Prayers for South Carolina from Rhode Island


Beloved in Jesus, the Prince of Peace;

Our hearts are breaking today as we take in the news of another mass shooting. Today’s crime, apparently motivated by racial hatred, has taken the lives of nine innocent victims while they were gathered in prayer and Bible study.
Church bells are being rung across the nation calling us to prayer for the victims and for all who’s lives have been forever shattered by this tragedy. I ask that all of our congregations who can, do so tomorrow on Friday the 19th. Many are ringing their bells for 10 minutes to mark all who have died.
Bishop Charles vonRosenberg, the Episcopal bishop in South Carolina, has asked those who can, to pray the prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
I have joined with other religious leaders in the state of Rhode Island in issuing the following statement:
We reach out in loving concern to the people of Charleston, South Carolina, and especially the members and friends of the individuals who were slain while attending a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last night.  We not only honor the life of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney who lost his life shepherding his flock, but we also honor those who were gathered in prayer and reflection.  Houses of worship must be safe havens for all who are in distress and seeking God.  When any sacred space is violated, all faith communities are diminished.  

Although when such a senseless act of violence occurs, we are filled with many emotions, but we cannot respond to a hate crime with more hate.  One Charleston resident is reported to have said, “We must love our way through this.”  We concur.  

Let our response go beyond our expression of empathy and grief.   Let us recommit ourselves to the hard work of racial reconciliation and building communities of safety and love.  As our Presbyterian colleagues have stated,  “Arresting the shooter is the job of law enforcement.  Arresting hate is the work we are all called to do.”

+Nicholas Knisely
 XIII Rhode Island

Creating a Center for Reconciliation in Rhode Island

We’ve been guided by the work of the Traces of the Trade Foundation, founded by people with deep Rhode Island roots, and inspired by the reactions that Episcopalians in Rhode Island have had to learning their own history.

There’s been a great deal of interest in the last few days in a decision we made at our diocesan convention regarding the future of our Cathedral in Providence. Convention voted overwhelmingly to start working to create a Center for Reconciliation at St. John’s and to begin working toward telling the truth about our own denomination’s participation in the slave trade as part of our own reconciliation work.

Header logoWe’ve been guided by the work of the Traces Center, founded by people with deep Rhode Island roots, who created the “Traces of the Trade”. And we’ve been inspired by the reactions that Episcopalians in Rhode Island have had to learning their own history.

On the Tracing Center website blog there’s a wonderful account of the process that has brought us to this moment:

“Also in 2006, Katrina was invited to preach at St. Michael’s Church in Bristol, R.I., where many of the slave-trading DeWolf family were practicing Episcopalians in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The Rev. David Dobbins and the Ven. Janice Grinnell of St. Michael’s were moved by the sermon Katrina gave during the filming to initiate a spontaneous healing ritual during the service. This became the final scene in the film. Over the years, David and Jan have remained conscious of the need to continue to implement the process outlined in the 2006 resolutions within the Diocese of Rhode Island. Jan became the diocese’s archdeacon in 2013, and when Bishop Knisely issued a call for ideas to reimagine the cathedral, she and David conceived the idea for a museum and reconciliation center. They convened a diverse group of Rhode Islanders to explore the concept, which has grown and flourished from that beginning.

In Rhode Island, the Episcopal Church’s complicity in slavery and its economic benefits were especially stark. As Bishop Knisely notes:
  The ship building and shipping industry in Rhode Island were major players in the slave trade and much of Rhode Island’s economy was built with the profits of that trade. Many … of those businesses were owned and operated by Episcopalians. So we feel we have both an obligation and an opportunity to speak the truth about the church’s role in the slave trade.

Of course, the Episcopal Church is not unique in having historic ties to slavery, nor in having wealthy benefactors who made fortunes in slavery or the slave trade. In Providence, Brown University embarked several years ago on its own process of discernment and atonement for its historic dependence on the slave trade, a process which culminated in, among other concrete steps, the establishment of a new Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, which, along with the Tracing Center, is a partner in the cathedral project. Nor is this institutional complicity limited to Rhode Island: other religious denominations in the U.S. have been exploring their historic ties to slavery in recent years, as have other colleges and universities. For a scholarly analysis of the latter history, see Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013).”

More here. Please go and read the whole account.

Please pray for what we are hoping to accomplish here. We will need your help.

Science and Religion: Can There Be A Conversation?

Last week I gave a talk in Little Compton Rhode Island on the complexity involved in the conversation between the scientific and theological enterprises. There were two big take-aways I hoped people would leave with.

Last week I gave a talk in Little Compton Rhode Island on the complexity involved in the conversation between the scientific and theological enterprises. There were two big take-aways I hoped people would leave with.

First was that the difficulty in conversation stems primarily from the different methodologies the two systems use in discriminating between opposing claims. Science uses the lab bench. It’s not clear what the final referee is in theological conversation is, but I made a few suggestions.

(The question in theology isn’t simply answered by claiming that you use the Bible to resolve all disputes – people interpret and use the Bible differently for one thing, and there are a number of modern questions that the Bible only speaks about tangentially if at all.)

The second take-away was that there must be a conversation. Truth is truth whether it is found within the scientific enterprise or the theological. The two “rival” systems have to take account of what the other claims. To simply ignore a claim is to place oneself into an ideological zone that strives to keep oneself pure (at best) and segregated (at worst). Essentially, when one system decides to ignore the other system’s work, we are creating intellectual ghettos (in the old sense of the word) and I will not accept that God created us to live in such ways.

If you’ve got an hour of free time and you’d like to see the talk in its entirety, the people of St. Andrew’s by the Sea Episcopal Church in Little Compton recorded the presentation and have posted it:

Richard Dujardin, a reporter for the Providence Journal attended the talk as well, and did a write up that was published in the Sunday paper.

“Now I would love to tell you that there is no conflict between science and religion at all,” [Knisely] told the gathering, “but I’m afraid there is.”

He says there has been some overreaching by both sides.

Richard did a great job of presenting a rather esoteric talk in a way that I think is accessible to the general public. That’s a skill I’m not sure I’ve mastered!

Response to disaster

A thought occasioned by Bishop George Councel’s meditation on loss in the time of natural disaster:

We live in the illusion that we can adapt and change the world to our purposes.

Rather than recognizing that we are made to adapt and reorganize ourselves the world’s changes.

We used to know differently.

(A meditation given at the Spring 2013 House of Bishop’s meeting in Kanuga NC.)

Lenten Bible Study Day 8; Luke 8

I’m posting this Lenten reflection here as well as on the diocesan blog, where the rest of them have been posted. The subject matter touches on faith and science and I thought those of you reading here but not there might be interested.


Luke, Chapter 8 (NRSV)

A few years ago I was invited to take part in a radio show that intended to discuss science and faith. I didn’t know much about the radio station, the host or the show. But the interview was scheduled for 1 AM, and I figured it would be an interesting experience so I agreed to participate.

It turned out to be a radio station that held to pretty literal and inerrant understanding of the Bible. That view isn’t common in the Episcopal Church, so when I arrived and discovered that particular stance was going to frame our conversation, I was a little concerned about how I might participate. It turned out too that I wasn’t the only clergy person there. There were two others. One was a young man who was a friend of the host. The young man had studied geology before he went on to Bible college. The other was, to my surprise and delight, a rabbi who was also a professor in the History of Science department at ASU. His particular speciality was the philosophy of science. (Any day I get to talk with a rabbi is a good day in my mind.)

The discussion went about as you’d expect. We all agreed during the first part of the conversation that there was no inherent conflict between science and faith. I did point out that such a stance didn’t mean that conflict didn’t arise – since it depended on what kind of science and what kind of faith we were talking about. The Rabbi agreed with me on that point.

But soon we three were challenged by a caller to the show who said that religious faith, particularly Christianity, must always trump scientific belief. “If science contradicted the Bible, then science was wrong because the Bible was clear and easy to understand and science wasn’t. That clarity was a sign that the Bible was given directly by God.” (According to the caller.)

The rabbi laughed.

There was a moment of silence from all of us. Then the rabbi said; “God does not make the Truth easy to find. God hides the Truth from us and expects us to use our Reason to uncover it. Why God does this I do not know. But this is what the Rabbis have always taught.”

I was nodding my head yes to the rabbi’s words. And I was doing so because I was remembering how Jesus would teach the crowd in parables like a traditional rabbi of his time, but that the meaning of the parables was often hidden. In today’s chapter we read how the disciples privately approached Jesus after he had told a parable to ask the true meaning of his words. And he told them, reminding us as readers that he didn’t tell the crowds the full meaning. Why didn’t he? I do not know. But he didn’t.

And this isn’t the only case of this sort of thing. In a number of places in the New Testament, Jesus explicitly says that he is hiding the full meaning of his words from the crowds. Sometimes he tells the meaning to the disciples. Sometimes he doesn’t. I don’t know why. I’ve certainly wondered though.

I was remembering all of this as I read through the whole of Chapter 8. Jesus heals some, drives out the demons in some, stills some storms, but doesn’t heal, exorcise or still others. Why? I don’t know.

The Bible, like the rabbi said, takes the Truth and doesn’t not present it in a simple way that it easy to understand. The Bible challenges us with contradictions, cryptic words and difficult to understand stories. Luke’s Gospel has all of this.

Why does the Bible do this? I do not know. But as we begin our second week of readings in Lent, I hope that if this is the first time you’ve read a book of the Bible straight through, you’re wondering the same thing. If it’s not your first time, I hope you’re still wondering why.

Journey through Lent: Ash Wednesday, Day 1

As part of our Lenten observance in the Diocese of Rhode Island, I’ve invited people to read Luke and Acts with me. I’m posting a daily mediation on the diocesan blog. We’d love to have you join in the journey with us over there.

As part of our Lenten observance in the Diocese of Rhode Island, I’ve invited people to read Luke and Acts with me. I’m posting a daily mediation on the diocesan blog. We’d love to have you join in the journey with us over there.

Here’s today’s first post:



Thank you for joining me on this journey through the story of Jesus birth, ministry, betrayal, death and resurrection; and the story of the beginnings of the Church. Together we’ll be reading Luke-Acts for the next forty days or so.

Today when I read the opening of Luke’s version of the Gospel, I was reminded of how important it is for Luke to stress the historicity of the events of Jesus’ life.

Luke begins by explaining what he means to accomplish in his writing – that this really happened in a specific place and at a specific time. Luke is making clear that he is not writing down a series of rumors or fantastical stories. He’s telling us what has really happened.

Then he turns to the account of the birth of John the Baptist and the encounter that John’s parents had with the archangel Gabriel.

As I read these words, I’m remembering my first year as a seminarian at St. Thomas’ Church in New Haven CT. My fellow seminarian decided that we should stage a dramatic reading of the birth of John as the sermon for the second Sunday in Advent that year. People dressed up in costumes and stood in front of the altar creating tableaus of the scenes that Luke’s Gospel was recounting.

My role was to be the archangel. I was wearing my newly purchased seminarian’s cassock and surplice. We thought it would be a good idea for me to climb up a ladder behind the reredos at the high altar and to “appear” dramatically at the appropriate point in the story.

I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I decided it would be most effective if I climbed all the way up to the top of the reredos and balanced on a 2×4 on the very peak about 2 stories above the stone altar.

It was certainly dramatic. I managed to climb up there without anyone noticing at first. Nobody expected to have someone standing up there so high. And then someone in the congregation gasped and pointed. My appearance was exactly what we had hoped.

People looked up in surprise and fear. They where rightly afraid that I was going to fall. (I should have been too, but I was younger then.)

But the looks of surprise and fear on their faces was what I remember most about the moment. I was seeing in their faces what Luke describes in the face of Zechariah. What a moment that most have been. Suddenly all the stories, and the pronouncement of the scriptures became real to him. They weren’t ancient history. They were standing right before him announcing a news that he could barely comprehend.

The Gospel is like that for all of us I imagine.

How is the Gospel like that for you right now, today? What are the parts of the angelic message that cut to the core of your life? What are the parts that you’re still keeping at arm’s length? Why are you doing that?

Christmas Sermon 2012

Having just returned to the Northeast from the Southwest, it’s not the change in temperature or weather that has been the most striking. It’s the change in the length of and the darkness of the night. In the Southwest, we lived significantly closer to the equator, and being in Arizona, we didn’t “do” daylight savings time. That meant that the days and nights tended to be more the same length all throughout the year. There were no long, long summer nights and there were no short, short winter days. But having arrived in Rhode Island this fall, I’ve noticed that the sun sets much much earlier than I’m used to, and if the day is overcast – which it frequently is – what passes for daylight at this time of year is more like an extended twilight. There have a been a few days this December that I’ve found myself doubting that the sun rose at all – perhaps it’s just spent the day sliding along the southern sky, dropping back below the horizon at some point in the mid-afternoon.

IMG_00491But we didn’t just live in Arizona, we lived in downtown Phoenix – which is, by it’s own accounting – the fourth largest city in the United States. Even after the sunset the sky hardly ever got dark. The desert night was lit with the orange glow of the city lights – and stayed lit through out the year. You could see the moon, but few, if any stars on a typical night.

That’s not at all what I’ve experienced here along the coast in Rhode Island. Sure you can see the lights of Providence to the North, but looking to the South, the sky is as dark as any I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s both glorious and somewhat disconcerting to me.

We are just now past the darkest part of the year. It’s possible, if you pay very close attention to such things, to see that the days are now growing very slightly longer. The sun (when you can see it) is rising a moment or two earlier and setting a few moments later. But only people who know to look for such things can tell that the light is returning – having spent the season of summer and fall fading from the sky. And I suppose, as we stand at the gateway to winter, it can be hard to imagine the long midsummer nights that we expect to return – even as they are.

There’s an old chestnut – it’s always darkest before the dawn. I’m not sure that the saying is literally true, but in terms of our feelings and emotions, I certainly have found it to be exactly so.

As I meditate about darkness and the long dark nights of New England, and I see a sort of parallel in what we all are experiencing in our common life together. This has not been an easy time for our community. We’ve endured a nor’easter and a “super-storm” within weeks of each other, we watched our state unemployment rate refuse to drop while other states begin to finally fall, we learned that we are near last in terms of many measures of what makes a region desirable – and we’re one of only two states in the country to lose population recently.

It’s been a tough time for our common life as citizens of these United States as well – we’ve been through a divisive election that doesn’t seem to have settled anything in particular – we’re still waiting for the national economic recovery we’ve been promised, and we’ve been shocked by mass shootings that seem to be happening at random month by month across this land. It seems we’re just finished mourning one group of victims when the news comes of another, even more horrific set of killings in another part of the country.
And that’s just what I see in the larger picture here in the state and the nation. The world-wide picture isn’t much better. And I’m guessing that most of you here tonight have had to endure any number of shocks and blows these past few years. It’s been a hard time. A time when the darkness seems deep and often impenetrable. A time when it can get harder and harder to believe in the miracle of the birth of God in our midst, or that the light has come into the world, and will come again. In times like these, for many in the diocese, perhaps for many of you in this congregation tonight, believing in the promise that “all manner of things will be well” is more an act of spiritual discipline than a joyful response to what we are witnessing unfolding before our eyes.

When faith becomes a discipline, a thing to be stubbornly lived out rather than a gracious and overwhelming gift, it’s hard to find joy. It’s hard to remember that we are people, who above all others, have reason to HOPE.

But this is not the first time the gathered people of God have found themselves in such a moment in our history. Nor, sadly, do I think it will be the last. In the dark times of Israel under Roman occupation, the tribes scattered around the Mediterranean basin lost hope that God would act decisively on their behalf. In the final days leading up to the miraculous and longed for coming of the world’s Messiah which we remember this night, there was just a faithful remnant who still believed, who still longed and who still were keeping watch in the night. It was just as Isaiah prophesied in the 10th and 11th chapters of that great collection of prophecies, and yet I doubt that the people of the time of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem imagined that they themselves were the people of those prophecies, or that they were the ones who were going to be witnesses to the fulfillment of the plan of salvation. And yet they were, and they did. God broke into their lives, into the life of the World that night and nothing has ever been the same for them, for us and for the World ever since.

Those faithful people, surprised by the events of that moment, were, most significantly in a spiritual sense, standing in long tradition of people who kept faith with God – that God had promised and that God’s promises were sure and trustworthy. They happened to be the ones who witnessed the fulfillment, but more fundamentally, they were part of the great host of people who had gone before and who have since come after, who have had the audacity to trust and believe against all reason that what God had done once in history, God would do again.
These faithful people, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, Simeon, and Anna the daughter of Phanuel – and those unnamed in St. Luke’s telling of the tale – like Ezra and Nehemiah, and Judas Maccabeaus, and those who come afterwards: St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Julian of Norwich, Fr. Pusey and more, and all those we each remember with gratitude in our own hearts; were people that trusted, who had faith, that the light would dawn again. The are, and were, the people who believing in the light, became lights of their own to their day and their time. They became the lights of the world that shone forth in the darkness and gave Hope to those who’s hope had failed.


I think of their unbroken march of faith, of their witness to their own peoples, of the way their lives serve as ornaments to the tree of family of God when I see a Christmas tree dressed in finery and beautiful decorations in every Christmastide. The many faceted glass decorations, the tinsel that sparkles as it catches the light, the lights themselves that illumine and call forth the inner beauty of the tree have all become, for me, pointers, signs and signals to the more glorious, and wild beauty, of march of the faithful sainted remnant of God’s people.

One of the great gifts of Anglican spirituality – of the Episcopal Church in our case – to this moment – is our peculiar focus on the Incarnation of God in Creation and the implications that event and process has on our spirituality. We have a grand tradition of delighting in finding deeper meaning in things, whether it is in the symbolism of furnishings of the altar, the physical gestures we make in our prayers or the common homely traditions of our holidays. And I believe I stand entirely within this earthy, homely tradition of spirituality based in the Incarnation as I invite you to see our seasonal observances through such a lens.
But the ornaments of the tree, of the season are more than just pointers to people who believed in the promise. They are also heralds to us, and to those who have eyes to see, of the fulfillment of that promise as it happened on a particular night so long ago. It’s their pointing to what has happened and what is yet to come that makes them so profoundly moving to me when I see them again each year – and seeing them as signs and symbols of the life of the faithful people of God arranged on our family tree – reminds me that I must never lose my hope in them, in our time, or in our God.

And going one step further, I remind myself of my, our own, particular calling to take our place among them. Because that is why we gather tonight. To join that merry throng – that witnessed once and again and again that Mary and Joseph are come to Bethlehem – and in the darkness of that night, of this night, the Child that we have longed for was born to us and to the world.

You and I are called to be signs of the promise ourselves – to be little lights to the world that in the long darkness of these nights struggles to continue to believe in the dawn. We must take our place in that long train of witness because, without such witness, there comes despair.


How important is it for us to be signs? More than we often recognize. Because in taking up our task, we can be the light that breaks into the deepest darkness of human experience. Do you remember the story of the Christmas Truce?

When women’s groups and the fifteenth Pope Benedict asked the French, British and German governments to observe a day of truce on Christmas in 1914, the leaders of the war effort refused. But the matter didn’t end there. While similar events apparently took place up and down the western lines that Christmas Eve in 1914, the first truce broke out in the lines near Ypres. German troops began to decorate their trenches as darkness fell that night. They lit candles along their trenches and on their make-shift Christmas trees. Inspired by the decorations they had placed, they began to sing Christmas carols. British troops, in the trenches on the other side of no-man’s land, began to sing English carols in response. Eventually, as the darkness deepened that night, a few soldiers ventured up out of the trenches and made their way toward their enemies. The combatants met in the middle, framed by the lights of Christmas with carols sounding in the night. They exchanged presents and it’s said even the odd soccer game was begun as dawn began to break.

Though the generals looked on with great alarm, throughout the rest of Christmas day the enemies remembered that they were in fact cousins, with many shared customs and beliefs. And when eventually ordered, at gunpoint by their own officers, back into their respective trenches to return to the deadly work of the battle of attrition, those men remembered that time-out-of-time that they had shared with their foes.

How extraordinary that events of that night, now remembered in movies, songs and countless books, began by starting to light candles against the dark. Those Christmas lights, those decorations, recalled warring peoples to their senses and for the brief time they were allowed, they honored humanities better angels.
A dear bishop of mine once charged me, as one of his priests, to remember that, in a day such as ours, it is enough for the Church to recall that we are to sing Christmas Carols in the darkness of a culture and community that seems to prefer to war with itself rather than to strive for the common good. I’ve never forgotten that charge. And on nights like this, in days such as these, I recognize the wisdom of this words.

And so, this Christmas Eve in 2012, as I stand here among you as your new bishop, I ask everyone of you here, whether you are a member of this church, a friend, or a seeker after truth, to go out from this place proclaiming Christmas with all your might. The light HAS come into the world. The world now, and forever will, shines with the glow of the Christ child, the angels who announced his birth, and the joy of his family.
Keep Christmas well these next twelve days. Proclaim the angel chorus as best you can with whatever voice and instrument God has given into your care.

Light your candles, trim your trees, lift your voices in song. Help this world remember what has happened, and what is yet to come. Help the children of Abraham to remember whose they are and their high and glorious calling. Help the world to see, in our joy, a promise of what might be.

We are called to be light for the world. We are called to be a sign of the light that has come and will come again. We are sent out into the world as heralds of the Hope that the Prince of Peace gives as the gift to celebrate his coming.

Do you remember earlier when I mentioned the days are growing brighter, but it’s very hard to notice unless you’re looking? That most people just know that the darkness has come and are not aware that the light is once again winning its yearly battle?

We are the people who have noticed the light coming back into the word. We gather in the darkness of this night to bear witness to the light. We are sent out to be the heralds of the dawn.

May God give you the will and the means to be angels bringing hope to all who seek the light in the darkness.

Prayers for the victims of violence in Newtown CT

Dear clergy and people of Rhode Island;

We are all struggling to make sense of what is, at its heart, a senseless act of violence. I invite those who wish, to add the following collect to your prayers in the Episcopal churches of Rhode Island this Sunday. It is based on the collect for the observance of the deaths of the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28)

We remember this day, O God, the slaughter of the innocent victims of violence in Newtown Connecticut. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of the doers of evil and establish your rule of justice, love and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN.

You are in my prayers as you work with your congregations in light of this tragic news. May God give you wisdom to proclaim hope in the darkness as you enter the pulpit this Sunday.


The Rt. Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely, S.O.Sc.
Bishop of Rhode Island

Crux Mihi Ancora

Quick status report on Diocese of Rhode Island

So far today we’re not hearing of any significant impact to the people or property of the Diocese of Rhode Island. Linda Grenz has been working the phones along with the rest of the staff at Diocesan House and seems to have made contact with most every congregation.

So far today we’re not hearing of any significant impact to the people or property of the Diocese of Rhode Island from Hurricane Sandy. Linda Grenz has been working the phones along with the rest of the staff at Diocesan House and seems to have made contact with most every congregation. I’ve been driving around here in the south counties and visiting buildings and catching up with people directly.

There was some flooding in Wickford where I’m living. We’ve lost power at the house so I’m staying with one of our priests here in town. But it doesn’t appear any of the buildings were damaged and no one was in danger – thanks be to God.

I did see some significant damage to property and power lines in the south counties, particularly down in Charlestown and along Ministerial Road driving north to Kingston. The Westerly area and Block Island are particularly hard hit. Do keep people in those areas in your prayers. It’s going to a long cleanup – though nothing like the people to south of us in CT, NY or NJ are facing.

May our prayers ascend to heaven for all who’s lives are in danger or who have lost so much.