One of the things I enjoy most about my work as Bishop of Maine is to experience the different cultures of our congregations and to take part in different sorts of worship services.
Three weeks ago I joined the good folk of St. Thomas’, Camden, for a Founders Day service. The liturgy that morning was a scaled down version of a 19th century edition of the 18th century liturgy that was in use when St. Thomas’ was established. It was a grand occasion, and although we would all recognize some of the language from either the 1928 BCP or our current Rite I, the order of the service was quite different. Had we done the whole thing, it would have lasted over two hours! And the tone was much more evangelical than we are accustomed to. Indeed, for a parish with St. Thomas’ Anglo-Catholic preferences, it was a very different service. Still the outlines of our worship were readily identifiable, and although Maine is no longer the frontier, the work of preparing the faithful for the work of mission goes on – now as then.
The next week I visited St. Mary the Virgin, Falmouth. St. Mary’s is a growing congregation. Not everyone can fit in the church for one service. So we joined St. Mary’s at 8 and 10. Children were very much in evidence at both services, and the formality of the worship was leavened by a relaxed welcome of the children.
Rector James Dalton-Thompson presented the largest class of confirmands I’ve seen to date. Between the services I met with twenty folks who were being confirmed along with others who were being received or reaffirming their vows. We had good conversation about what had led them to the decision to claim the vows of their baptism. As always, our conversation uncovered moving stories about the pilgrimage we share.
The 10 a.m. service was a joyous affair with careful choreography – it took a lot of care to move 26 folks around the chancel – and wonderful music. Deacon Christine Bennett helped me manage crosier, book and chrism. St. Mary’s was full to overflowing. We also took special care not to spread the H1N1 virus. I asked parents to see that their children took the bread only and that any who had health concerns might also receive just the bread. The H1N1 is on a tear through Maine. More than 50% of our schools have had absentee rates approaching 15%. It’s crucial that we not put children and young adults at risk. Receiving communion in one kind is full communion and protects our kids.
Following our worship we joined for a reception in the parish hall – great food and great conversation with many parishioners. And then ministry conversation with the Vestry. St. Mary’s is considering a careful plan to expand its campus to meet the needs of a growing congregation and to provide better space for ministry. The vestry is working hard both to support ministry and to steward the parish’s resources. It was a good conversation.
The day was not yet ended. Gretchen and I headed back to Portland, but went to the Cathedral for a service of sung Evensong and the Commissioning of James Dalton-Thompson as Canon Precentor and Samuel Henderson as honorary Canon.
Last week I was present at St. Dunstan’s, Ellsworth, for an extraordinary Sunday Service. Extraordinary Sundays are Sundays when the boundaries between Sunday School and Sunday worship are intentionally lowered and all present are invited to participate in intergenerational activities. We began with several craft activities including writing our gifts for ministry on leaves for a tree of ministry and using sidewalk chalk to decorate the front walk with invitations to worship. The service itself was great fun with the table moved down to just in front of the pews. There is no organist at St. Dunstan’s, the organist having recently taken a new position, but there was great music. The congregation sang with gusto following the confident leadership of Rector Chris Chornyak and sang much of the service, including the prayers. This was my first encounter with regularly sung intercessions in any of our congregations, and St. Dunstan’s, led by Deacon Peggy Day, did a beautiful job! (I understand that Deacon Joan Preble also sings quite well.)
Worship was followed by a gala reception and then a meeting with the Vestry. It was a beautiful fall day, and people we eager to get to their yards. Nonetheless there was a good period of questions at the reception, and then I joined the Vestry for a searching conversation about ministry and money. St. Dunstan’s is a powerhouse of ministry with many important community ministries. But they struggle to make ends meet. We had a good conversation about a reality many of us are facing and which our Mission Strategy Study Group (soon to be named) will try to address.
The sun was shining as Gretchen and I headed home down the Acadia Highway.