Each year the New England Conference Board of Church and Society recognizes “a person who demonstrates excellence in preaching the whole Gospel, addressing both personal and social salvation” with the Wilbur C. Ziegler Award.
This 2018 Ziegler honoree is the Rev. Peter Hey, who serves the Wesley UMC in Concord, NH.
The Rev. Becca Girrell, Church and Society chair, introduced Rev. Hey saying, “This year’s recipient is described by his congregation as familiar, inspiring, challenging, and authentic, often using examples from his own life to explore justice in a way that draws the congregation into the struggle.”
“Of the legacy of racism and white privilege,” she said, “our honoree preached about his own family history, benefitting from the racist practice of red-lining, and said: ‘We are not responsible for the long history of injustice, but we are responsible for today, for what we do, what we do right now.’”
Rev. Hey preached during the Saturday morning, June 16, worship service – Saturday was also Rev. Hey’s 59th birthday. He started off by thanking his church, his nominator, and his family.
Rev. Hey then invited the Rev. Frank Gulinello, whom he thanked “for a lifetime of mentoring and of friendship,” to read the morning’s text: 2 Samuel 18:24-31
Rev. Gulinello said the 2018 Ziegler honoree “preaches powerfully and urgently on the themes of social holiness and social justice and on the Christian imperative to transform the world.”
The historian does not tell us what time it was when daylight came to the gates,” Rev. Hey said. “But David is there, and daylight is at the gates.”
David’s sons Amnon and Absalom were apples that didn’t fall far from the tree, Rev. Hey said, and they repeated their father’s behavior. When they did, “cycles of brokenness” also repeated themselves.
“We tell tragic stories, in the hope of avoiding tragic lives,” he said.
To the licensed local pastors and spiritual directors being recognized Saturday, Rev. Hey offered “a little advice:”
Listen to an excerpt
He then told a story of a young woman from another conference who had been active in her church until the leadership found out she was gay, and asked her to step down from the youth band.
She left that congregation, but did not give up on The United Methodist Church, Rev. Hey said. She found a congregation that welcomed her. He quoted her, saying:
“I saw a statement in the bulletin welcoming everyone and making a point to include the gay community. To see that stand out was something I needed at that moment. One of the pastors there made a point to talk to me about my faith walk with an attitude of nonjudgment, and I was so appreciative of that. They knew I was gay and asked me to be a part of their worship. They did not treat me any differently than other members and that is all I wanted.”
Calling it a story that “both broke and mended my heart,” Rev. Hey said: “She found daylight at the gate of a congregation that said welcome.”
Rev. Hey also told a story about meeting the Rev. Wilbur Zeigler, and a familiar story that Zeigler told about a person walking the beach and throwing one sand dollar at a time back into the ocean. When an observer remarked this attempt to save the sand dollars seemed futile, the beachcomber responds by saying “I know all that, but I also know that it might not be dead, and if I can throw it far enough, if I can get it beyond the breaking of the waves, then maybe – just maybe, it has a chance.”
“It was the way Bill Zeigler said ‘maybe – just maybe’ that struck me,” Rev. Hey said. “It was neither the phony triumphalism that makes us all sound like a caravan of fools nor was it the bitter apathy of the burned out. It was a blend of realistic hope and a desire to be faithful.”
Rev. Hey said his thinks of that story when …
- someone asks for food. If they can live and think a bit more clearly, for just a few more days then maybe, just maybe, they will solve their part of their problems or something else will change for them.
- the homeless need a safe place, if they can live through the night, maybe employment comes in the morning.
- when someone is seeking to withdraw from the faith, if they could pray for just one more day then maybe, just maybe, the spiritual barriers might fall.
- when sitting at the gates of injustice …
“For these are days when we desperately need to know who we are that God might break the tragic cycles and maybe – just maybe, we will notice the daylight at our gates.”
About Rev. Hey
Rev. Hey has been under appointment for 35 years, having served St. Luke’s Church in Derry, NH, the Mascoma Valley Parish Enfield and Canaan, NH, the United Methodist Church in Woburn, MA, Christ Church in Northampton, MA, and Wesley Church in Concord, NH, where he currently serves.
Rev. Hey serves on the Board of the United Methodist Foundation of New England, and served on the Board of Ordained Ministry for three quadrennium, including as co-chair from 2012-2016; and as a member of the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Ordained Ministry.
Rev. Hey was ordained a deacon in 1985 and an elder in 1989. A native of Lawrence, MA, he earned his BA at the University of New Hampshire and his MDiv at Boston University School of Theology.
He and his wife, Catherine (Sprague) Hey, have two grown children: Joshua who lives in Brooklyn, and Rebecca who lives in Allston, MA.
About the award
In 1981, the Mathewson Street United Methodist Church in Providence, RI, established the Wilbur C. Ziegler Award to honor Rev. Ziegler’s “compassion and optimism, his ability, courage, and sensitivity."
Rev. Ziegler's ministry was characterized by an unhesitating prophetic proclamation of social justice, leading him to preach the whole Gospel in ways that “afflicted the comfortable,” even and especially when that proclamation was unpopular in his ministry context.
See a list of past Ziegler Award recipients