Bishop Hirschfeld's Address to the 215th Diocesan Convention

Convention Address

Saturday, November 4, 2017

By the Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld

Bishop, Episcopal Church of New Hampshire

From the Gospel of Matthew that we just heard:

“...and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

From the Acts of the Apostles (Chapter 17, verse 6-7)

 

             “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also...they are acting contrary to the deeds of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.”

 

Oh God, may the words of my mouth, and the mediations of our hearts, and our worship of you this morning, and the work of our hands in this world, be acceptable to you, and this I pray in the name of Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit whose mission is turning us upside down in order that we may be found turned up right in God’s eternal realm. AMEN

I want to begin with a story that some of you may have heard before.  It involves water. And soon we will share a meal together. And we seem to be following a God of countless surprises.  So we are doing what Christians do:  We show up (thank you all the hours you have taken to show up here for this Convention).  We tell stories.  We splash water. We share food. And, God surprises.

So, here’s a story which will take me, I hope you’ll see, back to the Sermon on the Mount.

About seven years ago my friend and I planned on continuing a tradition we had started some years previously.  On the day before Thanksgiving, he and I would get into our narrow single rowing shells and take the last rowing session of the year. Now, I’ve been rowing for more than 40 years, and I think I know what I’m doing.  But this day had its’ own surprise.  It was November, the temperature outside was in the upper 30s, the water temperature in upper 40s. It was not something I would encourage anyone to do. But we’ve always done this this way before and so we launched from the shore, our feet chilled because had to wade in. The local college had already removed the docks for the winter.  This would be a last, bracing row allowing us both to feel that the Thanksgiving Feast the next day would be deserved.  (Yes, my inner Calvinism is showing).

About a mile and half upstream, something happened.  I began to feel myself turn over, and at the last minute, I noticed that the gate of the oarlock on one side was not tied down.  I had forgotten to turn the little knob that held my oar in place, and it had just popped out.  There was nothing to keep me upright and, suddenly, I was upside down, my head underwater, under COLD water, and the hull of my shell above me. The shoes were affixed to the bottom of the shell were old lace up track shoes.  That meant that my feet and legs were tied to the boat, and I could not get easily released.  I was upside down, about to either drown, or go into shock. 

Somehow, needless to say, I managed to unlace myself and get free, brought to shore and warmth, though it took several days before I could feel my feet again.  It made for a special Thanksgiving, though I chose not to tell my mother what had happened until just this past summer when I told this story at the end of our River of Life Pilgrimage. Just let me break from the story here and say that soon after I told this story at the final Eucharist of the River Pilgrimage, before setting out for the last stretch of our trip to the sea, one of our guides, Mark Kutolowski, sitting in the stern of our canoe, decided to flip us over in a plunge that celebrated our having made possible a pilgrimage that safely allowed almost 100 pilgrims to participate in the journey of prayer, contemplation, community in Christ from the Canadian border of New Hampshire to Long Island Sound along the Connecticut River.  It was a journey into Christ, and showed us a new way to live in Christian community. Every three days, strangers became fellow pilgrims.  Steve Blackmer, Jo Brooks, our chief logistics officer and operational miracle worker, and our guides of water and spirit, Mark and Lisa Kutolowski, deserve thanks and praise for changing so many lives this summer by organizing the River of Life Pilgrimage.

But, back to the meaning of the story.  Here we are, this year, in a church which is of course, an upturned boat.  Look above.  There is the keel above us.  Imagine the gunwales along the side.  See the ribs that that provide the structure of our navis, the Latin word for a boat or a ship.  In fact, we are all sitting in what is called the Nave.  A fleet of these is called a navy, and our steering of these vessels, setting the course of these ships is called navigation. 

How are we navigating our course in this world?  God seems to say that unless we are upside down, unless we see our navigation as falling upward, to borrow the term of the spiritual writer Richard Rohr, we aren’t really following the way of Jesus. Unless we see ourselves rejoicing in being upside down, we should reconsider whether we are indeed participating at all in the Jesus movement.

I tell this story because we are tipping over, if we haven’t already.  This is the message of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in which he says that the dominant ways of this world, and the ways of God as they are described on the Beatitudes, are inversed. 

The world does not reward the meek...they are losers.  Peacemakers?  We are told that they should waste their time.  The merciful, pathetic and weak.  Those who hunger and the thirst for righteousness? A joke, more losers. Those who mourn...get over it.  Thus, says the dominant culture.  But Jesus says all these are blessed, which means that they have favor in God’s eyes. God holds them with loving kindness. In Jesus, God overturns the economy of the world in the ministry, rejection, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As Julian of Norwich said, “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God!”

The posture and position of Jesus, the Way of Jesus, is to learn how to fall over, to learn how to live an upside down life where our strength is known in our weakness, where our weakness is our strength, when change draws us to depend on the unchanging steadfast love of God in our relationships with others, even though they may look and sound and view the world differently than we do.

Who among us have not experienced having their lives been turned upside down? A collapse of a marriage or relationship that you believed would be your stable ground?  A loss of a job? A diagnosis that turned your belief in the stability of your health in its head? A conflict, or a period of spiritual doubt or questioning that suddenly has you questioning everything? Who among us has not experienced their local parish begin to tip over? A political season that makes you question so much of what we believed to be unassailable, where your neighbors suddenly seem like strangers who we need to meet again as though for the first time.  All these experiences can be described in at least one of the Beatitudes, the list of those who are blessed according to Jesus.

I offer this upside down, falling upwards vision of the Kingdom as the lens by which we see what God is up to in our midst.  On the one hand, no one can deny that the mainline denominations, including the Episcopal Church, are experiencing a kind of turning over.  Our Average Sunday attendance, generally, not uniformly, is declining. Of more concern, perhaps, is the decline in the number of baptized members. We more and more find ourselves on the margins of our public discourse. 

Here’s an example, recently a strong majority of Bishops signed on to a letter urging our President and members of congress to repair the protections given to children of refugees and immigrants.  Our statement, printed in the New York Times, was grounded in solid biblical teaching for love of neighbor. We linked our advocacy for vulnerable refugees with the people if Israel, who themselves were sojourners in a foreign and oppressive land. As Christians, our collective memory of that experience tells us how they are to treat the stranger in our midst.

The response to this letter, was relative silence. That silence leads me to consider how things have shifted as our Church no longer enjoys the same prestige, privilege, and power that many of us remember.  Instead we are a voice on the fringe, in the wilderness. The idea that Christianity will be supported by the culture and that Christianity should support the powers of the world...all that is turned on its head, just as it did in the earliest days of the Jesus Movement when John the Baptist cried out in the wilderness on the banks of the Jordan.

For many this will be a cause for deep sadness, grief, resentment, and frustration. And I can sympathize for those who are experiencing this loss as a death.  For others, it is death most welcome, unleashing the power of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. I believe we are in the midst of a new reforming of the Church, allowing us to walk closer to Jesus.  We find ourselves closer and closer to the experience of the early days of the Church which found its purpose and joy in prayer, in love of neighbor, in reading and study of scripture, in baptizing, sharing the Body and Blood of the Risen Jesus and seeking Jesus in those who were most different from us: the poor, the naked, the hungry, the imprisoned, the rejected.  In those days they looked no so much at Average Sunday Attendance, but for Average Weekly Encounters with Jesus...AWE.  Just like when the first disciples heard Jesus preach a sermon on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  His words he flipped the world on its head. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Where do we see God each week? Each day? If we are not people expecting to see God every day, then God will certainly turn us over until we do. “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God!”

Last week a goodly number, invited by Sandi Albom and Susan Ackley, came together for prayer and retreat at Grace Church, East Concord to speak about the spiritual power available to those who are in Recovery from Addiction from any substance or damaging habit.  Ask anyone grounded in recovery they will tell you the freedom and power that come from surrender to God, or whom they may call their Higher Power, and they may speak of falling upward.

Just ask the people of Holy Spirit, Plymouth, and St. Mark’s, Ashland, and the long difficult road they have been on as they have chosen to worship the Lord together and to seek ways of pursuing God’s mission among the faculty, students, staff of Plymouth State and among those who live in that region.  Selling a church building is no small or easy thing, and I pray that the pain of this change will give way to the energy of renewal in ministry, building bridges over the turbulent waters of the Pemigewasset River.

Ask the people of Epiphany, Newport, and St. Andrew’s, New London, who are building bridges and together undertaking a new venture in mission, inviting youth to sing and their families to worship in a newly renovated space in that stone church at the edge of the town green in Newport.

Ask the people of Union-St. Luke’s, Trinity, and Prince of Peace Lutheran Church who have just called a new rector to lead them into a new partnership with which God is doing a new thing in our midst, only imagined years ago.

I have experienced AWE when I think of the new amazing paths being forged by the saints along the northern reaches of the Connecticut River where St. Paul’s, Lancaster, St. Mark’s, Groveton, and St. Steven’s, Colebrook, have formed partnerships with the area schools for a summer camp experience and after-school programs, and have paved the way for a new partnership with Big Brothers-Big Sisters which that organization has long hoped for.  Worship is lively, inviting and extends beyond the walls of the church, and people are taking notice of a new life in the Episcopal Church in the North Country.  This has been just one example of how our tending the vine by extending our care to All Our Kids, including the children in the neighborhoods of our churches has bolstered our congregational vitality even as we stand with the most vulnerable in our midst.  I want to commend the Our Kids Commission, under the leadership of Ed Doyle and Tina Pickering, for its committed support of such partnerships that bring our care to the youth in New Hampshire: the Choir School of St. John’s, Portsmouth, the Community Music School of Claremont, the Theater program at Christ Church Exeter.

Closer to this neighborhood, the faithful of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Dunbarton, are returning to the mode of evangelism it practiced in its early days.  Morning prayer, led by trained lay person, with a schedule of clergy who celebrate the Eucharist 2-3 times a month allow this beautiful church to remain vibrant without living beyond its means.  Tomorrow, I will celebrate the new ministry of Concord Fire Chief Dan Andrus as Lay Pastoral Leader of that congregation.  That experiment may indeed become a model for some of our smaller congregations that are navigating the waters of ministry in a world that might otherwise just as soon see them roll over and disappear.  A new coat of paint in Dunbarton, a return to the original color scheme, seems to be an outward and visible sign of their original desire to show forth the love of God in that neighborhood. 

I see AWE inspiring average weekly encounters when I visited in Laundry Love out of Grace Church, Manchester. Initiated by Grace parishioner Brian Guimond, Laundry Love is about to celebrate two years of monthly engagement with their neighbors at Granite State Laundry. The concept is spreading through Episcopal churches across the country, fulfilling the church’s mission to get out and share Christ’s love in the community. Out of the familiar setting of the church building, into the neighborhood, getting to know the neighbors by name and by their stories-This is one way that the Jesus movement toward the Beloved Community looks like...it looks like almost 4,000 pounds of laundry where they get to have contact with 100 households including many children.

The newly blessed and powerful solar panels of All Saint’s, Wolfeboro, were overshadowed in their light-producing power by the community discussions that All Saints’ co-sponsored with the Town Library, a local bookseller and the Congregational Church about our nation’s agonizing divisions around race, class, and religion. These must have been conversations that demanded the courage of being vulnerable about some uncomfortable truths of our society.  If we are falling, we are falling upward, opening ourselves to some difficult truthful discussions which is often the way that Jesus leads us toward the heavenly realm. 

God helped us do an amazing new thing in Tilton, where three years ago we closed a parish and began to wait in the Holy Spirit to guide us.  A dream that Jason Wells shared with us of establishing an intentional community of prayer, fellowship and volunteer service for young people seeking to discern God’s will in their lives. This dream has been realized as Laura Simoes and her team has opened the Assisi Program this fall. The newly renovated undercroft of Trinity Church, Tilton, is now the home of four dedicated women who pray, discern, study, and offer their gifts in different non-profit organizations in central and Southern New Hampshire. I would like to introduce our Assisi Fellows (Sandy, Bailey, Niambi, Anna) as I bid your ongoing prayers for them and their journey with us in witness to God’s love. Such apostles as these may indeed turn the world upside down. 

And speaking of being turned upside down, or at least experiencing some change, you’ve heard by now the news of the upcoming retirement in January of my Canon to the Ordinary, Hannah Anderson. Hannah’s wisdom, her dedicated and steadfast work to serve the clergy and people of the Church in New Hampshire, her care for all of us are unreplaceable.  I am so deeply grateful for her contemplative, and yet active, presence in times of difficult decisions and conversations, the light and the joy she brings to her work, and most of all, to her friendship.  Hannah, you have helped in manifold ways to help us navigate the course of falling upward in the deep trust that God will turn us aright. I hope you know the affection, admiration, and love of this diocese as you set forth with Bob on the journey of your ministry in retirement from our midst. 

And, I wish also to thank another friend and colleague whose ministry is unique, as far as I know, in the Episcopal Church.  Our Canon for Lay Leadership will become Canon for Lay Leadership Emerita after this year.  Judith Esmay has seen so many changes and upheavals and shifts, and yet has been very close to the happy navigations of so parishes. Judith knows by heart the Canons and Constitutions of the Episcopal Church and of the Diocese of New Hampshire. She has been a Vestry member, a Warden, a Deputy to the General Convention, a Trustee, Chair of a Search Committee for the Bishop of New Hampshire. She initiated the School for Vestries, which became the Institute for Lay Leadership, which set the stage for yet another iteration of education and formation for all the baptized. She has been for many years a mentor for Education for Ministry at St. Thomas, Hanover Judith is currently the President of the Standing Committee, of which, thankfully, she will remain. Judith Esmay has given this diocese such service since she and her beloved husband Bob arrived on the Hanover plain from New Jersey. I hope this Convention will express its deep gratitude and love for Judith, even though, thank Jesus, she will still wear the canon’s cassock which she herself sewed in honor and respect for the office she so capably occupied.

We continue to walk together, to set sail together, to row together, to navigate the troubled waters of our world, holding each other in the Spirit, knowing that in Christ, God will turn us where we ought to be.  This morning we will consider, and I pray enthusiastically, choose chose, to answer the call of our Presiding Bishop by entering the sacred journey toward becoming the Beloved Community. By doing so, we will embark on a pilgrimage with Jesus.  The road to reconciliation, whether its among races, classes, parishes, Christians, or those of other faiths, is long and often takes unexpected and even undesired turns. We know that is more tempting to fall into the false categories of division, hatred and suspicion that seem to be dominant voice of our anxious and troubled world.  Let it not be so for us, the Episcopal Branch or Vine of the Jesus Movement.  Jesus shows up in the wilderness of our relationships—“in the land of unlikeness” -- as a poet says. May the words of Jesus Sermon on the Mount be for us this morning an invitation the join God’s mission in creating Beloved Community for all God’s children.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. (Matthew 5:14-15)

13th on the 13th: Movie Night with the Diversity Committee

On Monday, November 13th, the Diversity Committee of the Episcopal Church of NH is screening the film, 13th, at the Red River Theatres in Concord. The film explores the history of race and the criminal justice system in the United States. Its title refers to the 13th Amendment

The screening will begin at 6pm and run approximately 1 1/2 hours. After the showing, there will be a light reception and Q&A at St. Paul's Church, 21 Centre Street in Concord.

There is no admission fee, but a donation will be requested to help defray the cost. The screening room can seat only 109 people, so you will need to register in advance. A link to the registration site is on our website, www.nhepiscopal.org/events.

This event is made possible with a grant from the Reconciliation Commission of the Episcopal Church of NH.

To download a copy of the poster and to learn more about the Episcopal Church’s work in NH, visit https://www.nhepiscopal.org/diversity-committee.

All Saints' Day/All Faithful Departed...What's the Difference?

Although All Saints’ Day is celebrated each year on November 1, since it is one of the seven principal feast days on the church’s lectionary calendar, many Episcopal churches will celebrate All Saints’ Day today, the first Sunday in November. However, on the lectionary calendar, today, November 2, is also the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.

What is the difference between All Saints’ Day and the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed?

“In the New Testament, the word ‘saints’ is used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community,” explains “Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints” (Church Publishing, 2010). “From very early times, however, the word ‘saint’ came to be applied primarily to persons of heroic sanctity” (p. 664).

So, although All Saints’ Day, November 1, technically, includes all deceased Christians, historically, there has been a strong inclination to remember and honor our personal loved ones on a separate day.

In the Catholic Church this remembrance on the day after All Saints’ Day is called All Souls’ Day, when the bereaved have the oppor- tunity to offer prayers and masses for loved ones who have died. However, “Holy Women, Holy Men” explains that this practice was rejected by many Protestant reformers because the theology behind the observance was associated with the medieval doctrine of Purga- tory along with the practice of paying for masses to be said for the dead to assist their souls into heaven.

“Holy Women, Holy Men” goes on to explain that at the time of the English Reformation in the mid-16th century, All Souls’ Day was integrated into the celebration of All Saints’ Day in the Church of England. But by the 19th century, some parishes influenced by the Anglo Catholic Revival reinstated the observance of All Souls’ Day on November 2. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer officially restored the observance in the Episcopal Church, renaming it the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.

As “Holy Women, Holy Men” notes, although the observance had been eliminated for hundreds of years, “a renewed understanding of its meaning has led to a widespread acceptance of this com- memoration among Anglicans, and to its inclusion as an optional observance in the calendar of the Episcopal Church” (p. 664).

Collect for All Saint’s Day (November 1)
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one commu- nion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 245).

Collect for All Faithful Departed (November 2)
O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. Amen (“Holy Women, Holy Men,” (p. 665). 

Content and Collects from The Episcopal Church (2014)

Bishop Hirschfeld's Funeral Homily for The Right Reverend Arthur E. Walmsley

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.

New Anglican Global Interreligious Commission Formed

A new global commission to “bring mutual understanding and build trust where there is ignorance, fear and hostility” between different faith groups has been launched Oct. 6 at the Anglican Communion’s Primates Meeting in Canterbury, England.

The new Anglican Inter Faith Commission had been requested by members of the Anglican Consultative Council when they met in Lusaka last year. Primates from 33 Anglican provinces heard how the new body had now been established.

Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa Mouneer Anis will chair the new group, which will meet for the first time in Cairo in February next year. He addressed the primates in a video message filmed in his diocese’s new media centre. Each province in the Anglican Communion has been invited identify suitable members of the commission.

“Building on the strong foundations laid by the Network for Inter Faith Concerns (NIFCON), the Anglican Inter Faith Commission . . . will work both internationally and in regional groups across the Anglican Communion, in the first instance to gather research into the engagement of Anglicans with people of other faiths,” a spokesperson for the commission said. “It will look at both the challenges and the opportunities of inter faith dialogue, of working together with other faith communities for the common good and of witnessing to and sharing the love of God with others.

“The commission will listen carefully to the experiences of Anglicans in all the provinces and will seek to identify good practice which can be shared throughout the Communion. It will then develop regional and thematic work streams which will seek to enrich the life and ministry of the Anglican Communion worldwide in its relationships with people from faith backgrounds other than Christian.”

At a press conference in a building overlooking Canterbury Cathedral, at the end of the Primates Meeting,  Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that “the issues of interfaith strain, stress, even conflict, are global, they are generational and they are ideological.”

He said that the new commission “will bring together the wisest people across the Communion to work on this area in the places of highest tension with the aim of replacing diversity in conflict with diversity in collaboration.”

The commission would operate at “different levels,” Welby said. “There is a very strong emphasis on operating at a global level, but also at provincial and regional levels . . . because different levels face different issues of conflict between faiths, or of tension between faiths, and potential conflict; and opportunities for collaboration between faith groups depending upon whether Christians are a majority or minority in the area, or what the other faith groups are in the area, and so on.

“It will look at both issues around the theology of our differences and how we handle those, and also practical application of working together.”

The secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Josiah Idowu-Fearon, told ACNS that at a time of “ever increasing influence of extremists . . . among the major religious communities in a significant number of our provinces, this Inter Faith Commission and its objectives are a welcome and timely step in the right direction.

“This is an opportunity for the Anglican Communion to play its role in every part of the world where we are present.”

Speaking at the press conference, he added: “particularly in parts of the world where Christians are a minority, with this Anglican commission, the minority status will now have something bigger to look up to. It means when that country speaks there are 165 other countries speaking through that local representation.”

--From the Anglican News Service (2017)

Episcopal Relief & Development Responds to Fires in Northern CA

Episcopal Relief & Development is partnering with the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California to provide emergency support for those impacted by deadly wildfires in California. The assistance includes food and other critical supplies, housing and the storage of belongings.

“The diocese and church partners are coordinating their efforts during this challenging time. The fires have not been contained and last minute evacuations continue,” said Katie Mears, Director of Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program. “We are in regular communication with the dioceses throughout California as they monitor the fires, assess damage and coordinate the sheltering and feeding of those affected.”

Eighteen different fires have forced thousands to evacuate and destroyed hundreds of buildings within the diocese. Over 20 wildfires are burning in Napa, Sonoma, Orange and Mendocino counties and other areas across California where a state of emergency has been declared. According to local authorities, at least 23 people have died, with over 250 reported missing.

Wildfires have burned over 190,000 acres, including 13 Napa Valley wineries which serve as the foundation of the local economy. Fires continue to be fueled by strong winds, dry brush and low humidity. Dangerous conditions persist with winds up to 50 miles per hour hampering firefighting efforts and with no rain in the current forecast. The air is thick with smoke and ash. Some areas have power and cell phone outages.

“I am very impressed by the wisdom among leaders in the Diocese of Northern California,” Mears said. “Margaret Dunning, the Diocesan Disaster Coordinator, and others have been working tirelessly for over six years to increase congregational preparedness and to network with neighboring dioceses and NGO partners. The diocese has responded successfully to several smaller events over the last few years. This large-scale emergency builds on that wisdom and experience.”

Please support Episcopal Relief & Development’s response to the wildfires in California by donating to the US Disaster Fund and pray for all those impacted.

For more than 75 years, Episcopal Relief & Development has served as a compassionate response to human suffering in the world. The agency works with more than 3 million people in nearly 40 countries worldwide to overcome poverty, hunger and disease through multi-sector programs, using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework. An independent 501(c)(3) organization, it works closely with Anglican Communion and ecumenical partners to help communities create long-term development strategies and rebuild after disasters.

GUEST BLOG: For Such a Time as This--Homelessness

Guest Blog by Alan Yarborough, Office of Government Affairs, The Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church and The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America continue our united call to Pray, Fast, and Act in support of good policies that provide opportunities for and respect the dignity of people struggling with poverty. As the seasons transition and the days become colder, we answer the call this month by supporting action for people facing homelessness, unaffordable heating utility bills, and extreme housing insecurity.

On October 21, join the EPPN and the presiding bishops of The Episcopal Church and the ELCA as we: 

PRAY for our nation’s elected leaders to stand with those who struggle to secure safe and affordable shelter.

“God of compassion, your love for humanity was revealed in Jesus, whose earthly life began in the poverty of a stable and ended in the pain and isolation of the cross: we hold before you those who are homeless and cold especially in this bitter weather. Draw near and comfort them in spirit and bless those who work to provide them with shelter, food and friendship. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.” – For the Cold and Homeless, from the Church of England

FAST to call attention in our own minds and actions human plight that eviction, poverty, and homelessness create.  

Share on social media using #PrayFastAct and @TheEPPN. On the 21st, post a picture of a dinner place setting with the reason you are fasting this month. We fast on this day in solidarity with people who must choose between paying their utility and housing bills and buying food for their family. Consider participating in an electricity or heating fast by turning it off in your home for the day.

ACT by urging our elected leaders to support strong policy solutions that address affordable housing needs and homelessness.

Prepare yourself for action on the 21st of October by read the Office of Government Relations’ one-pager on advocacy and homelessness at http://bit.ly/FSAToctober. You can also read up on Episcopalians’ commitment to provide affordable housing for the poor, address domestic poverty, and support care and fellowship for veteransLook out for the #PrayFastAct action alert on Friday, October 21, and join us as we pray, fast, and advocate together.

Reconciliation Commission Invites Participation in the NH Immigrant Solidarity Network

"E pluribus unum- Out of many, one. This is a core statement of our identity as a nation and speaks of one of the fundamental ideals of who we are as a people; that we as a nation of immigrants seeking a better life come together and work together to forge out of our diversity and shared humanity a sense of common purpose to be a beacon of light and hope for the rest of the world.

This treasured principle is anchored in our shared commitment to loving our neighbor and offering hospitality to the stranger. This is what has made our nation great. This is our strength; this is the very fabric of who we are."

The Reconciliation Commission of the Episcopal Church of NH invites parishes to sign on as supporters of solidarity, accompaniment or sanctuary with Granite State Organizing Project. Please READ MORE to learn more about how your parish can participate. If you have any questions, please reach out to our Reconciliation Commission Chair, The Rev. Gail Avery.

 

 

Announcement of Retirement

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

 

It is indeed a bittersweet task for me to announce that the Rev. Dr. Hannah Anderson will be retiring as the Canon to the Ordinary as of January 31, 2018.  I am deeply grateful for the five years Hannah has devoted to God’s mission as we have together sought to pursue that mission in this Church of New Hampshire. The bitter part is that I will profoundly miss her presence at Diocesan House and her many gifts of leadership, spiritual listening and counsel, offered generously, wisely, and prayerfully.  However, there is sweetness in hearing how God is calling her to new ventures in creativity, coaching, art, and in the blessing of more time to share together with Bob and their family. 

 

Thankfully, we have time remaining to work together at Diocesan House. I have begun to consider the shape of this office’s ministry after Hannah’s retirement.  Owing in large part to her diligent and creative work and the talents of the Diocesan staff, we are in a very fortunate place. I can take some time to reflect on what the Church needs and how the Bishop’s office can best adapt to these needs. Rather than hurriedly filling the traditional role of the Canon to the Ordinary, I have been spending some time in prayer, reflection and consultation about next steps. I will inform you as soon as a plan emerges.

 

In the meantime, I ask for your prayers for us as we express our gratitude to Hannah and prepare to say farewell to her as the Canon to the Ordinary at a festive gathering, date and place to be determined, in January. Please read a note from Hannah below.

 

Yours faithfully in Christ,

+Rob

The Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld, Bishop, Episcopal Church of NH

 

 

Dear friends and colleagues in the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire,

 

With sadness and joy, I announce to all of you my retirement as Canon to the Ordinary, effective January 31, 2018.  It will mark five years since accepting the call to serve with Bishop Rob Hirschfeld, a colleague and friend since our days of parish ministry in Western Massachusetts.  What a privilege it has been to work with Bishop Rob, the entire staff at Diocesan House and many of you as leaders throughout New Hampshire.  Together, we have grown steadfastly in our capacity to follow Jesus and help birth a new creation in the world.

 

My departure marks a new phase of life into which I will follow God’s call to serve others by offering life coaching, spiritual direction, and creative consultation through my own business.  It is also a new season of life that will allow me an opportunity to spend more time with my family members, travel, and art making.

 

This marks a new chapter in your shared diocesan life, as well.  I pray that, with the Bishop’s faith-filled leadership, you will explore creative and courageous ways to respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit.  I have every confidence in Bishop Rob, diocesan staff and the leadership throughout the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire.

 

During the four months that remain in my ministry as Canon to the Ordinary, there is much to complete in the churches and leaders with whom I have made commitments.   We can trust in the time allotted for our goodbyes, as we trust in God to oversee this transition. 

 

As with any clergy transition in our diocese, I want to honor the importance of setting boundaries with clergy, lay leaders and parishes as I retire.  I will not be in contact with you for a period of at least a year.  Any attendance at a diocesan event would require the Bishop’s knowledge and approval.  Please know that this is not in any way a reflection of my care and affection for all of you.  It is a necessary process that, as painful as it might be, frees up energy and relationship-building for all of our futures.

 

Please know of my deep gratitude for your kindness and relationship in ministry during my tenure.  You have shaped and formed me over the years through the love of Christ.

 

Faithfully,

Hannah+ 

The Rev. Canon Hannah Anderson, DMin, Canon to the Ordinary, Episcopal Church of NH

 

Statement from Bishops United Against Gun Violence on Las Vegas Shootings

Statement from Bishops United Against Gun Violence

October 2, 2017

We share in the grief and horror of people across our country and, indeed, around the world in the wake of last night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas. We have spoken with our Bishops United Against Gun Violence colleague and brother in Christ, Bishop Dan Edwards of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada, and we have offered him and the people of Nevada our prayers and promises of assistance. We stand in solidarity with the diocese and the people of Nevada as they cope with this massacre.

It has become clichéd at moments such as these to offer thoughts and prayers. But as Christians, we must reflect upon the mass killings that unfold with such regularity in our country. And we must pray: for the victims, for their loved ones, for all who attended to the victims in the immediacy of the shooting, for the first responders who do so much to mitigate the awful effects of these shootings, and for the medical personnel who will labor for many days to save the wounded. We must also enter into the sorrow of those who are most deeply affected by our country’s cripplingly frequent outbursts of lethal gun violence. We must look into our own hearts and examine the ways in which we are culpable or complicit in the gun violence that surrounds us every day.

And then, having looked, we must act. As Christians, we are called to engage in the debates that shape how Americans live and die, especially when they die due to violence or neglect. Yet a probing conversation on issues of gun violence continues to elude us as a nation, and this failure is cause for repentance and for shame. It is entirely reasonable in the wake of mass killings perpetrated by murderers with assault weapons to ask lawmakers to remove such weapons from civilian hands. It is imperative to ask why, as early as this very week, Congress is likely to pass a bill making it easier to buy silencers, a piece of equipment that make it more difficult for law enforcement officials to detect gunfire as shootings are unfolding.

Even as we hold our lawmakers accountable, though, we must acknowledge that a comprehensive solution to gun violence, whether it comes in the form of mass shootings, street violence, domestic violence or suicide, will not simply be a matter of changing laws, but of changing lives. Our country is feasting on anger that fuels rage, alienation and loneliness. From the White House to the halls of Congress to our own towns and perhaps at our own tables, we nurse grudges and resentments rather than cultivating the respect, concern and affection that each of us owes to the other. The leaders who should be speaking to us of reconciliation and the justice that must precede it too often instead stoke flames of division and mistrust. We must, as a nation, embrace prayerful resistance before our worse impulses consume us.

We join with the people of God in fervent prayer that our country will honor those murdered and wounded in Las Vegas by joining in acts of repentance, healing, and public conversation about the gun violence that has ripped us apart, yet again.

On Tuesday, October 3 at 9 a.m. Pacific time, churches across the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada will toll their bells in mourning for the victims of the shooting in Las Vegas. Bishops United Against Gun Violence invites congregations across the country to toll their own bells in solidarity at the same time: 9 am Pacific/10 am Mountain/11 am Central/Noon Eastern. The number of times the bells are rung will be based on the number of dead as reported at that time including the perpetrator of the violence. Watch for updates on the Episcopalians Against Gun Violence Facebook page.

A Prayer Attributed to St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, page 833