The Bishop’s Blog

We have our “why”.

Preachers should never read long quotes in a sermon. But bloggers can! Here is a quote from Brian McLaren in his book, THE GREAT MIGRATION : HOW THE WORLD’S LARGEST RELIGION IS SEEKING A BETTER WAY TO BE CHRISTIAN.

“Now imagine: if you wanted to find an organization well positioned to encourage change on all of these four levels (intrapersonal, interpersonal, structural, and cultural), whom would you call? You would need an organization that is both local and global. It would need to involve people from all sectors of society – agriculture to government, health care to education, for profit to nonprofit, science to the arts. It would need to specialize in personal development, community building, deployment for mission, and public communication. What organizations would fulfill these diverse requirements? As soon as you answer the church, you have to ask why so many of our churches remain ineffective and complacent about this potentially transformative role. The gap between the church’s potential and actual impact can make you cry.”

“But far better: the gap can make you cry out, determined to see the church fulfill its potential. That’s why we need movement-building initiatives that help individual Christians, congregational leaders and denominational leaders and network leaders come together and work together for intrapersonal, interpersonal, structural and cultural change.”

Brian McLaren

Or as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says “We are the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the Dream that God has for it.”

Or as Jesus says “I make all things new!”

In a time when the Church is seen by so many as having outlived its purpose, I believe our purpose is as essential as it has ever been. We are called to dive deeply into the life of the Spirit, build community and follow Jesus in his mission of mercy, compassion and hope. This is why we pray together, take care of our neighbors, bless journalists, care for creation, stand with refugees and immigrants, address the public health crisis of gun violence, celebrate diversity, combat racism and on and on.

Our Church has a “why”, a “purpose”, a “mission.” Come Holy Spirit and enliven our hearts.


Dreaming of a better world in the midst of this one

Cartoon by the Rev. Jay Sidebotham for Church Publishing Inc.

I have often begun Christmas sermons, and reflections about Christmas, with stories about Christmas Pageants I have seen. Like the time the child portraying the angel Gabriel did not exit the stage after her “annunciation” to Mary. Instead she stayed with Mary through all the rejections she and Joseph and the baby Jesus faced as they were turned away at inn after inn. And Gabriel looked on aghast but never left them.

Or the time the youngest children dressed as sheep were crawling down the middle aisle of the Church toward the stable as “Holy Night” was being sung. But when one noticed all the toys off to the side that had been collected for the needy, he broke ranks and headed for the toys. And so did the rest of the flock.

Or the time at Pageant rehearsal when my daughter Grace had the part of Mary. She was sitting and holding the baby, a real one, when the boy portraying Joseph standing next to her said, “I want to hold the baby.” Mary (Grace) said “No, I’m holding the baby.” Joseph insisted he should hold the baby. Mary said “no, the mother always holds the baby.” Joseph said “this year I should hold the baby.” To which Mary replied, “You know, Joseph, technically you are not even the father.”

Another preacher, I think it was Thomas Long, wrote about another pageant rehearsal. The director was encouraging the young people to read along in their bible as they recreated the story. When they got to the story of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew, one girl kept on reading. She got to the part where King Herod was furious at the Magi, and ordered the death of every male child under the age of two in an attempt to kill Jesus. She said, “Hey, wait, what’s this? This is terrible!”

The director assured the girl that this part would not be in the pageant. She responded, “No. It is part of the story. We have to include it.”

The director and the young actress settled on a compromise. An actor dressed as the king would stand at the far edge of the stage throughout the pageant, hovering over the story of the first Christmas.

This part of the story makes us feel uncomfortable but it is true. Baby Jesus was not born into a spiritualized abstraction. He was born in the midst of a poor people ruled by a tyrant who was propped up by an Empire. He was born to parents who immediately became refugees fleeing to protect him.

Flight into Egypt, Ghana, 1971

And that is why Christmas is a life changing story of hope that never gets old. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the famous Royal Wedding preacher, puts it so eloquently and so forcefully: “We are 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.”

Christmas is about hope, about dreaming of a better world while we are in the midst of this one. Christmas reminds us of all the love that is around us, reminds us of so much that is good and holy and sacred.  At Christmas we tell stories of our “better angels.” Christmas reminds us of generosity and forgiveness and courage – even as King Herod looks on.

Christmas reminds us that God has not given up on us. Just the opposite. We call this baby, “Jesus” – which means “God saves us.” And the angels tell us “do not be afraid. This is a message of great joy.” God is here now, in 2018, in the midst of us.

Merry Christmas.


Now is the day of salvation: Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, #WMARevival and Creation Care

This month the Bishop’s Blog is co-written by The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, our Missioner for Creation Care, and Bishop Fisher.

Everyone (and we mean everyone) knows our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as “the Royal Wedding Preacher.” He certainly touched souls around the world in his inspired message of the transforming power of love. But did you know that five days later he participated in a Vigil at the White House?

Bishop Michael Curry (C) waits to speak during a vigil outside the White House May 24, 2018 in Washington, DC, in response to what organizers say is “the moral and political crises at the highest levels of political leadership that are putting both the soul of the nation and the integrity of Christian faith at stake.” (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

The Vigil was a witness that both rejected President Trump’s “America First” policies and urged bringing people of all political parties together for the sake of the common good. The Vigil was a follow-up on a declaration Michael wrote with other faith leaders several months before called “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.”

That document includes the powerful statement: “We reject domination rather than stewardship of the earth’s resources.”

As we gather together this Sunday in Pittsfield and Worcester for an Episcopal revival led by the “oh so much more than a wedding preacher” Michael Curry, let’s look at why this is a time of crisis for God’s creation.

The Earth is reeling under many pressures, from an explosive growth in human population and consumption to species extinction, habitat loss, and resource depletion.  But our most urgent concern is how human activity is changing the climate.  Our fears were confirmed last week when the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international group that assesses climate change, released a major report.  The IPCC report was stark: humanity is on the brink of catastrophe.  The only way to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degree Celsius – the level that countries around the world have agreed is a safe upper limit for maintaining life as we know it on this planet – is for nations to cut their carbon emissions drastically and rapidly.  In just over ten years – by 2030 – the world will need to have cut global emissions in half (45 percent below 2010 levels).  To hold global temperatures to 1.5 degree Celsius will require rapid and massive transformation of every level of society.  For example, the report calls for a total or near-total phase-out of the burning of coal by 2050.

The task ahead of us is daunting.  The world has already warmed 1 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times, and without a massive global effort, the world will warm by 1.5 degrees in as little as 12 years.  If we allow global warming to rise by 2 degrees Celsius – to say nothing of allowing business as usual to continue on its present track, which would raise global temperatures by 3.4 degrees by the end of this century – we will live on a planet that is extremely difficult not only to govern, but even to inhabit.  The IPCC report warns that there is “no documented historical precedent” for making the sweeping changes in society that would be required in order to hold global temperatures to 1.5 degrees.  Yet if we want to prevent massive crop failures and droughts, extreme storms and sea-level rise, and the migration of millions of refugees, and if we want to pass along a habitable world to our children and our children’s children, we need to tackle climate change.

The day of reckoning has come. As St. Paul exhorts, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6:2).  Today is a good day to put climate denial behind us.  Today is a good day to reject the climate denial expressed in White House policies that promote fossil fuels and ignore, downplay, or even accelerate the climate crisis.  Today is also a good day to admit our own everyday version of climate denial and to step up our personal efforts to reduce our use of fossil fuels.

What next steps can you take?  For starters, does your congregation have a “green team” or “Creation care committee”?  Whatever you call it, a team of parishioners concerned about climate change can take the lead in educating and organizing its community.  You can download an article about how to start a “green team” here.  At diocesan convention, delegates will vote on a resolution that asks every congregation to create a green team or liaison.

Here’s another idea: how about eating less (or no) meat?  A new report confirms that shifting to a plant-based diet is one of the most effective actions we can take to reduce our carbon footprint, limit climate change, and allow the Earth to keep feeding the global population.

Michael Curry has made Creation Care one of his three priorities. (Racial Reconciliation and Evangelism are the others.) We have said many times that this Sunday is so much more than great speeches by Michael. It is an opportunity to commit to a revival of our souls, our church, our communities and our world. In a time of crisis, may we passionately recommit to fighting climate change and caring for God’s creation.

+Doug and Margaret+

Amazing things can happen when we stop and slow down.

A sermon offered at St. Mark’s in Leominster on September 16. Gospel text is Mark 8:27-38.

Everyone knows by now that our Presiding Bishop, the “Royal Wedding preacher,” Michael Curry, is coming to our great diocese for an Episcopal revival on Sunday October 21st. The gospel writers don’t use the word “revival” but I think that was what it was when Jesus preached and fed the 5000. And there was a time when Jesus was not preaching a revival but he himself was in need of a revival. I think that time was the Gospel passage we had last week and I think what happened there impacts what happens in today’s gospel story.

Remember last week Jesus went to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Jesus wanted some down time. And if you read the first seven chapters of Mark’s Gospel you would know why. Jesus goes from Nazareth to Capernaum, then north, then south, across the Sea of Galilee several times. Over a dozen different locations are mentioned. Jesus is on the move. And remember they didn’t have Uber™ in those days. Jesus is walking. His pace matches the frenetic pace of Mark’s gospel – the gospel that has the word “immediately” 56 times in 16 short chapters.

Jesus has to stop and slow down. Amazing things can happen when we stop and slow down. This summer I walked 120 miles of the Camino de Santiago in Spain with my son Geoff.

It is a pilgrimage with a deep spiritual tradition. Thousands and thousands of people from all over the world come to Spain to take part in it. It was a tremendous experience for my son and me. The first few days we were not rushing, just walking at our normal pace. My son is 6 foot three and we both have long legs. That meant going at our normal pace we were passing everyone. And, staying with the custom, we would say “Buen Camino” to each pilgrim that we passed. But not much more. In the last few days Geoff developed a sore knee. It wasn’t enough to stop us but it did mean we had to walk more slowly. And because we did, we walked alongside other pilgrims and got to hear their fascinating stories. We met people from Korea, Ireland, New Zealand, and England. That only happened because we slowed down.

Jesus is tired. He is in need of a revival. And because he slows down a Syrophoenician woman gets to see him. Her daughter has a demon and she is hoping Jesus will cure her. Remember this woman is not from Israel and Jesus thinks his mission is only to Israel. When she makes her request, Jesus says something very unlike Jesus. Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. Ouch! Jesus needs reviving.

The Canaanite / Syrophonoecian woman with the dog who eats the crumbs Artist:

She answers, Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs. At that exact moment Jesus is revived. He realizes his mission is not restricted to Israel but is to the whole world. He cures her daughter. And his mission is expanded and revitalized.

For those of you surprised that Jesus learned something new, I invite you to check out Luke’s gospel where we are told three times Jesus grew in age, wisdom and understanding.  Jesus, fully divine and fully human, had truths to learn.

Now we are ready for today’s gospel and the new place in Jesus’ journey. He arrives in Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi was not always called that. It used to be Naphtali and it was the location of great deeds performed by Kings David and Solomon. It was a holy city for the people of Israel. But when the Roman army took over Israel for the Roman Empire, they renamed it. Caesarea means, “Caesar’s town.” Philippi was the name of a Roman Tetrarch. The Romans are really putting it in the face of the Jewish people.

Jesus arrives with a large following. At this point Jesus is at the height of his popularity. We know this because not long ago he had a revival with the 5000 people. He has so many followers now that he no longer knows them personally. He has to ask his disciples. Who do people say I am? And many are thinking he is the one who will drive the Romans out.

That’s the scene. Jesus with his great following is in a place where people are looking for a revolution. Would he lead them against the Empire? Jesus had proclaimed a different kingdom – one of healing, forgiveness, compassion and hope. But I think at this moment he is tempted with a worldly kingdom. Here’s why. Earlier in his ministry Jesus was tempted in the desert by Satan. The temptations were about seizing earthly power for himself. Jesus rejected Satan that day but Luke’s gospel tells us Satan left him to return at an opportune time. The battle was not over. Satan was coming back. This is the moment of his return. It does not make sense for Jesus to be so furious at Peter to say, Get behind me, Satan to Peter. He is not calling Peter “Satan.” He actually sees Satan, tempting him once again with the power of this world. At that moment Jesus could have given in and become just another leader written about in history books. Instead Jesus chooses a true revolution – a revolution that changes hearts. A revolution that is still going on as we attempt to change the world through compassion and grace.

And there is another dimension to Caesarea Philippi. The Romans who settled there built temples to their gods. Temples in which sacrifices were performed.

Ruin of the Temple of Pan at Caesarea Philippi

The temple here was to Pan. To Pan, the Romans sacrificed pigs – and threw the remains into the lake, thereby defiling that so that the Jewish people could not drink it. You can understand why the Jewish people wanted the Romans out. When the Romans did that they were following a theology that had existed for thousands of years. Sacrifice animals, sometimes even children, to God so that God might be appeased. “Here God. Take this. And leave me alone. You are a terrible God. Stay out of the life of my family.” In the city of the Temple of Pan, Jesus, consistent with the prophets of Israel, reverses this practice and this theology. We no longer sacrifice to appease God. Jesus, the Son of God, now sacrifices for us. This means we no longer push God away. We now invite God into our lives. We can now ask God to be with us. Jesus changes the world by completing changing the way we relate to God and one another. This is a commitment to a new heaven and a new earth.

I’ll end with a quote that I am praying every day in this time of our revival. It is a quote from a man named Cyprian who lived around the year 100 in Rome. He wrote to a friend and said,

“The world can be a mean and cruel place. But here in Rome there is a small group of people who care about each other. They give whatever it takes to help each other in need. And they are very happy living this way. They call themselves Christian. I think I will join them and try this way for a while.”




Our church is awake, aware and acting.

Presiding Bishop Curry receives a blessing at the General Convention revival on July 7 in Austin, TX.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preaches often and powerfully on love. “If it is not about love…it is not about God.” At the General Convention Revival in Austin, Texas, he preached about love for an hour. In that hour he articulated a theology, spirituality and praxis of love that was as tightly reasoned as it was inspirational.

The life and teaching of Jesus certainly centered on love. But in the gospels, Jesus used the words “see”, “look”, “wake up”, “be aware” more often than the word “love.” Somehow “awareness” is essential to a life of love.

General Convention 2018 was all about awareness. Here are just a few examples.

On the Fourth of July we all participated in a “Liturgy of Listening.” This liturgy was a response to the #MeToo movement. It began with the whole House of Bishops expressing in prayer our repentance for “sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse within our Church.”  Twelve stories were read from victims of sexual misconduct perpetuated by someone in the Church.

Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe (CNY) and the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers flank Bishop Gayle Harris (MA) as she reads a letter from a member of the clergy recounting sexual harrassment and abuse.

Later in Convention, the House of Bishops adopted “A Working Covenant for the Practice of Equity and Justice for All in The Episcopal Church.” In this Covenant we commit ourselves to seek changes in our dioceses to combat abuse, harassment and exploitation.

A priest kneels to pray at the edge of the T. Don Hutto Residential Center – prison compound for women seeking asylum in America.

“Seeing” continued as we went to the T. Don Hutto Residential Center – an ICE detention site. There we “looked” at the place where women seeking asylum are imprisoned, separated from their children. Many allegations of sexual abuse have been made against the officers who run the Hutto site.

We prayed and sang and they waved at us through the barred windows.

Yearbook photo of Carmen Schentrup, 17, student at Marjory Stoneman High School, Parkland, Florida. Carmen was shot and killed on February 14, 2018.

Bishops United Against Gun Violence invited us all to “wake up” to the public health crisis of gun violence by a prayer service in which the family of Carmen Schentrup, a Parkland victim, told her story and theirs, bringing many in the crowd to tears.

Presiding Bishop Curry surrounded by the family of Carmen Schentrup. Bishops Eugene Sutton (MD) and Mark Beckwith (Newark) on Presiding Bishop Curry’s left.

Every day we had a brief prayer service in which we handed out 96 crosses for the 96 people who would die that day in gun violence. By the end of the ten day Convention, 960 people were walking around with crosses around our necks, “waking up” to the 960 deaths by gun in our country in that time.

One of the 960 crosses distributed at General Convention by Bishops United Against Gun Violence; an orange stole sold by NJ artist, Colleen Hintz, at GC79.

Later in Convention we “woke up” to the silence of our Congress on gun safety and to the silence of Smith and Wesson to the request of our young people for a discussion. As a result we decided to get engaged with gun manufacturers through “ethical investing”, followed by shareholder activism.

My Committee “Socially Responsible Investing” brought Resolution #B007 to the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, and it passed.

We also were made aware of the suffering of the Palestinian people through a hearing which packed the meeting hall. We were made aware of tremendous injustice by the stories of 75 who testified. Later, our resolution that called for impact investing in Palestine and a “human rights screen” for investing in Israeli companies, passed.

There are many other moments when we saw with new eyes. I will end this overly long blog with just one more. Going into this convention, there were many calling for revision of the Book of Common Prayer. This was because we are aware that we need inclusive language for God and more references to the beauty of creation and commitment to preserving it as a religious imperative. We came out of it with more than a deadline for developing another book. Through much honest dialogue and listening to the Spirit, what emerged was a promise of liturgical renewal in our Church which will include creating new liturgical expressions deeply grounded in our theology and the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit leading us deeper into the vastness of our God.

I look forward to implementing the “awareness” of the 79th General Convention of our Church with you.


Watch the Liturgy of Listening.

Learn more about BUAGV.

Follow the witness of Episcopalians Against Gun Violence.

Grassroots Leadership petition to release asylum-seekers at the Hutto detention Center and reunite them with their children.