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

Funeral Homily for The Right Reverend Arthur E. Walmsley

May 4, 1928-October 5, 2017

Delivered by the Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld, Bishop, Episcopal Church of NH

St. Paul’s Church, Concord, New Hampshire

October 14, 2017

Text: John 14:1-7

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” 

As a disciple of Jesus and a member of the Episcopal Church all his life, Arthur would have first heard this passage from the Gospel of John through the translation of the King James Bible. Arthur grew up, as any of us did, with these words:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

Between the mansions of the King James and the “dwelling places” we read today, there was the Revise Standard Version, which we heard for about twenty years. That translation held this promise: “In my father’s house there are many rooms.”  And that reminds me of the elderly man who came to me when I was newly ordained in order to plan his funeral. He mourned the loss of the mansions of the King James Version by telling me, “I did not join the Episcopal Church so that I could inherit rooms!  I want the mansions!”

But none of us came here today to hear an analysis of translations of the Gospel, we came here to honor, to bid a loving farewell to our brother in Christ, an utterly devoted husband and cherished companion to Roberta, a loving and steadfast father to John and Elizabeth, a priest, preacher, bishop, confessor, spiritual director, ecumenist, activist, environmental steward and philanthropist, a churchman in the best sense of the word, a follower and disciple of Jesus, a friend of Jesus, a friend.  That long list does not exhaust who Arthur was to and for so many of us. Though how can we be anything but grateful for the 89 years God blessed us with his life and presence, Arthur’s death still stuns and disorients in a way. It causes me to pause, to halt and reflect on the part of the Gospel that was particularly Arthur Walmsley’s to preach?  What aspect of the Gospel shone through his life in a particular way that was only Arthur’s?

Which brings me back to the Gospel passage Arthur himself chose for us to hear.

Mansions. Rooms. Dwelling places.  The original Greek is not a place where one is meant to stop permanently, as though enshrined in a niche.  The word translated was not a place to stop permanently and remain static. It was to be resting place on the way--a place to tarry, to rest and to be refreshed along a journey where one kept moving and, we can assume, keep learning, growing, discovering how to be and become more like Christ.

I remember a clergy leadership retreat gathering that Arthur and his friend Richard Tombaugh asked me to attend in 1993. For some reason the discussion led Arthur to actually say that he hoped not to rest in peace eternally after his death. Sure, he’d like a few days’ rest. But he hoped he would keep to keep moving, keep growing, keep evolving, keep learning in Christ’s presence and love.

There is a noteworthy synchrony in the reading that Arthur chose for us to hear on this occasion and in the day of his ending his earthly pilgrimage. Arthur died so close to the day St. Teresa of Avila died, on October 4. St. Teresa was 16th century Spanish nun, mystic, and like Arthur, a sought-after spiritual director.

Teresa’s classic and work, entitled The Interior Castle, was an offering to her nuns in the Carmelite convent of St. Joseph in Toledo, Spain in 1577. It opens:

It came to me that the soul is like a castle made exclusively of diamond or some other clear crystal, In this castle are a multitude of dwellings, just as in heaven there are many mansions.

She goes on to imagine that the castle is within each of us and that as we enter each of the dwellings, each of the rooms or stations within our soul, we will be drawn ever more deeply into the love and light and freedom that our Creator so longs to give us.  Teresa laments how tragic it is for a soul that doesn’t know herself, for then she would not know her Beloved.

This image of the many rooms, the many mansions is so helpful as I try to frame what Arthur has meant to me and to so many. Teresa states that “there are many ways to be in a place, whether that place is within us or not. We occupy spaces differently as we make our own pilgrimage in this life toward God, who is the origin of our journey, our companion on the way, and our end and destination.  Arthur showed up at so many places in our lives and in each of our own journeys with Jesus.  I can tell you that each time he appeared in my life, it marked a different place, a new moment of grace appearing, a new truth God was hoping to reveal about myself, about God. I grew up with Arthur. 

And so, I thought I would share with you some of the rooms, the real rooms, the real mansions, in which I encountered Arthur.  And as I do, I hope and pray that you will be invited to recognize or notice or remember those rooms in which he met you, and ask, what was God revealing to you in those rooms, in those particular encounters along the Way, along your spiritual journey.

My first encounter was in an actual mansion. I remember the day that Ruth McElraevy called me to say that I was being invited to meet the Bishop at 1335 Asylum Avenue in Hartford for my first interview to discuss the possibility of being a postulant for the priesthood.  There was warmth in Ruth’s invitation, but I also felt some deep gravity about the importance of this meeting.

A few weeks later, I arrived at the brick mansion on Asylum Avenue.  Inside, on the dark wood paneled walls, there were large oil portraits of bishops, almost floor to ceiling. They didn’t look happy, or if they smiled, it was more of a smirk, as though they were telling me, “Who are you? What makes you think you belong here?” I took a seat at the bottom of a broad carpeted staircase, with thick oak banisters on each side. I felt like the Cowardly Lion walking down that long corridor leading the Wizard of Oz. I thought maybe before I was called up the stairs, I could just run home.

Bishop Walmsley appeared at the top of the stairs and said, “Mr. Hirschfeld. Rob. Hello” and he beckoned me to his office, one of the many rooms in that mansion.

I entered his light filled office, after being cheerfully greeted by Ruth. We must have talked, but all I remember was that I mostly mumbled, trying to remember what I had early that morning rehearsed I would say about why I felt called to the priesthood.  I guess I didn’t mumble too much, because I was shortly afterward invited to move on in the “Process.” That was the first meeting with Bishop Walmsley. The first mansion or room.

Subsequently, there were more meetings.  My time as a postulant was bumpy. I had some growing up to do, I had a few deep failures and stumbles along my path. I resisted the call, left the Process, and then after three years’ hiatus, I was given another appointment to come to the Mansion on Asylum Avenue.  This time, I was older, less afraid, having less to lose.  Arthur graciously allowed me to return, greeting me like the merciful father welcoming the return of the prodigal son. In those days, in one of the rooms of my soul, Bishop Arthur Walmsley filled the role of a benevolent, steady, patient father. Second Mansion, though it was the same as the first. As Teresa said, there are many ways to be in a space.

There were other rooms where we met over the years. One at Grace Church, Amherst, when he came to have lunch and to invite me into the work of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, though which he hoped the Episcopal Church would commit to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, to address extreme poverty, women’s health and education and environmental health. He had retired as the Bishop of Connecticut by that time, and I got to learn more fully about his understanding of the Church’s role in society.  He believed, and was very convincing, that the Church was a powerful agent of deep change and advocacy in the world.  His experience organizing and leading the Episcopal Church’s Domestic Office in the 1960’s undergirded his confidence in the Church’s voice for justice in race, class and gender relations in our country.  When in his presence, I always felt the presence of certain kind of authority and conviction and influence.  When the Gospels speak of Jesus’ authority--as in “Jesus spoke as one who had authority”-- the word used is ex-ousia.  It came out of his essence, not his position, or credentials, or degrees, or his even ordination. It was Arthur’s own exousia, his Arthur-ness, that always made me stand up and notice, and even sometimes quiver a bit in his presence. I don’t think I am alone in this.

Let me take you to another mansion in my walk with Jesus and Arthur.  (Let’s assume they were both in this).  It was about five years ago.  I had become the bishop of this fine diocese of New Hampshire, where Roberta and Arthur had made their home in retirement and had worshipped and become friends with so, so many of the good people here.  At that time Arthur was in charge of the network of spiritual directors here and he served as Chaplain to the Retired Clergy.  He was devoted to this diocese and such a close and steady friend to many as the Church here sought to thrive “in the eye of the storm” to borrow the phrase that +Gene Robinson used as the title of his book to describe the ministry of church after his own momentous election.   

This time, Paula Bibber, who was the Executive Assistant to the Bishop came into my office to tell me that Arthur Walmsley had arrived for his appointment at 63 Green Street, the former Tuck Mansion just a block from here.  I walked to the top of the carpeted oak-railed staircase, and below me, sitting in a chair at the bottom of the steps, was Arthur.  A little smaller, grayer, thinner, but still Arthur. Another mansion, this time everything reversed.

So, here’s what happened. I actually felt more frightened, more scared, timid, insecure, inadequate, unprepared, anxious, then the day I sat at the bottom of those stairs on Asylum Avenue in Hartford 28 years before.   The reason I felt these all these things --rather than being amused and tickled at this strange turn of events, this reversal that sometimes takes place as parents diminish and children grow up, or as our students become our teachers, or as life just twists and turns-- the reason I felt such butterflies was that Arthur had come wanting not just to be a colleague or a brother bishop or a partner in church business. What he came for, I somehow knew, was to be a friend.  God was calling me to let go of all the paternal and patriarchal...all the trappings of this office, all the mansions as terminals rather as stations along the way...God was calling us to become friends.  And that, to me, was more scary, because it meant we had to be vulnerable to each other. We would talk about the pain of the church, how it was always dying in order to be reborn, but that still meant a dying. We would talk about the cost of leadership, the sacrifice it placed on our spouses and children. We would talk about what it meant to have limits. By God’s grace, that’s what I, in the deeper mansions and rooms of my soul, was what I wanted, too.  Jesus said in the Gospel of John “I no longer call you servants, but friends.” We became friends. Friendship is a gift that the Bible says “is the medicine of life.” And he was your friend.  He cherished you, I believe, because he saw the mansions of God in you, and he saw the light that radiated clearly like a crystal from your souls, so many of them he shepherded, light that perhaps we couldn’t see ourselves because of ourselves.  

One more room in God’s house with many mansions. The room I will describe now is perhaps my favorite room in all of New Hampshire.  It is the timber-framed barn or wood-shed that Arthur and Roberta converted into their--what’s do you call it?--their family room?  Dining room?  Gathering room? It’s a room that actually defies naming.  It’s where you’ll find Roberta’s piano. It’s where the tall built-in bookcases stand, that Arthur built by hand. There is a large work of abstract art on one wall. There is a coffee table with book titles that are always changing. There is a small table near a window that overlooks a meadow in Deering. Arthur loved this place. Above the table is a little light under which is a small icon of Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity at table. It’s there where Roberta, Arthur, Elizabeth and John shared so many meals.  Maybe it’s the room where Arthur met so many of you for Spiritual Direction. (After his death, I can’t count how many people told be they had Arthur as a spiritual director, and the shear diversity of people made me wonder how he did it! He truly must have had many rooms in his own soul to hold us all!). It’s the room where we have shared prayers, laughter, Arthur’s soup, remembrances, hopes and struggles for the church and for the world in their changes for the better and for the worse. I imagine it such room where Arthur is now, still learning, serving, listening, loving, having conversation with the likes of St. Teresa, Thomas Merton.

Roberta, know that we’ll come over whenever you want. We can bring the meal. Know of our abiding love and prayers and our presence.  Friendship.  Friendship, the medicine of life.

Arthur, we pray that you find yourself today at the heavenly table with all your friends who have gone before, and we will someday join you to feast at that holy table with your creator who made you holy, with Jesus who was, and is always, your friend, and with the Holy Spirit who blessed you with so many gifts and who continues to recreate and reform the church, and this world. And may the friendship we shared with Arthur extend into deeper friendships with each other, and so heal this world. That would so please and delight his heart, which had such room for all of us.   Amen.

Posted
AuthorLaura Simoes

Bishop A. Robert Hirschfeld

Eve of the Holy Cross; September 13, 2017

Diaconal Ordination of Sandi Albom, Shawn LaFrance, Charles Nichols

Texts: Philippians 2:5-11

            John 12:31-36b

We gather tonight to ordain three new deacons of the Church on the Feast of the Holy Cross. Charlie, Sandi, Shawn, you have each travelled the way of the cross to this moment in your lives when you stand ready and eager to dedicate your lives to service in the name of the Crucified Jesus and his Risen Body, the Church. From now on, I hope that whenever September 14th comes around, you will pause in your prayers and reflect on this new anniversary on your personal calendar. What will Holy Cross Day mean for you and your ministry as a deacon, as a servant of Jesus, his church and his world? How might the observance of the day, and your being ordained on this day, shape or inform your diaconate and your ministry as deacon? 

A little investigation into the meaning of this feast would be helpful. Some history that I will quote from a commentary on the Book of Common Prayer. [1]

This feast is known as "The Exaltation of the Holy Cross" in the Eastern church and in missals and sacramentaries of the Western church, and it is known as "The Triumph of the Cross" in the Roman Catholic Church. It was one of the 12 great feasts in the Byzantine liturgy. The 1979 BCP is the first American Prayer Book to include Holy Cross Day.”

Historically, the feast has been associated with the dedication on Sept. 14, 335, of a complex of buildings built by the Emperor Constantine (c. 285-337) in Jerusalem on the sites of the crucifixion and Christ's tomb.

Constantine's mother, Helena (c. 255- c. 330), supervised the construction of the shrine, and a relic believed to be the cross was discovered during the work of excavation.  [I believe that the church of the Holy Sepulchre in the center of the Old City in Jerusalem contains some of the remains of the building that had been destroyed, rebuild, destroyed, and rebuilt by centuries of conflict among the three Abraham faiths over the centuries].

Mythologies around the True Cross abound. The artist Pierro della Fransceco in the apse of the Church of St. Francis in Arrezzo, Italy has a series of frescos that tell the story of Tree of Life--you know, the other tree in the Garden of Eden--that had become the source of the wood for the Cross on which our Lord was crucified.  So, there’s a kind of magical power around the idea of the true cross, not unrelated to the magical power of the Indiana Jones movies about the Arc of the Covenant or the Holy Chalice, the Holy Grail.

All this is to say that there is a layer of meaning about the cross that has little to do with what actually happened on the cross, which was, let’s be honest, a bloody execution motivated by religious insecurity and at the hands of a thin-skinned and anxious empire.

Remember, it was Constantine, a non-Christian, who before a battle against a competing Emperor in the year 312 was told in a vision that if his army bore the symbol of the chi-rho, a form of the cross on their shield, they would be victorious.  They wore the cross, Constantine won the battle at the Milvian Bridge. Constantine converted to Christianity, making it the state religion, and in very short order, Christians were no longer a persecuted minority in the Roman Empire, but enjoyed a place of privilege in government, society, and the economy.  Thus Christendom, the era when the marriage between Christianity and the presumption of worldly power, military might, and privilege was born.  As was stated, in some places, today is known not as Holy Cross Day, but the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, the triumph of a Christianity that, having once been oppressed, then becomes aligned with, and an agent of, the oppressor.

Which is not, praise God, what we are celebrating tonight. What we celebrate tonight is a triumph of a much more lasting, eternally enduring, utterly more liberating.  Because, brothers and sisters, Christendom is dead. Indeed, there are many in our culture, nationally, locally, and even in the Church, who grieve and kick against the notion that Christians should accept their status as being on the margins of a society, and who insist that Church needs to reclaim its former entitled and privileged place in society.  Many reject or bristle at the notion of a Church that identifies with the weak, the oppressed, the homeless, the unarmed, the diseased, the rejected, the addicted. And yet, these are precisely the qualities of being human that were lifted up. By Jesus. In his body.  On the hard wood of the cross.

In “by this sign we conquer,” it is not a triumph of military or political power that we celebrate, but the power of weakness, of utter surrender, of vulnerability. Of self-emptying through which the Lordship of Christ springs and brings light, as Jesus says tonight, in the darkness. These are the realities of our frail existence that make the cross we bear indeed, true.  And they are the qualities that the devoted follower of Jesus Christ is called to accept, embrace, and see as the means of our salvation. As an ancient prayer goes, “Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.”  As deacons, you are called to proclaim, remind, and even annoy the Church (including your bishop!) with the message of the True Cross, that path of solidarity with humanity, both broken and beautiful, as none other than the way to the renewal of Christ’s Church. A story of that way to God through the human comes to mind.

Years ago, my oldest son and I had a chance to visit friends in Southern California. It was the week after Easter, and, after a long cold snowy winter in Western Mass, we were looking forward to seeing sun and ocean and to cast off our wet New England wool for a bathing suit and running shorts and t-shirts. On the boardwalk along the beach, we saw roller-bladers with ear plugs, sunglasses. Everyone seemed so fit, sculpted, glamorous, very wealthy, healthy, bronzed, enhanced. On a run along the board walk, I turned to Willie and said, “Toto, we are not in the land of Emily Dickinson anymore.”  It was Sunday morning, and the only reference I saw of Jesus were small gold crosses on tanned men doing their bench presses on Muscle Beach.

We turned to run on the beach itself.  Then in the distance I saw something in the mist of the surf.  An assembly was gathering. I saw a huge white banner flapping in the sea breeze.  As we ran closer I began to make out that people were coming together around the banner which was staked next to a small amplifier speaker and a man with a microphone sitting on the sand.  “Come on in, friends,” he said in a gentle voice.  I looked around and there were people coming who seemed as sleek and groomed as though they were from Hollywood. Others were pushing what must have been stolen shopping carts, their wheels getting clogged in the beach sand. Every shade of skin was there: there were Anglos, Latino, black, Asian, native American, men, women, transgendered, gay, straight. Old, wrinkled, gray-bearded, teenager and middle-aged. Some seemed to be carrying the worn torn soiled sleeping bags they’ve lived in near the pier.  All were there.  The whole span of humanity. “What is this?” I wondered.

And then the man with the microphone shouted, “Good Morning everybody. My name is Jorge, and I am an Addict and it’s a beautiful day!”

And the hundred or so gathering…they were still coming onto the beach, shouted back, “Hi, Jorge!” 

And I looked again what was flapping in the breeze. It was a large, huge, white flag.  A white flag. The symbol of surrender!  We had stumbled upon what I would later learn was the largest twelve step meeting in California.  Outside. Every Sunday. Under the sign of the white flag that could just as easily meant to those gathered…“by this sign conquer.”

It could have been the cross, but for many of us, the cross is a symbol of privilege, of religious domination, of anything but surrender. I have spoken to Jews and Muslims who have been the victims of persecution or ridicule in the name of the Church who really get nervous around proud displays of the Cross.  This is part of our heritage, too.

But I wonder what would our church look like if we see the sign of the cross with the same joy, sense of liberation, serenity, purpose and fellowship as did all those on the beach who gathered to admit their powerlessness, their limitations, and, putting aside all need to keep up appearances, sat in the dirt with each other and asked for their God to get them through just one more day.

That’s what the Holy Cross means for me.  Another story, that I think you probably have your own version of, and if you don’t yet, you will as a deacon.  Last Sunday I walked out of a Church where I believed I, as their bishop, helped. At least I did no harm.  I was feeling relieved, exhilarated, even gratified in my work and role.  I was walking to my car parked on the street and I could hear a Jeep coming down the road.  Not wanting to open the door and get side swept, I waited for it to pass.  And just as it did, the passenger chose that exact moment to flick his cigarette butt right at me.  So much for my happy, triumphant Sunday.  Again, if you haven’t had an experience like that yet, you will as a deacon.  The collar invites these events, sometimes.

My blood began to boil, as I thought to offer another sign to the Jeep as it revved past me. But then, by God’s grace, and only by God’s grace, I chose to breathe, and even smile, and to pray. I waved.  This is where we are now.  Post Christendom. Post Constantine, relying solely on the Christ who had much worse thrown at him and who answered ridicule, hatred, and insults with love, prayer, forgiveness, prayer. This is the way God calls us.  This is, sometimes, the way of the cross.  Pray. And there is a power in that that stems from more than any accomplishment, any worldly or ecclesiastic success we might enjoy. The power that comes from the love of God who chose love over retaliation and humiliation over domination. I don’t know if my smile or my prayer accomplished anything beyond letting my sadness and anger dissipate, or anything beyond sending a ripple of peace and light into a sin-darkened road.  Just a ripple, and that may have been the most significant thing that I could have done that whole day. Pray and lift up our humanity to God. 

So, on this day, let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who,

though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness, And being found in human form

he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

Therefore, God also highly exalted him.

May your service as deacons be the means by which you carry the awful and beautiful cross of Jesus, and may God supply you with sufficient joy and grace in following the way he leads, that you may find true life and peace in your service.  Thank you for saying yes to this calling.  AMEN.

[1] https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/holy-cross-day

Posted
AuthorLaura Simoes