On Tuesday, April 11, Bishop Stephen Lane, gathered with the clergy of the Diocese of Maine, offered this sermon at the annual Renewal of Vows and Chrism Eucharist at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland.
In his sermon he had this, in part, to say:
‘But we preach is Christ crucified, a stumbling block for the Jews and folly to the Gentiles.’ What Paul is talking about is a new way of relating in which the differences of race, class, sex, religion and culture are subsumed into our union with God and one another in Christ. Good news, yes, but oh, how we cherish the differences! How we want our identities, our understandings, to predominate! The notion that God loves us all, that Christ died for us all, that our message is meant to be good news for all people, is simply more than we want or comprehend. And yet it is the path of life, not only for them, but for us.
In the Anglican tradition, a sanctuary is the area immediately surrounding the altar. It it a holy space because it is here, at the altar, presbyters offer the Holy Eucharist to the people of God. The term, of course, goes back much further. The “holy of holies” in Solomon’s temple was known as the sanctuary, the place where the Ark of the Covenant resided. In both cases, the sacred status imbued the space with a sense of refuge and safety.
From the time of Constantine to the late Middle Ages across much of Europe, houses of worship afforded protection to those accused of crimes or debt. Indeed, English law recognized the church as a place of sanctuary from arrest from the fourth to the seventeenth centuries. Because the United States has never recognized such protection, the notion of churches offering immunity holds no legal sway beyond respect for the tradition.
However, sanctuary is our word. Sanctum means “holy” in Latin, from the same root we use to derive the word saint. Our churches should strive to be places of sanctuary – of safety, protection, support, and care – for all people, places of sanctuary from racism or any rhetoric that spews hatred or intolerance.
Over the past few months, in the wake of the travel bans and the uncertainty and fear they have elicited, I have been contacted by a number of Maine churches whose clergy and members are anxious to learn what and to what extent they can assist our neighbors who are fearful for their futures in Maine due to their legal status as refugees or asylum seekers.
Below I will attempt to offer definitions, guidance, and resources to assist members of our congregations in the good work of discerning the extent to which they will engage is “welcoming the stranger” to their communities. I think this discernment is important for each congregation to consider at both the parish and Vestry or Bishop’s Committee level and regardless of whether or not you are located in an area where New Mainers are settling. This is a conversation for all of us to enter fully and meaningfully.
Some definitions might be a good place to start. I look no further than to
those offered by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) atwww.unrefugees.org.
Who is a refugee? “A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. Refugees legally enter the United States in search of freedom, peace, and opportunity for themselves and their families.”
Before they enter the United States, those who are granted refugee status have been subjected by a lengthy and thorough security process by the UNHCR and the US Department of State. The federal government contracts with agencies – often faith-based organizations such as Episcopal Migration Ministries – in each state to handle the resettlement of refugee families. In our state, Catholic Charities of Maine is the only agency that resettles refugees for the federal government. They offer orientation, employment, and cultural adjustment, and many other services to those refugees assigned to Maine. In recent years, Catholic Charities has resettled refugees from more than 30 countries. In 2016 they resettled 642 recently arrived refugees in Maine.
Who is an asylum seeker? “When people flee their own country and seek sanctuary in another country, they apply for asylum – the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance. An asylum seeker must demonstrate that his or her fear of persecution in his or her home country is well-founded.”
Asylum seekers often arrive in the US on a legal visa. Once they overstay that visa, they are no longer authorized to remain in the US. If they are fearful to return to their home country due to war, violence, or instability, they may apply to the US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) for asylum. Currently there are about 300 pending asylum cases in Maine, and the wait for an interview with the South Portland office of USCIS can be many years because only 30 interviews are offered each year. Six months after applying for asylum, an asylum seeker may be granted a work permit in order to be legally employed while waiting for an interview. Asylum seekers do not have access to resettlement services provided to those who have secured refugee status.
WAYS FOR CHURCHES TO OFFER SANCTUARY
Offer support, a safe gathering place, friendship and mentoring relationships to refugees and asylum seekers.
Offer preaching and teaching to members of the congregation that upholds our Baptismal Covenant and Gospel mandates: seeking and serving Christ in all persons, respecting the dignity of every human being, loving our neighbors as ourselves, welcoming the stranger.
Offer membership in all aspects of the life of the congregation: worship, service, formation, education, music, outreach.
Cooperate to the minimum extent required by law if immigration or enforcement officials seek to enter church buildings to check papers, question, or detain people participating in our worship or activities of the church community. It would be a violation of the law to prevent an immigration agent with a warrant listing the name of an individual and signed by a federal judge from entering your church.
Volunteer, as a church community or as individual members, with community agencies that serve refugees and asylum seekers, donate money and resources, engage in advocacy in the public sphere.
A recent survey by the New Mainers Task Force of Maine Episcopalians showed that there are many needs within New Mainer communities and many ways to support and assist them.
Needs identified by the New Mainer communities include:
On Wednesday, February 22, Maine Episcopalians and members of eight other faith communities gathered in the Hall of Flags in the Maine State House for a prayer vigil for a just and humane budget as the Joint Committees on Appropriations and Health and Human Serves held a budget hearing down the hall.
Prior to the vigil the Rev. Maria Hoecker, president of the Standing Committee and rector of St. Columba’s, Boothbay Harbor, offered testimony on behalf of Bishop Stephen Lane. Bishop Lane had planned to testify but was brought low this week by a respiratory bug. (He’s on the mend!) Hoecker and Rabbi Susan Carvutto spoke before
committee members with 35 Maine clergy standing behind them.
Here is the text of Bishop Lane’s testimony, with details of local impact contributed by Hoecker.
February 22, 2017
Good morning Senator Hamper, Representative Gattine, Senator Brakey, Representative Hymanson, members of the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs and members of the Joint Committee on Health and Human Services.
My name is Maria Hoecker. I am an ordained Episcopal priest and I serve as the rector of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Boothbay Harbor. I share the following testimony on behalf of The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, the Episcopal Bishop of Maine. Bishop Lane intended to be here today, but, due to illness, has asked me as president of the Standing Committee to present testimony in his stead.
As one of many church leaders who take the example and teachings of Jesus to heart, (so many are with us in prayer and standing here with me today) I believe the moral measure of any budget is how the most needy among us – “the least of these” – fare in our society. I encourage you to resist passageof a budget which undermines the lives, dignity, and rights of vulnerable Mainers living in poverty, particularly this budget with its punitive cuts to anti-poverty programs that provide access to food, healthcare, and general assistance.
Over the past five years, cuts to MaineCare, SNAP, and TANF have resulted in plunging poor children more deeply into poverty. Currently the rate of children living in families with a household income of $10,000 or less for three people is eight times greater than the rest of the U.S. These children are our future and we are letting them down.
For those new to our shores, those deeply invested in crafting for their families a new and promising life among us, it often takes six months to obtain a permit to work from the federal government. General assistance for asylum seekers is a small, time-certain investment in those who enrich our communities with their hard work. Welcoming the stranger is a strongly held value of all major religions and, as a church leader, I can attest that our congregations welcomepartnerships with community organizations to share in offering welcome and support.
In the Boothbay Region where I serve, representatives from the private/public sector meet every month to connect safety nets for our neighbors. Representatives from our local nonprofit charities, the churches, schools, state/local officials, and townsfolk meet monthly to pool our resources. This includes funds from private/non-profit sources, funds for general assistance, and numerous state/federal programs. Together as a team our resource council is able to connect with and support our neighbors who are falling through the cracks of our society. While we utilize every resource available to us, too many souls are still suffering in our midst.
No problems we face in Maine are solved by the additional cuts called for in this budget. Rather, as proposed, it will fray the safety net for thousands of our neighbors and jeopardize the well-being, both now and in their future – of our youngest, most vulnerable citizens.
When confronted with Jesus’ words that the “poor shall always be with us,” the 20th Century Catholic activist Dorothy Day replied, “Yes, but we are not content that there should be so many of them.” Nor am I.
I will tell you that the non-profits are staggering under the weight of these budget cuts to the poor. We are struggling to gather enough resources to care for our neighbors. Non-profits exist to do the work that the government can’t do well. We rely on a public/private funding partnership to offer this life-giving work.
As you can see, representatives from all faiths and nine denominations are standing before you today. We will be gathering for an all faiths prayer vigil in the Hall of Flags at 11:30 a.m. As you seek to serve all people in Maine, we pray that each of you are graced with wisdom, strength and compassion for our neighbors. Thank you for the opportunity to share our concerns with you today.
At the prayer vigil, Hoecker offered this prayer before the 125 people present. Click here for a PDF of this prayer. Video may be found below.
Maine State House ~ February 22, 2017 ~ A Prayer Vigil for a Just and Humane Budget
A Prayer for All Faith Communities offered by the Rev. Maria Hoecker
Honoring our diversity and our unity, I invite you to call upon what is highest and deepest by the name you hold sacred and dear, either silently or aloud. (pause)
Creator of all,
You are Love, Mercy, Justice and Goodness.
You are the Beloved One calling out to all of our Communities of Faith in Maine.
Be present to us, as we strengthen our own awareness of Your Presence.
Guide us as we discern the direction of your will, your love, your flow,
each of us moving toward our faith in You.
You are present within all who dwell in our streets, temples, synagogues, mosques, homes, and churches. You bind us one to another,
in our villages, our farms, our boats, our cities, our state, our nation, and our world.
God of All, work through us as we heed your call to feed the hungry and care for the sick.
We grieve the presence of injustice and we name the pressing need for reconciliation.
Together, our actions unite us in our care for all souls both near to us and far away.
We welcome weary travelers as they make their way to our shores and doors.
Through our being and belonging, we are called to build up the bonds which reconnect all who are separated from You.
We are a community of many faiths:
Together we are cacophony of conscience and caring,
we are many voices confronting all evil which destroys lives and shatters families.
God of all names,
we value and respect the diversity of our faiths and heritage.
When shared together, our separate stories call us to deeper truths.
Help us to listen to each other. You bear more wisdom than any one of us can fathom.
Spirit of All, bless our communities of faith with compassion.
—we are made through You and through You we reflect the diversity of your abundance—-
you generously provide for all Creation, but only if we share in the care of all Creation.
Strengthen our faith communities to fulfill your mission here in Maine;
give courage to those who heed your call; shield those who are in peril for their beliefs;
for we all stand stronger together in your strength and mercy.
God of many names, be with us,
guide us in the ways of peace and justice for all.
May it be so. Amen.
The Rev. Maria Hoecker offers prayers at the Interfaith Prayer Vigil for a just and humane budget at the Maine State House
Bishop Stephen Lane visited the people of St. Paul’s, Brunswick, on Sunday, December 6. In his sermon he said, in part:
Let me suggest that perhaps, just perhaps, these are our wilderness days and that we are the nobodies God has chosen to do God’s will.
I don’t think that what’s happening to us is simply the result of secularization and consumerism, although there is no doubt a crisis in American values. And I don’t think that God has abandoned us. Rather, I think that, as always, God is doing a new thing. God is leading us from the comforts of Egypt into a wilderness where can get clear again about who God is and who we are and where we can be prepared to share the good news with our neighbors.
And why would God choose us? Who are we? If it were up to me, I’d pick Barack… But, you know, it’s not up to me. God has always chosen to work through ordinary folks. And the changes never take place in Jerusalem or Rome or Washington, but in Nazareth and Galilee (and Brunswick), places where ordinary people live.
The recent shooting at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs is frightening reminder of the unprecedented level of gun violence now assaulting our country. Each year more than 30,000 of us are victims of gun violence, often at the hands of a friend or family member, or at our own hands. In Maine, there were 158 firearm deaths in 2013, the last year for which there are published statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. That’s nearly double the number in 2003 (82). The conversation about gun violence has been lost in the debate over technicalities concerning gun control. What we seem to have forgotten is that we – all of us – have a right to live safely in our own homes; to go about our business, to go shopping or have a meal out without being shot. As a nation, and a people, we are failing to keep ourselves safe.
Christians in many traditions have now begun what we call the season of Advent, a season devoted to waiting for the coming of Jesus. In this season we reflect on the darkness of the world around us and our need for God. And we wait for the coming of the light – Jesus. For many people, the constant news about gun violence emphasizes our need for relief, to be able to feel safe and to trust the people around us.
As a Bishop in The Episcopal Church, I want to call on all of us to observe a Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath on Sunday, December 13, 2015.It is a day for prayer and reflection. It is a day to remember and pray for all those who have died and for their families. And it is a day to seek the will to make our land a safer place, to refrain from resolving disputes or complaints with a gun. As a member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, I invite you to learn more about gun violence and common sense proposals to make our lives safer atwww.bishopsagainstgunviolence.org.
The baby in the manger, the infant Jesus, shows all of us, no matter what our faith tradition, that God dreams of a different sort of world, where the innocence of children reminds us of the love of God which binds us all together. Human beings are made for love. Collaboration and trust are our natural inclinations. Jesus came to help us claim those gifts and to share them with our neighbors. In this season may we all claim the dream of God and work with one another for peace in our world, our neighborhoods, our homes and our hearts.
Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath events in Maine Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, Maine Moms Demand Action, and the Maine Council of Churches will hold three vigils this month to honor victims and raise awareness to prevent gun violence. All are welcome.
Portland – Prayer Vigil at St. Luke’s Cathedral 143 State Street Wednesday, December 9 at 7 p.m. This vigil will honor victims, survivors and family members of those lost to gun violence, on the same day that the National Vigil is held in Washington, DC.
Brunswick – Light Into Darkness-Finding Hope The Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick 15 Pleasant Street Saturday, December 12, at 2 p.m., ending with a candlelight vigil This remembrance day will draw attention to effects of gun violence on families and communities. Speakers include Judi and Wayne Richardson, parents of Darien, lost to gun violence, and Matthew Perry of Family Crisis Services of Cumberland County. Women in Harmony will also provide music at the service.
Cumberland (just north of the Falmouth town line) Friends School of Portland 11 U.S. Route 1 Monday, December 14, at 6:30 p.m. (the third anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.) A remembrance and call to action.
Giver of Life and Love, you created all people as one family and called us to live together in harmony and peace. Surround us with your love as we face the challenges and tragedies of gun violence.
For our dear ones, for our neighbors, for strangers and aliens, and those known to you alone, Loving God, Make us instruments of your peace.
God of Righteousness, you have given our leaders, especially Barack, our President, and Paul, our Governor, the members of Congress, the judges of our courts and members of our legislatures, power and responsibility to protect us and to uphold our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
For all who bear such responsibility, for all who struggle to discern what is right in the face of powerful political forces, Loving God, Make us instruments of your peace.
God of Compassion, we give you thanks for first responders, for police officers, firefighters and EMTs, and all those whose duties bring them to the streets, the lobbies, the malls and the homes where the carnage of gun violence takes place day after day. Give them courage and sound judgment in the heat of the moment and grant them compassion for the victims.
For our brothers and sisters who risk their lives and their serenity as they rush to our aid, Loving God, Make us instruments of your peace.
Merciful God, bind up the wounds of all who suffer from gun violence, those maimed and disfigured, those left alone and grieving, and those who struggle to get through one more day. Bless them with your presence and help them find hope.
For all whose lives are forever marked by the scourge of gun violence, Loving God, Make us instruments of your peace.
God Who Remembers, may we not forget those who have died, more than 30,000 this year, in the gun violence that we have allowed to become routine. Receive them into your heart and comfort us with your promise of eternal love and care.
For all who have died, those who die today, and those who will die tomorrow, Loving God, Make us instruments of your peace.
God of Justice, help us, your church, find our voice. Empower us to change this broken world and to protest the needless deaths caused by gun violence. Give us power to rise above our fear that nothing can be done and grant us the conviction to advocate for change.
For your dream of love and harmony, Loving God, Make us instruments of your peace.
All this we pray in the name of the One who offered his life so that we might live, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Bishop Stephen T. Lane’s sermon at the 196th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine
October 24, 2015
St. Luke’s Cathedral, Portland
“I don’t know about you, but I find all this incredibly challenging. How will I ever find away to offer myself in service to the one who made the world? … God is on the move. The world is changing and I can’t stop it. Moreover, it seems that God is behind the change. God is not satisfied with the world as it has been, with the structures and institutions that we have created. God is always creating a new heaven and a new earth.” — Bishop Stephen T. Lane
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.