Tag: bishop walks diocese on foot

From Greenfield to Southwick: Things I learned on the Pioneer Valley Pilgrimage


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May 20, 2015

I’m writing this blog just three days away from the last leg of my 170 mile Pilgrimage through our Diocese of Western Massachusetts. (For an exact countdown to the walk, check our website……). I’m really excited about this journey through the Berkshires and especially blessed to have my son, Geoff, and his fiancée, Brenna, with me the first two days. The itinerary can be found here.

In my anticipation of this trip, I realized that I never wrote a blog about my last trip –through the Pioneer Valley in Easter Week. Such is the pace of resurrected life in the great 50 days of the Easter Season! Here, late, are a few of the many things I learned in that walk from Greenfield to Southwick.


  • Across the street from St. James there is a phenomenal place – Community Action Family Center – that helps young families, especially immigrants. The main need those families are experiencing right now is access to transportation. When will we do something about that in our rural communities?


  • The Veterans at the VA Medical Center in Northampton have compelling stories we need to hear.
  • Patrick Cahillane, the Deputy Superintendent of the Hampshire County Correctional Facility in Northampton has been on the job for 34 years. After all he has seen in those years, he still believes in the dignity of every human being and he has hope for renewal for everyone. He will inspire me for a long time.

  • Richard Kos, the mayor of Chicopee, is truly a public servant.
  • As I walked with fellow pilgrims through the rain, icy rain and sleet, I experienced solidarity with all those who frequently work outside under those conditions.
  • The Episcopal Service Corps at Lawrence House, under the direction of The Rev. Tanya Wallace, is a gift to WMA.


  • Listening to the stories of so many as we walked along, I was immersed in Spirit and renewed in my belief that “grace is wild and free.”
  • One of my fellow pilgrims was the Imam of the Islamic Society in West Springfield, Wisman Abdul-Baki. He is a scholar, and a holy man of peace.


  • Students at UMASS Amherst will turn out at the end of a long day to meet a pilgrim bishop.

  • Visiting several shops run by families who are members of our Latino congregation at the Cathedral, I realized that immigrants are the job creators.

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  • Episcopalians are not shy to pray on street corners and in parking lots. Who knew?
  • Casinos displace whatever is in their path – even a Correctional Alcohol Treatment facility – a place dedicated to amends, healing and hope.


  • In Westfield, I found out that as many as twenty teenagers are homeless in this upscale community, living in abandoned buildings. And several community agencies, including our Church of the Atonement, are starting a home for them. I was blessed to bless “Our House.”


These are just a few glimpses of the myriad ways in which I experienced the sacred world of the Pioneer Valley. The “aliveness of God” is everywhere we look. I look forward to experiencing that holy “aliveness” in the Berkshires. If you are nearby, join me for a mile or two. And if you are far away, join me in prayer as the Resurrected Christ meets us on the road.


God is Alive in the World: Reflections on Walking Together on Sacred Ground


November 14, 2014

Hey, that’s the guy from Channel Three.” That’s what some elderly gentlemen gathered in a corner at Dunkin’ Donuts® said when they saw me. I guess carrying a shepherd’s staff (from a shepherd of real sheep) gave me away as the subject of a news report the night before: “Bishop Walks Worcester County.”

The pilgrimage received a lot of attention from the media and they got most of the facts right – although, Betsy and I were both very surprised to read in Worcester Magazine that we have three grandchildren. Who knew? (We feel badly we missed so many birthdays.) There were great pictures on our diocesan Facebook page of the people I met along the way and the prayer services we held in the streets. And, there were affirming and funny comments on those pictures – e.g., my sister-in-law, commenting on a prayer service in which we are all standing in a parking lot, “Do you have to pray standing up? Can’t you ever let him sit down?”midday prayer upton 008

After all that attention on what we were doing for those four days, let’s reflect on what it all means. Here are a few of my thoughts:

The Spirit is at work in our work. The pilgrimage gave me the rare opportunity to visit our church members where they work, instead of where I work. Doctors, nurses, medical staff, the sheriff, addiction counselors, social workers, librarians , farmers, college teachers and students showed me what they do and how God is alive in that work. Church is not the place where we find God. Church is the place where we celebrate that “aliveness” of God’s dynamic Spirit which is around us all the time.

God is found in conversation. Walking and talking does not seem very profound, but the gospel writer Luke tells us something life changing happened as three people walked seven miles to Emmaus. Engaging each other in meaningful dialogue is an experience of the Holy. That might be why the words “conversation” and “conversion” have the same root. And it is why the Church needs to listen as much as it needs to proclaim. My walk was not a preaching tour but a listening tour.

st matthew clark 053There is great hope in public witness. A moment that will always stand out for me was gathering with members of St. Matthew’s Church in Worcester, many of whom are Liberian, on the street in front of the church. My friend, the Rev. Nancy Strong, hijacked the name of the pilgrimage and on the church’s message board called it “The Bishop’s Ebola Walk.” In that prayer on the street, with cars slowly driving by in city traffic, we lifted up the names of friends and relatives who died from the disease, we asked for God’s healing power and for God’s protection. We asked for an end to the stigma being attached to West Africans in this country. And we asked it while holding one another’s hands.

God calls us to reinvent ourselves (religious word: transformation). From the start of the pilgrimage at Trinity Milford (our most eastern parish) to the ending at Christ Church, Fitchburg, I kept seeing evidence of reinvention (transformation). Milford was once a prosperous factory town because most of the looms bought throughout the world were made there. The Draper family ran that business and surrounded the factory with very nice homes for the thousands of workers. (The Drapers came from the Utopian movement popular in the mid 1800’s and had a strong sense of social obligation.)  The factory has long since closed but is still there and it is huge. Larger than many of the closed factories I have seen in Massachusetts. Here is the good news. Milford has come back from that loss. It is once again a vibrant community. Why? They reinvented themselves. And there is much evidence of a reinvented, transformed city of Worcester. day 1 - farmG 012

I went to the Community Harvest Project which supplies fresh food for so many in need. They told me of the many changes they made there to what they do and how they do it. More stories of reinvention in health care at UMass Memorial Hospital and Medical School.  Ascentria (formerly, Lutheran Social Services,) is in the midst major change in how they do mission. I heard numerous personal stories of transformation at Dismas House, at Clark University, and at the Worcester County House of Corrections. At that jail, there is an innovative and life-changing program for incarcerated people suffering from addiction. In conversation with staff members who run the program, they told me of the many times they made big changes in the program to better serve the real needs of the participants. Transformation seems to be God’s way in the world. Will we let it be God’s way in the Church?

day1 bt milford upton 016God’s creation in New England is awesomely beautiful. Even though it was far past “peak” foliage season when I walked, the many lakes, streams and forests we are blessed to enjoy here are God’s gift to us. In prayer I felt united with all our churches that engaged our “Creation Season” and with all who passionately work to stop climate change.

When the House of Bishops met last in Taiwan, we were encouraged to “expand our apostolic imagination” and we were shown how by our Asian brothers and sisters. In this four-day pilgrimage my “apostolic imagination” was expanded by the faithful people and ever-changing landscape of our Worcester corridor.

I am already looking forward to the next two pilgrimages – Pioneer Valley and the Berkshires. I look forward to hearing about our church: “hey, that’s the Church that celebrates God’s aliveness in the world.”



I’m walking the diocese. Join me!

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We have an ancient Jewish/Christian tradition of pilgrimage – walking and praying and talking with other pilgrims on the way to a sacred place. I think Western Massachusetts is a sacred place. So I have decided, with the enthusiastic support of my staff, to walk the diocese.

We are calling this adventure “Walking Together on Sacred Ground.” The “together” is anyone who wants to walk with me for any part of the journey. I want to hear the stories of our church members and those who have no church at all. We will stop along the way and have prayer services in parking lots and street corners. I’ll visit prisons and colleges and farms. And I will pray as I walk, lifted up by the beauty of God’s creation in this blessed region and one with all our churches who are taking part in the Creation Season.

The plan is to walk this one “corridor” at a time, each one 60-70 miles. The first one will be the Worcester corridor beginning at our most eastern church – Trinity, Milford – and ending up at Christ Church, Fitchburg. We start on Tuesday October 28 and end on Halloween. The walk through the Pioneer Valley Corridor will be the week after Easter and before Momentum Sunday. The Berkshires leg will be sometime in late May or early June. I am enormously indebted to my whole staff, and most especially Vicki Ix, Cozette Haggerty, Pam Mott and Rich Simpson who are handling a million details.

I’ll walk with a shepherd’s staff that Bishop Wissemann gave me this summer – just a few weeks before his death. It is genuine shepherd’s staff. Bishops carry staffs (croziers) to symbolize the Good Shepherd of us all and there is another reason. In the early church the bishop used a walking stick because the bishop was supposed to be on the move as the living embodiment of the connection between churches. I’ll walk with the shepherd’s staff as a reminder that silo ministry (one church working on its own in isolation) is over and we live in a new/old age of collaboration between churches.

And I walk because we are called to take the faith out of the churches and into the streets, where Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope is transforming the world.

I’m excited for this great adventure. If you are near my pilgrimage come walk with me. [The itinerary and routes can be found on our diocesan website.]  Look for news of my journey on our diocesan Facebook page and Instagram.  And, for the first time, I will be “tweeting” my experience @dfisher_WMA. If you are not engaged on these social platforms, please join me in prayer for this sacred land of Western Massachusetts. For wherever we are, we are walking together on sacred ground.