If we can hold on to the God that suffers with us and transforms our pain, then the God that is with us comes through. Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick of The Episcopal Diocese of Hawai‘i joins For People to share the impact of the recent fires on Maui and how it has brought waves of shock and sorrow throughout the community. Together with Bishop Wright, they the deep impact of the devastations in Maui, navigating through the shock, sorrow, and anger expressed by its people. Bishop Bob offers his unique perspective as a spiritual leader, drawing parallels from the scriptural Lamentations, and shares how the church is fostering a space for open dialogue, healing, and support in these trying times.
They discuss leadership in the face of adversity, scripture that equips us during times of sorrow, and the outpouring of love in the form of resources and letters from the mainland in the wake of the fire. God is with us in the grief! Listen in for the full conversation.
Support the disaster relief efforts in The Episcopal Diocese of Hawai‘i here.
Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick is the fifth Bishop of The Diocese of Hawai‘i. He graduated from DePauw University, Greencastle, IN, and received a Master of Divinity degree from the General Theological Seminary, New York, NY. He also has a Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL.
He was elected as 5th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaiʻi on October 20, 2006 and was ordained as Bishop on March 10, 2007. He also serves as the Bishop-in-Charge of the Episcopal Church in Micronesia.
His wife, Bea, is a registered nurse. He has two adult sons, a grandson, and a granddaughter.
If we, if we just hold to the God that judges, then we get lost. Or if we just hold into the anger of God. But if we can truly believe God in Christ Jesus is the one who suffered with us and walk with us, walks with us and transforms our pain, you have to let the doubt percolate and Then the God that is with us comes through. This is four people, with Bishop Rob right.Bishop Wright:
Hi everyone, For People with Bishop Rob Wright, and today we have a special guest. We have the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii, The R ight Reverend Robert L Fitzpatrick. Bishop Bob, Bob, so glad for you to be with us. Thank you, aloha Rob. I'm glad to be, here. Hello. Bishop Bob was born in Decatur, Illinois. He went to school in Indiana at the DePauw University. He has a Doctorate of Ministry From Seabury Western Theological Seminary. He went for his Masters of Divinity at General Theological Seminary. He was elected the fifth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii in 2006 and was ordained and consecrated in 2007. So we're so glad that you're here, especially given Everything that's going on in Hawaii. I guess the first thing we want to say is so how are you and how are the people of Hawaii, and particularly Maui?Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
Rob, I was just on Maui this past weekend. It's the fire was such that it destroyed the old, one of the oldest corners of the island. It was the former capital of the kingdom of Hawaii, but it's was. It's caught between the ocean and the mountain, and so the rest of Maui, by sight, is fine. It was kind of a shocking moment to get off the plane again and and See, not things back to normal. That's not true. Yeah see the blank faces on people's, the blank looks on people's face as they were walking around, but at the same time they're there at Target and and life seems to be fine as you get out of the airport, nor with folk. But I was able to be at the retirement party In celebration for, actually, the vicar of holy innocence, the church that was destroyed. Yeah, bruce, had our Bruce to go. Your Bruce had already been told by his doctor, for medical reasons, he needed to retire and he had set his retirement for August. Wow, yeah and and stayed on through the month of September against medical advice. Yeah, so I was with the parishioners of holy innocence at one of the other parishes.Bishop Wright:
Yeah, and how are the spirits of the people? I mean this, this is a, this is a devastation, devastation.Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, but they One of the parishioners. She lost her home of 50 years and I was setting with her. Her husband had lived in Lahaina all of his life and for generations before a Kanaka, a native Hawaiian man, and she says he he didn't make it to church. He sits and and stares. So I would say that there there's. We're still early in the shock, I'd say. The scripture that that's keeps hanging in my mind is lamentations. Yeah, you just yell at God and you ask God why. And so there are a whole group of folk who are still living there and many of the other people in Maui and more broadly. We've all known someone, we've all. There's a connection somehow of someone who was either lost and certainly someone who was displaced. It, as you know, rob, my son's an army officer and even one of his soldiers in Italy Lost a grandmother in the fire. So there's those kind of interconnections that are that are that are present. It's part of living in an island community.Bishop Wright:
You said something I mean just incredible there and I want to go slow there. You said it feels like lamentations. You know it feels like this space where people are maybe angry at God, certainly have questions about God, god's protection, god's presence, etc. So so how do you help I mean you, you and I are chief pastors if we're nothing and and so how are you, how are you trying to Convene those conversations or create space for that? What do we do in times like this?Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
I think it's twofold For us. One is caring for those who care, so that that ongoing reaching out to Wardens and to clergy and to see how they're doing and making sure they're taking care of themselves. I Think the other is just that sitting with people I've been able to send. You know, sandy Graham, my cannon's been over every twice a twice a day, twice, two days a week Since it happened every week, yeah, and he's spending most of his time Just listening. I'm trying to help people gather again the congregation, for example. The first time they gathered, only a few of them came, and each time a few more are coming because they couldn't make it. I think the other thing that we hold for folk in leadership when something like this happens, is to help people process that it's not going to be fixed soon and whatever comes after is not going to be the same. Yeah, it's that holding that it can be grief and anger right now and that that's a normal part of what we're going to go through. But I've also noticed the world wants everyone to be angry the number of attorneys who have now flooded into Maui.Bishop Wright:
Oh my God, we're watching that. It's just crazy. And the real estate agents immediately.Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
Within 24 hours I had architects from the mainland call me. Can we help redesign your church? And the church itself was in old Lahaina, I mean our particular church. We'd been invited there by King Kamehameha the fourth to build the original church he had given us. He'd given the church the Foreigner's Cemetery, which was right next to the Foreigners' Jail. When you have whalers, you know things happen. So we had been in that community since 18, you know, 1862. We had been in that's the current site since the early 1900s, right on the ocean. The names on the pews were all native Hawaiian, kanaka, moli. You could sit on the back of the church, behind the church, look out and see Molokai and across the channel and you could watch the whales jump. So generations of people buried there, generations of people married and baptized, so to then have people calling and saying can we rebuild, you know, can we help you redesign your church? We don't even know if what it's going to mean. There's toxic waste, the fire burned down the elementary school next door. All of that to say it doesn't help people in their grief to have those kind of questions asked at this point, either by the attorneys, I think, or by the real estate agents. This is sacred native Hawaiian land. The eeve, the bones of God's people and of the people of the land are in that soil and it's sometimes hard, I think, for others to understand that.Bishop Wright:
You know, you make a point that a theologian known to you and me, walter Bruggeman, makes when he talks about, you know, to grieve and to facilitate grief and to convene. That is an art and it has to do with the usage of time and it has to do with the usage of presence and it can't be rushed. And I think what I'm hearing you say is that we can be as a society and as a culture, we can be in a hurry sometimes and I think maybe to our own detriment and certainly to our spiritual detriment.Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
Precisely, and we don't know. I don't know about you, but I've noticed people talk about folk passing, yeah, past, they died. Yeah, people died in this fire, and that's an important statement so that we can say we have to grieve with them. We have to grieve those who are lost, but also we have to grieve the life that we had that is gone. And for those of us who are caregivers, those of us who walk with folk in grief, I have to deal with my own grief. That sacred place. I've been visiting those people for 23 years. These are not strangers, and I think that those of us who are caregivers I was just talking to one of my priests there who has deep ties to Maui, that his lifelong there, that is his place to be able to still push back and say yes, you get to grief too when you're with God's people. You have to hold their grief. Then you have to find the space to let your grief out as well.Bishop Wright:
I think we short circuit grief. I think we short circuit it because it's not clear, it's gray, there's no certain timelines, there's no road markers, it changes, sometimes it's two steps forward, sometimes it's three steps back, it vacillates.Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
And we're afraid to make mistakes. While that happens, I'm reminded this week that it's the Feast of St Francis and I love the story of the San Dome Amo Cross. Go rebuild my church. And at first he thought that meant rebuilding this broken down building. It took him a while, from his post-traumatic stress, from being a prisoner of war, to kind of figure out no, no, there's something more going on here, and I think that's we've got to own the pain. You know, we're people of faith. We believe that Jesus came among us to take our pain, because Christ knows our pain. But that doesn't mean our pain's gone. It just means we know that God's with us in the tears.Bishop Wright:
Hi listeners, thank you for listening to Four People, a space of digital evangelism. You can keep up with us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Robbrite. And now back to Four People. I was talking to a clergy person in this diocese and who had lost a spouse, and she gave me a wonderful quote as we were just sort of fellowshiping over the loss of her spouse and how she was going to make her way forward. And she had read a line in a novel. It was a secular novel but nevertheless it articulated something, I think, about our faith life, especially our faith life together. And she said you know, one doesn't ever actually get over, you know, a loss like this or even the death of a loved one, but with companions and with faith we can bear it because it can't be born alone. And so there's something deeply religious about that quote from a secular novel. I think it's pitch perfect. Actually, I think Jesus would agree.Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
Well, I think that's why he left us, this rag tag group of folk Right. And then I'm sure you've noticed the people who have, who hold their own grief from the past the death of a loved one, the loss of something important to them. They're the ones that can tell the story that the Hawaiian term is, talk story with those who are in the grief the best they know. They know not to say anything, they know not to try to fix it.Bishop Wright:
Yeah.Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
That's set there and hug, and this past Sunday that was what it was for me, One of the things we were able to do for the priest who lost all of his vestments. People have sown Aloha print stoles for him and so, even though he's retiring, he needs stoles. Someone made him an alb and several people sewed Aloha print stoles and we were able to bless them. Bless the stoles and give them to him as a way of saying you're still a priest, whatever was lost in that fire, and it's gonna be those little symbols for folk that will also keep pushing them through.Bishop Wright:
Literally, he's wearing the love of the people.Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
Close yourself in love right, I mean another example he's wearing the mantle over his shoulders, absolutely.Bishop Wright:
Literally. Now you talked about lamentations. You're pointing us to the Old Testament and Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, who saw devastation and in that devastation people were angry, had very complex emotions. But Jeremiah seems to hold the thread that even in times where we have to lament and grieve and there's losses profound, he's still held on to God, the notion of God. And so what's the story you're giving, what's the frame you're giving to people?Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
So I'm using tune One, I think, lamentation, which I do find interesting because it is the one book of the Hebrew scripture, it's one book of the Bible. God does not ever talk back, right, that's what I love about lamentation. You get the woman, jerusalem, you get the narrator, you get the strong man, you get the voices of the varying sides of the pain, and I think that we have to hold, we have to allow those voices to cry out. It was for me then, though actually Philippians too we just happened to have it this past Sunday but that the God of emptying, the God who gives himself completely, I think, is that hope for us in this time. If we just hold to the God that judges, then we get lost, or if we just hold into the anger of God, but if we can truly believe God in Christ Jesus is the one who suffered with us and walks with us and transforms our pain. Not too fast, we can't jump there too quickly. I'm there. I think that's what we, as those caregivers, those walking with God's people, at this time like this, you have to let the anger percolate, you have to let the doubt percolate, and then the God that is with us comes through.Bishop Wright:
Yeah, yeah, you know, in leadership talk, we talk about a time to hold steady. Steady, yeah, yes, and I think for people like you and I and for many others, there is a time when we are outmatched by circumstances and all we can do is hold steady. And then this thermal, this buoyancy comes. We call that hope. It comes and it finds us exactly where we are and lifts us. And it may sound like gobbledygook to some people, but I think that's something like moving from a good Friday, through the silence and disorientation and grief of what I call the soul-sucking silence of Saturday, into the first murmurings of Easter, you know, in the morning.Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
And those of us in leadership are also having to do that, as we do the mundane, yeah right, yeah. So, as we try to deal with insurance companies and with money, or just the simple thing of writing thank you notes, yeah, beyond the official IRS letters, you're trying to hold all of that together. Me turning to my staff trying to help this poor congregation All right, they've lost everything. All right, we're gonna help them turn the water off because there is no water. How do you shut off the electricity when you don't know the account number? How do you and I think that's for us and for those of us in leadership that is where we grind our gear, sometimes Moving from the practical into the pastoral, knowing that the practical will help the pastoral, but not letting the practical be where we live. And so there is that constant give and take and I, even though I was way before for something, getting up at four o'clock in the morning so I could make Zoom calls, so I can make. We have to balance all of those things together. It's one of the gifts of leadership. The other piece that I have found personally in all of this I don't know how I would do it as Bishop if it hadn't been for the fact that I'd know these people I have been with them for a very long time it would be very difficult to join them on this journey without having had that time with them and to know that I think they, I hope they genuinely know I love them and they love me, those that has been part of my own reflection in leadership. To be a leader of some time is different than being the leader new to a people. So I actually thank God the other morning for saying I'm glad you did this now Rather than doing this my first year.Bishop Wright:
Oh my God, can you just imagine the saying hello and walking into all of this, I wonder? My guess is well, I know that you've been talking to people all along, and you've been talking to the people on the ground there, and as well as the clergy, et cetera. I wonder is there some story? Is there something that someone has said to you out of this that has lifted you?Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
I called someone soon after it happened and she had lost her home and well, fortunately she was living with a son who lives on Island, but another part of the Island. And in the midst of it she said, well, now you know, I don't feel that bad and I was quiet and she said my husband and I made it out we have our pensions, we paid our insurance on our property, we're with our son and we're alive. That was almost overwhelming to me, that that simple voice of thanks from someone who, on the surface, had lost everything that that we think of as material. It rings in my ear over and over again. And the other thing are the notes I have. So my staff, you know, people have given a lot of money and I appreciate that. But I have several, three big, three ring binders of the letters that they sent and I'm trying to write handwritten notes for many of the people. But to see people say things like, you know, a grade school class somewhere on the mainland who took a little collection and wrote notes to the people who lost everything, the simple outpouring of the people, that the simple outpouring of love from folk who have no connection For us I mean for Hawaii deeply personal things, like donations coming from the Philippines after all of these years of us sending things to the Philippines when a typhoon hits, or, yeah, it's like the reciprocal moment of love has just lightened my heart that I have not felt alone and I don't think. I think people truly know. Also, I've just been delighted I mean, it's Hawaii, one of the things that when FEMA arrived and all of these outreach workers arrived, one of them said in a news conference this is the first time we've arrived someplace and there was already community. We didn't have to mobilize the community. They arrived and people had already set up food banks and shelters and so many people just opened their homes. The Ohana, the sense of family that is Hawaii, maui strong, because that's deep, deep in the soil in the Aina I say that to me alone made me feel so proud of who we are as a people of God, but made me proud to be part of this place. They didn't wait. God's people didn't wait, they just acted.Bishop Wright:
Yeah.Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
And FEMA wasn't sure what to do with that.Bishop Wright:
They were disoriented by the beloved community already being mobilized.Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
We're already here. What are you?Bishop Wright:
talking about. We're glad for the resources, but we're doing the thing. That's extraordinary and that's why I wanted to just sort of call you to that intersection, because I know in my ministry and I've had nothing to deal with the way what you're dealing with, bob, but I know that it's the comment, it's the card, it's the slap on the back, it's the hug. At really difficult times when you're bearing lots of burdens, that always makes the difference and you think to yourself my God, something so simple and yet so profound, it really it gives you a shot of energy and animates you. It takes you deeper, your resolve stiffens. I mean, it's just, it's an amazing. God is, I like to say God is a genius.Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
So the Maui churches have now for several years had a shared ministry that grew up, it's ground up, it's called a cup of cold water and so it was a van ministry to the houseless. It's been going on Always. Finances always just on the edge, never quite enough volunteers, but they never stopped. This happened and I was talking to one of the leaders on Sunday and she goes we're growing it, we don't know what to do. We have more volunteers than we've ever had before. People from within the community, people stopping us to thank us for what we're doing, were before they were complaining. And she goes and we have more money and we don't know what to do with it all. We're gonna start. We have more money to give away than we've ever had to give away. It's a whole another shot, but a large part of it was just that little voice, those voices around them going we see you now. We've never seen you before, but we see you now. We know what you've done as a people of God has been important, but we just didn't notice before. And I think that's that wonderful gift, that voice, that little note of affirmation, that tired volunteers suddenly feel we can do more, we can do much more.Bishop Wright:
Yeah, it's a funny thing, isn't it, that hearts that formerly were too busy or maybe even slightly indifferent get softened? They do, and a new expression of their humanity gets mobilized. And I mean I think, well again, god's a genius, right. And we lament that so often it takes these great catastrophes to get us going, but then we also rejoice that, in the face or in response to these catastrophes, hearts get softened and hands are offered for service, and it's an extraordinary thing. And I mean, well, as we're wrapping up here, I guess what I wanna say to you is that how may we best help? I mean, if you've got a direct line here, to myself, obviously, and to all of our listeners all around the country and in several countries. So what do you need from us, if anything, bob?Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
Right, I think. Well, one do pray. I mean, that is still what holds us all up. Secondly, if you go to EpiscopalHawaiiorg, if you wanna make a financial donation, there's the website there Episcopal Relief and Development. They've been great. Don't send stuff. There's way too much stuff. They're overwhelmed, partly because this we are a tropical island, so much of the stuff that comes isn't helpful, but actually Maui is now overwhelmed with stuff. So please do make donations. Financial donations are the most helpful. Also, come back. The islands do depend upon the visitor industry and the fire is in one corner of Maui, but it's impacted the entire state. So if you were planning on coming for a visit, come for a visit. You're welcome on Oahu, Kauai, the big island and even those parts of Maui that weren't impacted by the fire, Because that's actually people's jobs. I was with an artist this weekend and they're really reaching out, because there were several studios and galleries in Lahaina and they're trying to help the artists. She's got them set up and where they're painting again, but they need places to sell their work. I share that. To say that could really help. So if you were planning on visiting the islands, come, Come.Bishop Wright:
And if you weren't make some plans?Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick:
Make some plans. Come, come, meet up with us. But the notes do help as well. Yeah, the key words in Hawaiian aloha to share the heart, to share the breath of God, to share love and mahalo. Thank you. I appreciate everything folk have said and sent. I appreciate the notes of kindness sent to me personally. There is a spirit of gratitude in these islands and a spirit of love that I want the whole world to know. We are ohana. We are one family. Winston Halapua, the former Archbishop of Polynesia, in his book Waves of God's Embrace and also in some of the things he's shared, he always talks about the ocean as being the connector, not the separator. That this is the connector and Hawaii is the pico, the belly button of the world. I have actually experienced that, since this fire, the ocean's not been a barrier. It's the water that brings life and it's the water that's connected us. So come, keep sharing and thank you, mahalo.Bishop Wright:
That's Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick, the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Hawaii. Bob, God bless you and thank you. Our prayers are with you and you'll hear more from us. I know my folks would love to write some notes and send some support and send some love. Mahalo, Mahalo.