Some months ago the Bishops of Province I (New England) were invited to the Cathedral of St. Paul’s, Boston, MA, for a reception for the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson as he prepares to step down as the Bishop of New Hampshire. As a long time friend and colleague of Gene’s, I was happy to accept the invitation.
A few weeks ago, I learned that the context for the reception was Gay Pride Week in Boston and that the attending bishops would march in the Pride Parade before the reception. With a certain amount of trepidation, I decided a quick trip for the reception would not work, and so went down the night before to get familiar with the lay of the land and make connections with Bishop Tom Shaw.
As fate would have it, only four bishops were able to make the parade and reception, ordinations and graduations requiring the rest of the Province I bishops to be elsewhere. That being the case, I was very glad I was able to join Tom Shaw, Bishop of Massachusetts, and Barbara Harris, retired Suffragan Bishop, in walking with and thanking Gene.
It was a quite wonderful day. Despite severe thunderstorms, including strong winds and hail, the night before, Saturday dawned bright and sunny. In fact it turned out to be a very warm day. The Boston Pride Parade route covered 2.6 miles, and the marchers themselves covered well over a mile. There were all kinds of groups, including Macy’s, local radio stations, the governor and the mayor. Something like 200 Episcopalians marched from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, led in procession by a crucifer, a thurifer, and streamer bearers from The Crossing, at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Barbara rode in a red Mustang convertible, honored as the first woman ordained a bishop in the Anglican Communion, while Tom, Gene and I trudged along on foot.
What struck me most on the long, hot and sometimes very noisy march, was the sense of surprise and, sometimes, joy which greeted our appearance. People would look quizzically upon seeing the cross and the incense pot, then suddenly recognize who was coming. People frequently called out Bishop Robinson’s name or would say loudly to a neighbor, “That’s MY church!” There were frequent expressions of thanks, and sometimes loud applause. Occasionally there were tears.
We weren’t the only church group, of course. There were many. And I would make no special claim for the Episcopalians. But we certainly do know how to transform a parade into a procession! And our message of welcome for all people is still vitally important. Despite the secularism of our age, despite the suspicion of many about large institutions, including the church, there is still a deep hunger for connection, for welcome, for community, for God. And people who may feel afraid to darken our doors were simply delighted that we came out to be with them.
The day ended with a cook-out at the Cathedral and a brief service of thanksgiving for Gene. I got to say a few words of thanks to Gene for his work, not only as a bishop, but long before as Canon in New Hampshire and as a founder of both Fresh Start and the Safe Church movement. He’s made an immense contribution to the health of our church.
But what I remember most are the expressions of surprise, delight, and joy on the faces in the crowd.
Trinity Church, Lewiston, is a lovely Gothic style church in a struggling neighborhood not far from downtown Lewiston. It’s the home of Jubilee Ministries which serves the community with numerous programs, most notably an after school program for Somali immigrant children. Trinity Parish is a fairly small operation. Trinity Jubilee Center is a giant.
The worship space at Trinity is modest, a good fit for the small congregation. One of the wings of the transept has been converted to a community living room for education and conversation.
On this Sunday, the skies had opened, and it was pouring rain! I worried a little about getting to Trinity on time because of the rain. But I made it in time for the School for Prayer, an adult education program examining and practicing various forms of Christian prayer. I had the privilege of leading the group in contemplative prayer using visual icons.
Following the program we gathered for worship. Worship at Trinity is informal but dignified. Music is supported by a small ensemble of flute, clarinet, keyboards and voice. The music was simply lovely. We did not celebrate confirmation, but in its place we renewed the vows of our baptism. Then we stood in a circle around the table as some 20 persons renewed their commitment to their particular ministries and commitments. Then I concluded with a prayer of commissioning and blessing. It was a moving and solemn moment, and I commend the this practice to the diocese.
After the Eucharist, we moved over to the living room for refreshments and conversation. There was commentary and dialogue about my sermon and then conversation about the parish’s ministries and the life of the Episcopal Church. It was a vigorous conversation, and we were soon taking up time set aside for the Vestry.
The conversation with the Vestry focused on ministry and on the cost of doing business. The church operation is small compared to the Jubilee Ministry. Indeed, the Jubilee Center covers some of the cost of parish operations. But Trinity Parish continues to look for ways to serve the community and to support its work.
For lunch, I joined rector Steve Crowson and Klara Tammany, Director of the Wisdom’s Women’s Center. The Wisdom’s Women’s Center is a community center for women which offers emotional support and access to services for women who struggle with poverty and abuse. It’s an important and growing outreach service in the neighborhood. With Steve and Klara and several volunteers, I enjoyed a lovely lunch.
The rain had lessened for a short time, but it was coming down in buckets as I left Trinity and headed for St. Matthew’s, Lisbon, to bless a new roadside sign. St, Matthew’s had recently erected the sign to draw attention to its off-the-road location. The sign is large and illuminated with plenty of space for coming events. Rector Beau Wagner and several parishioners greeted me for a few minutes of conversation about the ministries of the St. Matthew’s. Then we made brave procession in the pouring rain and blessed the sign and the ministries it proclaims.
After the blessing, we marched back up the driveway for some hot coffee and refreshments. Once again, conversation turned to ministry. We enjoyed a relaxed hour together, then I headed home in the still pouring rain as the folks of St. Matthew’s prepared for the evening program.
One of the disciplines of blogging is keeping at it. Each week I try to write my blog entry as soon as I get home. But often something gets in the way and the days slip by. So this entry, as the last few, is a catch up entry. My apologies in advance to the congregations I’ve visited. The late blog is not a reflection of the importance of the visit.
On Sunday, October 4, I visited the good people of St. Barnabas’, Rumford. Gretchen and I were out the door very early on a chilly, overcast, fall morning. As we headed north, the sky constantly brightened, and the last few miles were in sunshine. The mountains were covered in glorious color as the foliage reached its peak. Since traffic was very light we arrived early and had time to tour the church. St. Barnabas’ is a jewel of a church, the exterior built of large river rocks and the inside smooth and white. The acoustics are excellent, and the windows are unique and unusual. There is one of Nicodemus up in his tree and another of the call of Isaiah. A simply lovely church.
The congregation was small but we sang with gusto. Fr. Tim Parsons, an accomplished guitarist, accompanied a couple of numbers. There was a confirmation and a reception. Following the service we joined for a lovely lunch and then I met with the vestry. St. Barnabas’ is concerned about the size and age of its congregation and about maintaining its ministries in the community. In those concerns, it joins many congregations of our diocese.
It would have been lovely to linger by the river, but Sunday was a very full day. Leaving Rumford, Gretchen and I dashed to Norway and Christ Church. There I joined with Bishop Richard Malone, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, in celebrating 30 years of a covenant relationship between Christ Church and St. Catharine of Sienna. These two churches have been colleagues in ministry for a generation and continue to share in all sorts of ministries together. The clergy, including our Anne Stanley, are colleagues and friends and provide continuing support for one another. Bishop Malone and I prayed for the continuing vitality of the covenant and that our relationship would endure despite the stresses between our denominations.
And then we went across the street to Catharine of Sienna to bless the animals! Dogs, cats, birds, ferrets… St. Francis’ Day. A lovely ending to the day leaving both bishops in their finery, covered with hair.
Last Sunday I had the privilege of visiting St. Matthias’, Richmond. For those of you who’ve not been there, St. Matthias’ is a small, square, wood-frame church on a cul de sac in the village. Next to the church is a single room parish house built about six years ago. The campus is in a lovely setting, but a bit off the beaten track.
My visit included the consecration of the Chapel of Jesus and Mary, a new space in the church. The consecration of a church or chapel is a great occasion to affirm the baptismal ministry of the people and to celebrate the life and history of the congregation. The Chapel was dedicated in honor of the Rev. Bruce Alexander who served St. Matthias’ and Christ Church, Gardiner, some years ago. Bruce and his wife, Marjorie, and their daughters were present for the service.
Also present was the Rev. Bill Blaine-Wallace who will be serving as supply priest for some of the coming weeks. St. Matthias’ is taking part in the diocesan development program and is hoping to build toward calling a quarter time priest.
The convergence of all these streams made for a wonderful celebration of the life of St. Matthias’. Folks from several neighboring congregations joined with us and filled the church to capacity. It was a reminder of all the church has been and can be.
It was a chilly morning, but the sun burned off the fog and the bright sunshine at the reception seemed to capture all that had happened. Gretchen and I give thanks for such days.
I’m beginning to feel as though I’ve been most places in the diocese. Or, perhaps, it’s fairer to say that I’ve covered the length and breadth of the state, and I’m beginning to fill in the gaps in the map.
Our most recent visit was to St. James’, Old Town. Because it’s better than two hours from home, we went up Saturday afternoon and had the opportunity for a leisurely supper with Interim Rector George Lambert. Then, on Sunday, we had a fairly short trip to Old Town.
On most Sundays, the focus of the service is baptism or confirmation. On this Sunday it was the renewal of marriage vows for David and Jeanne Lindsay, who celebrate 50 years together this summer. What a lovely occasion and an opportunity for the rest of us to consider our commitments.
Following the service we adjourned for a gala reception and a town meeting. St. James’ is a small, but vibrant community worshiping in an historic Henry Vaughn designed church. A recent architectural review suggests the need for urgent repairs and updates at a cost of more than $1,000,000. The community is very committed to ministry and is discerning appropriate next steps.
The town meeting was lively with serious questions about new ways doing ministry and being church. The conversation covered possibilities for new relationships with other Episcopal congregations and job descriptions that include campus ministry. The community is very interested in exploring new directions. We also spent time discussing the upcoming General Convention.
The meeting with the Vestry picked up where the town meeting left off with more conversation about building issues and ministry possibilities. We talked about looking for partnerships both in the ecumenical community and beyond. I encouraged the vestry to continue explorations and look forward to future conversations. The challenges faced by St. James’ are not unique and are, perhaps, a portent of similar conversations across the diocese.
My Dad always told me that I was named after Stephen in the Bible. I thought that was cool until I learned that Stephen was stoned to death for proclaiming Christ. It made me wonder a bit about what my Dad had in mind… (In actual fact, I think I was named after my older cousin, Stephen Jenks, who has lived in Portland, ME, for the last twenty years. We’ve reconnected since my election.)
In any case, I felt right at home at St. Stephen the Martyr. My GPS always over-estimates the time it takes to get places (no… I’m not speeding) so Gretchen and I arrived well before our planned arrival of 9 a.m. That gave us time to sit with the folk in the parish hall as they prepared for the reception to come. We had the luxury of leisurely conversation about the winter, the high water on the lake, the ice fishing derby, the ice houses still on the lake, the noise ordinance that keeps snow-mobiles away from the church on Sunday morning, etc., etc. We also had a chance to tour the food pantry which is broadly supported by the greater Waterboro community and now serves 70 families a month! Contributions come from the school, from community groups and from the ice fishing derby.
There were no baptisms or confirmations, so our service was the usual sort for Lent. We did bless quilts and caps and mittens crafted by members of the parish and the Sunday School. The children gathered to help me bless them for those who would use them. It’s the ancient custom of the church that things are blessed by their use. It’s our hands and hearts that make things holy. But it’s always good to set aside a moment to remind ourselves that things have not only practical purposes, but also carry the grace of God.
A festive reception followed the service. There was food in abundance. Then I met with the Vicar, Kit Wang, and Bishop’s Committee. St. Stephen’s is small but mighty, very engaged in ministry and very happy about it. Finances are struggle, but the Bishop’s Committee is constantly looking for ways to save money. They’ve had some good success with saving energy.
The visit ended with some time with the Vicar in reflecting on her first months of service at St. Stephen’s. It’s good to share my name with such a place.
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.
Today Gretchen and I visited the Cathedral of St. Luke in Portland. In honor of the Feast of St. Luke (Saturday), we used St. Luke propers. We had a full morning.
The visit began with an adult forum, an opportunity for members of the Cathedral to engage with me in conversation. I began by sharing some of my impressions of the Lambeth Conference. That sparked a series of questions about the Anglican Communion, including questions about the Episcopal Church’s support for faithful Episcopalians in the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Fort Worth. I explained that the Episcopal Church consists of the faithful Episcopalians living in a geographic area. Although a number of Episcopalians have chosen to leave the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh remains. Already faithful Episcoplians of the Diocese, with the support of the Presiding Bishop, are preparing for an Organizing Convention to elect new leadership. Although there will undoubtedly be litigation over property, the Episcopal Church will continue. A similar process will take place in Fort Worth and other places, if necessary.
The forum was followed by festive worship which included the baptisms of four persons: an infant, two teens and an adult. It was a great celebration of the community, accompanied as always by colorful pageantry and fine music.
The morning ended with a coffee hour and a special presentation in words and pictures of the life of St. Luke’s. A number of parishioners spoke movingly of their experience of the Cathedral and the reasons why they worship there and undertake the ministries they do. I concluded our time together by commissioning a large group of volunteers for their ministries.
Our visit to the Cathedral followed an up-and-down week. Having spent 30 hours in Maine General Hospital in Waterville during the week, it was great to spend Saturday and Sunday doing what I usually do. I also want to note that our experience at Maine General was the best hospital experience we have ever had. The staff, from the ER to the cardiac staff to the Nuclear Med staff to the housekeeper, were unfailingly attentive, responsive and kind. Our stay gave us more reasons to be glad we’re in Maine. I am happy to report that all tests came back negative and indicate that a recent change in medication may have been the cause of an episode of lightheadedness that sent me to the ER on Thursday. I will follow up with my regular physician. Gretchen and I are very thankful and greatly appreciate your prayers and concern.
One of the joys of the Diocese of Maine is the diversity of the parishes and their ministries. Today I got a good taste of that diversity.
The morning began with confirmation at Christ Church, Biddeford. Neither Google Maps nor my GPS is much good with the tight twists and turns of an old Maine city downtown. We got lost twice after getting off 95, but managed to find South Street and the back door in good time. Team Bowen (the Revs. Shirley and Peter) met us at the door, and we sat for a while with those preparing for confirmation. After a joyous service and reception, the Vestry and I met to discuss Christ Church’s many ministries and the development of their Jubilee Center. Christ Church has been identified as a “warming center” and the parish is preparing to receive folks who will need a place to get warm this winter. There was just enough time for lunch with Shirley and Peter before Gretchen and I left for Cape Elizabeth.
We met the Rev. Jim Adams at the rectory of St. Alban’s for conversation before a reception and the dedication of St. Alban’s new Peace Garden. The Peace Garden is a stunning outdoor worship site which combines a eucharistic space, a small amphitheatre and a columbarium/burial ground. Benches and walkways are woven through plantings and trees. A stone table and font provide focus for the worship area. A Children’s Waterfall, offered in memory of children who have died, is a unique feature of the garden. Two years of imagining, designing and building went into the creation of a marvelous space for prayer, meditation, rest and worship – truly a garden for the communion of saints.
A quick trip into Portland brought us to Grace Church, Munjoy Hill. Grace Church meets in old St. Lawrence Church, now a community center. Munjoy Hill is one of the most densely and diversely populated places in all of Maine. Staffed by the clergy of St. Alban’s (Jim Adams, John Balicki, and Audrey Delafield), Grace Church hosts an informal Eucharist every Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Folks come from all over the area. Today, amidst the scenery for a production of “On Golden Pond,” we celebrated a baptism and confirmation. Although we were a little constrained by the need to be out before a 7:30 pm performance, we managed to preach, baptize, confirm, celebrate Eucharist and still have time for a party!
Somebody asked me today what I like best about being bishop so far. I said, “Meeting all the people and learning about their ministries.” There’s a lot of good ministry happening in very different places in the Diocese of Maine.