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Bishop in Ashfield: The right words at the right time can make change

  • Bishop Douglas Fisher speaks to the congregation at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018 in Ashfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Bishop Douglas Fisher visits the congregation at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018 in Ashfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Bishop Douglas Fisher speaks to the congregation at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018 in Ashfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Bishop Douglas Fisher leads the congregation in prayer at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018 in Ashfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Bishop Douglas Fisher speaks to the congregation at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018 in Ashfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Bishop Douglas Fisher speaks to the congregation at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018 in Ashfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Bishop Douglas Fisher speaks to the congregation at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018 in Ashfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ashfield hosted a visit from Bishop Douglas Fisher on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ashfield hosted a visit from Bishop Douglas Fisher on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE



Recorder Staff
Sunday, January 21, 2018

ASHFIELD — The tiny white church on the corner of Main and South had a welcome visitor Sunday when The Right Rev. Dr. Douglas J. Fisher, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, came to speak to parishioners.

St. John’s Episcopal Church, which prominently displays an “Immigrants & Refugees Welcome” banner on the side of its picturesque building, welcomed Fisher for the third time in his five-and-a-half years as Bishop. Fisher visits a different church each Sunday. There are 55 churches in his diocese, so according to Fisher, it takes about a year and a half to make the cycle.

An organ played softly as parishioners came through the doors to sit in white pews. Sun streamed through the arched windows, lighting up the room. The church’s Rev. Mark Hatch sat up front, opposite of the Rev. Fisher, waiting for the day’s worship to begin.

Almost exactly at 10 a.m., the crowd of approximately 30 people erupted into song, standing up from the cushioned pews to sing the opening hymn “Singing Songs of Expectation.”

When it came time for Fisher’s sermon, he commended the captive audience.

“I love coming to St. John’s, and not just because you’re in the most beautiful part of our diocese,” Fisher said, opening his sermon to not only praise the area’s charms, but also praise the churchgoers for their attention to charity and community.

Fisher indicated early on that his sermon would be punctuated by lighthearted stories and jokes, much to the enjoyment of the parishioners.

“This is my sixth football season (as Bishop) ... I always time my service to when kickoff is,” Fisher said, asking churchgoers when the day’s kickoff would be.

“Three o’clock!” chimed a voice from the crowd.

“Well, let’s settle in for a while,” joked the Reverend while the room echoed with laughter.

Commending charity

Fisher transitioned from commending churchgoers for their financial contributions to telling them what these contributions have allowed the church to do.

For one, they’ve allowed weekly lunches to be held for veterans in need.

“Twenty-one veterans a day kill themselves. Twenty-one a day,” Fisher enunciated. “What we’re trying to do is (bring veterans) from isolation to community.”

According to Fisher, some veterans are “really hurting.” Some have told Fisher that when they go to meals provided by the church, that’s the only time they can have a guaranteed meal and civil conversation.

“The rest of the week, they’re looking for a place to stay, looking for a place to eat, looking for a place to go to the bathroom,” he said. “And here they go to these lunches, and they’re treated with dignity and respect and they have these holy conversations.”

Fisher mentioned more programs that have been made available thanks to the generosity of the Episcopal Church.

There’s a six-bed sober house in Webster for people struggling with addiction and other trying to straighten out their lives, called “Reconciliation House,” run by the Church of Reconciliation, an Episcopal parish.

There are also “outdoor ministries,” which serve people who live on the streets. Fisher also spoke of an Episcopal Chapel that will be integrated into the women’s correctional facility in Chicopee.

“Again, that comes out of your support,” he said. “So thank you. Thank you.”

Advice for parishioners

“There are times when Jesus says a key word that causes the disciples to become disciples, to change their life,” Fisher said, recalling a book he read called “The Right Words At the Right Time.”

He spoke to the church about how saying the right words at the right time can truly make a difference in someone’s life.

“I invite you to think, ‘when did someone say the right words at the right time (to me)?’” he said. “Be grateful for that person.”

Then, he urged the parish to think of the people who need to hear the right words at the right time, and urged churchgoers to reach out to those who may need to hear them.

Speaking about Christianity

The bishop also talked about Christianity as a whole.

“If we are looking for the meaning of life, Christianity does not give us a sheet with all the answers on it,” he said. “Our faith isn’t about a place; it’s not a philosophy, it’s not a catechism. … Christianity does not exist in knowing… even though we’d like to know the answers. Christianity is about following.”

He recalled that after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, his church at the time was “packed.” Then, numbers started to diminish.

“People were so horrified by what happened that they came to church to find the answers: Why do terrible things happen? … And they came here and found out Christianity doesn’t have the answers to those questions,” he said.

He also spoke about how the church seeks to make a positive impact in the world, such as through charity and good intentions.

“If we don’t change the world with our faith, then Jesus of Nazareth was just a utopian dreamer,” he said.

After the end of Fisher’s sermon, people got up from the pews to greet one another: giving handshakes, smiling, hugging, chatting and wishing each other peace.

Fisher invited the parish to come forward after the end of the service to take a picture with him to put on Facebook.

The service ended with another hymn, and the tiny church lit up yet again. Some voices grew louder toward the last notes of the hymn. After the song was over, almost every parishioner crowded at the front of the church, surrounding Fisher for a picture.

“Crowd in here,” Fisher said, welcoming more and more people.

“On three, say ‘Go Jesus!’” Fisher instructed the crowd as they waited for a picture to be taken.

Everyone smiled.

Reach Christie Wisniewski at:

cwisniewski@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 280