Presiding Bishop Curry's Word to the Church: Who shall we be?
[January 8, 2021] The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate, has issued the following Word to the Church.
And now in the name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
In another time of national crisis, another time of danger for our nation, in 1865 on March the fourth, Abraham Lincoln concluded his second inaugural address with these words:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
Lincoln knew in that moment, in the moment of a national crisis, a moment of great danger, that such a moment was a moment of decision, when a nation, when a people must decide who shall we be? What kind of nation, what kind of people shall we be? A hundred years later, Martin Luther King faced the same reality. Who shall we be? The civil rights movement was waning. The great victories that had been won had been won. And yet now questions of poverty and economic despair and disparities raised an awesome specter on the nation. We were at war.
We were at war in another country, but there was war on our streets. The nation was deeply divided. Cities burned. There were riots. Riots at national conventions of political parties. The future of the nation was in question, and it was at that time that Dr. King realized that in moments of danger, a decision must be made. And he titled his last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community. I believe as he believed, as Abraham Lincoln believed, as I believe you believe, that we must choose community. Chaos is not an option. Community is our only hope.
The truth is Dr. King spoke often of all that he did and labored for was for the purpose of realizing as much of the Beloved Community of God as it is possible on this earth. He spoke of Beloved Community, the Bible, the New Testament, Jesus spoke of the kingdom or the reign of God. Jesus taught us to pray, and to work, and to labor for that Beloved Community, that reign of God's love in our time and in our world, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth just as it is in heaven. Those are our marching orders from Jesus himself.
I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth because I believe that his way of love and his way of life is the way of life for us all. I believe that unselfish, sacrificial love, love that seeks the good and the welfare and the well-being of others, as well as the self, that this is the way that can lead us and guide us to do what is just, to do what is right, to do what is merciful. It is the way that can lead us beyond the chaos to community.
Now, I know full well that this may to some sound naive, to others, idealistic, and I understand that. And yet, I want to submit that the way of love that leads to beloved community is the only way of hope for humanity. Consider the alternative. The alternative is chaos, not community. The alternative is the abyss of anarchy, of chaos, of hatred, of bigotry, of violence, and that alternative is unthinkable. We have seen nightmarish visions of that alternative. We saw it in Charlottesville just a few years ago when neo-Nazis marched through the streets of an American city, chanting, "Jews will not replace us." That alternative is unthinkable. We saw it in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where a public safety officer knelt with his knee on the neck of another human being. A child of God, just like he was, and snuffed out the breath of life that God gave him. The alternative is unthinkable.
And we have seen it this past Wednesday, when a monument to democracy, the Capitol of the United States of America was desecrated and violated with violence by vandals. Lives were lost. A nation was wounded. Democracy itself was threatened. My brothers and sisters, this way of love that Jesus taught us when he said, "Love the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself." This way of love that Moses taught even before Jesus. This way of unselfish, sacrificial love, it is the way to redeem a nation, to save a world. It is the way of hope for us all. But do not make the mistake of thinking that I speak of a sentimental and emotional love.
Jesus spoke of love most consistently the closer he got to the cross. This way of love is the way of sacrifice, the way of unselfishness, the way of selflessness, that seeks the good of the other as well as the self. And that is the way of the cross, which is the way of life. And if you don't believe me, ask another apostle of love. Not Dr. King, not Abraham Lincoln, ask Archbishop Tutu. Ask one who has given his life for the cause of God's love in the way of Jesus. Ask him; ask Nelson Mandela in your mind. Ask them what love looks like. They knew that the way of love was the only way that could guide South Africa from what could have become a bloody nightmare and civil war to the way that could build a nation.
And it was not sentimental. Remember truth and reconciliation. They had to face painful truths. They had to do what was just and what was merciful. They had to do what the prophet Micah said, that the motivation and the guide was love. Archbishop Tutu said this:
Love, forgiving, and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones is not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back or turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness of the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse for a while. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring forth real healing. Superficial reconciliation only brings superficial healing.
This is the way of love that can heal our hurts, that can heal our land, that can help us to become one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. So, I would ask you to do two things. I'm asking you to make a commitment, a renewed commitment, to live the way of love as Jesus has taught us and to do it by making a commitment to go out and bless somebody. Bless somebody you disagree with. Bless somebody you agree with. But to go out and bless somebody by helping somebody along the way. Go out and bless somebody by listening to their story and their life. To go out and be an instrument of God's peace, an agent of God's love.
And then I would ask you to pray. Pray for this nation but pray with some specificity. Pray that we may have the wisdom and the courage to love.
God of grace and God of glory, on thy people pour thy pow’r. Crown thine ancient church’s story, bring her bud to glorious flow’r. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour - Harry Emerson Fosdick, God of Grace and God of Glory
With malice toward none, with charity toward all. With firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right. Let us strive to finish the work, the work that we are in. To bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan. To do all which may achieve and cherish, a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
God love you. God bless you. And may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.
Join us as we pray and discern the work of justice in our time and place. Come, meet others who are passionate about the issues. Listen to the Word, discern how the Spirit is calling the Church to action.
Saturday January 23rd 9:00 AM - 12:30 PM Keynote Speaker: The Reverend Stephanie Spellers
She graduated from Episcopal Divinity School with a Masters of Divinity; Harvard Divinity School with a Masters of Theological Studies; and Wake Forest University with a Bachelors in Religion, where she began organizing for justice and peace.
There is no cost for this online event; however, we invite you to make a $10 donation to Human To Human.
Human to Human is a collaboration of good works begun by the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, but the safe spaces we create are not limited to our church buildings themselves. They are in the communities where we are located.
Two New Diocesan Trainings to License Lay Worship Leaders January 7 @ 7:00 PM | January 28 @ 7:00 PM
The Rev. Meredyth Ward, our Urban Missioner in Worcester, and the Rev. Jane Griesbach, Deacon at St. Francis Holden, will offer two Zoom trainings to interested laypersons who want to learn how to lead the Daily Offices, in particular Morning Prayer. This is for brand new persons or can be a refresher for folks who are being called on more often during the COVID-19 pandemic.
IMPORTANT: Each training is limited to 20 people. Register using the buttons below. This is an online event. You will receive the link to the event content in your order confirmation email, and in a reminder email before the event starts.
Lay Preaching Academy Feb 14, 21, 28 Mar 7, 14, 21
This winter we will be offering a six-week Zoom seminar for new or relatively new lay preachers. The sessions will be offered on Sunday afternoons from February 14 - March 21, from 1 pm to 2 pm. There is a limit of twelve participants, so signing up early is encouraged.
FACILITATORS The facilitators of these gatherings will be Canon Rich Simpson who is on the Bishop's Staff, The Rev. Megan McDermott, Priest Associate at Grace Church in Amherst, Mr. Craig Hammond, a member of St. John's, Northampton and our diocesan lay evangelist, and Ms. Rachel "Jac" Essing, a postulant for the vocational diaconate. We do not consider ourselves "expert" preachers but each of us speak with our own voice, shaped by our own experience. We anticipate this seminar to be more conversational and not a series of lectures. We hope those who participate will come willing to learn and take some risks for the sake of the gospel.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, TO APPLY Please email Canon Rich Simpson for more details and to apply, at email@example.com. We ask that all applicants have a conversation with their clergy and/or senior wardens before that. If we have more than twelve sign up we'll start a waiting list for next time.
The Bishop's Christmas Message (premiering on Facebook & YouTube on the morning of December 23rd)
Click here to view the video on YouTube. Click here to view the video on Facebook Watch. Click here to download from Vimeo.
Advent 4 Reflections: The Revs. Megan McDermott, José Reyes and Bishop Doug Fisher
Bishop Fisher is collaborating with Global Visions and Assoc. Inc. to produce several Advent meditations that may be shared with our congregations. These videos include music and footage that invite meditation and run 8-10 minutes in length. Expect delivery each Tuesday at 8:00 AM via email, Facebook and YouTube.
Interested in starting a Good News Garden? Zoom Interest Meeting on December 14th @ 5:00 PM
This program will equip congregations across our diocese – and their individual members – to 1) grow and give healthy food; 2) reflect on connections between scripture, faith, food and gardening; and 3) learn about and influence food systems and policies that affect society as a whole. Grace Church in the Berkshires is already modeling through Gideon’s Garden how growing and giving healthy food can transform lives. We will collaborate with area partners to spread the good news through gardening
Join us on Monday, December 14th at 5:00pm for a brief 30 minute presentation, followed by a time for questions. We’ll share the vision for Good News Gardens and share with you how you, your parish, and your community can be part of it!
In these tumultuous times, what better way to welcome Jesus than to set aside a quiet morning to make room for his birth in our hearts and minds? During this Advent Quiet Day, we will step away from our daily tasks and concerns so that we can listen with full attention to the Spirit’s movement within us. Our intention will be to awaken to the divine Presence being given to us, moment by moment, breath by breath. Our time together will include presentations and guided meditations, with options for solitary reflection (indoors or out) or small group conversation. Please bring a candle and matches, if you can. For the periods of free time, you may wish to have a journal or art supplies nearby, or a good warm coat so that you can head outside. Together, let’s create a space for Jesus to be born again in our lives. This online retreat is open to all, free of charge.
The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas
The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas serves as Missioner for Creation Care in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ. Her latest book (co-edited) is Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis. Her collection of daily meditations for Advent and Christmas, Joy of Heaven, to Earth Come Down, calls us to a practice of prayer grounded in reverence for the earth and to intentional living in harmony with the natural world. Her Website: RevivingCreation.org. (Photo: Robert A, Jonas)
A Pastoral Word from the Episcopal Bishops in Massachusetts with Updated Pandemic Guidance
November 19, 2020
Dear people of the Dioceses of Massachusetts and Western Massachusetts,
Our first word to you is one of deep gratitude. In the past eight months our churches have responded to the challenges of this pandemic with commitment and creativity. You have found new ways to worship, continued to provide life-sustaining ministry in your communities, and remained in supportive fellowship with one another. Despite widely shared anxiety and fatigue, you have nonetheless remained faithful to the core identity of the church. We are grateful beyond measure. God bless you.
Our second word to you is one of grave concern and utmost caution. Over the past several weeks, the spread of the coronavirus has increased dramatically in the Commonwealth. Infection levels have returned to levels not seen since spring. On November 2, Governor Baker issued revised measures, imposing stricter controls on gatherings in both private and public settings. As we move into colder weather and flu season, we believe that clear and present risks in our communities demand a similar response from people of faith to help protect ourselves and one another. Jesus’s Law of Love simply must be our foremost and abiding concern.
While religious and political organizations are exempt from many state guidelines, such exemptions place concern for First Amendment legal challenges ahead of concern for the health and well-being of God’s people. As your bishops, we are convinced that Jesus’s commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) must be the overriding factor in our decisions, even when this requires accepting limits to our own freedoms. Indeed, St. Paul insisted upon this priority. “’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are beneficial …. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.” (I Corinthians 10:23-24) For this reason, where state standards for places of worship are more permissive than those for other gathering places, we expect our churches to adhere to the more limited standards provided for other public venues.
One of our consulting medical professionals has observed poignantly, “The infectious disease epidemiologist in me wants everyone to just stay home. The harm reductionist in me wants to meet people where they are and make them as safe as they can be. The Christian in me sees suffering from these practices and wants to comfort them. I don't know how to be all three at the same time.” As your bishops, we share that tension, desiring to care for the health of all our people and our neighbors, even while providing the spiritual and pastoral care which nurtures and sustains us. We know that our clergy, lay leaders, and all faithful Episcopalians share these same concerns.
The guidelines below represent our hope that renewed restrictions, while causing short-term disappointment, will help us all traverse the coming months in greater health and with genuine care for one another, as Jesus has commanded.
We know and grieve that the timing of these restrictions means that Advent and Christmas simply will not be observed with many of our cherished traditions this year. Instead it will be a year for small, quiet, contemplative possibilities – perhaps not unlike the lonely stable in Bethlehem shared by that little family at the Incarnation, where Christ first came to meet all our hopes and fears.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher, Bishop Diocesan, Diocese of Western Massachusetts The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop Diocesan, Diocese of Massachusetts The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan, Diocese of Massachusetts
All churches are now urged in the strongest possible terms to suspend in-person, indoor worship. This expectation is in effect for the foreseeable future, as steps continue to be taken across the country to curtail the dramatic rise of coronavirus infections.
Outdoor services are limited to a maximum of 50 persons, while maintaining appropriate physical distancing and other safety practices. This accords with the state guidelines for outdoor gatherings.
In any congregation where in-person, indoor worship will continue despite our strong counsel, maximum attendance is determined by the physical-distancing protocols applied within the church’s particular worship space (see A Journey By Stages), and in any case is limited to a maximum of 25 persons. This limitation is in accordance with state guidelines for indoor venues. All persons in higher-risk groups should participate in worship virtually.
Due to the dramatic risk of airborne viral transmission, cantors or soloists must observe 20-foot physical distancing, whether for live-streamed or in-person services, indoors or outdoors. The use of pre-recorded or remotely performed music is encouraged. Congregational singing isprohibited both indoors and outdoors.
The sacrament of Holy Communion may be made available to the people, as indicated in prior guidelines, through the distribution of previously-consecrated wafers in advance of live-streamed or recorded services. Such distribution should be made by clergy, lay eucharistic visitors, or pastoral caregivers via brief pastoral visits to the home, or during specified hours at the church. Any such method must abide by the protocols for safe distribution of the Sacrament as described in Expanded Guidelines for Stage Two.
CARING FOR ONE ANOTHER:
We commend the efforts of congregations which have opened their churches for times of private prayer and reflection while following practices to do so safely.
We applaud such pastoral tools as ‘buddy systems’ and virtual small groups which connect individuals and households with one another. We encourage all people to respond to the isolation felt by so many by reaching out with phone calls, notes, virtual check-ins, and – where safely possible – brief pastoral visits.
We encourage those who are in lower-risk groups to support those in greater danger of COVID-19 infection by assisting with grocery shopping and other errands, thus helping them remain safer at home.
Know someone who needs a Back To School Blessing? This 20-minute prayer video was produced by Christ Church Cathedral for our diocese and led by our deacons and bishop. Listen to short reflections about this unusual school year and pray for teachers, students and families.