Tag: Episcopal

The Mission Continues: The Bishop’s Address

The mission continues. Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

At our Convention last year (which seems like 100 years ago), I told a story about Michael Curry. We were in Providence for a large national gathering of deacons. Michael was giving the keynote address and he was preaching about St. Paul. He said “wherever St. Paul went there was a revolution, a revolution. When he went to Corinth there was a revolution. When he went to Phillipi, there was a revolution.” And then Michael started pointing out bishops in the crowd. He would say the bishop’s name and then he would say “what would it look like if there was a revolution in your diocese” And he would name the diocese. He did this four times. Name of the bishop and what would it look like if there was a revolution in your diocese? Then he calls me out. “Doug, what would it look like…oh, wait, there is already a revolution going on in Western Massachusetts.”

I was never so proud of our Diocese!

Now a year later. We find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic. Stress and anxiety are everywhere. Clergy and lay leaders feel it. As do health care workers, teachers, parents of school age children, owners of small businesses, the unemployed and so many others. The pain I felt the most has been our inability to be with our loved ones when they were dying and then having to severely limit the number of mourners who could attend the funeral. The Episcopal Church is far from perfect but something we are really good at is pastoral care for the sick and the beautiful Prayer Book burial where we say that “life is changed not ended” and “into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant.”

And there is so much about church that we miss. Like seeing each other in person. Holy Communion. Choirs.

Add in an election that does not seem to end. In a deeply divided country with two vastly different visions for our future.

So what does a revolutionary diocese like Western Massachusetts do in this deeply challenging time?

The revolution, the Jesus revolution, always begins with a radical commitment to faith. I have three “go to” prayers in these days. One comes from the Prayer Book for use on All Saints Day. But I use it every day.

“In the multitude of your saints you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses, that we might rejoice in their fellowship and run with endurance the race that is set before us. And together with them, receive the crown of glory that never fades away.”

The Book of Common Prayer, p. 380

We didn’t pick this race. But it is the race that is set before us. We don’t run it alone. We are surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses that testify to the faith and to staying faithful. Who is in your cloud of witnesses? Bring them to mind. They are running this race with you.

My other go-to prayer is from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“God, we thank you for the inspiration of Jesus. Grant that we will love you with all our hearts, minds and souls, and love our neighbor as ourselves, even our enemy neighbors. And we ask you God, in these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, to be with us in our going out and our coming in, in our rising up and in our lying down, in our moments of joy and sorrow.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King preached over and over again about “blessed assurance.” “Blessed assurance” that God is always present. And he felt that presence most clearly and deeply in the most fearful, anxious moments of his life.

And here’s one more. “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” We boldly proclaim we know God in the person of Jesus. Jesus who forgives, heals, feeds, lifts up, blesses, dies and rises. Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. You are more resilient than you think because you are in the hands of a death conquering God. Resurrection is not just for the end of life. Resurrection happens throughout life when we fall and get up again.

The revolution will mean love of neighbor. We did a survey of our churches asking how they are addressing the needs of their neighborhoods during the Covid-19 pandemic. 39 of our 51 churches responded. Here is what love of neighbor looks like:

  • 37 congregations have assisted their local food bank
  • 28,000 meals were prepared, served and delivered by our congregations
  • 22 congregations collaborated with mission partners by giving financial support totaling $138,000
  • 8 people were sheltered
  • 1,200 care packages for people experiencing homelessness
  • 105 backpacks were made for those leaving prison
  • Rector’s discretionary funds accessed for the vulnerable – $40,000
  • Over 1600 masks were made and donated
  • Over 50,000 diapers and hygiene products given away
  • Hundreds of gift cards to local grocery stores given away
  • Several parish halls used for Wi-Fi by students who do not have that at home
  • Home repairs for 5 families
  • A farmers market that served 6400 customers
  • 50 blankets for babies in neonatal care at Baystate
  • 200 school uniforms for children in Haiti

That is all done by individual churches. On a diocesan level through Human to Human we are supporting lunches for veterans, Walking Together in Worcester, laundry love and recovery programs. Living out Matthew 25 is part of the revolution in Western Massachusetts.

The revolution demands racial justice and dismantling white supremacy. For several years now we have had a very active Beloved Community Commission here. The tragic events of 2020 have shone a light on 400 years of racial injustice and made their work more important than ever. More than ten of our parishes have actively engaged in education programs such as Sacred Ground. We offered a webinar to our clergy and lay preachers about how to preach racial justice. Early on in the pandemic, Laura Everett, the Executive Director of the Mass Council of Churches said she feared that at the end of this, only the white wealthy churches would be left standing. She started a One Church fund to help black urban churches from a variety of denominations. Our Diocese donated $15,000. And there is so much more to do. Come Holy Spirit.

Next week I will ordain two transitional deacons. Both are people of color.

And we have doubled down on our commitment to starting new Episcopal Latino faith communities. There will be more about this later in the Convention.

I spoke before about the great cloud of witnesses running this race with us. One of them is a local saint. Jonathan Daniels, born and raised in Keene, New Hampshire. He went to the Virginia Military Institute and there heard a call to ordained ministry. He went to Episcopal Divinity School in the 1960’s. Dr.King invited clergy from the north to come and work with him in the south. With other students, Daniels went to Alabama as a volunteer for a few days. At first he was not particularly moved by the experience but he missed the bus going back to Boston. It meant he had to stay another week and in that week he recognized the injustice of segregation and the Jim Crowe laws. When he returned to the seminary he asked for a year off to work in Alabama. He did great work integrating an Episcopal Church in Selma. With others he was arrested at a protest and jailed in Haynesville Alabama. They were released after a week and went to buy sodas at a local store. A man with a gun stopped them and aimed his gun at a black teenager named Ruby Sales. Jonathan realized he was going to shoot so he threw himself in front of her, taking a bullet that killed him. A martyr at 26. His writings include this: “I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection…with them, the black men and the white men, with all life, in him whose Name is above all names that the races and nations shout…we are indelibly and unspeakably one.” Jonathan is with us now in the great cloud of witnesses.

In 2020 we have witnessed unprecedented climate events showing us that climate change is not in the future. It is now. Because of the prophetic voice of Margaret Bullit-Jonas and others, our diocese has long been a leader in Creation Care. That work is urgent.

During the pandemic, more guns have been purchased than in any six month time frame since records have been kept. Bishops United Against Gun Violence continues to work diligently for gun safety through legislation and inviting gun manufacturers to become part of the solution.

I have said often in 2020 “although most of our church buildings are closed, the mission of the church is wide open.” I am so inspired by our clergy and lay leaders who have adapted over and over again to provide pastoral care and worship. I get how hard this is. And there are more challenging months to come. Thank you for your resilience. Your commitment to doing the most loving and safe thing. Whatever the tragic toll of this virus will ultimately be, the numbers will be less because of you.

Learning the technology of getting together for worship on zoom or YouTube live or video streaming is so challenging. Thank you for engaging that challenge. And to help you in that effort, we are starting a new financial initiative. From diocesan funds, we will reimburse any parish that upgrades their digital communication capacities up to $2000. We want to encourage you in proclaiming the Gospel with the best resources available.

And the revolution is continuing in our diocese through the development of lay leaders. Jane Griesbach and Meredyth Ward are teaching 40 people how to lead Morning Prayer. Rich Simpson and a team are training 12 new lay preachers with another class of 12 or follow. Jenny Greg has led the Loving the Questions program for several years now. It is an in-depth process to help participants discern how they are called to serve. Most years there are 5-10 people in this program. In 2020 there are 26. And I’m grateful to Pam Mott who has promoted the training of coaches in our diocese. We all need coaches to help us make decisions in this ever changing environment and now they are available as a holy resource.

We live in hard times. But the Church has gone through hard times before. The church was born in hard times. St. Paul describes it in his second letter to the church at Corinth:

“We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord…For it is God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed. Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

2 Corinthians 4:6-12

I’ll end this Convention address with one more Saint and what the early church did in tough times. It is at the end of the fourth chapter of The Acts of the Apostles. A man named Joseph of Cyprus joined the apostles. And the apostles renamed him. They gave him the name Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” You see, the apostles knew what they needed. They needed a son of encouragement.

We live in challenging times. What would happen if everyone here at this Convention promises to be a son or daughter of encouragement in our churches, in our communities, in our families? It might be revolutionary.

The mission continues. Surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses my we run with endurance the race that is set before us and with them receive the crown of glory that never fades away.

Amen.

When should we pray with our feet?

The Rev. Dave Woessner, St. Michael’s-on-the-Heights, Worcester at center of June 1, 2020 peaceful action. Photo: [T&G Staff/Rick Cinclair]

In 1859 The General Convention of the Episcopal Church met in Richmond, Virginia and said nothing about slavery. Now we have another pivotal moment in the work of anti-racism in our country. We cannot sit this one out. There are many ways to engage this work and our Beloved Community ministry has offered us resources. One way to take part in this moment is through public witness.

I have participated in a number of public witnesses through the years. In the early 1980’s I marched with Pax Christi in opposition to the nuclear arms race. I was arrested twice (but not detained) with Daniel and Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAllister for planned and peaceful symbolic actions.

As a bishop I have marched in public prayer processions with other bishops in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Salt Lake City, Alaska and Austin, Texas to bring attention to the public health crisis of gun violence. And have led public prayer witnesses at Smith and Wesson headquarters in Springfield. Caring for God’s creation led me to take part in public witness in Minneapolis and several towns within our own diocese.

How do we, as people of faith, discern when to take part in public witness? I find these questions helpful in my own life and ministry. 

  • Does the event align with the values of the Gospel?
  • Is it meaningful and timely?
  • Is it intended and likely to be non-violent?
  • What do I know about the planners/leaders of this witness?
  • Will this public witness bear witness to the Risen Christ and to the presence and power of a loving God?
The Rev. Tanya R. Wallace, rector of All Saints’, South Hadley (right) with Lutheran Pastor Anna Tew. Photo: submitted

Ours is a unique moment in history and a time for each one of us to consider how to lend our voices to the work of justice. I have been deeply moved by peaceful protestors who willingly risked exposure to the virus to stand up and stand together for the dignity of black lives. There is always a risk when we put our values out there on a sign for all to see. In these days deciding to be part of a public witness can have real consequences, so please wear a mask. How deeply we are feeling the grief of our biases, our blindness and our white privilege.

Screenshot of video of The Rev. Meredyth Ward, Urban Missioner, at June 1 protest and before the #sayhername rally on June 7. Both events were in the City of Worcester.

We pray for justice. We work for justice. And, sometimes, we walk for justice. May God be with all who pray with their feet in these days and may God’s justice roll.

+Doug

We must confront racism within and without.

Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

Tomorrow we gather to celebrate the great feast of Pentecost. I hope you all plan to be part of this diocesan service at 10:00 AM tomorrow morning. My sermon was prerecorded several days ago, so I want to say something to you about the events in Minneapolis – what I would say to you as part of my Pentecost reflection.
 
The killing of George Floyd points to the racism that is part of our society, embedded in our history, systems and institutions – including the Church. People of faith cannot ignore the unconscious racism that dwells in our own hearts and minds. We must confront it within and without. Mr. Floyd’s murder is yet another in a centuries-long line. Not decades, but centuries. Our Presiding Bishop, in a joint statement with the Bishop-elect of Minnesota, reminded us that we are not powerless in the face of racism. “We are not, however, slaves to our fate … unless we choose to do nothing.”
 
We have all been traumatized by the footage of one man’s death. We have also seen people of every color take to the streets to give voice to their anger and frustration. This moment asks something of all of us. More than ever, we need God to breathe on us. We need the courage of the Holy Spirit to stand up against the brutalization of black lives. I bid your prayers for Mr. Floyd’s family, for the safety of all those giving witness to his murder, and for those police officers doing their jobs to keep the peace. As we prepare to celebrate the gift of the Spirit in this troubled time, I ask us to recommit ourselves to the work of justice and peace.

Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

 
It is good that we will be together on Pentecost morning as a diocese to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. That afternoon at 4:00 PM, the Union of Black Episcopalians will host an online prayer vigil for racial justice and the healing of the nation. I plan to attend that event and pray that many of you will be able to join me. It will be an outward sign of the work to which the Holy Spirit calls us – work for which the Spirit empowers us. We must all find ways to express our sorrow for our complicity in the sin of racism. The Gospel calls us to the work of racial healing and to the hard inner work of personal transformation. That work begins with prayer that speaks the truth. I offer this prayer written by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the summer of 1953.
 
Let us pray:
 

Most Gracious and all wise God; Before whose face the generations rise and fall; Thou in whom we live, and move, and have our being. We thank thee for all of thy good and gracious gifts, for life and for health; for food and for raiment; for the beauties of nature and the love of human nature. We come before thee painfully aware of our inadequacies and shortcomings. We realize that we stand surrounded with the mountains of love and we deliberately dwell in the valley of hate. We stand amid the forces of truth and deliberately lie; We are forever offered the high road and yet we choose to travel the low road. For these sins O God forgive. Break the spell of that which blinds our minds. Purify our hearts that we may see thee. O God in these turbulent days when fear and doubt are mounting high give us broad visions, penetrating eyes, and power of endurance. Help us to work with rewed vigor for a warless world, for a better distribution of wealth, and for a brotherhood that transcends race or color. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray.

 
Amen.
 
+Doug

A Way That We Will Not Always Understand

Photo by Jeremy McKnight on Unsplash

Welcome to a reflection on the 5th Sunday of Easter. Today’s Gospel begins with words we long to hear in this time of a pandemic. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” says Jesus. Let’s spend a few minutes seeing how that might be true for us – even now.

The apostle Philip interrupts Jesus. Now Philip is a saint but this was not one of his finer moments. He says, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” In other words, “show us the Creator of it all. Show us the one who gives us all the answers. Why do we suffer? Why do we die? Why is there evil in the world? Give us those answers and we will be satisfied.” Throughout history we have asked those questions. Maybe we are asking them in this pandemic.

Four hundred years after Philip, St. Augustine will become one of the greatest theological minds of all time. He is in the theologian Hall of Fame. He was obsessed with the big questions and the big answers. He wrote seven books about the Holy Trinity. One time , when he was writing still another book on the Trinity, he was walking along the beach on the Mediterranean and saw a child running back and forth from the sea to a hole he had dug in the sand. The child carried a bucket, filled the bucket with seawater, dumped it into the hole he had made and did this over and over again. Augustine asked him why he was doing that. The child replied, “I’m trying to put the sea into this hole.” Augustine responded, “You can’t do that. It won’t fit.” The child, who was an angel in disguise, said “Neither can you put the Mystery of God into your mind. It won’t fit.”

Philip was like Augustine before that encounter with the angel disguised as a child. Show us the Father, show us all the answers, and we will be satisfied. There is another apostle in today’s gospel. It is Thomas. Unlike Philip, he asks a humble question: “How can we know the way?” Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” The way of sacrificial love – compassion, mercy and hope – is the way. A way that we will not always understand, a way that is greater than anything we can fit into our heads, it is a peace that passes all understanding. And that way will emerge everywhere and forever because love is stronger than death.

I was blessed to come across a poem recently that says this truth far more powerfully than I can articulate it. It is called, “A Coming Alleluia” by The Rev. Erika Takacs. One should never explain a poem before it is read, so don’t tell the bishop, but here is something to keep in mind. The poet will refer to the “old mother hen.” This comes from Luke 13:34 when Jesus uses this maternal image of himself and says this: “How often have I desired to gather you together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”

Here’s the poem written for our Easter Season, written for our season of a pandemic.

“They say there will be no Easter this year.
No hats.
No hunting.
No hymning.
No lilies to fill a bright room
with a fanfare of pollen.
No garden, no angel,
No victory.

They say that our journey
Born in sackcloth and ashes
will lead us at last to nowhere.

And so we sit worried
that the tomb, this year,
will be found, for once,
still full.

That Mary and the others
will leave with their spices
and come back home with nothing.
That this year the women will finally end their work- anoint and then leave empty.

Ssh. Be still.
Do you not hear her?
Clucking close by like an old mother hen, brooding and sighing and stretching her wings?

Fear not, she says,
for I did it before
In the silence
in the dark
in a closed and locked room
In a world that had known
only death.

Did I not prove
once for all
that there is nothing you can do,
no decision you can make
(for good or for ill)
that can stop
me rising?”

The Rev. Erika Takacs

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Jesus is rising. Even now. Especially now.

Amen.

+Doug

The Risen Jesus: Still there, still present, but unseen.

Maximino Cerezo Barredo (Spanish, 1932–), “Emmaus,” 2002. 

Welcome to a reflection on the Gospel for the Third Sunday in Easter. Easter is not just one day. It really is a season. And throughout this season, I have been amazed at how much these stories of resurrection speak to our time in a pandemic.

This week’s Gospel is the Road to Emmaus. Cleopas and an unnamed disciple are walking the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Whenever someone is “unnamed” in a Gospel story, it is meant to represent the reader. You and I are the unnamed disciple.

As they walked along , “talking about all these things that had happened,” the Risen Jesus joins them but they don’t know it is Jesus. He asks them what they are discussing and they stand still, looking sad. Cleopas says, “Are you the only one who does not know what has happened in these days?” Then they tell him about the crucifixion, the death, the empty tomb and how confusing it all is.

If Jesus were to ask us that same question right now, we would tell him all about COVID-19. We would tell him about loved ones getting sick, some of them dying alone in hospitals, about the courage of doctors and nurses and hospital staff, about sheltering at home to keep the virus from spreading, about the millions of jobs lost, and the chaos at the top levels of our government.

After Cleopas and the unnamed disciple answers Jesus’ question, Jesus speaks. He reminds them of the Scripture passages about suffering and entering into Glory.

In our time and in our place, what Scripture verses do you think Jesus would interpret for us now? Maybe they would be these:

“Many are saying ‘oh, that we might see better times! Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord.”

Psalm 4

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me.”

Psalm 23

“In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge…Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe…Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.”

Psalm 31

“You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day. Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day…because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him, I will protect him because he knows my name.”

Psalm 91

As they continue to walk, evening draws near. Cleopas and the other disciple convince the one they still don’t recognize to stay with them. They finally recognize Jesus when he takes bread, blesses it and breaks it. Gospel writer Luke describes what happens: “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight.”

There are some scripture scholars, who really know their Koine Greek – the language the gospels are written in – who say this is not the best interpretation into English. They say the original is not “and he vanished from their sight.” They say the meaning in the original Greek is, “and he disappeared among them.”

“He disappeared among them.” The Risen Jesus was still there, still present, but unseen.

Cleopas and the other disciple say “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

At the core of our faith is the continued presence of the crucified and Risen Jesus disappeared among us in the form of the Holy Spirit. Every time we go back and read those psalms I quoted before, or the stories of Moses and David and the prophets and Jesus himself, may our hearts burn within us. May we know that the love of God is stronger than death, stronger than any virus and it reaches into our lives wherever we are. We will get through these days and months with our God who is ever present. Amen.

+Doug