Read the sermon Bishop Steve preached at the Cathedral’s noonday Ash Wednesday service here.
Our visit to Grace Church, Bath, fell on the day after the February meeting of the Diocesan Council in the same place. Because of that coincidence, I was able to meet with the Rector, Michael Ambler, on Saturday and to undertake a thorough review of the life and ministry of Grace Church. On Sunday morning, Gretchen and I drove to Bath as the temperatures rose in the first real thaw of the winter. By the time we arrived, everything was dripping.
I met first with the Vestry and clergy. We had a lively conversation about the ministry and finances of Grace Church, and, particularly, about the ongoing efforts to reach out to the community. We also talked about the tensions in the Anglican Communion and the ongoing work of the Episcopal Church in wrestling with the full participation of all our members.
After the Vestry meeting I had the opportunity to talk with a long time member of the parish who was choosing to be received into the Episcopal Church. The rite for confirmation, reaffirmation and reception is designed to give baptized members of the Episcopal Church the opportunity to renew their commitment to the baptized life at significant times of transition in their lives. The authors of the rite envisioned the possibility that faithful people might renew and confirm their baptismal vows at the time of marriage, the birth of a child, transition to a new job or community, retirement, death of a partner, etc. This was an occasion when the parishioner desired to renew and strengthen her commitment, and I was glad to encourage her in that decision.
The service was a joyous occasion. The music was wonderful. For those who haven’t been to Grace, it’s a contemporary, open space with seating in an arc of about 150 degrees. And floating serenely above, the good ship Mary Ann. I couldn’t find Gretchen in the congregation and looked up to discover her singing in the choir, blue robes and all. Great fun for her and the choir!
My visit ended with conversation with Grace’s curate, Martha Kirkpatrick, about her internship at Grace and possible next steps. Then Gretchen and I returned home through the mild, wet afternoon.
We began our visit to Christ Church, Gardiner, with a parish breakfast and a conversation with Grand Pa. Grand Pa is a muppet-like figure who lives in the pulpit and speaks to the children before each 10 am service. Rector Jack Fles says Grand Pa has been speaking with the kids for nearly thirteen years! This morning we talked about the Bishop’s vestments, particularly the miter, and his crozier. Grand Pa had a cold this morning and his voice was raspy, but his wit was lively. I’m not sure who had more fun – me or the children.
The worship that followed was joyous with both the choir and Christ Church Unplugged leading our singing and offering praise. After the service we joined for a reception. At both breakfast and the reception, members of the congregation asked questions about the recession and the future of the church.
Of particular interest was the recent meeting held for nine congregations in the greater Augusta region. I had invited the clergy and wardens of the congregations to come together on Saturday, January 24, to talk about the possibilities for shared ministry in the region. There was no planned outcome, just a hope to share common strengths and concerns and to identify possibilities for collaboration. The meeting was lively and enthusiastic, and we ended the day with a long list of possibilities. The participants are now sharing their experiences with the leaders of their congregations, and we will consult together about next steps. For their part, the people at Christ Church are eager to explore possibilities for working together with others to strengthen their ministries.
After the reception, I met with the vestry for a conversation about the life of Christ Church. While finances are a concern, a greater concern is to reach out to a new generation of church goers and to find creative ways to extend hospitality to the visitors who come through their door.
Our visit ended with lunch at the rectory. Gretchen and I joined with the Fles family and Deacon Gary Drinkwater for delicious soup and delightful family conversation. A great visit to the Mother Church of our diocese.
I’d been waiting for a Sunday when the winter weather would test our ability to make a visitation. And one finally came. We visited St. Philip’s, Wiscasset, on January 18. A major storm was expected and, as Gretchen and I drove north from Portland the caution warnings were lit and the pavement was slippery. Snow was falling heavily when we arrived, and I wondered for a moment if we, the wardens and the organist would be the congregation. But the members of St. Philip’s turned out in force for the service.
St. Philip’s has just begun the transition process. The rector departed early in January and the congregation is considering next steps. As always in small communities, the issue of finances looms large. But the spirit is good and the ministries of St. Philip’s are strong. The worship, held in the parish hall to reduce heating costs, was lively, the singing robust. After the service I had the opportunity to tour St. Philip’s extensive clothing ministry in the parish hall basement.
Because the weather continued to deteriorate, conversation after the service was briefer than usual. And I would be back during the week to speak with the vestry. The drive home was truly an adventure of blowing snow, poor visibility and snow clogged roads. But the joys of the morning kept us warm ’til we arrived back home.
In the Diocese of Maine it is customary for a new bishop to send a formal photograph portrait, suitable for display, to each congregation. Never before, however, have the members of the Diocese had the opportunity to weigh in on which photograph should be chosen. Bishop Lane has picked his favorites from a choice of eight and now we invite you to make the call. Please resist the urge to vote more than once.
I had no formal visitation this past Sunday. Instead I participated in two special events that testify to the vitality of our ministry in Maine.
On Sunday morning, Gretchen and I joined with the vicar and people of St. Nicholas, Scarborough, in the Celebration of a New Ministry. St. Nicholas’ has been on a remarkable journey this past year. Burdened by the debt for their new and beautiful worship space, there had been times when some questioned the congregation’s vitality. But with the loving leadership of Vicar Eckart Horn, St. Nicholas’ has experienced genuine renewal. We celebrated that renewal in a service that focused on the renewal of baptismal vows. (I just love the opportunity to get people wet!)
A fine sermon was preached by the Rev. Ron Baard, a Reform pastor and CPE colleague of Eckart’s. The congregation presented and shared symbols of ministry througout the service. Since it was Sunday morning, children assisted with the Advent wreath. And, for good measure, we blessed a roomful of new chairs (already fully blessed by their use). The chairs, replacing green plastic lawn chairs, were the gift of a grateful parishioner.
In the afternoon we journeyed to St. Stephen the Martyr in Waterboro for the ordination of Kit Wang to the priesthood. Kit has been serving St. Stephen’s since her ordination to the transitional diaconate in June. Her ordination was an eagerly-awaited occasion, and St. Stephen’s was packed to the rafters. There was good support from diocesan clergy and the congregation despite somewhat hazardous travel caused by the ice storm. The Rev. Suzanne Poulin preached a thought-provoking sermon, Kit’s son Jesse served as crucifer, and Kit was ordained with the enthusiastic affirmation of all present. She was vested in a beautiful stole and chasuble crafted by Challwood Studios, who also made my vestments. Our time ended with a great feast, and I understand the ham came from one of Kit’s pigs!
Occasions like these are very different than my regular visitations. The focus is on the larger life of the church, the diocese, and the way that life connects with congregations. This kind of vitality is essential if our congregations are to flourish. A celebration of new ministry lifts up the success of a transition process that is shared by congregation and diocese. And an ordination brings to conclusion a process of discernment and formation that benefits both a congregation and the whole church. Hopefully the energy of these occasions reverberates in the growing vitality of the congregations.
photos by the Rev. Sudie Blanchard
Sunday marked our first visitation in snow. There was a beautiful light snow falling as we left Portland. The roads were wet – and the warning signs suggested that they were icy – but our travel to St. Giles’, Jefferson was uneventful. We arrived at St. Giles’ in time for a brief rehearsal before the service.
St. Giles’ is a wood frame building constructed in the mid-1950’s. It’s deceptive in appearance being much larger inside than it appears outside. A beautiful addition, Jewett Hall, named after the former rector and built in 2004, provides space for larger gatherings, vestry meetings, and a weekday daycare center.
St. Giles’ is in transition and hopes to move into calling a new rector in 2010. Interim Rector John Van Siclen and Deacon Lee Burns are working well together and providing solid leadership for the transition. The parish has strong ministries and is experiencing modest growth.
Our visit began with a festal Eucharist, including a sung creed and the lighting of a large Advent wreathe. The wreathe is suspended from the ceiling and has a reputation for being cranky, but on this Sunday was steadily lowered for lighting and raised again. Following the service we gathered in Jewett Hall for a reception. After the reception I met with the wardens, vestry and clergy for a lively conversation. Topics included St. Giles’ transition, the roles and relationships of deacons and priests, full communion with the Methodists, and the state of relations in the Anglican Communion.
As I talked with the vestry of St. Giles’, I was asked what I saw as the greatest challenges facing the diocese. My responses were, first, how we remain a community given the great distances, the cost of transportation, and our need to reduce our carbon footprint. I talked about the need to use new technology and to experiment with video conferencing, distance learning, etc. The second challenge facing us is how we negotiate the changing Maine economy and the resulting dislocations. I talked about not only parish budgets, but the difficulty in attracting clergy. Our time at St. Giles’ ended with a lunch with the clergy and spouses.
I’m slowly filling in my mental map of the diocese. In the morning we arrived in Jefferson by way of 295 and Gardiner and in the afternoon departed by way of Damariscotta and Rt. 1. It feels good to venture off the main roads and to head out cross-country. The pine forests had a beautiful dusting of white snow which gave the countryside a magical appearance. More of God’s gifts to us.
The past two Sundays were spent with congregations in the midst of transition between ordained leaders.
Last Sunday, a 5:30 am wake-up was rewarded with an absolutely spectacular sunrise as we drove to St. Mark’s, Waterville. The crystal clear blue sky was streaked with pink and orange at first light. A stunningly beautiful drive.
We were met by Interim Rector Steve Foote and the Vestry for breakfast. Over muffins and coffee we discussed the search process and the life of St. Mark’s. Like many congregations, St. Mark’s is wrestling with finances and working on stewardship. The Vestry members made it clear that they wanted to take the time necessary to do a good search.
After breakfast we met with the family of an infant to be baptized and walked through the service. An impromptu rehearsal with the choir helped me prepare to lead the African chant Thuma Mina (Send me, Jesus) as we processed to the font. The service was great fun, the baby was well-behaved, and the music was glorious.
Following the service and a brief coffee hour, many folks joined with me for a lively question and answer session. Questions included probing inquiries about the search process, the future of the church, the Lambeth Conference and relationships in the Anglican Communion, and partnerships for mission.
This morning we enjoyed another brilliant sky as we drove to St. Andrew’s, Newcastle. Today was St. Andrew’s Day and the 125th Anniversary of St. Andrew’s Church. A grand procession was led by a kilt-clad piper. The liturgy began with the blessing and rededication of the building, the font, the organ, the pulpit and the altar and prayers for the rededication and recommitment of the congregation. Every seat was filled and the overflow crowd watched on a tv monitor in a nearby room. Young people participated as acolytes, a litanist and members of a children’s choir. The senior choir sang a stunning anthem written for the occasion. The Eucharist closed with the singing of Thuma Mina. The 125th Anniversary service was a celebration to be remembered.
Following a festive reception, we joined with Interim Rector Frank Strasburger, Associate Mary Ann Hoy and Deacon Vicki Black, and the members of the Vestry and the Search Committee for lunch and a wide-ranging conversation about the life of St. Andrew’s. St. Andrew’s is just beginning the search process and is taking time to prepare carefully. Search Consultant Diane Patterson was present to take part in the conversation. We talked about the transition process, finances, stewardship, the divisions within the Episcopal Church, plans for the care of faithful Episcopalians in the dioceses that are leaving, and St. Andrew’s participation in ministry, particularly the Jubilee Center at Trinity, Lewiston.
Both St. Mark’s and St. Andrew’s are enjoying the time with their interim rectors. The process of preparing to undertake a search has released new energy and galvanized new activity and enthusiasm. People are stepping up to take on new responsibilities. Vestries and search committees are excited about their work with diocesan search consultants. Ideas for new programs and new ministries are surfacing. With effective and energetic leadership, it’s clear that the time of transition can be a time of genuine renewal for a congregation.