God gives us to each other without asking our permission

Catching up on Bishop Lane’s recent sermons:

On November 16, he visited St. John’s in Bangor and had this, in part, to say in his sermon about the parable of the talents:

“…what do we think of God? Who is God? Is God loving and merciful, one who will take our best efforts and use them? Or is God fierce, demanding and punishing, waiting to judge our failures and our mistakes? How we perceive God may very well determine our willingness to invest ourselves in the work of the kingdom.”

Last Thursday, the congregations of Christ Church, Norway, and Trinity Lutheran, South Paris, gathered to celebrate the Rev. Nancy Moore coming to be their rector and pastor. In his sermon, Bishop Lane said:

“The first is to recognize that although, as you already know, Nancy is a gifted priest and pastor, this work is not primarily about her. This work is primarily about us and our claiming the ministry of Christ. Christianity has always been a lay movement, and it remains so today. While Nancy is called to preach and teach, to celebrate the sacraments, to support us with pastoral care, the work of Christ belongs to all of us. And rightly so – the kingdom of God requires all the gifts we bring. None of us is sufficient alone to do the work of Christ. All of us, bringing all our gifts, make up the Body of Christ and make the Body effective. Every person and every gift is needed. This service tonight is as much a commissioning of all of you, as it is of Nancy.”

And on Last Pentecost, November 23, Bishop Lane gathered with the people of St. Giles’ in Jefferson where he had some new words about the ancient parable of the sheep and the goats.

“There was a time, not so long ago, when we believed that the good people were all found in the Church offering charity to those in need. We were all sheep. Except that we were often quite unneighborly in many ways. We didn’t actually know the folks we helped, we weren’t in relationship with them. We weren’t very kind to other Christians – Baptists or Roman Catholics – with whom we differed over doctrines or spiritual practices. We weren’t even always nice to each other. Our churches were hard to break into. One had to learn the unwritten rules and conform to the expectations of the established members. One wonders how often Christ tried to join our churches only to be turned away.”

You may read the sermons all here.

Breakfast on the Beach

Bishop Steve began a sermon at the Celebration of New Ministry at St. Columba’s, Boothbay Harbor, last Saturday with –

“Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.'”

and

“…[T]he life of faith is about moving beyond agreement, to commitment; to understanding that our foundation, the rock upon which we stand, is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s about committing ourselves to be like him.”

Read it all here.

Beginnings

This past weekend it was my privilege to share with two communities in new phases of their lives and ministries.

On Saturday I took part in the Celebration of New Ministry between the people of St. Mark’s, Waterville, and the Rev. John Balicki, Rector. Both St. Mark’s, and John’s former congregation, St. Alban’s, Cape Elizabeth, were well represented. The two choirs joined to create a wonderful sound, and many folks from St. Alban’s arrived together on a bus from Cape Elizabeth. More than 200 people attended the service.

The Rev. John Van Siclen was the preacher and recalled us to the “primitive ministries” of the church: telling the story of the good news, reaching out to one another, and serving our neighbors. These are the responsibilities of every Christian, not just the clergy or the parish church.

The service was rich with gifts for ministry, including a new church banner created by the Sunday School and a check for $5,000 given to the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter. Gretchen and I were touched to receive prayer shawls in support of our ministries.

The day concluded with lovely reception and lingering conversation – and a new St. Mark’s baseball cap for John. It was a powerful and hope-filled celebration of the life we’re offered in Christian community.

Sunday was my regular visitation to St. Luke’s, Wilton. Although it snowed a bit on Saturday, the roads were clear and open to Wilton. But it was cold!!! 15 below zero early Sunday morning.

St. Luke’s is small but mighty, with many community-based ministries, two of which stand out in my mind. The first is an Advent program that allows poor children to shop for Christmas presents for their parents, a truly wonderful way to support young people from the area. And this week, St. Luke’s is joining with a local Methodist congregation to support a “Monday School” at the end of the school day. St. Luke’s is hoping to connect with young people in the community beyond the membership of either sponsoring church. It will be very interesting to see if the program makes connection with a different group of people.

Long time Rector, Tim Walmer, is also beginning something new. He is beginning a part-time gig as a paid chaplain at the local hospital. Tim was already visiting in the hospital a number of hours a week. His new position allows him to expand and formalize that work and to make deeper connections with the community. It provides additional financial support for Tim’s work, but will not take him far from the parish.

Despite the cold morning, it was warm and lively at St. Luke’s. I had great conversation with the Vestry over breakfast, and then an extended chat with the parish over brunch. We talked about ministry, about change, and about our need to keep our hope in God’s promises as we face the fearful challenges (the economy, global warming…) of the 21st century.

I feel very encouraged by the energy and excitement generated in two of our churches by doing something new.

A Very Full Weekend

One of the joys of ministry, whether in the congregation or the diocese, is the opportunity one gets to share in the breadth of human experience, to be with folks in the richness of their lives.

This past weekend was that way for me.

On Saturday I had the privilege of presiding at the marriage of the Rev. Lev

Ann Holland and Lev Sherman after the ceremony

Sherman (St. Martin’s, Palmyra, and All Saints, Skowhegan) and Dr. Ann Holland (St. John’s, Bangor) at St. Luke’s Cathedral. The Revs. Rita Steadman and David Robinson joined me in celebrating the marriage. Enthusiastic friends and family members added their voices.

For Lev and Ann I think this relationship is an unexpected and joyful surprise later in life. Neither had anticipated a new marriage relationship. But our God is full of surprises, offering us new life when we least expect it. And despite the risks of beginning such a relationship, Ann and Lev have chosen joy over fear. It was a genuine pleasure to be part of their celebration.

Bishop Steve fields questions from the people of St. Columba's, Boothbay Harbor, after worship

Following the wedding, Gretchen and I headed up to Boothbay Harbor and time for a relaxed dinner with Rector Wes Shields. It was our first opportunity to be with Wes in a year, and we spent the time catching up and learning about life in the congregation. St. Columba’s has done some remarkable work in the last year, both paying off the mortgage on their new building and returning a ministry grant to the diocese. In addition, Wes has started a new community youth group.

That energy was palpably evident on Sunday. The day began with a good conversation with the Vestry and continued with further conversation in the sermon and over lunch. The folks at St. Columba’s asked probing questions about the future of the church, particularly about the place of part-time clergy in congregations. The effective part-time ministry undertaken by the rector may be a model for others in the future.

The Rev. Lu-Anne Conner (second from left) with her partner Kate McCormick, mother Joan Conner of St. David's, Kennebunk, and twin sister, the Rev. Sally Conner of the Diocese of Massachusetts.

Departing from Boothbay, Gretchen and I were off to St. Andrew’s and the Celebration of the New Ministry shared by the people of St. Andrew’s and Rector Lu-Anne Conner. The church was full with clergy and visitors from several congregations, including Lu-Anne’s former boss from the Diocese of Newark. The choir outdid themselves with an anthem that lifted the rafters. The festivities continued after the service with a wonderful reception. Clearly rector and people are developing a healthy partnership.

Finally, as darkness fell, we joined with Lu-Anne and Kate and Lu-Anne’s family and close friends for a quiet, but very happy, supper. We were tired, but uplifted by the afternoon’s celebration.

We drove home through heavy fog. The fog sometimes obscured the road, but couldn’t hide the richness of the weekend.

Bishop Steve

A lot of life in three congregations

Scattered among regular episcopal visitations are special occasions and special events.

Two weeks ago I visited St. Barnabas’, Augusta, for a regular visitation. St. Barnabas’ is a happy, family-sized congregation with several active ministries in the Augusta area. New rector, David Matson, and the people of St. Barnabas’ are getting to know one another and thoroughly enjoying the experience.

My visit to Augusta began early with a meeting of several people who were preparing to be confirmed or received. Among them was member of St. Philip’s, Wiscasset. It’s always fun to welcome someone from another congregation to a Sunday visit.

Following our meeting we joined for a joyful service, made special by the presence of a guest organist. St. Barnabas’ usually sings to the accompaniment of an electronic organist.

After the service I spent time with the Vestry addressing issues of ministry and finance and the possibility of shared ministry with neighboring congregations. We then adjourned for a gala luncheon in the parish hall – a real feast.

The morning ended with a time of conversation with the Vicar and his wife. A very satisfying visit.

A quick trip down the road brought me to St. Matthew’s, Hallowell, and the celebration of its 150th anniversary. Present for the celebration were several former clergy and parishioners. The choir had previously invited Gretchen to join them, and the singing was marvelous.

The service not only marked 150 years of service, but also committed the community to continuing service. Several folks were confirmed, we commissioned eucharistic visitors, and we blessed and dedicated an expanded and refurbished sacristy. A truly wonderful service. As the day lengthened into evening, the parish extended its celebration in a lively reception.

This past week I had the privilege of celebrating a service of renewal and hope with St. Matthias’, Richmond and its new vicar, Kitty Babson. St. Matthias’ is a small community that has wrestled with finances and declining membership over the last few years. The Celebration of a New Ministry looked to the future and declared that “small is beautiful.” God invites us to be faithful, not big. Reflecting on the lilies of the field text from Matthew, I noted that it’s enough for us to be lilies or sparrows. God does not require us to be orchids or eagles. We’re called to bloom where we are planted and to join God in the work God is already doing.

There was a good turnout of clergy and parishioners from neighboring parishes, including a merry band of five deacons. We concluded our celebration with good food and good conversation in the parish hall.

There’s a lot of life in our small communities.

Visiting (and commemorating) the saints of God along Route 1

It’s a pleasure when a congregational visit can be spread out over more time than is available on a Sunday morning. Our visit to St. Thomas’, Camden, began mid-afternoon on Saturday with a conversation with the Vestry. The Vestry of St. Thomas’ is working hard at getting the word out about the life and ministry of the parish. Various means of communication are being explored and expanded, and the Vestry is considering ways to connect with the arts community as a way of drawing more people onto the campus. The parish is also working at sharing news about its several ministries through various media outlets. Of particular concern to the Vestry is youth ministry, and we talked about ways to share that ministry with other Episcopal and area congregations. After the meeting, Gretchen and I shared a relaxed supper with Rector John and Michele Rafter.

On Sunday we were up early to meet with candidates for adult baptism, confirmation and reception. People spoke about their journeys to St. Thomas and the Episcopal Church in moving ways. As in many of our congregations, a number of those being received were from the Roman Catholic Church. We spoke our need to be welcoming and hospitable, but also gentle and patient with people making a difficult transition to a new faith tradition.

The service was a festive affair with processions to the font and back. The music was terrific – Gretchen sang with the choir – and I got a chance to sing the sursum corda and proper preface, something I enjoy.

Following the service, we joined for a reception and conversation, and then I met with Sue Vorhees, one of the solitaries of the diocese. In Maine, we have three solitaries, who live lives devoted to prayer under vows. The bishop is responsible for the oversight and direction of these ministries.

Our time at St. Thomas’ came to a conclusion with lunch with the rector and Deacon Rosalee and Chris Glass.

We headed back down Route 1, but only briefly, stopping at St. Andrew’s, Newcastle, for a truly unusual occasion.

The new edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, our calendar of saints, is called Holy Women, Holy Men, and represents a much expanded calendar of saints, including a significant number of Americans. One of the new saints is Frances Perkins, first woman Cabinet Member and Secretary of Labor under FDR. Frances is responsible for a good bit of what we now call the social safety net and worked especially with labor law and with the development of Social Security. Holy Women, Holy Men is now undergoing trial use and part of that process is to demonstrate that there is “cultic expression” for those in the calendar.

Frances Perkins was a long time member of St. Andrew’s, her grandson, Tomlin, still attends. The parish planned a festive celebration including a lecture by historian Donn Mitchell (www.anglicanexaminer.com) and a service of Evensong. More than 90 people turned out. I had the great privilege of preaching at the service, and the joy of working with the clergy of St. Andrew’s, Frank Strasberger, Mary Ann Hoy and Vicki Black. We proclaimed ourselves to be the cult of “St. Frances of Newcastle” and celebrated the life of a woman whose Christian faith, nurtured in the Episcopal Church, led her to work diligently for social justice. I hope others in the diocese will want to lay claim to Frances’ day in the years ahead.

A gala reception followed the service. It was evening before Gretchen and I headed back to Portland.

+Steve

Read his sermon here.

New ministry, vital ministry in Winn and Hulls Cove

Following the Diocesan Council meeting at Millinocket, on May 1, Gretchen and I began our visitation with the good people of St. Thomas’, Winn. We joined the Vestry for a festive supper and conversation at Ruthie’s Restaurant in Millinocket that Saturday evening. Strong leadership on the part of the Vestry is helping St. Thomas’ control costs and remain sound.

This was my first official visit to Winn, although I’d been there for brief visit when the former rector departed. At that time the Rev. Ginny Urbanek was called to serve as supply priest. Since then Ginny had been called as vicar and part of this visit was the Celebration of New Ministry.

A Celebration of New Ministry is an opportunity to celebrate not only new relationships and new possibilities for ministry, but also the partnership between priest and people that defines our polity. In the Episcopal Church, the fullness of community is expressed by the leadership of a priest, called or appointed, and an elected body of baptized persons (a vestry or bishop’s committee). Both lay and ordained are essential to the healthy functioning of a congregation, and the Celebration of New Ministry lifts up the various roles that priest and people share. The service we use is drawn Enriching our Worship 4 and is rooted in baptism and baptismal ministry. The service, therefore, celebrates the new ministry the community shares.

The service on Sunday was great fun, including the blessing of the water of baptism and the asperges. I love to get people wet!

Following the service there was a reception and then a lively conversation about the life of St. Thomas’ and the possibilities for the future. The leadership is casting their nets wide in considering possibilities.

Andrew Hoff is received into the Episcopal Church
The next weekend, we ventured back downeast, this time to the Church of our Father, Hulls Cove. Our two hour rule caused us to travel on Saturday giving us the opportunity to host a dinner for Bangor and MDI area parochial clergy and their spouses. It was a very fun time, and a very different way to be with clergy. Sharing an informal meal with members of the clergy is becoming one of my favorite things.

Bishop Steve blesses a baby
We were up bright and early to meet with candidates for confirmation and reception over breakfast at 8 am. Church of our Father is already on the “summer” schedule, meaning worship starts at 9 a.m. Following a time of deep conversation, including conversation about the pain of leaving one faith tradition to discover another, we joined for the service. Church of our Father is a compact open space with music provided by a grand piano. The people of Hulls Cove speak firmly and sing loudly. The service was joyful.

After worship we had an opportunity for a reception and conversation. Although I’d recently been at Hulls Cove for Good Friday, this was the first time to meet people for conversation.

The Youth Team at Church of Our Father

The Wardens and Vestry, along with Rector Chuck Bradshaw and Deacon Mary Carol Griffin, then met with me to discuss the ministry of the church. There is a lot of good ministry going on along with the financial tensions of maintaining ministry in these times. The community is also an active participant with the other churches on MDI in exploring the ways in which together they may strengthen the ministry of the Episcopal Church and share resources. There was so much to say that it was mid-afternoon before Gretchen and I headed south toward Portland.

Peace,
Bishop Steve

Always calling us to new life

Life is always changing – nothing ever stays the same. That’s true in our personal lives and in the large organizations to which we belong. It’s true in our diocese. I’ve recently had the pleasure of participating in two Celebrations of New Ministry with congregations and clergy who are just beginning their ministries together.

A couple of weeks ago I celebrated the New Ministry of the Rev. Glenn Mahaffey and St. Peter’s, Rockland. Glenn has joined us from the Diocese of Central New York. Last week I shared in celebration with the Rev. Virginia Peacock and St. Brendan’s, Stonington. Ginny comes from the Diocese of Northern Michigan. Both celebrations were designed according to the alternative liturgy that is part of Enriching our Worship and both focused on the baptismal ministry of the congregations. The worship proclaimed that these new ministries are partnerships between priests and congregations, who jointly share in the work that lies before them. All are called by God. All of have roles and responsibilities. The success of the ministries depends on the development of effective relationships between priest and people.

St. Peter’s, Rockland, for those of you who may not have been there, is in the middle of downtown Rockland. It lies between the Public Library and a playground. That playground is being rebuilt to make it safer and more attractive. St. Peter’s is looking at the playground as a mission opportunity. St. Peter’s is also considering ways that connecting with the arts community might be an effective avenue for ministry. There’s a lot of enthusiasm, and the service reflected the energy and optimism of the parish.

St. Brendan’s, Stonington, is way down at the end of the peninsula in the Penobscot Bay, about three and a half hours from Portland. It’s not all that far as the crow flies, but a long drive. I’m still getting used to the notion of driving north to ultimately go south. St. Brendan’s worships in the United Methodist Church in a worship space that easily adapts to Episcopal worship. Gretchen and I spent some time removing Methodist hymnals and distributing Episcopal hymnals. The service was, again, enthusiastic with one of the young people providing a beautiful solo after communion. St. Brendan’s is also working with the arts community as a way to enhance ministry.

Change… in my first year in the diocese I’ve ordained two new priests, celebrated two new ministries, and bid farewell to three long serving clergy. In June I’ll ordain several deacons. Around the diocese, about a dozen congregations are seeking new ordained leadership. God is always calling us on to new life.

Joyous occasions show growing vitality

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!)

kitscert
Kit+ is presented with her ordination certificate at St. Stephen's in Waterboro.

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!

If there's not a cake, it didn't happen.
If there's not a cake, it didn't happen.

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.

Bishop Stephen

photos by the Rev. Sudie Blanchard

A grand day out despite Hurricane Kyle

Sunday was a full, rich ministry day in Maine. In the morning, Gretchen and I visited St. Matthew’s, Hallowell, to celebrate St. Matthew’s Day and visit with the congregation and their rector, Calvin Sanborn. The morning began with an adult class on issues in contemporary liturgy. The class has been studying Louis Weil’s book on the liturgy that is part of the newest Church Teaching series. I offered five principles to consider when addressing worship (hospitality, different learning styles, building community, diversity/inclusivity, and parallel development). That was followed by spirited conversation in which many of the folks present took part.

The worship service was a regional event with the confirmations and receptions of five members of St. Mark’s, Augusta. St. Mark’s rector, Elizabeth Miller, joined us for the service. In addition we commissioned Teachers and members of the Healing Prayer team for their ministries at St. Matthew’s. It was a joyous service.

Following the service we joined for a festive lunch and then I spoke with the Vestry about the ministry of St. Matthew’s.

Bishop Steve and Patricia
Bishop Steve and Patricia

The rain from Hurricane Kyle was descending in great buckets as Gretchen and I left Hallowell, she by bus for Portland and me in “big blue” for Northeast Harbor. For a brief moment I was concerned that the rain might make me late, but it soon let up, I arrived in time for the Celebration of New Ministry of rector Patricia Rome Robertson and the good people of St. Mary and St. Jude. The focus of the service was on baptismal ministry and the various roles rector and people play in nurturing and supporting that ministry. A number of out of town guests and ecumenical guests joined as us, as did several of the clergy of the Acadia region. Jonathan Appleyard, rector of St. Saviour, Bar Harbor, preached an outstanding sermon. The Gospel Gents added their harmonies to the music. The service was moving and uplifting – a great beginning for priest and people.

A reception followed the service at Neighbor House, a community service center located next to the rectory. I ended the day meeting with the rector and vestry to talk about the hopes and concerns as they begin their ministry together.

I’m still learning how far it is from one place to another. The timing was a little tight for my liking. But the day was grand and a good symbol of the work that’s going on in our diocese.

+Stephen