Episcopal Church of the Messiah, North Woodstock

Featured image: Rev. Teresa Gocha and Fred Chisholm welcome me to Episcopal Church of the Messiah.

On Sunday, December 10, I took the invitation to preach and to celebrate Holy Communion at the Episcopal Church of the Messiah in North Woodstock. I arrived ahead of their 9:00am service and met with Rev. Teresa Gocha, who was preparing for worship, and Fred Chisholm, who is preparing for ordained ministry.

I preached on the figure of John the Baptist who said, “I am the voice” (John 1:23), but it is Jesus who is “the Word who became flesh” (John 1:14). I shared stories about how the NH Council of Churches helps local churches come together, especially to serve people fearing deportation. Just as John the Baptist had a mission to be a Voice for God’s Word, so we continue that ministry of communicating stories of salvation and redemption:

“God’s best microphone is Christ, and
Christ’s best microphone is the Church, and
the Church is all of you” (Archbishop Oscar Romero).

Would you like the NH Council of Churches to visit or to preach at your local congregation? Please send an invitation via email or a phone call and we will find a Sunday to join you!

Church of the Messiah, North Woodstock
Church of the Messiah, North Woodstock is next door to the Woodstock Inn & Brewery. Quite a sight in the fresh snow!
The church is quiet and ready for the people to arrive.
During the reading of Isaiah 40, a worshiper’s dog (named “Moose”) wandered up to me looking for ear-scritches.
After worship, the congregation moves to the back of the church to fellowship in the form of coffee and cookies.
A sight seen around the corner from the church on my ride home.

An attack on one faith hurts all people of faith

On Tuesday, December 5, Mitt Romney was attacked for the practice of his Mormon faith. Steve Bannon said, “You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam.”

As always, there’s more to the story including a background feud over political endorsements. I mean now to take up only the fact that this was an attack on someone’s faith. (Please note: the Latter-Day Saints Church is not a member of the NH Council of Churches.)

To summarize the two thoughts below:

  1. In general, an attack on the faith of one person opens up people of all faiths for attack.
  2. This particular attack says that Mitt Romney should have given the State greater obedience than he did to God.

First, attacks on people for their religious faith are common in the United States. There are many stories of immigrants who were attacked by anti-Catholics. This includes my Polish immigrant ancestors, but is familiar to many in New Hampshire who heard family stories about “Irish Need Not Apply” signs and similar attacks.

Closer to us in memory are anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attacks, which sadly boil over into physical attacks.

An attack on someone for the practice of Mormon faith may seem easy to ignore or to minimize. However, all Christians know that “when one suffers, all suffer” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

As is the case in human sin, an insult to one aspect of faith makes the next insult easier to speak. One insult ignored makes the next, stronger attack also easier to ignore. If we ignore and insult on a religion that we don’t identify with (as Christians have little understanding of LDS faith and practice), we make space for future insults on faiths that will hit closer to home.

When we reject such insults and attacks, the following will happen:

  • We create a culture of tolerance and respect for religious difference.
  • We stop future, more serious attacks.
  • We stop the attacks against a remote ally from coming closer to our own faith.
  • We create relationships of mutual support so that others will come to our aid when we are the victims, suggested by  the much-quoted Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller.

Second, consider the content of the insult rather than the fact of it. The accusation was that Mitt Romney “hid behind his religion” by pursuing missionary service instead of military service in Vietnam.

This insult says, in effect, that personal conscience and religious practice should have taken a back seat for the service of the State. This insult is not only an attack on faith identification in general, but on particular religious practices.

Many of our member denominations have peace traditions within them. They offer conscientious objector status. They offer periods of missionary service or Peace Corps-style service-learning programs, such as Assisi House here in Tilton, NH. They offer forms of intentional religious community like monasteries or convents where people dedicate themselves fully to following God.In the United States, we have heard much talk of religious freedom. That is, that the government cannot require any person to act contrary to their religious beliefs. If this principle holds for business owners, it must hold equally true for the individual who seeks, even for a time, to dedicate their lives to the service of God.This insult says that there was a calling from the state to war that trumped personal religious calling. It attacks not just a person, but also the affirmations of the Theological Declaration of Barmen. This Christian statement relies on significant Bible passages such as John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” This is to say that, for the Christian, there is no calling or claim on our lives, even from the State, which comes ahead of Jesus. For the basic principle of the Golden Rule, we support and defend also non-Christians and Christian denominations different from our own when they are attacked. Because of these two reasons, I recognize this insult for all that it represents and reject it as an attack on freedom of religious practice, a founding American principle.





First Sunday of Advent: Keep awake!

Image: William Hogarth, The Sleeping Congregation, 1736.

From Mark 13:24-37:

Jesus said, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. … Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

In the weeks before Christmas, many churches proclaim Bible readings on the themes of darkness and light, of wakeness and sleepness. Jesus calls his followers to awakeness, to alertness, to attention to the world around them. But many people outside the church know that frequently our churches are “resting places.” That is, they are places to remain spiritually asleep: to seek shelter from the difficulties of the world, to pretend they aren’t there and to replace the hardness of life with sweet stories and dreams.

In the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail:”

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

In this season, Jesus cannot call us to “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” for Jesus call us to wake up from our slumber. So frequently the Bible says that God “opens our eyes” to see and understand. Our hymns sing of Jesus who comes to us as a light. In the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, “a light turned on awakens and of course annoys a sleeper.”

Are your eyes open? What do you see? What bothers and annoys you about what you see? What does God want you to see? And, having seen, how is God calling you to change and to act in the light of what you see?