The Passing Parson

A monthly blog by Rev. Dr George J. Koch, Holy Trinity’s Intentional Interim Pastor during our time of transition.  Pastor Koch will provide spiritual leadership for Holy Trinity until the new regularly called Pastor takes office.  In his weekly blog, Pastor Koch will discuss his thoughts on the Church Year and upcoming events at Holy Trinity.

Pastor George’s Farewell Article

Posted by Mark Donahue on Thursday, January 11, 2018 @ 2:16 PM

1         “Go, my children, with my blessing, never alone.

            Waking, sleeping, I am with you, you are my own.

            In my love’s baptismal river

            I have made you mine forever.

            Go, my children, with my blessing, you are my own.

Text: Jaroslav J. Vajda, 1919– 2008


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ;

Two Years, Two Months and Two Weeks – the length of our time together. It turns out that this is the longest interim I have served in the fourteen years I have been doing Intentional interim Ministry, but an interim ministry is not judged on longevity but by what we have accomplished together. Together we have: 1) said goodbye to Pastor Rhodes and examined how his ministry has shaped where we are today, 2) examined our total history to see how it impacts us, 3) look at leadership and volunteer changes in the interim period with an eye toward the future, 4) establish closer ties to our Synod (whose ties were close to begin with), and 5) to be prepared for the new pastor. 

All these things happened at the same time that my associate, Pastor Burson, and I continued to take care of the normal work of the church: leading worship and the sacraments of Baptism and Communion, pastoral care of the sick and dying, education of our children, youth and adults and commending our mission locally in the Portsmouth Area, nationally through the ELCA and with our international partners in Tanzania, Guatemala and the Holy Land.

We took a fearless inventory of ourselves via the CAT survey and the other self-administered surveys undertaken by the Transition Team. We discovered, not surprisingly, that we are a diverse congregation covering a 30 mile radius from the church (94 square miles).  Our diversity – of income, of education, of place of origin and even racial diversity (especially with a large Indonesian presence) makes us a unique congregation in New England and the second most diverse congregation I have served. I have argued that our diversity is a great gift, even though such a great gift comes with many challenges, none the least of which is to get to know each and every member and visitor well and to care about all who are part of the Body of Christ in this place, even as we continue to welcome and cherish the relations we have with friends we have made here over the years.

When Pastor Krick comes, he will find a congregation that is

  • Debt free, with an almost $300,000 surplus to manage and to use to enhance our mission.
  • A physical plant which is tended to by Dave Mercer and a dedicated cadre of Property workers (I would also like to thank Jim McKenna who uses his time, talent and connections to continuously maintain and upgrade our heating system).
  • A new parking lot – all paid for.
  • A new Sound System – all paid for.
  • A new Organ – all paid for.
  • A workable structure of Council, teams and taskforces
  • Innovative musicians
  • An excellent Office Manager.

While Holy Trinity still has much work to do (especially in the areas of education, outreach and creating lively and enriching worship), there is so much more for which to give thanks. As I keep telling anyone who will listen, there are many congregations who would kill to have the “problems” that Holy Trinity has, for our problems, though not insignificant, are not “life-threatening’. Continue to do the things well that you do well!

As the writer of the letter of Second Timothy says: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus…Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”

May God bless you on the next part of your journey!



PS – Regarding “Boundary Issues.” After Sunday I will no longer be your pastor. I will not come back to Holy Trinity unless specifically asked by Pastor Krick to do so, even after the “one year” rule.  This does not mean that we cannot communicate – it only means that we cannot communicate regarding issues at Holy Trinity.  If you wish to communicate with me you can either “friend” me on Facebook or email me at my personal email.  (Due to privacy issues, please email the church office if you would like Pastor George's Facebook username or personal email address)

December 2017: “It’s Deja Vu all over again.”

Posted by Mark Donahue on Thursday, November 30, 2017 @ 1:44 PM

Sports reporters loved Yogi Berra. A power hitter and one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, he played 19 years with the NY Yankees and served as their coach and then as coach of the NY Mets. His number was retired by the Yankees and he rightfully joined the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

But it was his malapropisms that the reporters loved. Because he only had an eighth grade education, Berra’s pronouncements were often both pithy and paradoxical at the same time such as “It’ ain’t over till it’s over,” and “I really didn’t say everything I said.”  

One of his most famous quotes is “It’s Deja Vu all over again,” that feeling that you get when it seems like you are doing the same thing over and over and over again. So, if this column seems like you’ve read it before, you have (to some extent) last year. The Christian Calendar is often confusing for Christians, let alone for non-Christians, who wonder how we come up with our dating system. Our calendar does not, as the secular calendars do, begin with January 1st, but rather prior to it by approximately four to five weeks. Nor does it begin on Christmas Day, the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth, but rather begins four Sundays before Christmas, in a formula that states that the church year begins on the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew (November 30th). What that means – this year – is that the church will celebrate its New Year on December 3rd, the latest possible date it can be celebrated. 

On top of that, the first day of this “new year” is not a celebratory title like “New Year’s Day!” but rather by the more prosaic “First Sunday of Advent.” It’s not even special enough to have its own celebration, but is, rather, one of four Sundays in Advent, a month’s worth of Advent to prepare for the remembrance of Jesus’s coming to earth as Mary’s baby (the word Advent is a  Latin word which means “to come.”) 

2018 will be a year of wonderful preparation and fulfillment. A year ago I told you that Assistant to the Bishop, Tim Roser would be meeting with the newly formed Call Committee to begin looking for a candidate. Now that search has been fulfilled and your new pastor will be here on January 31st.I want to restate what I said to end last year’s column: “While I do not want to understate the challenges that lie ahead, Holy Trinity has much to celebrate – both now and in the year ahead!  You have been one of the happiest interim congregations that I have served since I started doing this work in 2004. Of the nine congregations I have served these last thirteen years, you have the following unique package of gifts that none of the other congregations have matched:  1) No debt and a well maintained physical plant; 2) adequate financial reserves; 3) worship attendance that regularly tops 150; and 4) a culture of service to people in need both locally and internationally.  

To this list we should add an new organ, a new member class and mission trips to Guatemala and Tanzania in the same year!. Following God’s spirit, the spirit of the Incarnate Word, we will come into this New Year with great joy –because God has provided us with great gifts! Happy New Year, all!

Safety Practices in effect as of 10/22/17

Posted by Mark Donahue on Thursday, October 19, 2017 @ 2:18 PM

Please look over the following Safety practices that have been added to our Church Safety Policy, provided by our newly formed Safety Task Force.  For any further questions, please speak with Pastor George directly.

  • Unless part of an organized sport (with adult supervision), all running, racing, jumping, etc., inside the church is prohibited. Organized dancing is permitted.
  • The church is God’s house and open to the use of all. Appropriate care, therefore, must be taken of furniture, liturgical goods, cooking equipment, computers and monitors, etc. This means, among other things, no jumping on furniture, marking walls or surfaces, etc.
  • Parents are to be fully informed about the activities in which their children will be involved.
  • Toddlers and children under six need to be supervised by a parent or designated adult. Siblings may bring toddlers and children under six to the Wiggle Room when it is attended.
  • Children younger than sixth grade should not be roaming the church during worship but rather stay with their parent or designated adult.
  • All activities with children and youth will be done in an open area or room and not in private office or closed areas. 
  • Upstairs rooms are only to be used for designated activities.

It’s time to Celebrate!

Posted by Mark Donahue on Thursday, October 5, 2017 @ 9:20 AM

"I would never have thought that such a storm would rise from Rome over one simple scrap of paper..." (Martin Luther)

It’s time to Celebrate! Why? Because an event like this only comes around once in 500 Years! In 1517, a little known German monk, Martin Luther, set the world ablaze with a small act of defiance which would ultimately lead to the Protestant Reformation. This act would end the Roman Catholic Church's authoritarian grip on European society and would lead to reforms in the church, government, music, arts and sciences.

Luther is one of the most influential and important figures in the history of western Christianity.

The entire Protestant world (including those who resist denominational labels to call themselves “Christian”) owe Luther a real debt of gratitude.

Luther has been extravagantly praised and extravagantly condemned and almost certainly deserves both. In recent years both Protestant and Catholic scholars have come to considerable agreement about Luther’s life and its significance for Christianity. The Reformation that he started continues down through today.

Join us at 7PM on October 25 and November 8 for two evenings with Luther scholar and author, Dr. Mark U. Edwards, as he explores how Luther’s understanding of Christian freedom splintered western Christianity and began the early transition to modernity (October 25th) and how Luther’s understanding of freedom and its implications continue to have influence and relevance today (November 8th).

Also plan to Join us on Reformation Sunday, October 29th for what will be a special day:

 8:30 AM and 11AM services have a special worship service featuring Pastor Linn Opdebecke as our preacher and other former pastors will take part in the liturgy.

There will be an alumni gathering at the coffee hour (9:45-10:45) where you can meet invited former members.

And finally there will be a Buffet-style Banquet at 5PM.

You will be getting more details as we get closer to these events. Remember, an event like this only takes place once every 500 years!


George Koch

Senior Intentional Interim Pastor

Let's Rally Together!

Posted by Mark Donahue on Wednesday, August 30, 2017 @ 11:52 AM

 (Photo of Sports Car Rally courtesy of Rockingham Raceway, Nottinghamshire, Great Britain)

What do Sports Car racing, cheerleading, political gathering, and the beginning of the church’s program year have in common?  They all have rallies!  And rallies are active gatherings! Whether it is seeing who has the fastest car on the track (sports car rally) or pumping up sports fans (pep rally) or getting people excited about a candidate (political rally), rallies get you to do things.

NEXT Sunday is Rally Day! Although long term members may think of Rally Day as the beginning of Christian Education (“Sunday School”) for the church program year, in recent years Rally Day has been our opportunity to do volunteer work together as a team!

The ELCA calls this effort “God’s Work, Our Hands” and majority of the ELCA churches do this work on this day: This year, September 10th is God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday and Rally Sunday! 

The activities will be similar to last year:  

1) Beach clean-up at RYE HARBOR – Due to the tide schedule, clean-up will start at 8AM. 

2) Between services – We will be collecting items for Orphan Resources International.

For a specific list of items, please look on the table in the gathering area.

3) Singing at Wentworth Senior Living Center at 3PM.  

If you are interested in helping with any of these events, please look for the sign-up sheet on the kiosk. Don’t forget to wear your yellow or blue “God’s Work…” T-Shirts.

Also – Between the services we will have a special coffee hour and welcome back to all! Come Join US!!!!


George Koch

A Summer Potpourri

Posted by Mark Donahue on Wednesday, July 5, 2017 @ 11:01 AM

Summertime is a time for glorious potpourri- whether the bunch of bright, mixed fragrant flowers, or a mélange of spices, vegetables and meats served hot or cold or even a bunch of disparate small items for a newsletter like this. So here is my Summer Potpourri:

A) What do we mean by "Trinity?" Anyone who tries to define what the Holy Trinity is, risks opening themselves up to charges of heresy. After all, there have been SO many heresies: Adoptionism, Apollinarism, Arianism, Arabici, Docetism, Gnosticism, Macidonianism, Monarchianism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, etc. But you can't just say nothing about a chief article of faith, especially on Holy Trinity Sunday!  Many people told me how accessible and helpful my sermon on Holy Trinity was. So, with some trepidation, I am including it in my blog so it can be reread. I hope you find it helpful.

B) HIPPA laws and the church. If you are used to the pastor visiting you in the hospital, please make sure that you call the church office or ask the hospital call for you. Even if I go to the hospital and enquirer, they will not give out any information- including whether you are there- because of HIPPA laws. So, make sure to let us know. We want to visit you!

C) We love bulletins!  If you are on vacation, be sure to bring back a bulletin from whatever church you go to. We are always looking for better ways to do things and often find tidbits in the way other churches do things. So bring back bulletins! We'd love to see them.



Sermon June 11, 2017: "Augustine’s Dilemma”

Posted by Mark Donahue on Thursday, June 29, 2017 @ 9:25 AM

In this the five hundredth year of the Protestant Reformation, I will from time to time bring up some tidbits about Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation, both flattering and unflattering.

At the beginning of his career, Martin Luther was apparently sympathetic to Jewish resistance to the Catholic Church. In 1523, Luther accused Catholics of being unfair to Jews and treating them “as if they were dogs,” thus making it difficult for Jews to convert. “I would request and advise that one deal gently with them [the Jews],” he wrote. “ … If we really want to help them, we must be guided in our dealings with them not by papal law but by the law of Christian love. We must receive them cordially, and permit them to trade and work with us, hear our Christian teaching, and witness our Christian life. If some of them should prove stiff-necked, what of it? After all, we ourselves are not all good Christians either.”  Oh, that that were the only words that he had on the subject. However, it was not. After twenty years of trying to cordially convert Jewish people to Christianity and they resisted, he turned violently against them.

In 1543, three years before he died, Luther wrote some of the most vile words that a Christian could write, “First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them,” he said in his pamphlet. “ This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly – and I myself was unaware of it – will be pardoned by God.” These last words of Luther were so repugnant to his friends, that they repudiated them at the time and these words have also been repudiated by most Lutheran denominations in the 20th and 21st century, not only because they were wrong, but because Hitler used these words to justify the Holocaust.

Christians, Jews and Muslims share the same God. And for all three religions there is only one God. Christians argue, however, that our one God exists in three persons – as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, something that Jews and Muslims have a hard time believing, even as they acknowledge that we worship the same God. How can this be?

Two years ago this week I went back to Pennsylvania for my 50th High School Reunion. It was great seeing many old friends. But one old friend was conspicuous by his absence – Tony, who had been one of my best friends. We were lab partners in High School and inseparable during college summer vacations. When he flunked out of College, he joined the Air Force and was stationed here at Pease. I would regularly drive up to see him. When he got out of the Air Force, I got him a job at Prudential where I had been working. However, in the Air Force, he had begun using drugs. He began with Marijuana and went on to stronger stuff, including LSD. He went out to California and joined the Center for Feeling Therapy, a cult-like approach to take care of your psychological problems. He became estranged from his family and his friends. While I tried, over the years, to reconnect, the gap was too wide. We could never be friends again.

The gap between Christians and Jews – and later Christians and Muslims – is similar to the gap between Tony and me. There was so much we had in common, and yet, the layers of his experience experimenting with Drugs and primal scream therapy broke everything we had in common.

The gap between Christians and Jews and Muslims centers on two experiences and two mysteries. The two experiences are these: 1) The Christians experienced God from the very beginning as the Creator, the savior and the sanctifier, or more commonly, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And while each role taken on by Father, Son and Holy Spirit is unique, it is still the one same God who does all of this.

The second experience is this: The early Christians understood Jesus as both true and authentic human, and, at the same time, true and authentic God. He is not one or the other; he is both at the same time. And while most Jews and Muslims have no problem understanding Jesus as a prophet – and perhaps one of the greatest prophets – They have difficulty believing that he is also God.

These two experiences were so strong for the early Christians, however, that they could not go back to worshiping as Jews, but rather kept praising Jesus in the temple and in the synagogue until they were kicked out permanently. Like the gap that grew between Tony and me to the point where our friendship was broken, the gap between Jews and Christians was too wide at that point for reconciliation.

The Corinthian letters of St. Paul were written around 25 years after Jesus’s death and resurrection. Matthew’s gospel was written perhaps 50 years after the crucifixion. In our lessons for today, both Paul and Matthew  reflect this understanding that God has shown himself in three ways – As Father, Son and Spirit. Both Paul and Matthew also confess that Jesus is Lord and take their direction from Him, something that Jews and Muslims do not comprehend. The gap is just too wide.

In his landmark book, The Nature of Doctrine, George Lindbeck argued that doctrine comes from experience, which, in turn, regulates belief.  Thus, the early Christians, though willing to worship with their Jewish friends and neighbors, were not willing to go against their experience of God as Trinity or against Jesus as God and man.

This leads to the two mysteries. Even though the Christians experienced God in three persons and Jesus as God and man, they had to answer for themselves the questions – How can these things be? How can God be three in one? How can Jesus be both God and man? Christians have experienced God in this way, but how?

St. Augustine once wrote that if something is a mystery, it is by its nature, incomprehensible. And if it is comprehensible, it is not a mystery. Now Augustine was brilliant, one of the best thinkers of his age. But his dilemma was this: how can you talk about something which, by its nature is beyond common speech? How can you experience something that is beyond our normal experience? How can finite creatures know God who is infinite? One could only trust the experience of God – who comes to us as trinity and as both God and man.

This does not mean that Christians gave up trying to comprehend God. Indeed they pushed language to its farthest reaches in order to understand God, culminating in the Athanasian Creed. This is about as far as we can understand the mystery.

So where does this lead us? To a dead end? So we know that the early Christians experienced God as a three in one, a trinity, and that they experienced Jesus as both God and man. What does this have to do with us?

The Great Preacher, Frederich Buechner, once wrote that the doctrine of the trinity says two things about God, not three. The doctrine of the trinity says that God is infinite, far off, unapproachable. If our universe is billions of light years wide, then God must be infinitely vaster than the universe or God is not God.  Whether it is the Father, creating us and all that exists, or Jesus, the Word incarnate who is with the Father at the creation and through whom everything came into being or the spirit, brooding over the primordial chaos and making everything exist, this God, this trinity is vast, all powerful and unknowable.

At the same time, says Buechner, God is close, approachable and caring. “God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves,” St. Augustine also said. This infinite God comes to us as a baby in a manger, as a miracle worker and as a crucified and resurrected one. He took on our form so that he could take on our sorrows, take on our estrangement, take on our death in order to bring us close to God.

When you think of it, God has revealed himself in a trio of opposites that are still somehow connected:

1) The experience of God in the persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each with a unique role but still the one same God who does all of this, and the experience of Jesus as both true and authentic human, and, at the same time, true and authentic God.

2) The two mysteries – How can God be three persons and, at the same time one God? How can Jesus be True God and True Man?

And lastly 3) God – in three Persons – is both as infinite as the universe and, at the same time, closer to us than we are to ourselves.

Others may never understand God the way we do. It’s hard enough for those of us in the faith to understand God. But this complex God still comes to us, makes a home in us and leads us in love, now and forever. AMEN  

Why Red on Pentecost?

Posted by Mark Donahue on Wednesday, June 28, 2017 @ 10:37 AM

When you come to church on Sunday, you will see the color red predominantly featured.  Why?  For the ancients, God was found in the wind, the earthquake, and the fire.  They were things beyond human control, and the fire that they knew was from wood, oil or wax which gave off a bright red hue. As the old saying goes, fire can either warm you or burn your house down.  Fire therefore became associated with the spirit of God because we cannot control it.

Pentecost is often called the birthday of the Church because on that day the spirit was poured out on the disciples and a new relationship between God and humans (as well as human to human relationships).  On Pentecost, gifts were poured out on all disciples, including us.  What are those "passionate" gifts of the Spirit?  Come on Sunday and find out what gifts the spirit has given you!  Wear read to show your spirit! 

There is nothing as certain as change

Posted by Mark Donahue on Thursday, May 18, 2017 @ 5:29 PM

Your Communications Team (Devorah Dwight, Mark Donahue, Kay Drought, Mark Edwards, Ray Masse and I) proposed to the Congregation Council that we change to a weekly format to better disseminate what’s happening here at Holy Trinity. The Council agreed to make the changes.

Starting next month, we will go from a monthly Tidings format, to a weekly format. We are already sending out an email “blast” every week, so the weekly Tidings will replace the “blast.” In its place will be a longer, more comprehensive updating of events. In addition, there will be weekly articles of interest as before, but in “summary form” with links to our website for those who wish to read further. A ten-day rolling calendar will be featured each week, as well as links to our online calendar.

Not everyone has a computer and for those who don’t - or who don’t wish to go on line - we will have paper copies available each week. Just let us know that you would like a paper copy.

The world is in constant change, but the Word of God remains the same. Hopefully this change will better facilitate our understanding and help us to become the Body of Christ here in this place.



The Rev. Dr. George Koch

There is nothing as certain as change.

Posted by Mark Donahue on Thursday, May 18, 2017 @ 5:29 PM

Your Communications Team (Devorah Dwight, Mark Donahue, Kay Drought, Mark Edwards, Ray Masse and I) proposed to the Congregation Council that we change to a weekly format to better disseminate what’s happening here at Holy Trinity. The Council agreed to make the changes.

Starting next month, we will go from a monthly Tidings format, to a weekly format. We are already sending out an email “blast” every week, so the weekly Tidings will replace the “blast.” In its place will be a longer, more comprehensive updating of events. In addition, there will be weekly articles of interest as before, but in “summary form” with links to our website for those who wish to read further. A ten-day rolling calendar will be featured each week, as well as links to our online calendar.

Not everyone has a computer and for those who don’t - or who don’t wish to go on line - we will have paper copies available each week. Just let us know that you would like a paper copy.

The world is in constant change, but the Word of God remains the same. Hopefully this change will better facilitate our understanding and help us to become the Body of Christ here in this place.



The Rev. Dr. George Koch

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