Jonathan Daniels celebration service, Keene

On the Sunday closest to August 20, St. James Episcopal Church in Keene remembers the life and witness of Jonathan Myrick Daniels. He was a member of that congregation who went to study for ministry at Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge. In 1965, he responded to Martin Luther King’s call for clergy of all faiths to travel to Selma, Alabama and support the civil rights movement. Daniels did this, working to integrate the Episcopal parish of St. Paul’s in Selma.

In his work for integration and for voting rights, he was arrested with several others for organizing a demonstration against segregated stores. Following his release from jail, he and a young black woman named Ruby Sales tried to enter the nearby Cash Market to buy some sodas. There they were confronted by a white man named Tom Coleman who met them with a shotgun. Coleman shot Jonathan Daniels, who died instantly.

Daniels is often hailed as a modern martyr for Christian faith, alongside Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maximilian Kolbe.

Rev. Jason Wells, our executive director, was invited to preach at this year’s Jonathan Daniels celebration in Keene on Sunday, August 19. Here are some of the prayers and the sermon used in that service:

Prayers of the People, including a Confession Prayer based on Birmingham segregation ordinances.

Audio of a sermon on Galatians 3:28, “For all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Ministry at ICE continues

On Tuesday, the New Hampshire Council of Churches thanked God for being able to launch a new chaplaincy on the inside of the Norris Cotton Federal Building in Manchester. This is the building where ICE has its office, where immigrants must make their required check-ins and where we participate in the Interfaith Prayer Vigils. If you want to support this chaplaincy work, please donate to the NH Council of Churches today!

Please read on for details:

For the first time, we were able to bring clergy into the building lobby, seating area and cafe! There, we could meet with people making their check-ins before or after their appointments. We met a mother with a 10-month-old baby. We met several mothers with teenage children. We met parents with young children alongside.

In many cases only one family member makes the check-in. That person goes alone while the rest of the family waits, wondering what will happen next. We are there to be a presence of support and care. We are there to keep families from being alone. We are there to offer a promise of prayer and as must pastoral care as we can. We are there to bring humanity to a dehumanizing process.

Like many chaplaincies, we have no power to change the situation. Hospital chaplains cannot make people well. Prison chaplains cannot take away sentences. But, the ministry of chaplaincy is there when we offer spiritual guidance and the presence that says “God is with you.”

On Tuesday we did try to accompany one family into the Enforcement and Removal Operation (ERO) waiting room. For this, Officer Bruce asked us to leave and we did so promptly, returning to the sitting area in the lobby. This was reported on in two news outlets:

While news-grabbing, for me this wasn’t the important story of the day. The good news is that families making check-ins can now receive interdenominational, ecumenical Christian support during a time of personal or family crisis.

Once again, your donations to the NH Council of Churches make this work possible!

 

The Trump travel ban or the Gospel

Today the Supreme Court in the case of Trump v. Hawaii upheld Executive Order 13780, frequently called the “Trump travel ban” or the “Muslim ban.” The 5-4 decision was based on whether or not the President has the power to enact the Order. “We express no view on the soundness of the policy,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the decision. The decision is not based on the fundamental American principles of freedom of religion, justice for all or openness to all who “yearn to breathe free.”

It is also not based on a moral or Biblical analysis. The US Supreme Court is not the place for such analysis, but this article is. Here are four Bible verses and a short reflection on each for the moral analysis that this moment requires:

From God alone comes my salvation. (Psalm 62:1)

Peace, safety and security are God’s gifts to humanity. To reject what God has given is to reject God.

The NH Council of Churches wrote in their Joint Statement on Immigration that recommend “reforms in our national immigration policy which uphold the God-given dignity of every person.” This recommendation is not made out of partisan rejection of others’ policies.

Instead it affirms that by trusting the goodness of others, we have placed our faith in God. As the Bible says, a nation which affirms God and God’s gifts to humanity is indeed “happy” and “blessed” (Psalm 33:12).

Besides God there is no savior. (Isaiah 43:11)

The Court-upheld travel ban is a rejection of God. It is a false gospel (Galatians 1:7). The travel ban substitutes faith and trust with fear and anti-Muslim animus.

The ban’s foundation is a lie. The ban promises safety but it can never deliver. Even the Department of Homeland Security “found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump’s travel ban pose a terror threat” (source).

Instead here in New Hampshire, I know a Muslim man whose family could not attend his daughter’s wedding due to the ban. Another person tells me of an Iranian-born sales director prevented from a routine business trip.

Rather than delivering security, the upheld ban has injured families and has injured our economy. Rather than finding the peace and safety that come from God, the ban replaces God’s offer with unfounded fears and a lies.

Because the Bible tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), this moment is a God-given opportunity to confess and repent.

Repent and believe in the good news. (Mark 1:15)

The message of Jesus was an offer of salvation for all people. He called people to end their reliance on themselves, their power and their own good works for security and salvation. Jesus asked people to repent from that path and to trust in him and his goodness for peace and safety.

In order for Jesus’ promise to be good news, it must be good news for all people. Good news cannot discriminate based on national origin. Good news cannot rely on anti-Muslim animus. Good news cannot separate families.

 

While I remain disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the President’s travel ban, I hope that Churches remain faithful to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus, which substitutes fear with faith, our efforts with God’s gift and the way of death with what is truly Good News.

Easter Message 2018

(Painting: Easter Morning, James B. Janknegt, 1992)

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:14)

Thank you, pastors. Thank you, lay leaders. Thank you, congregations and denominations.

The week from Palm Sunday through Good Friday to Easter Sunday is the most intense week of the year for the local church. You prepare extra sermons, services, music, bulletin and more as we celebrate the center of Christian faith, the death of Jesus on the cross and his empty tomb three days later. Amidst all the work you are doing now, I remind you: it matters. This work is not done in vain.

First of all, it is not in vain because the work you do tells a story that is true. Without that reality of Good Friday and Easter morning, it is so much busy-work. Because of that reality, “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead” gives power and meaning to the work you are doing now (Romans 8:11).

Second of all, it is not in vain because of the fruit it bears in people’s lives. As the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, I see the fruit that comes from faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Everywhere I go, I meet Christians of many denominations and congregations who show up to bear fruit. Let me offer you a few examples:

By faith, we believe that we can repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire. Our faith believes that the cross of Jesus was God’s “never again” to capital punishment. And so, Christians shared that faith powerfully during the hearing on SB593 in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

By faith, we believe that we can eliminate fear immigrants. Our faith believes that the cross of Jesus took down the wall of sin between us and God, so no walls should separate us here and now. And so, Christians share that faith powerfully when they come together for Prayer Vigils for Immigrant Justice or participate in the Immigrant Solidarity Network.

There’s so much more fruit that your congregations and your people bear. Active Shooter response trainings reduce fear and increase safety while giving no room to violence. Christians are uniting across long-standing barriers to serve the individuals and families harmed by the opioid crisis.

From my perspective, each Christian bearing fruit in these areas comes from one of our local churches. The work you do in the next week matters. Proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus is not done in vain. Keep the faith: the world’s salvation depends on it.

Gratefully,

Rev. Jason Wells
Executive Director

The Death Penalty and New Hampshire’s Opioid Crisis

Last week, the New Hampshire Senate voted 14-10 to repeal the death penalty. On Monday, the President came to New Hampshire to visit our Safe Stations but also to push for the death penalty for drug dealers. Today, Attorney General Sessions directed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for “drug-related cases.”

Pursuing the death penalty is wrong in general and remains wrong in this specific situation. Among all of our member denominations, we are in unanimous agreement that Christians should not support the death penalty, as stated in our Public Policy page. As Executive Director, I explained this agreement further when I testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 12.

In short, Christians believe that all human lives are sacred because they are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). No life is exempt from this, including drug dealers and those who do harm to others. The intentional taking of a human life is wrong.

The opioid crisis in New Hampshire is severe. Even so, Operation Granite Shield has made progress in apprehending offenders. Even so, leaders recognize that we cannot arrest our way out of the problem. If incarceration cannot be the only or even the primary tool of resolving the opioid crisis, then the death penalty never can.

(Because it is always wrong, the death penalty cannot be used for the good outcome of resolving the crisis. Christian thought for centuries has affirmed that one cannot do evil that good might result. That is, the ends do not justify the means.)

There are ways Christians in New Hampshire are already addressing the crisis in ways that are faith-based and that respect the dignity of human life. Here are a few:

  • Many churches recognize that Jesus has the power to redeem any life and on this basis lead or support rehabilitation, recovery and re-entry ministries.
  • Many churches recognize that their ministry in prisons, with ex-offenders and with women frequently serve the same at-risk population as direct-service rehabilitation programs.
  • Many churches, especially in Manchester, are partnering with their local fire stations for the successful Safe Station Program. Safe Stations allow addicts the ability to give up their drugs and paraphernalia, seek treatment and be offered amnesty in so doing. Churches have helped take people into recovery programs or even volunteer alongside the Fire Departments as their respond.

In his State of the State address, Governor Sununu said,

Like many states across the country, the opioid crisis in New Hampshire remains our state’s most serious challenge – one that demands great attention and proactive leadership.

Our mission to reverse the terrible effects of this epidemic rests on our ability as leaders to embrace a spirit of cooperation, innovation, and compassion when we craft the solutions to meet the needs of our families and neighbors.

As Christians we should be ready to explain our faith (1 Peter 3:15) by communicating our opposition to the death penalty, especially in relation to the opioid crisis. Then, we can act in the “spirit of cooperation, innovation and compassion” to uphold solutions of prevention, rehabilitation and amnesty that bring the good fruit of abundant life which is God’s gift.

Yours in faith,

Rev. Jason Wells, Executive Director

Responding to Parkland, Florida school shooting

After I led this morning’s prayer with the NH Senate, I saw this bumper sticker as I drove back to my office: “The Wages of Sin is Death” (Romans 6:28). How sobering to see on the morning following the most recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Just yesterday many of our denominations celebrated Ash Wednesday, where the clear call is. “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15), that is, to change our hearts, minds and lives around the truth that there is a better and more excellent way of life.

Still in the spirit of Ash Wednesday, I believe the gospel that there is not only life after death but also redemption after sin. What would it look like if we as a nation repented of:

  • The sin of sloth, meant as our legislative inaction,
  • The sin of greed, meant as taking of bribes from those who urge unfettered access to weapons of mass killing,
  • The sin of wrath, meant as turning to violence rather than to faith-based, nonviolent means of conflict resolution,
  • The sin of pride, meant as valuing of some lives or one life over the lives of the many murdered students and teachers.

It is true that the wages of sin is death. The path from death to life remains as the New Testament always had it: repentance from sin and faith in Jesus, who offers “a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31) and “the life that truly is life” (1 Timothy 6:19). At least for today, I can offer the three actions below as a few ways in which the NH Council of Churches can support individuals and churches in this path of discipleship.

Peace and all good,

Rev. Jason Wells, Executive Director

 

1. Register for the next Active Shooter Response Training. In December over 200 people attended this workshop offered by Blue-U at Heritage Baptist Church in Nashua. Click here to register via EventBrite for:

Saturday, April 7, 2018, 10:00am-12:00noon
Grace Episcopal Church, 106 Lowell Street, Manchester, NH 03101

These events are designed specifically for active-shooter events in churches. However, the more people who participate in these, the more ready we will be in any environment, such as a school, hospital or workplace.

2. Read and share our 2013 Joint Statement on Gun Violence:

In light of the on-going tragedy of mass gun shootings our faith commends us to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).  We believe that every human being is created in the image of our Creator God (Genesis 1:26) and is therefore entitled to live in community free of the fear of gun violence and gun death.  Scripture calls us to “beat our swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4, Joel 3:10); our faith teaches us that our ultimate safety and freedom lies in God.  It is therefore idolatrous to imagine that guns, especially semi-automatic and automatic weapons, will protect us from harm.

3. Read and share a statement from Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar of the New England United Methodist Conference:

During this season of Lent, we are reminded to turn away from sin and toward God’s love. May we do all that we can to renounce wickedness, reject evil and repent of our own individual and collective sin.

Feb. 15: Reflection and prayer before the NH Senate

Senate Reflection on Psalm 90:4

Donald Knuth began writing his life’s work, The Art of Computer Programming, in 1962. Since then he has written three volumes and is currently working on a fourth volume. Now: computers have change a lot since 1962. I’m amazed that these books are able to remain a standard reference work for computer programmers even when the books were first conceived 55 years ago.

When the pace of change is fast, how can Don Knuth stay on top of it all? He doesn’t. He refuses to. He acknowledges that his “role in life” is not “to be on top of things. But …[his] role is to be on the bottom of things.”

When the pace of change is fast, when the deadlines are frequent and short, we make an effort to slow down, to find things that don’t change, values that endure, the truths that are the most fundamental. We prefer not to “stay on top of things,” but rather “on the bottom of things.”

 

Let us pray. Eternal God, for whom “a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past,” we are about to walk into the State of the State address and we fly toward crossover day, keep us rooted in our values, that we speak to each other on the deep level of the heart and so find, for ourselves and for others, peace. Amen.

Scenes from Jan. 15 MLK events

Monday, January 15 was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and New Hampshire and her churches sure did celebrate! Below are a few scenes from the day.

After his work on the Civil Rights Act, Martin Luther King focused on starting a Poor People’s Campaign to address the intersecting evils of poverty, racism and an economy based on war-making. Today the New Poor People’s Campaign aims to renew King’s work and you can join the work! Click this link or text MORAL to 90975 to show your support! Leaders in New Hampshire will connect you to local events and state-wide action opportunities.

 

Executive Director Rev. Jason Wells participates in a Fight for $15 event in Concord.
A packed house at the Manchester YWCA for City Year’s day of celebration, workshops and community service.
Rev. Eric Jackson of Brookside Congregational Church (UCC) in Manchester offered a message entitled “Team Work Makes the Dream Work.”
Bishop Rob Hirschfeld (Episcopal) offers a prayer of invocation at St. George Greek Orthodox Church for the 36th annual MLK celebration in Manchester.
Rev. Mariama White-Hammond of Bethel AME Church in Boston offers her talk “Where We Stand Now.”
Congratulations to Russell and former state representative Jackie Weatherspoon on your award at yesterday’s Martin Luther King Jr Coalition event in Manchester.

 

Testimony on HB628 (family and medical leave insurance)

Testimony on HB 628, relative to a family and medical leave insurance program
to the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).

As the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, I have heard from many pastors and families of many denominations across the Granite State. While this is not an official position of any denomination or of the Council, hearing testimony from them about the impact of HB628 is important.

They echo to me what others will testify to you today: that HB628 will contribute to the peace and prosperity, security and stability of New Hampshire families. Why is this important to our Christian churches and indeed to all faith communities? I have heard testimony from families and pastors in three broad categories:

First, it is the Biblical and natural role of parents to educate their children and to pass on their faith and values (Exodus 12:26, Deuteronomy 6:3, Psalm 78:4). When families experience the kind of peace and stability that HB628 brings, then they can engage this role with greater dedication.

Second, when families of all kinds are free from anxiety and worry about leave time or the well-being of those they love, they can grow spiritually and participate fully in their churches and faith communities. The familiar concept of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs expresses that our basic material needs must first be met in order to achieve spiritual health and well-being.

Finally, when families prosper in the ways in which HB628 provides, then their engagement in their churches and faith communities leads to the use of free time and free funds for charitable giving and volunteer engagement. Supporting families in this way unlocks individuals to be giving, to be generous and to be more kind in their local communities.

Please support HB628, for when we work for the “peace and prosperity” of others, we find that all across New Hampshire will benefit. Thank you.