Incoming bishop once organized 'marriage fast'
Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld, seen during an interview Thursday in Concord, will be consecrated Saturday as bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. (Thomas Roy/ Union Leader)
Rev. A Robert Hirschfeld, who will be consecrated, as Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, being interviewed at the Office of Episcopal Diocese of NH, in Concord, on Thursday. (Thomas Roy/ Union Leader)
“I'm not going to go out of my way to make big statements, but it may happen if God so calls us,” Hirschfeld told the New Hampshire Union Leader at Episcopal diocese headquarters. “I'm leaving the door open.”
Hirschfeld, who will be consecrated Saturday as bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of New Hampshire, drew national attention when he called for a “marriage fast” at his Amherst, Mass., church because the national church wouldn't allow him to bless same-sex unions.
“It was to stand in solidarity with the gay community,” said Hirschfeld, who's married with three children. “I just felt it was the thing I was called to do. It got a lot of attention, more than I anticipated.”
Starting Saturday, Hirschfeld will serve with Robinson, who made his own national headlines in 2003 when he was elected the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. Hirschfeld will take the title of bishop when Robinson retires in early January.
“You can expect me, I think, to pray deeply about the issues that face us and to urge the congregation to respond,” he said.
Hirschfeld will lead a diocese containing 47 parishes and about 10,000 members in New Hampshire.
Back in 2006, Hirschfeld said he couldn't understand how homosexual parishioners were denied the blessing, but outsiders who were heterosexual could get married at the church. “It was like a Las Vegas wedding chapel,” he said.
The Rev. Adrian Robbins Cole, president of the New Hampshire diocese's standing committee, said “we're past the issue.”
Cole said parishioners appreciate Hirschfeld's “deeply spiritual mind.”
Hirschfeld noted that Northern New England scores some of the lowest rates in the country for religious participation.
“There's a feeling of the (Episcopal) Church as being victimized by the culture, and I'm not sure that's actually going to bring people (through) the doors, by saying 'Woe is us,'” he said. “I think we need to think outside the box, which is where the spirit normally works. The Holy Spirit doesn't like boxes, so I think God's spirit may be calling us to be creative on how we can be church beyond just Sunday morning.”
Hirschfeld is selling his Massachusetts home and sending two of his children to college, one at Dartmouth and a second at Bates.
“We don't know where we'll be living yet, but we're taking our time,” he said.
Cole said Hirschfeld's first-ballot selection among the three-candidate field in May “gives him a real sense of confidence that we made a good choice here and we're all united behind one person.”
Hirschfeld is still processing his new position.
“It's mysterious being elected bishop,” he said. “I really didn't aspire to it. I'm still learning what it means.”
After the vote, he spoke with the other finalists.
“There is a sense of where we say we really don't know who to congratulate here,” he recalled. “You know, it's like, do we give condolences to the new bishop or congratulations? Do we give congratulations to those who are going to be able to stay in their current place of ministry?”
Hirschfeld said he doesn't have a big list to check off.
“I don't have like a five-point plan of action, these are the things that I want to see happen in the Diocese of New Hampshire in the next six months or the first 100 days,” he said. “What I'm very clear about is a desire to know and to listen to what is most deep in the hearts and souls of the people in this part of God's realm.”
He said “the role of the bishop is to guide and to lead, to protect, to nourish God's people.
“It's very clear to me both as a priest and as a parent that there are manifold forces in this world that lead us to forget who we are as human beings. We are urged to think of ourselves as consumers, as laborers, as taxable events, things that are less than human, and by human I mean created by a loving God, a God that continues to create us and who desires to renew us.”
Hirschfeld hopes to tackle the problem.
“There's so much of what we see, the barrage of messages that say you're not wealthy enough, you're not thin enough, you're not attractive enough, you're not whatever, fill in the blank,” he said. “The message of the church is I want to give you a life that is beyond your wildest dreams and that happens to us when we find ourselves in community and when we're committed to community, and the thing about the church is it's a community based on the notion that love is stronger than hate and that life triumphs over death, which can instill into us tremendous generosity and care to those who are less fortunate.”
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