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November 13. 2013 10:00PM

Bishop to sign Shared Ministry Covenant for Hampton and Portsmouth churches

HAMPTON — The Right Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, will be at Trinity Episcopal Church, 200 High St., Saturday, Nov. 16 to sign the recently adopted Shared Ministry Covenant between that church and Christ Episcopal Church in Portsmouth.

Holy Eucharist with the signing of the covenant will be held at 5 p.m. and a celebration dinner will follow in the church's Hobbs Hall at 7 p.m.. All are welcome as the two churches celebrate the culmination of many months' work and many years' anticipation.

The two congregations have been exploring sharing their ministries since 2009, and began sharing in earnest in 2011. Last spring, they began congregation-wide studies of what kinds of issues needed to be formalized in a covenant that would form the framework for the ministry.

It was agreed that there would be an initial two-year period from the signing of the covenant, at the end of which there would be a "mutual ministry review" to refine the nature of the relationship before covenanting to continue.

Last summer, the combined Bishop's Committees, the governing bodies of the two churches, under the direction of their shared vicar, the Rev. David Robinson, unanimously endorsed the text of the Shared Ministry Covenant being signed this week.

They then established a process for refinement and adoption by the congregations at large, which culminated in a special parish meeting in each church on Sunday, Oct. 6. An affirmative vote of two-thirds of those present in both congregations was required for adoption. As it turned out, the vote came close to being unanimous.

While the relationship involves a variety of shared ministry opportunities between the two congregations, including Christian education, outreach and joint fellowship events, it's the way the two churches share a single priest that required the most negotiation.

Robinson divides his schedule between the two churches, working from his Trinity office on Monday and Wednesday mornings and at Christ Church on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

On Sunday mornings, he leads the 8:45 a.m. service in Hampton prior to leading the 10:30 a.m. service in Portsmouth. He also celebrates a 5 p.m. Eucharist Saturdays at Trinity Church.

His remaining time throughout the week is dedicated to events and pastoral needs.

Robinson is available for pastoral emergencies any time at either church.

Ministering to what he describes as "two ...unique communities," Robinson has found that though "they are both very different from each other," they share an enthusiasm for the shared ministry that took some time and effort to develop.

Some at the "more conservative" Trinity were wary of entering into partnership with the Portsmouth congregation and its "long history of progressivism," said Robinson, and Christ Church parishioners were similarly skeptical about partnering with Trinity's congregation.

But as they have "found their rhythm" together, Robinson said, "they've discovered they have much more in common than they imagined" and have found a way to allow their individual character traits to complement those in their sister congregation.

As for Robinson, who will turn 60 next month, he came to the shared ministry one year ago from the Church of Our Saviour in Milford, where he served as parish priest for 11 years.

Robinson says he has been ''really impressed" with the community involvement he has witnessed that is being lived out through the members of Trinity and Christ Churches. They are "really engaged, involved communities that serve far out of proportion to their numbers," he said. "They do a lot for relatively small churches."

Further details on the service and the shared ministry may be found on the Trinity Church website at www.trinityhampton.org or Christ Church's site, www.christepiscopalchurch.us.


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