Bishop Stephen Lane of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine offered these remarks at Spring Training 2017 on April 29, at St. Paul’s Church in Brunswick. More than 130 Maine Episcopalians gathered for a day of learning, sharing, and worshipping together. The 20 workshops offered focussed on spiritual growth, church leadership, community engagement, and other topics around the theme, “Leading as a Christian, Rooted in Jesus.”
“The pursuit of justice is a direct outgrowth of one’s relationship with Jesus. A decline in formation has led to a decline in advocacy for the poor and the stranger. Without a life-giving relationship with Jesus, most of us are simply not willing to take the risks that the pursuit of social justice demands.”
On Tuesday, April 11, Bishop Stephen Lane, gathered with the clergy of the Diocese of Maine, offered this sermon at the annual Renewal of Vows and Chrism Eucharist at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland.
In his sermon he had this, in part, to say:
‘But we preach is Christ crucified, a stumbling block for the Jews and folly to the Gentiles.’ What Paul is talking about is a new way of relating in which the differences of race, class, sex, religion and culture are subsumed into our union with God and one another in Christ. Good news, yes, but oh, how we cherish the differences! How we want our identities, our understandings, to predominate! The notion that God loves us all, that Christ died for us all, that our message is meant to be good news for all people, is simply more than we want or comprehend. And yet it is the path of life, not only for them, but for us.
In the Anglican tradition, a sanctuary is the area immediately surrounding the altar. It it a holy space because it is here, at the altar, presbyters offer the Holy Eucharist to the people of God. The term, of course, goes back much further. The “holy of holies” in Solomon’s temple was known as the sanctuary, the place where the Ark of the Covenant resided. In both cases, the sacred status imbued the space with a sense of refuge and safety.
From the time of Constantine to the late Middle Ages across much of Europe, houses of worship afforded protection to those accused of crimes or debt. Indeed, English law recognized the church as a place of sanctuary from arrest from the fourth to the seventeenth centuries. Because the United States has never recognized such protection, the notion of churches offering immunity holds no legal sway beyond respect for the tradition.
However, sanctuary is our word. Sanctum means “holy” in Latin, from the same root we use to derive the word saint. Our churches should strive to be places of sanctuary – of safety, protection, support, and care – for all people, places of sanctuary from racism or any rhetoric that spews hatred or intolerance.
Over the past few months, in the wake of the travel bans and the uncertainty and fear they have elicited, I have been contacted by a number of Maine churches whose clergy and members are anxious to learn what and to what extent they can assist our neighbors who are fearful for their futures in Maine due to their legal status as refugees or asylum seekers.
Below I will attempt to offer definitions, guidance, and resources to assist members of our congregations in the good work of discerning the extent to which they will engage is “welcoming the stranger” to their communities. I think this discernment is important for each congregation to consider at both the parish and Vestry or Bishop’s Committee level and regardless of whether or not you are located in an area where New Mainers are settling. This is a conversation for all of us to enter fully and meaningfully.
Some definitions might be a good place to start. I look no further than to
those offered by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) atwww.unrefugees.org.
Who is a refugee? “A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. Refugees legally enter the United States in search of freedom, peace, and opportunity for themselves and their families.”
Before they enter the United States, those who are granted refugee status have been subjected by a lengthy and thorough security process by the UNHCR and the US Department of State. The federal government contracts with agencies – often faith-based organizations such as Episcopal Migration Ministries – in each state to handle the resettlement of refugee families. In our state, Catholic Charities of Maine is the only agency that resettles refugees for the federal government. They offer orientation, employment, and cultural adjustment, and many other services to those refugees assigned to Maine. In recent years, Catholic Charities has resettled refugees from more than 30 countries. In 2016 they resettled 642 recently arrived refugees in Maine.
Who is an asylum seeker? “When people flee their own country and seek sanctuary in another country, they apply for asylum – the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance. An asylum seeker must demonstrate that his or her fear of persecution in his or her home country is well-founded.”
Asylum seekers often arrive in the US on a legal visa. Once they overstay that visa, they are no longer authorized to remain in the US. If they are fearful to return to their home country due to war, violence, or instability, they may apply to the US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) for asylum. Currently there are about 300 pending asylum cases in Maine, and the wait for an interview with the South Portland office of USCIS can be many years because only 30 interviews are offered each year. Six months after applying for asylum, an asylum seeker may be granted a work permit in order to be legally employed while waiting for an interview. Asylum seekers do not have access to resettlement services provided to those who have secured refugee status.
WAYS FOR CHURCHES TO OFFER SANCTUARY
Offer support, a safe gathering place, friendship and mentoring relationships to refugees and asylum seekers.
Offer preaching and teaching to members of the congregation that upholds our Baptismal Covenant and Gospel mandates: seeking and serving Christ in all persons, respecting the dignity of every human being, loving our neighbors as ourselves, welcoming the stranger.
Offer membership in all aspects of the life of the congregation: worship, service, formation, education, music, outreach.
Cooperate to the minimum extent required by law if immigration or enforcement officials seek to enter church buildings to check papers, question, or detain people participating in our worship or activities of the church community. It would be a violation of the law to prevent an immigration agent with a warrant listing the name of an individual and signed by a federal judge from entering your church.
Volunteer, as a church community or as individual members, with community agencies that serve refugees and asylum seekers, donate money and resources, engage in advocacy in the public sphere.
A recent survey by the New Mainers Task Force of Maine Episcopalians showed that there are many needs within New Mainer communities and many ways to support and assist them.
Needs identified by the New Mainer communities include:
On March 5, Bishop Stephen Lane marked the first Sunday in Lent together with the people of Grace Church in Bath. In his sermon he had this, in part, to say:
The temptation we face in this time – in every time – is to abandon our identity and to make ourselves over, to try to create an identity that seems more suitable to the age we’re living in. But we can’t really do that. We can’t make ourselves alone. We will always do that as part of some group. Ubuntu. And when we forget whose we are, when we forget that we were embraced in baptism as God’s beloved, then we risk falling far from the path that gives us life, that makes us whole.
On Wednesday, February 22, Maine Episcopalians and members of eight other faith communities gathered in the Hall of Flags in the Maine State House for a prayer vigil for a just and humane budget as the Joint Committees on Appropriations and Health and Human Serves held a budget hearing down the hall.
Prior to the vigil the Rev. Maria Hoecker, president of the Standing Committee and rector of St. Columba’s, Boothbay Harbor, offered testimony on behalf of Bishop Stephen Lane. Bishop Lane had planned to testify but was brought low this week by a respiratory bug. (He’s on the mend!) Hoecker and Rabbi Susan Carvutto spoke before
committee members with 35 Maine clergy standing behind them.
Here is the text of Bishop Lane’s testimony, with details of local impact contributed by Hoecker.
February 22, 2017
Good morning Senator Hamper, Representative Gattine, Senator Brakey, Representative Hymanson, members of the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs and members of the Joint Committee on Health and Human Services.
My name is Maria Hoecker. I am an ordained Episcopal priest and I serve as the rector of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Boothbay Harbor. I share the following testimony on behalf of The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, the Episcopal Bishop of Maine. Bishop Lane intended to be here today, but, due to illness, has asked me as president of the Standing Committee to present testimony in his stead.
As one of many church leaders who take the example and teachings of Jesus to heart, (so many are with us in prayer and standing here with me today) I believe the moral measure of any budget is how the most needy among us – “the least of these” – fare in our society. I encourage you to resist passageof a budget which undermines the lives, dignity, and rights of vulnerable Mainers living in poverty, particularly this budget with its punitive cuts to anti-poverty programs that provide access to food, healthcare, and general assistance.
Over the past five years, cuts to MaineCare, SNAP, and TANF have resulted in plunging poor children more deeply into poverty. Currently the rate of children living in families with a household income of $10,000 or less for three people is eight times greater than the rest of the U.S. These children are our future and we are letting them down.
For those new to our shores, those deeply invested in crafting for their families a new and promising life among us, it often takes six months to obtain a permit to work from the federal government. General assistance for asylum seekers is a small, time-certain investment in those who enrich our communities with their hard work. Welcoming the stranger is a strongly held value of all major religions and, as a church leader, I can attest that our congregations welcomepartnerships with community organizations to share in offering welcome and support.
In the Boothbay Region where I serve, representatives from the private/public sector meet every month to connect safety nets for our neighbors. Representatives from our local nonprofit charities, the churches, schools, state/local officials, and townsfolk meet monthly to pool our resources. This includes funds from private/non-profit sources, funds for general assistance, and numerous state/federal programs. Together as a team our resource council is able to connect with and support our neighbors who are falling through the cracks of our society. While we utilize every resource available to us, too many souls are still suffering in our midst.
No problems we face in Maine are solved by the additional cuts called for in this budget. Rather, as proposed, it will fray the safety net for thousands of our neighbors and jeopardize the well-being, both now and in their future – of our youngest, most vulnerable citizens.
When confronted with Jesus’ words that the “poor shall always be with us,” the 20th Century Catholic activist Dorothy Day replied, “Yes, but we are not content that there should be so many of them.” Nor am I.
I will tell you that the non-profits are staggering under the weight of these budget cuts to the poor. We are struggling to gather enough resources to care for our neighbors. Non-profits exist to do the work that the government can’t do well. We rely on a public/private funding partnership to offer this life-giving work.
As you can see, representatives from all faiths and nine denominations are standing before you today. We will be gathering for an all faiths prayer vigil in the Hall of Flags at 11:30 a.m. As you seek to serve all people in Maine, we pray that each of you are graced with wisdom, strength and compassion for our neighbors. Thank you for the opportunity to share our concerns with you today.
At the prayer vigil, Hoecker offered this prayer before the 125 people present. Click here for a PDF of this prayer. Video may be found below.
Maine State House ~ February 22, 2017 ~ A Prayer Vigil for a Just and Humane Budget
A Prayer for All Faith Communities offered by the Rev. Maria Hoecker
Honoring our diversity and our unity, I invite you to call upon what is highest and deepest by the name you hold sacred and dear, either silently or aloud. (pause)
Creator of all,
You are Love, Mercy, Justice and Goodness.
You are the Beloved One calling out to all of our Communities of Faith in Maine.
Be present to us, as we strengthen our own awareness of Your Presence.
Guide us as we discern the direction of your will, your love, your flow,
each of us moving toward our faith in You.
You are present within all who dwell in our streets, temples, synagogues, mosques, homes, and churches. You bind us one to another,
in our villages, our farms, our boats, our cities, our state, our nation, and our world.
God of All, work through us as we heed your call to feed the hungry and care for the sick.
We grieve the presence of injustice and we name the pressing need for reconciliation.
Together, our actions unite us in our care for all souls both near to us and far away.
We welcome weary travelers as they make their way to our shores and doors.
Through our being and belonging, we are called to build up the bonds which reconnect all who are separated from You.
We are a community of many faiths:
Together we are cacophony of conscience and caring,
we are many voices confronting all evil which destroys lives and shatters families.
God of all names,
we value and respect the diversity of our faiths and heritage.
When shared together, our separate stories call us to deeper truths.
Help us to listen to each other. You bear more wisdom than any one of us can fathom.
Spirit of All, bless our communities of faith with compassion.
—we are made through You and through You we reflect the diversity of your abundance—-
you generously provide for all Creation, but only if we share in the care of all Creation.
Strengthen our faith communities to fulfill your mission here in Maine;
give courage to those who heed your call; shield those who are in peril for their beliefs;
for we all stand stronger together in your strength and mercy.
God of many names, be with us,
guide us in the ways of peace and justice for all.
May it be so. Amen.
The Rev. Maria Hoecker offers prayers at the Interfaith Prayer Vigil for a just and humane budget at the Maine State House
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
The last several months have witnessed a period of upheaval and political conflict in our nation such as I have not seen since the height of the Vietnam War. Many people are angry and bitterly opposed to one another, and some are finding it hard to listen to one another and to discover common values and aspirations. We are in danger of making one another aliens and strangers in our own land.
In this context, I call you to affirm that God loves us all and that we are all members of a single human family. Moreover, our Savior Jesus Christ died for each one of us. The Episcopal Church in Maine will continue to be open to all persons without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, sexual identity, or political party. We will continue to pray for the welfare of all, including our elected leaders. We will continue to exercise radical hospitality and inclusive participation in all aspects of church life. We will “respect the dignity of every human being.”
Episcopalians have always been able to come together at the Lord’s table across difference, and now might be a time to practice this particular gift together.
At the same time, as followers of Jesus, we will continue to preach the Good News of God in Christ and to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.” Our ministries with the poor, the sick, the stranger, and the alien have not and will not change. I will continue to speak out on issues of related to immigration, refugees, poverty, and war and peace. The recent decisions of the new administration regarding immigration have made some of this work more urgent, but it is work we know well and will continue to do. I invite you, no matter your politics, to invest yourself in your local communities and to work with other Episcopalians through our Maine Episcopal Network for Justice. If you haven’t been involved, now is a good time to jump in.
We will also continue to work with other churches and members of other faiths to create secure communities where all are safe and all have the opportunity to grow and prosper. Our good relationships with the Jewish and Muslim communities are sources of strength, and we will remain faithful partners with them.
The particular opportunity we have before us may be the chance to participate in the development of new understandings between people who have different visions for our country’s future. We might well host – first in our congregations and then in our communities – conversations about important community issues, seeking to learn from each other how and why we differ and what hopes we might share. Episcopalians have always been able to come together at the Lord’s table across difference, and now might be a time to practice this particular gift together.
At the core of our current struggles is fear: fear of change, fear of loss, fear of the other. None of us is untouched by the changes of the last 40 years. All of us have experienced the loss of something we cherished. Jesus’ most frequent admonition was, “Fear not.” Fear not. God is with you. Our hope is not simply in what we can create as individuals or as a nation. Our hope is in God, who loves us and cares for us. In all that we do we need to turn to our God, to trust in God’s presence with us, and to share God’s love with others. “Perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18
I write to you with a deep sense of thanksgiving for your faithfulness and for the work you do on behalf of Christ. I know you will make conscientious, faith-based choices and will live into your convictions, even at the risk of misunderstanding. I invite you to trust that you are not alone. I walk with you. And Jesus walks with you. We must remember that Christ meets us in our weakness. It is on the cross that Jesus overcomes death and sets us free to live new lives. It is in that new life that we now walk together.
Bishop Steve Lane visited and preached at St. Giles’ Episcopal Church in Jefferson on January 29. In his sermon had this, in part, to say:
To be blessed is to be met in our weakness by God. It is at the point of an impoverished spirit, in the midst of grief, in the effort to make peace, in seeking and suffering for God’s justice, that God meets us. It is here, not at the place of strength, that God finds us and blesses us.
On Sunday, January 15, Bishop Steve Lane was the featured preacher at A Service of Light, a community service held at St. John’s, Bangor, to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In his sermon he had, in part, this to say.
[T]he dream of God is a different dream. It’s not about beating people down, it’s about building them up. It’s a dream of the love of God made flesh in Jesus. It’s a dream of hearts being changed and conquered by love. It’s a dream of light that was given, a light shining amidst the darkness of the world, that the darkness can’t put out. It’s a dream of ordinary men and women, people like you and me, inhabiting that dream and making it real in our lives and among the people we live.
The pain and the urgency of living in an in-between time are very
apparent to us these days. Whether our focus is personal or political, whether we’re waiting for a child to be born or an illness to pass or an injustice to be redressed, waiting is hard. We want to know what will happen. We want to know when the waiting will end. We want our dreams to be realized. And… we just don’t know.
As some wag once put it, the question for Advent is (to quote the rock band Chicago) “Does anybody really know what time it is?” Advent is the season of the in-between time, the season when we wait for the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth, Christ’s first coming among us, and when we wait for Christ to come again to set things right. Our world is an in-between world, a world in which the outlines of a better way of life are visible, but far from realized. We long for the world we think we can see, and we hope that God will make it real.
I’m frankly not very good at not knowing. It challenges all my illusions of power and control. There really isn’t anything I can do, but wait, and fret – which, as my wise wife, Gretchen, says – doesn’t help.
It does help me to remember that while I wait for a more perfect realization of God’s new world, I am not alone. Christ came down at Christmas and remains with us. Jesus’ was born among us and still invites us to follow. Jesus was crucified and raised and calls us to live as his body. The time in-between is also the time of Jesus’ presence through the Spirit.
Our cry, “How long, O Lord, how long” (Psalm 13:1) is met with this assurance:
“…I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.” (Ps. 31:14-16)
Let the radiance of the child in the manger calm your heart. God is here, right here, right now. May this Christmas be for us a time not only of celebration, but of peace. May we rest in God’s love for us. May we trust in God’s presence among us. May we know that we are held – in this in-between time as in all times – in God’s loving hand.
Merry Christmas, my friends.
The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane
Bishop of Maine
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