.  It’s time for revival, and awakening. In fact, come May, St. Christopher’s Hampstead, and St. Peter’s Londonderry, churches that are themselves experiencing revivals of their own, are going to be offering a real revival event, taking the lead of our Presiding Bishop’s preaching and revival circuit around the country, to follow the Way of Love.  It’s time to get our Bibles marked up together, to joyfully and freely ask questions like: When Jesus heals the blind man, but instead of seeing clearly, he sees things like trees walking, what’s up with that?  Sometimes even Jesus has to start again.

 

So, what’s in your pocket or pocket book? How do you learn the joy of Jesus, in this time of Jesus? If our discipleship, our learning is like our inhale, our breathing in the love of God, and our apostleship, our being sent to be Christ in the world like our exhale (we need to do both to live) How are you learning about Jesus now?    Let’s take 5 minutes to turn to a neighbor and share with each other how you are a disciple, a learner, a student of Jesus?

 

Movement II

 

Revitalizing the Church.

 

“God’s gonna trouble the waters.”

 

Benge Ambrogi, our Canon for Mission Resources, Steve Baker, the Chair of the Mission Resource Commission, the Rev. Gail Avery, the Canon for Transition and Community Engagement, and I were privileged to be invited to join a small group of dioceses whom the Episcopal Church Foundation see as demonstrating a willingness to be innovators and entrepreneurs for Jesus. We in New Hampshire appear to be getting a reputation for asking a troubling question.  Why?

 

Why do we have 46 congregations, some of whom are within a short distance of each other when the cost of keeping these buildings and staff going actually impedes our following the Commandment to Love God and our neighbor?  Why?  Why keep a food pantry or a thrift ship open when the leadership is exhausted and the source of deep conflict in the parish?  Why do we run a parish fair when it just leads to more burnout and people don’t see the love of Jesus anymore?  Why?

 

Disruptive, troubling question, but one that can lead to love, liberation and life.  Just like at the Red Sea.

 

As your bishop for the past 6 years, I don’t want to be complicit in the suffering of our people when we feel that we just have to keep the lights on, the roof on, if these things don’t lead us to be the Jesus movement. The bishop is not Pharaoh, demanding that we make more bricks with less straw.

 

St John’s Church, Dunbarton, and St Stephen’s Church, Colebrook, are discovering ways to come alive again with lay leadership. Assisted by neighboring or retired clergy, preaching and officiating of Morning Prayer are offered by lay leaders. And behold, as newcomers hear about their new life, they find that they are called to use their talents and gifts for the life of the community. As it turns out, this is exactly how many of our churches first were established.

Christ Church, Portsmouth and Trinity, Hampton, have recently undertaken a thorough study about their partnership which was renewed last week when I visited them.  They are showing signs of new life as they are forming partnership with non-profits that care for both the elderly and children in their neighborhoods. 

 

Newport has a lay pastoral leader, Aaron Jenkyns, working in tandem with St Andrew’s, New London where the youth of Newport are invited to sing and share in the service and in 4-H activities every week.

 

Plymouth House, a rehab facility, every Monday, hosts Eucharistic community among those in rehabilitation and recovery from addiction. In God’s eyes, the communion table at Plymouth House is as valid as our most established parish.

 

There is real movement for a new partnership for worship and mission in Plymouth, Ashland, and Holderness School.

 

The Church of St. Jude’s in Franklin, long-boarded up has been recently emptied, cleaned out, perhaps ready for a new mission that might work in partnership with whom?  What might it look like?  Church in the same old way, or perhaps something more organic that springs out from the neighborhood itself?  What is God up to there in this church named for the patron saint of lost causes?

The Commission on Ministry is now exploring a more robust practice of Lay Licensing.   Imagine a community that gathers for prayer, led by a lay leader, trained and supported by the diocesan office, commissioned by the bishop Morning Prayer, with a sacrament conveyed from a neighboring parish by licensed lay leaders, and licensed lay preachers, with deacons assisting the bishop in the training and support. I suspect we might see a similar revitalization, a renewal as we are seeing in places like Dunbarton and Newport.

 

So leading with the troubling question “why,” why do we have convocations?  What if the convocation themselves supported the discipleship, local and regional training for Hub and Spoke missions that could bring the gospel message to those who are not able to come on Sunday morning? I’m interested in exploring how we use our current structures to revitalize and modifying or eliminating them if they are not furthering God’s mission but are just doing the same thing while expecting different results in our mission.

 

Our budget will reflect more and more our becoming the Jesus movement, each year decreasing our Fair Share so that more resources can be kept local, for our missions to be nimbler and more willing to experiment with new forms of worship and proclamation of the Gospel. 

 

Speaking of troubled waters, let me share how the why question literally troubled the waters of a fellow bishop after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in New Jersey six years ago. Hundreds of homes were either destroyed or severely damaged as you remember. Also. some church buildings, rectories, parish halls were wrecked or even swept out to sea. Bishop George Council asked a priest, made temporarily homeless by the storm, what he could do to help.  The response was clear.  We can’t use any diocesan money or work crews. “What we need is for you to come and pray with us and remind us that Jesus is walking with us in this rubble.” George reflected on this with me.  “What was so darn important that kept me from doing that before this disaster?” 

 

As I head into a refresher leave this year, I want to pray with this question.

Is the “why” of our activity about living into the love of Jesus, or is it about something else, and if so, why are we doing it?  What brings life, and what is simply a distraction?

 

What are the measures of our vitality?  Is it just average Sunday attendance, or average weekly attendance?  I’ve heard other dioceses pick up in the notion of Average Weekly Encounters (AWE), but how exactly do we measure that AWE.  How do we measure the joy that Jesus yearns is to be complete in us-- joy, that sense of confidence in God’s goodness and love toward us, even when all external evidence might say otherwise?   The team I mentioned in the beginning, Benge Ambrogi, Steve Baker, Gail Avery and I are working with the Episcopal Church Foundation to come up with another dashboard to measure the vitality, and life of our congregations and our Church.  We’ll be soliciting input from you in the coming year.  When do you know you are alive, when the love of Jesus is pulsing through you, guiding and supporting you, surrounding us, reknitting us together in love for the healing of our world. 

What makes you alive? How do you know you’re alive in Jesus?

 

So, let’s take another five minutes and ask the question to a different neighbor. What makes you feel alive in Christ when you are in Church? Where is the Holy Spirit troubling the waters within you and within your congregation, making you restless or hungry for more?

 

Part III

 

Reconciling the World

 

On any given day in the Church of New Hampshire, we are pursuing God’s mission to heal the world.  I am so glad to have welcomed the Rev. Canon Gail Avery to help coordinate these efforts, and I just want to highlight a few.

 

The Earth Care Commission is seriously exploring how our churches can turn from dependence on Fossil Fuels to using our roofs and parking lots and open land into solar farms that could actually help light and warm the neighborhoods where our churches have been planted for the benefit of those neighborhoods.   The Commission is working on “Third Party” financing in which a third-party investor takes the tax advantages of the solar array. All Saints’ Church in Wolfeboro installed a 25 kW solar array.  These 184 solar panels have now been in operation for 2 full years and produces approximately 85% of their electricity needs.  These efforts could actually bring clean light and power to the neighborhoods while addressing Global Climate Change.

 

The River of Life Pilgrimage of a summer ago has actually replicated itself in other waterways and diocese around the country, offering opportunities for people to reconnect with Jesus Christ, the one who was present at the Creation and who today calls us to repent from our using the earth as an object to be exploited.  The Church of the Woods’ reputation grows beyond our borders and has actually spurred a movement of environmental spiritual start-ups from here to the west coast.

 

The Church of New Hampshire took a lead this past Lent in providing prayers and pilgrims who walked the Black Heritage Trail, learning of the Granite States part in our country’s sins of slavery, institutional racism and racial reconciliation.  This coming Good Friday, a Stations of the Cross incorporating the Black Heritage Trail will take place in Keene.

 

As the Opioid Crisis continues to take more casualties in our state. We grieve this epidemic and the fact that this scourge has affected, if not someone we know directly, then someone within our circle of friends, family, workplace, or church neighborhood.  I am proud of the work that the Rev. Sandi Albom as the Convener of Recovery Ministries, and our own Rev. Jason Wells, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Council of Church, and Deacon Shawn LaFrance whose work on the senior management team of the Cheshire Medical Center in Keene are forming partnerships with other denominations and faith traditions along with the State’s efforts to activate its Hub and Spoke plan to bring swift and effective treatment to the addicted.

 

We continue to be concerned about the widening opportunity gaps for children and youth that threaten the stability of our society.  Some children have every chance to succeed and to grow intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Many other children fall prey to the risk of damage when parents are absent, negligent, or abusive.  Some find themselves at more risk of addiction.  These are our kids, because we are children of God, they are our brothers and sisters.  This Church has gained a reputation for addressing their needs, and for getting to know who they are, as persons worthy of our care, our love.  The resolution from the Our Kids Commission urges each of our parishes to live out the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves... to welcome the children in our neighborhoods into our midst, through mentoring, tutoring, through offering innovated worship, simply by crossing the street to support athletics or afterschool activities that require fees that price out students whose parents cannot afford them. I am convinced that supporting the health and well-being of children, both in our churches and outside, where they see adults act in kindness, generosity, and respect, is the antidote to the growing toxicity of our times.  It’s the place of greatest leverage for us, and I hope and pray God may lead us to be more present to kids, all kids in our state.

 

It has been rightly noted that the remedy to our torn social fabric will probably not come from our political structures and institutions.  The events of the past several years have shown us how our neighborhoods have been less neighborly and more just pods of isolated households that don’t know or care for one another.  And yet, we come together, week by week, sometimes more often than that, welcoming strangers into our midst.  That’s the gospel way.  That’s the way of Jesus. That’s the way of love.  I pray that we, Tending the Vine that connects us all in Jesus Christ, may live out our high calling of love and reconciliation, rooted more and more in our love and knowledge of Jesus, in this time and place, and find our life renewed. 

 

So, let’s take another five minutes and seek a third neighbor, preferably one you don’t know very well.  How are you sent into the world to be a part of God’s mission to reconcile and heal the world?  In what way, small and quiet, or big and bold, are you being a part of God’s healing of the world in this troubled time, this time of Jesus?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted
AuthorLynn Eaton

Written by the Right Reverend A. Robert Hirschfeld, Bishop of New Hampshire

Most holy God, source of all being, of all hope, of all life. We confess our worship of unholy things fashioned not by you, but by our own hands,

Have mercy on us

We confess our fascination with guns and weapons that have for far too long claimed the lives of the undefended, the vulnerable, and especially children who have been wounded and killed in acts of random terror in a nation founded on the promise to protect life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Have mercy on us

We confess our attachment to the means of violence and bloodshed claiming that they alone can protect and save us (from) those who wish us harm.

Have mercy on us

 We confess that we have not kept our eyes from watching what is worthless, allowing the imagination of our hearts to be misshapen by media, film, and games that glorify violence and trivialize the dignity of human life.

Have mercy on us.

We confess our lack of courage and clarity in public policies that too often weigh individual rights over the common weal

Have mercy on us

We confess how we have too often appealed to your name and that of the name of Jesus to justify our right to defend and protect, even when you gave up your defenses and even died on the cross to rise and again, destroying the powers of sin and death.

Have mercy on us

We confess how we have allowed the gods of merchandising and consumerism to drown out the cries of the injured and the grieving.

Have mercy on us

 We confess how the epidemic of gun deaths among blacks in our society is mostly overlooked or ignored, even accepted, and do not result in the same outcry and outrage as the slaughter of white children.

Have mercy on us.

We confess that we have ascribed to the facile lie that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” when what we need are more loving households, more caring neighbors, better funded and equipped schools, and hearts that hear your Gospel message of love and forgiveness.

Have mercy on us

O Blessed God of our deliverance, unfetter us all from the grip of the unholy trinity of poverty, racism, and guns.

Good Lord, deliver us.

O Blessed God of the prophets, if we cannot shout in the streets in our agony and rage, guide us to have the honest difficult conversations about what truly drives our fears.

Good Shepherd, lead us

Dear God of Holy Community, teach us to find that the only weapons we truly need are the swords of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation. 

Holy One, defend us.

 Dear God of Resurrection, show us that by peacefully and boldly dwelling in your Holy Name of I AM, the militias of hatred and fear will step back and fall to the ground.

O Christ, hear us and raise us

Give us courage for the facing of this hour and to your honor and glory.

Amen.

Lament

Posted
AuthorLynn Eaton

On the evening of Shrove Tuesday I had the pleasure of meeting with the Vestry of St. James’, Keene.  Afterwards we shared desserts as a way of celebrating “Mardi Gras” in advance of our Lenten fast.   During that time of fellowship, I had a chance to speak with Dr. Rudy Fedrizzi, Director of Community Health Clinical Integration at Cheshire Medical Center.  Rudy has been doing amazing work to promote health and wellness in Cheshire County through Healthy Monadnock Champions.  Rudy showed me a pamphlet that advertised a new initiative for gun safety that represents a partnership among St. James’ Social Justice Ministry, the Police Chiefs and departments of 15 area towns and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an organization that has long supported gun rights and happens to be located in Newtown, Connecticut.  This unusual, even unlikely partnership, promotes gun safety by making safety kits and gunlocks available at police stations, “no questions asked.”  I was impressed and amazed to see the list of these partners working for the safety of children.  A collaboration between a gun rights group and St. James’ Church, the home of the martyred Jonathan Daniels, for the sake of children represents a thin but important thread cast across one of the great chasms in our society.  And then Ash Wednesday in Parkland, Florida.  We saw the searing image of a mother holding another mother as they waited to learn if their children had escaped the carnage of yet another mass school shooting in America.  On the mother’s forehead was the distinct cross of ashes where she was earlier told, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  On Thursday, I was told that members of Canon Kevin Nichols family knew those killed as classmates and teachers.  I join with the survivors of this mass shooting for a call to courageous action and resolve for change in our hearts and in the laws of our nation, blood soaked by these acts of massacres.  A statement from my sister and brother Bishops Against Gun Violence is attached.   May Christ, the Prince of Peace, give us courage to meet the challenges of this present age. +Rob

 Here is a link to the statement by the Bishops Against Gun Violence:  HERE

Posted
AuthorLaura Simoes

Charleston. Milwaukee. Nashville. Sutherland Springs. Cairo.  Religious leaders of every tradition, all around the globe, are considering what was once unthinkable—an “active shooter” in their houses of worship. Religious violence is not new in this world, and no faith has been spared. As a Bishop in the Episcopal Church, I have been asking: How are followers of Jesus to respond now that the epidemic of gun violence has entered the Church? How can we bear witness to the Good News of Jesus in an age when so many encourage us to bear arms? 

To deter potential assailants with guns, many Christians assert our rights and freedoms to carry weapons, even in spaces, which offer sanctuary. However, the reports of trainings offered by security consultants, and my own conversation with local police, leave me convinced that the more our parishioners are armed, the less safe our sacred spaces would become. At the same time, absent the same machinery of airport terminals, policies forbidding weapons will be very hard to enforce. So, we confront the human condition. Evil happens. As active shooter trainers have said, “Even Christians get cancer”-- a simple statement of deep theological truth. We live in a world of harm, danger, illness. Bad things happen to good people, even at Christmas. But Jesus shows a path for the troubled soul and society.

While there is a need for more public theology and prayer on the topic of guns in worship spaces, my faith leads me to the illogical, yet brilliantly hopeful, message of the first Christmas when the Almighty entered the world in utter weakness. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul quotes perhaps the first Christmas carol of the Church. To paraphrase: Christ did not count equality with God as something to exploit for advantage, even self-defense, but instead chose to empty himself by becoming vulnerable, a defenseless human being--to suffer death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8) 

The way of the Christ Child requires vulnerability. Yes, we can get cancer and we can get shot. Following Jesus, we care for the sick. And, we protect the vulnerable, sometimes by standing in the way of danger. Remember Jesus standing in front of a crowd of angry men ready to stone a woman to death, or insisting his disciples sheathe their swords, or taking the place of a bandit on the cross? These acts took guts--and faith. 

There are many more conversations to be had, and more questions to ask and answer about guns in places of worship. What are our faith communities doing to prevent gun violence and address root causes of mental health, hatred, fear of the Other? I start with this: a life modeled on the suffering of God in Christ will always be at risk of dying. But, we stake our lives on a hope infinitely liberating and glorious. In an age fixated on security, a Christian life patterned on the paradox of God’s strength displayed in weakness could seem ridiculous. I choose to follow a self-emptying God, revered and celebrated in the arrival of a helpless and poor child in a feed-trough who eventually dies in humiliation to draw all humanity to a life of freedom and purpose. That belief will always contrast sharply to the fear and violence of any era. 

That stark contrast, I believe, is that of light shining brightly in darkness. The good news of the great joy of Christmas is that light always wins. Always.

--The Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld
Bishop of The Episcopal Church of New Hampshire

Posted
AuthorLaura Simoes