Author: Bishopfisher

Day 2: We believe in God working in us

As expected, the first day of business for General Convention was very full with prayer and voting on resolutions. So much voting. And serious dialog about key issues in our Church. As we will do everyday, our WMA delegation met at lunch time to discuss what was going on in the House of Bishops and in the House of Deputies. We shared insights, wisdom, prayer and humor.

Our WMA deputies on lunch break PHOTO: T.R. Wallace

What touched my soul the most on this day were two prayerful witnesses against the plague of gun violence. (Bishops United Against Gun Violence used to call it “the public health crisis of gun violence.” Now in our country, with 400 million guns and averaging  more than 110 deaths by gun everyday, “public health crisis” is an inadequate description.)

In the early afternoon, the bishop and deputies of Alabama solemnly gathered at the podium. On June 16th, three members of their St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills had been shot and killed by a man with a gun who came to their monthly potluck supper for Baby Boomers. Several people at the supper extended hospitality and kindness to a stranger who sat alone. And then he opened fire and was stopped by a hero who threw him to the ground until police arrived.

Deputation from Alabama addressing the General Convention (Photo: Scott Gunn for Episcopal News Service)

A resolution was proposed and accepted which read in part:

“The Episcopal Church recognizes and honors the faith and sacrifice of Walter Rainey, Sharon Yeager and Jane Pounds, whose witness demonstrated the call of God’s reconciling purposes by welcoming and eating with a stranger at a church potluck supper…we pause in lament for those who died and for the 18 in attendance who survived and mourn…That we would renew our hope in God’s call to us to embrace the stranger, show kindness to the disheartened,  and forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

Resolution A226
Honoring St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and the Victims of June 16, 2022

The second event of the day concerning the plague of gun violence in our country came at the end of the afternoon legislative session. Yesterday (July 7), just two blocks from the Convention Center, in the very busy and usually peaceful Baltimore Inner Harbor, a man came out of his car with a baseball bat. He was angry at the squeegee workers who come up to the cars. As he approached them, one of the squeegee workers pulled out a gun and fatally shot him.

Bishops United Against Gun Violence led a procession of many bishops and deputies to pray at the sight. Bishop Eugene Sutton of Maryland mourned the person who lost his life and a society in which the poor need to turn to cleaning car windows on the street to survive. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry (who served in Baltimore as a parish priest) gave a powerful call to live as Jesus lived – a man of peace and compassion. And we prayed:

BUAGV pray at the site of most recent gun death in the City of Baltimore (Photo: D.J. Fisher)

“We gather together to call to mind those who have lost their lives, their lives and their loved ones through the scourge of gun violence. We gather from different backgrounds, understandings and cultures to stand together, to dream together, to pray together, to act together. We are angry. Angry at the seeming powerlessness of our leaders and communities to prevent violence. We are tired. Tired of inaction, easy answers and superficial acts of compassion. We are sad. Sad for those who suffer in needless pain the loss of all they cherish.However, we are hopeful. Hopeful that by our prayers, our presence and our persistence, that change will one day come. We gather in vigil and prayer with so many across the nation and across the world to stand as bearers of the light of hope and the flame of peace.”

BUAGV Baltimore public witness July 8, 2022

Addressing gun violence has been a big part of my ministry and yours in WMA. Two weeks after I was ordained bishop, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut happened. Mass killings everywhere in our country  have increased dramatically since then, as have daily murders by gun  in our cities, as well as suicides by gun. It is truly a plague.

And we follow and believe in the Prince of Peace. We follow and believe in the one who died a violent death and returned not with vengeance but offering peace and forgiveness. And as we say at evening prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:

“Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do INFINITELY more than we can ask or imagine.”

The Book of Common Prayer, p. 101

Reducing gun violence in a country addicted to guns, with politicians addicted to getting votes, sometimes seems impossible. But we gather and witness  like we did twice today. We pray as we did today. And when we leave this place, we will advocate over and over and over again. And we believe in God “working in US, who can do INFINITELY more than we can ask or imagine.”

Day One: Just as important as the work are the relationships

Bishops Doug Fisher and Alan Gates sharing the joy of a baseball game at Camden Yards (Photo: Bishop Fisher)

The 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church begins this morning in Baltimore, MD. Each morning, Bishop Fisher will blog about the important deliberations of both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. He will also be reflecting on the experience, the worship and the often palpable presence of Holy Spirit. He bids your prayers for our Deputation and for the holy work ahead.

Greetings from Baltimore where 412 resolutions will be considered in 4 days!

Because of the continued presence of Covid among us, the Triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church has been shortened from 8 days to 4. That work begins today. The work is so important and I’ll address some of those 412 resolutions in these daily blogs. But just as important as the work are the relationships in this community as we gather.

Camden Yards (still one of the best parks in Major League Baseball ) is right next to my hotel. Last night numerous bishops and deputies went to the game. I sat with my brother Massachusetts bishop Alan Gates. Since neither the Yankees nor Red Sox were playing, Alan and I decided to be on the same baseball side for a night and root for the Orioles together. That did not prevent me from pointing to the out-of-town scoreboard that showed the Yankees beating the Red Sox at Fenway. Always gracious, Alan did not pour his beer over my head.

Yesterday was filled with meeting so many old friends in the hallways of the hotel and the Convention Center. People who go back to my New York days. Bishops and Deputies that I have served with these ten years – on committees and in liturgy and on marches for social justice. We have prayed together and shared family stories. So many want to know how our grandchildren are doing. And I look forward to seeing Larry Provenzano today, our good friend who will be presiding at our daughter Grace’s wedding in a few weeks. And Jeff Fisher from Texas who was elected bishop the same day I was in June 2012. “Four Elections, Two Fishers, “ ran the headline in The Living Church. We have had many laughs over the times our meeting credentials get mixed up.

I look forward to working with our deputation from WMA led by the always faithful Tanya Wallace. We will gather everyday to discuss the issues and share stories.

And I miss those who have entered into Eternal Life. Including the Rev. Dr. Diane Vie. Like me, Diane is a priest married to a priest. Diane and I were co-chairs of a committee that helped to educate the Church on the opportunities  and challenges of having over 500 clergy couples. Diane died far too young a week ago. May she rest In peace and rise in glory.

To limit our numbers during Covid, the spouses of bishops are not included. I certainly miss Betsy and we both miss all the spouse friends we have made in this decade of supporting one another. But those relationships run deep and transcend this moment.

And I will miss music. Another Covid restriction is the elimination of singing. The music at General Convention has always been awesome and inspiring. My favorite non-Springsteen song is one we always sing in the House of Bishops. It is “The Canticle of the Turning.” It is one we really need for our country and our world right now. So I will keep the lyrics in my soul this week. Here is the powerful first verse:

My soul cries out with a joyful shout

That the God of my heart is great

And my spirit sings of the wondrous things

That you bring to the ones who wait

You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight

And my weakness you did not spurn

So from east to west shall your name be blest

Could the world be about to turn?

My heart shall sing of the day you bring

Let the fires of your justice burn

Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near

And the world is about to turn!

Text: Rory Cooney

It’s early morning and in two hours we will begin with liturgy and a sermon from our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. As always, he will be inspiring. And he will undoubtedly remind us who we are. “We are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for us.”

I’m blessed to be in this Movement. So blessed.

And when someone says to me today, “How are your grandchildren?” I will happily say, “There is a third one on the way.” And then I promise you I will resist being that guy who says, “You want to see pictures?”

The Jesus Movement rolls on.

This Lent, remember and go deeper.

Photo by Morgan Winston

In 1891 the famous preacher, Bishop Phillips Brooks, preached an Ash Wednesday sermon at All Saints in Worcester. His sermon was entitled, “The History of Sin.” I read the sermon and it is very good. It is what the title indicates and also about God’s forgiveness. But this year I’m choosing to preach on “A Very Partial History of Grace” in Lent 2022. Here’s why.

Lent is about “our mortal nature.” “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” And it is about sin and repentance. Psalm 51 tells us: “I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother’s womb.”

Doesn’t it feel like we have been living through Lent for the last two years? We have remembered we are dust as 900,000 people died of COVID-19 in our country and we lived in fear of the disease. And we have been very aware that sin is all around us as well as within us. The sin of the unimaginable insurrection at our Capitol. The sin of racism which has been with us for hundreds of years. The sin of failure to address climate change. The sin of the invasion of Ukraine.

Maybe a way to address the lived Lent of this time is with an old/new approach. The Book of Common Prayer tells us that for the first Christians “Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism.” Tom Synan, Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst, writes this:

“For these converts, I can’t imagine Lent was a sad time. Lent was an exciting and important time. Why? Because they were on their way to becoming Christians. They completely understood that transformation was theirs to have and by the end of the season they would be a new creation. Through the water of baptism their old selves would die and they would be raised to a new life of grace.”

The Rev. Thomas P. Synan

Perhaps, we could respond to the Lenten life of these two years by committing ourselves to a renewal of our baptism, to recommitting ourselves with the enthusiasm of those early Christians to following Jesus in his mission of mercy, compassion and hope that is out to change the world. Even in these challenging and difficult times. As my new favorite author, Greg Boyle S.J. writes: “St. Paul tells us to ‘put on Christ.’ Putting on Christ is the easy part. Never taking Him off is the hard part.”

In this “Very Partial History of Grace,” let’s look at two ways to do that.

The first is to remember. “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return,” states the Prayer Book. Jesus also asks us to remember. When the apostles were confused about things Jesus did, he would tell them, “You will understand if you remember about the loaves.” That is a reference to the Feeding of the 5000. 5000 people in a deserted place. At the end of the day they are hungry and the apostles want to send them away because all they have are five loaves and two fish. Jesus takes what they have, thanks God for it, blesses and breaks it, and gives it away. God multiplies the Grace and all 5000 are fed and there is food left over.

Jesus did that again and again. Remember the wedding feast at Cana. They run out of wine to the embarrassment of the bride and groom. Mary asks Jesus to do something about this. He orders the six stone water jars, each holding 20-30 gallons to be filled with water. Jesus blesses it and the water becomes wine. Six stone water jars holding 20-30 gallons each. Jesus gave them 120-180 gallons of wine. In September our youngest daughter is getting married. It is a big wedding. We have a large family and Grace and her fiancé have many friends. But Betsy and I are not ordering 180 gallons of wine!

Jesus, like his Father, creates more than we need. We don’t have just enough grace to get through the day – even in these troubled days. We have more than enough grace. And, at the end of our lives, we will have more life. Not because we earned it, but because we can’t use up all the life God has prepared for us.

Another “remember” from Jesus. Praying over bread Jesus says, “This is my Body. Given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.” Given FOR YOU. Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and author, had an experience of FOR YOU when he was out shopping in downtown Louisville Kentucky on March 18, 1958. He wrote:

“In Louisville, at the corner of 4th and Walnut, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs. It was as if I suddenly saw the beauty of their hearts, the core of their reality as loved by God. And if only everyone could realize this! But it can’t be explained. There is no way to tell people that they are all walking around, shining like the sun.”

Thomas Merton

Or as Phillips Brooks writes, “the more you become radiated with the divinity of Christ, the more you are truly human.” This Lent, starting with ashes on our forehead, may we know we are radiant with Christ.

The second invitation for Lent this year is to go deeper – go deeper into the faith we already have. Here is an example from history, an example from the life of another Episcopalian, George Washington.

In 1777 in New Jersey, American soldiers encountered British troops. It was not a planned battle. The troops just happened to cross paths. A battle broke out and the American troops were forced to retreat quickly. As they did so, they left seven wounded soldiers on the battlefield. They assumed those soldiers would be taken prisoners. But to their horror, as the soldiers looked down from the high place they had fled to, the British soldiers massacred the wounded Americans. And they did so in the most brutal ways – smashing heads, stabbing them repeatedly with bayonets.

Word of the massacre spread quickly. The Americans wanted revenge. But immediately General Washington sent out orders to all American troops that all prisoners of war were to be treated humanely and with dignity. American soldiers were never to do what British soldiers had done on that terrible day in New Jersey.

Throughout the war the American soldiers obeyed that order from General Washington. There were numerous stories that resulted from the respectful treatment of prisoners. When the war ended, many freed British prisoners decided to stay in America, build homes and start families.

Maybe Washington himself wanted revenge, but he did not act on those feelings. He went deeper. He went into his soul and responded with dignity and honor. Washington gave those orders from a thoughtful, prayerful place of depth.

Let’s make this holy season of Lent a time to go deeper. Deeper into our God-given souls where grace is unlimited. Where we remember we are the beloved of God. And recommit ourselves to our baptism. Recommit ourselves to our new life in Christ. Recommit ourselves to the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for us.


Jesus knows all about this.

Photo Credit: Christopher Sikkema
Caption: The baptismal font at the Chapel of the Apostles, Sewanee

The following remarks were given by the Bishop at Winter Clergy Day.

It is always good to be with you. You inspire me. And it is my sincere hope we will be together in person for Holy Week’s Renewal of Vows and our clergy conference in May at the Bishop Harris Center. The Omicron numbers are going down dramatically and I am hopeful.

And I also know how unpredictable this virus can be. Back in July 2021 I wrote a column for our Abundant Times magazine which was published in the fall. Things were looking so good in July. I remember writing about resurrection and joyfully welcoming our people back to the church building. By the time it was published, Delta was on the rise and I sounded so tone deaf.

Two things can be true at the same time. We are suffering from the trauma of the last two years. There have been real losses in lives and in emotional, psychological distress. And we are so much better now than we were at this time last year.

There is a prayer we say at baptisms that seems perfect for this time of “both and”.

“Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.”

BCP p. 308

I think this prayer list holds the secret to our time. I’ll begin with the last one. “Give then the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” Ever since most of our churches went back to in-person hybrid services, visitations have given me great joy. Yes, there are fewer people in church, but there is a depth and vitality to our worship – even while singing with masks on. It is so good to see each other and unite in common prayer. I’ve come to appreciate the little things like greeting people at the back of church. I was at Sts. James and Andrew in Greenfield this past Sunday.  I was grateful that people patiently waited in line to talk with me about faith and Springsteen and baseball. I will never take those conversations for granted ever again.

Where do you find joy now? I invite you to be intentional about finding joy and acknowledging it.

“Sustain them in your Holy Spirit.” In the past year I have read a number of books by the Jesuit priest, Greg Boyle. He has spent 40 years working with gangs in Los Angeles. I highly recommend Tattoos on the Heart, Barking at the Choir and The Whole Language. They are filled with powerful stories and great theology. A line that has become part of my prayer is this: “Christ protects me from nothing and sustains me in everything.”

Christ protects me from nothing. Stuff happens. Jesus himself was not protected from a brutal death. Many of us pray Compline on line. We pray in Psalm 91: “Because you have made the Lord your refuge…There shall no evil happen to you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.”

But the plague did come near our dwelling. We were not protected but we are sustained. We are invited to go deeper into our faith and be sustained by the Living God who is always near.

Last week Betsy and I were in Virginia, serving as Faculty for the gathering of New Bishops and Spouses – 9 bishops who were elected in 2021 and their spouses. Betsy was the chaplain and one day she offered this KOAN. “What do I do when nothing I do will do?” Have you ever felt that way in this time? And yet we are sustained by Christ even when “nothing I do will do.”

Our Baptism prayer asks God to give us “the courage to will and persevere.” Very recently I read a NY Times article about acknowledging the trauma of this time. The writer says some deal with that by taking a well-deserved vacation or rest. They take a break. I hope all of you have done that. For some, they came back renewed and refreshed. But for others, after that time away, that time out, they still feel the heaviness of our times. The author prescribes “behavior modification.” When I read it, I was reminded of the wisdom of the 14th Century mystic – Meister Eckhardt. He was asked “what do you do when you are depressed or grieving?” He answered “do the next thing.” Whatever that is, however small, just do it. And then the next thing after that. His wisdom looks like “the courage to will and persevere.”

And finally, we prayed for “an inquiring heart.” In other words, be curious. Many are asking what the Church and the mission of Jesus will look like coming through this pandemic. I’m not sure. I do know that our society, despite the heroism and generous selflessness of so many, has become meaner and crueler. Gun violence is up dramatically. A recent report says that fatalities from car accidents are way up as people are driving more aggressively. Look at the behavior in airplanes and at school board meetings. Could it be that our faith communities can be places of kindness sending kind people out into the world? That is a simple thing we can do.

The prayer also asks to “know and love Jesus.” It used to be that church people longed for the glory days of the 1950’s (which were not glorious for many of God’s people) and now we long to bring back 2019. But Jesus says over and over that he is doing a new thing. He speaks of a New Creation. And “I will make all things new.” The Jesus we know is still acting, still bringing about a New Creation. Even now. A pandemic can’t stop Jesus.

So many of us are worried as fewer people are returning to follow Jesus. Jesus knows all about this. He has been there before. Our Epiphany Season lectionary tells us often about the great crowds following Jesus. Remember a couple of weeks ago? Jesus was preaching on a beach and the crowd was so enormous and pushing in on him that he had to ask Peter to take him in his boat so he could preach from off shore. And yet just a couple of years later, when Jesus went to the cross, there were only a handful of followers left. Jesus knows our fears in this time. And then came a movement born of Resurrection  – the Jesus Movement  that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it.

January 6th

Tear Gas outside United States Capitol, Date 6 January 2021, 04:20 Source: DSC09523-2 Author: Tyler Merbler

We all remember where we were January 6, 2021. I was working from home with a full schedule of Zoom meetings. When the attack on the Capitol Building began, I postponed all the afternoon meetings and sat with Betsy in front of the TV, shocked by what I was seeing. Little did I know that as bad as it looked, videos later released would show it was far worse despite the heroism of the Capitol Police. We all witnessed an insurrection inspired by a president who refused to accept the results of an election. January 6 is a date that will go down in our nation’s history along with the tragic dates of December 7, 1941 November 22, 1963, April 4,1968 and September 11, 2001.

January 6 is a day of domestic terrorism and on the church calendar it is the celebration of The Epiphany. January 6, 2021 was a day of destruction, death and an assault on democracy itself. January 6th in the church is a day of humility (the magi kneeling before the Christ child), joy, hope, and an expression of the Oneness of our God with all humanity and all creation.

The Gospel passage for Epiphany ends with the Magi giving their gifts and then, warned in a dream not to return to King Herod who wanted to know where the child was born, they “left for their own country by another road.” What is the “other road” we are invited to on January 6th? Some of it is expressed in the prayer the Church gives us for the Epiphany.  

“O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen”

The Book of Common Prayer, 214.

Perhaps another dimension of that “other road” is revealed to us in the passages that follows the Epiphany story. Joseph is warned in a dream that King Herod “is about to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus flee to Egypt. “When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger.” The violence we witnessed one year ago was no dream, but truly a living nightmare. How might what we witnessed move us to protect our children now? And what would that look like on January 6, 2022? It would look like a strong democracy where every vote counts. It would look like an unparalleled movement to stop the ravages of climate change by caring for God’s creation. It would look like an honest confrontation of the Unholy Trinity of poverty, gun violence and racism and a “room at the inn” for immigrants and refugees. Could it be that a nightmare could awaken us to God’s dream for our world?

January 6, 2021 will be remembered as a day of domestic terrorism. January 6th – The Epiphany – will always be an invitation to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).”