Trinity Church in Hampton Gets New Vicar

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Robinson Cites Community Outreach as Goal

By Liz Premo

The Hampton Union, Tuesday, January 8, 2013

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Rev. David “Chip” Robinson recently became the vicar of a shared ministry between Trinity and Christ Episcopal Church in Portsmouth.
[Liz Premo photo]

HAMPTON — "He seems like an excellent fit."

That's how Rusty Bridle, senior warden at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hampton, describes Rev. David "Chip" Robinson, who recently became the vicar of a shared ministry between Trinity and Christ Episcopal Church in Portsmouth.

"It's a new experience for me," said Robinson, who lives in the rectory of the Portsmouth church with his wife of 33 years, Cynthia. "I've never been in a two-point ministry before."

In spite of it being what he described as "an interesting new challenge," Robinson said he has "been very well received at both places."

Bridle offered a vote of confidence regarding Robinson's abilities as a vicar who also possesses a very strong sense of community.

"Chip comes to us with many years of experience. Just in the time he has been here his experience and knowledge have been a great asset," said Bridle. "With his guidance we're going to start seeing more community involvement. He wants to get out into the community and get to know the people in it. That's going to be a real benefit."

Robinson divides his schedule between the two churches, working from his Trinity office on Monday and Wednesday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon 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.

His unscheduled time throughout the week is dedicated to "events and pastoral needs, whenever and wherever I'm needed. It all depends upon what's happening." As well, Robinson is "available for pastoral emergencies any time at any church."

Being personally and professionally involved in a priestly calling does bring unique and varied challenges, often impacted by current events such as the recent horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn. It is often these times when many people ask, "Where was God?"

Robinson offered his response to that question.

"We have a God who does not control events but who is present in the hearts of people to cope with these events. That is the role of God — not to pull the puppet strings (or) step in to prevent things from happening," he said. "I do believe God is present in the hearts of people to respond positively and encouragingly, and to express the love of God in that way."

"We saw the church at its best when people gathered at St. Rose of Lima," added Robinson, referring to an interfaith prayer service held in the Newtown church in the aftermath of the tragedy. "The church came alongside people to offer comfort and support."

Robinson said he reworked his intended sermon for the following Sunday from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah. He planned to encourage his listeners to meditate on "looking beyond misfortunes and (toward) the coming comfort that is in the person of Jesus Christ."

Ministering to two very "unique communities," Robinson has found that "they are both very different from each other." The "more conservative" Trinity has many retirees who have time available to volunteer and help out.

Christ Church "sort of represents the Portsmouth vibe" with its "long history of progressivism," said Robinson, including "pro-women ordination and, in more recent years, strongly oriented in ministry to gays and lesbians."

As for his own involvement in various churches, "I have probably served in communities closer to Trinity," he said, noting that the present Episcopal Church in general "is in a much more moderate place. In the larger scope of the overall Christian church we are probably in a more progressive place. In a larger congregation we wouldn't be described as fundamentalist."

Robinson, who turned 59 this month, hails from a family "with long Episcopal roots." In fact, his happens to be one of the founding families who settled the southern Delaware town of Seaford, where he grew up.

With the exception of accompanying his sister and her husband to a Methodist church for a brief time as a teenager, Robinson has been a committed Episcopal parishioner all his life.

"When I was 16 and could drive, I went right by that Methodist church and went to the Episcopal one," he said, adding he eventually became a youth delegate to the vestry there.

Robinson said he first felt the call to ordained ministry as a junior in college. He attended Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, graduating at in 1979 at age 25 with a master's in divinity.

Prior to being ordained, he held his first post in a lay capacity as a part-time assistant at the since-closed St. John's Episcopal Church in Worcester, Mass.

From there he held his first full-time ordained position with the Church of the Holy Spirit in Orleans, Mass. He looks back fondly on the church where he assisted for four years.

"It's a gorgeous place," he said. "Everything in it is hand-built by the parishioners — there's not a store-bought thing in there. It's quite a remarkable place and parish community."

Robinson moved on to Norwood, Mass. to serve as rector at Grace Episcopal Church for 14 years. While there he became a founding partner in the establishment of the Norwood Ecumenical Food Pantry, which has served as a successful model for scores of churches, synagogues and community organizations serving hundreds of people each week.

"That's something I'm proud of," he said.

Robinson next officiated at the Church of Our Saviour in Milford, N.H. for 11 years, and again became involved in a ministry with a far-reaching impact.

"We began an outreach to Ondjiva, Angola," he said, explaining how the African town was "leveled by the bombing" resulting from 43 years of civil war, which ended in 2002. The outreach made it possible to build a church, fund a building addition for a school, create more than 300 water wells, and fund two programs called "Nets for Life," which provide mosquito netting to help fight mosquito-borne illnesses.

For the past year Robinson has been involved with interim ministry, prior to being called by New Hampshire's new Episcopal Bishop, A. Robert Hirschfeld, to be the vicar of Trinity and Christ Episcopal Church.

"I got the call a month ago," said Robinson, who filled the vacancies left at both churches by the eventual departure of his predecessor, Rev. Kathleen Cullen. "It all happened rather quickly."

Robinson said he has been "really, really impressed" with the community involvement he has witnessed that is being lived out through the members of Trinity Church.

"It's a really engaged, involved community that serves far out of proportion to its numbers," he said. "It does a lot for a relatively small (church)."

In its recent history, Trinity had several ministers leading the congregation following the departure of Rev. Peter Lane, who relocated to the West Coast about five years ago.

According to Bridle, Rev. Thomas Vanderslice served as an interim priest following Lane's departure. He was followed by Rev. Bill Gannon, who served at the church for about a year and a half before Cullen came on board in 2011 as "priest-in-charge" for a year.

Thanks to being involved in the shared ministry, Robinson is enjoying the opportunity of living in the oceanside community he and his wife now call home.

"I love the Seacoast. We have been coming to this area for years, even before we moved to New Hampshire back in 2000," he said. "To live here is wonderful — the dining, the cultural opportunities. We never dreamed we'd be living here."

Bridle is grateful for Bishop Hirschfeld's "support and help and guidance in appointing Chip here" and sees Robinson's role at Trinity as benefiting both church and community alike.

"Chip is on top of a lot of stuff," said Bridle. "He has really shown some good stuff going on."

Those who would like to connect with Rev. David "Chip" Robinson may do so by stopping by Trinity Episcopal Church at 200 High Street, or by calling 926-5688.

Rev. David “Chip” Robinson stands outside Trinity Episcopal Church. He recently became the vicar of a shared ministry between Trinity and Christ Episcopal Church in Portsmouth.
[Liz Premo photo]
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