Author Archives: commcanon

How do we bear the image of God?

Bishop Steve Lane visited with the people of St. George’s, Sanford, on Sunday, October 19. In his sermon he had this, in part, to say:

If, as Jesus tells us, everything belongs to God, and therefore we belong to God, if we are stamped with God’s image, how do we bear that image? Is our fidelity lived out in every context of our lives: in our homes, at our workplace, at school, in the military, at the ballot box, in traffic? Is the image we wear one we put on or take off as it’s convenient or is it with us 24/7? Do we wear the divine image when we come to church and worship, while we pay our Temple tax, and then do we leave it at the door as we head out to be parents and employees and consumers? How is the claim that God created us, redeemed us and walks with us lived out in our days?

Read it all here.

Give it all away: the unlikely business plan of God’s vineyard

On Sunday, October 5, Bishop Steve Lane visited the people of St. Matthew’s in Hallowell. In his [particularly fine] sermon he had this, in part, to say:

The economy of the kingdom of God is not about producing and keeping, but about producing and sharing. And God’s giving knows no limits. God gives everything – the produce, the work of our hands, and even God’s own son, God’s own self. Nothing is held back in God’s care for his vineyard.

and this,

I wish I had a crystal ball so that I could tell you the end of the story. But I don’t, and I can’t. What I do know is that God is faithful…God is inviting us into a relationship of trust and inviting us to be fruitful, for ourselves and for others. We can be sure that God will take what we do and give it away. And we can also be sure that God will love us and care for us no matter what.

Read it all here.

Learning from Asia how to be church in the world

by Bishop Steve Lane

Bishop Steve and Gretchen Lane in the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Taipai

Bishop Steve and Gretchen Lane in the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Taipai

Until the recent trip of the House of Bishops to Taiwan, I had never been to Asia. In fact, I had never considered going there, and, frankly, wasn’t interested. I had been warned that Asia would be more foreign for a westerner than anywhere else in the world, and, given the limits of my travel budget, I was much more interested in the lands of my own heritage – England, Ireland and France. I also wasn’t eager to face the 13 hour flight from the US to Taiwan.

So it was with no little trepidation that I joined the pilgrimage to Taiwan. I went because I believed it was important to show support for a small diocese which is part of our church.

Having now been to Taiwan and Japan, I am happy to report that the trip was a very good experience and that I learned a great deal that is relevant and important to us here in the US.

The reason for our trip was to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Episcopal Church in Taiwan. The current Bishop, David Lai, has never missed a meeting of the House of Bishops in 17 years. So the House of Bishops went to Taiwan to honor the Diocese and David. The hospitality we received from the Diocese was thoughtful and gracious beyond all imagining. Our every need was anticipated, and we were accompanied by interpreters and guides whenever we ventured beyond the walls of our hotel.

The Grand Hotel, Taipai

The Grand Hotel, Taipai

I have never experienced such warmth and support, and I think we were all humbled by the care we received. For their part, the members of the Diocese felt deeply honored that we would make the journey and reveled in the opportunity to share what their church is doing.

Here in the west, we struggle with the increasing secularization of our culture. At one time, we claimed that our culture was a Christian culture. Now, considerably less than 50% of the people are active participants in any faith community. And yet our public values retain the imprint of Christendom, the co-mingling of faith and culture which began with Constantine.

In Taiwan, the culture has never been Christian. Adherents to Christianity number no more than 2-3% of the population. The predominant cultural norms are a mix of Buddhism, Taoism, and ancestor worship. Christianity is received with indifference until it is perceived to violate norms for family unity and for respect of ancestors. When that happens, Christianity is harshly rejected.

Nearly every Christian in Taiwan is a convert or a family member of a convert, and the choice to become a Christian is fraught with difficulty and the likelihood of rejection by one’s family. The church community becomes not only a faith community, but, in many ways, one’s family.

As a result, many newcomers to the church hold off on baptism for years. They do so out of respect for parents and fear of rejection. They participate fully in the life of the church, but may not tell family members. It takes a lot of courage to break with culture and family. “Open communion” permits them to participate and opens the door to fuller inclusion later.

Bishop David Lai of Taiwan celebrates the Eucharist at St. John's Cathedral. (Photo by ENS/Mary Frances Schjonberg)

Bishop David Lai of Taiwan celebrates the Eucharist at St. John’s Cathedral. (Photo by ENS/Mary Frances Schjonberg)

Worship in the Episcopal Church in Taiwan was very familiar, even if in Chinese. Worship at the Cathedral on Sunday included familiar hymns, sung in English and Mandarin. Bishop David chanted the liturgy using a familiar tone. A personal highlight for me was singing the Gloria with great gusto in Mandarin and English.

Mission and ministry are critically important in this context. Nearly all the recipients of the church’s ministry are non-Christian, and there is no expectation that they will become Christian (although a few do). Yet the ministry of the church is the means by which the church connects with the larger society and demonstrates its importance to the community. The churches of Asia are passionately committed to their ministries and are leaders in addressing issues of poverty, justice and peace. The voice of the church balances the sometimes passive acceptance of social ills that can be a feature of Asian culture.

We found the churches in Taiwan to be small but mighty. For example, Advent Church in Taipei ministers to the 7,000 students of St. John’s University (an Episcopal university), and a small church in southern Taiwan has planted 12 churches in the Philippines.

This commitment to ministry and to proclaim the Gospel was a primary feature in the testimony of each of the Asian bishops who addressed the House of Bishops. We heard from the Bishops of Taiwan, Japan, Korea and the Philippines. Each was passionate about ministry in their context. And each diocese was doing significant work with what I think we would consider limited resources. It was humbling to hear about the risks that these churches were taking to serve the poor and advocate for justice, in many cases being lone voices for compassion.

The most Christian nation in Asia is South Korea, with a Christian population approaching 30%. In a dialogue between the Bishop of Korea and the Bishop of Japan, it was said by both that the reason for Korea’s success in evangelism is that the Korean Church stood as voice against war during a period when the Japanese Church collaborated with the aggression of its government. The Korean Church thereby expressed a willingness to “walk the talk” about peace and earned considerable respect among the Korean people. The Japanese Church has since repented of its collaboration with the Japanese war effort and has publicly apologized to Korea and others. But the damage to its image has been done, and it continues to struggle.

Ten bishops, including me, also visited the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (the Japanese Holy Catholic Church) following the House of Bishops’ meeting. It was a whirlwind visit, riding the bullet train, and seeing the church in three dioceses. The first stop on our visit was the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima (which means “wide island” – central Hiroshima sits on an island in a river). The Peace Memorial is a stunning museum in the style of the Civil Rights Museum and the Holocaust Museum. It is deeply affecting. The museum makes clear the costs of war on all sides, and the continuing costs to the nation of Japan in terms of guilt, shame and leukemia.

A building that survived the blast at the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima

A building that survived the blast at the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima

Viewing the museum made my spirit sore, and I think there is no conclusion other than that death on such a scale, while perhaps a military necessity in some minds, is unjustifiable both humanly and religiously. We will all be judged for the taking of life on such a scale. Along with the church in Japan, we can only ask God to forgive us.

The west is not Asia, and our values here will continue to be connected with our Christian inheritance. Yet, there are many things we can learn from our Asian brothers and sisters. One is that witness doesn’t depend on numbers. We can have our say and make a difference even if there are very few of us. And we can support our churches to do God’s work even with slim resources. The issue isn’t size – it’s passion. If we are devoted to the cause of Christ, we can make a difference.

Visiting St. Andrew's, Kiyosato (Photo by ENS/Mary Frances Schjonberg

Visiting St. Andrew’s, Kiyosato (Photo by ENS/Mary Frances Schjonberg

Ministry isn’t meant to serve only Christians or those who might become Christian. Evangelism is part of our work, but ministry is to be offered to all God’s children. The value of that ministry isn’t measured by the credit the church gets (or doesn’t get), but by the well-being of God’s people.

The church needs to be a voice for compassion and peace – because that’s who we are, that’s our identity. And when we have failed to serve as voices for peace and compassion, then we need to repent. There is no reconciliation without repentance.

By the end of our time in Taiwan, I felt – strangely – at home. Despite a complete inability to communicate in Chinese, despite dependence on cabbies and tour guides, despite the pervasive Buddhist culture, the Episcopalians I met were, well… Episcopalians. Their worship and their ministries felt very much like mine. And their aspirations and hopes are of the sort that we share. That they minister so passionately with far fewer resources than we have is inspiring and encouraging. I am hopeful that such inspiration will help us do the ministry that we are called here to do.

Forgiveness is the heart of the church

On Sunday, September 7, Bishop Lane visited the people of St. Dunstan’s, Ellsworth. In his sermon he had this, in part, to say:

The heart of the matter is that forgiveness is the heart of the church. We are a community, not because on our own we can achieve unity. We are a community because when two or three are gathered, Christ is in the midst of us. Christ gives us our unity, and our responsibility is simply to keep coming together. Our responsibility is to create an environment in which we can seek and offer forgiveness and keep coming together even when we can’t agree.

Read it all here.

Bridging the gap between saying and doing

baileyallsaintsOn Sunday, August 24, Bishop Steve Lane visited with the people of All Saints by the Sea, Bailey Island, at the far end of the Harpswell peninsula. In his sermon he had this, in part, to say:

“The difficulty for us is not in saying the words; it’s not in making our confession of faith. It’s in living out that confession in our daily lives.

So… who do I think Jesus is? I think Jesus is the presence of God among us. Jesus shows us not only that God loves us, but that God came to be with us and to be like us. There is nothing in human life that is unknown to God and nothing that God can not or will not face and transform. Jesus is the sign of God’s embrace of human life and the human condition. And more than that Jesus is the model and the goal of human life. Living the life of faith means to become more and more like Jesus, living our lives following his example, knowing that failure is forgiven and that, with God, all things are possible.

That’s my confession. Not perfect… there’s probably more to say. And I struggle with it. As Christians in every generation have struggled to live out their faith, so I struggle as well. I take some comfort that it has never been easy.”

Read it all here.

The hardening of our hearts is not an option

On Sunday, August 3, Bishop Steve Lane visited, preached, and celebrated with the people at Trinity Chapel, Kennebunk Beach. The passage in Matthew is the story of the feeding of the 5,000. He had, in part, this to say:

God was with the disciples on that day when all those people needed to be fed. And God is with us in a world that still needs desperately to be fed. For us, hardening our hearts is not an option. We are called to compassion. Despair is not an option. We are called to thanksgiving. And helplessness is not an option. We are called to action. Because God is with us, and despite all that the powers and principalities are doing, God will prevail.

Read it all here.

Thanksgiving for St. Luke’s, Caribou

Tweets from Bishop Steve

Tweets from Bishop Steve

Bishop Lane concludes a three day trip to Aroostook County to visit with the clergy and members of the churches of the Aroostook Episcopal Cluster . This morning he gathered for worship at St. Paul’s, Fort Fairfield, and St. Luke’s, Caribou. Today marks a sad day for the people of St. Luke’s: the service of thanksgiving was their last as a congregation, a congregation that first met in 1868 and became a parish in 1955.

In his sermons this morning, Bishop Lane had this, in part, to say:

In our time, with all the rapid shifts we’ve experienced, with declining cultural support for religion, with aging members and tight resources, we may be tempted to think that God can’t be truly trusted, that what God demands is more than we can give, or we may be tempted to think in primarily financial terms or institutional terms, to think in terms of what we can do to save our church. Our lessons today tell us that people have thought that way before. But then or now, what God asks of us is the same: to trust God, to give our whole lives to God, to serve God in all that we do, to make every act, even the smallest, a sign of our love for God and God’s world. God’s promise to us that such faithful lives will not be lost, that even the smallest act will be noticed and will count for good.

He had a special word to the Episcopalians of the Aroostook Cluster, which has marked the closing of two – St. Luke’s and St. Anne’s in Mars Hill – of its five congregations in 2014:

All of you – have been faithful and brave in making the difficult decisions you’ve had to make over the past year. You have stepped out in faith. You have taken big risks, and you have pulled together for the sake of Christian witness here in the County. You have trusted in God even when it was hard, and you have made painful sacrifices. You have given up things you love for the sake of common good.

I want you to know that God cares. That God knows what you have done and that the work you have done will count for good. And I want you to know that I know what you have done and that I care, too. You have been leaders in helping all of us discover again how to be the church in a new time. You have helped us place our devotion to secondary concerns in second place in order to strengthen our witness to Jesus Christ. For all of that I thank you. And I think God thanks you to.

Read it all here.