Bishop Stephen Lane of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine offered these remarks at Spring Training 2017 on April 29, at St. Paul’s Church in Brunswick. More than 130 Maine Episcopalians gathered for a day of learning, sharing, and worshipping together. The 20 workshops offered focussed on spiritual growth, church leadership, community engagement, and other topics around the theme, “Leading as a Christian, Rooted in Jesus.”
“The pursuit of justice is a direct outgrowth of one’s relationship with Jesus. A decline in formation has led to a decline in advocacy for the poor and the stranger. Without a life-giving relationship with Jesus, most of us are simply not willing to take the risks that the pursuit of social justice demands.”
Here’s what Bishop Steve Lane has had to say in the last few weeks: his Convention address to the people of the Diocese of Maine, an op-ed on the minimum wage referendum in the Portland Press Herald and one in the Lewiston Sun Journal on background checks.
Bishop Steve Lane’s address at Spring Training 2016
St. Paul’s, Brunswick
April 9, 2016
[More than 135 Maine Episcopalians gathered on April 9 for day of learning and sharing in workshops on church leadership, spiritual growth, ministry and advocacy. At mid-day Bishop Lane called everyone together to worship and consider his remarks on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who called Jesus a man for people, and how we will meet up with God’s mission in the world.]
Today we mark the Feast of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer, the brilliant theologian, pastor and seminary professor, was a member of the so-called Confessing Church in Germany during WWII and also a participant in the plot to kill Adolph Hitler. He was executed at Flossenburg Prison just before it was liberated by the Allies.
Bonhoeffer’s writings are of great interest today, not only for his acute Biblical and theological insights, but also for the way in which his writings seem to anticipate and predict the world of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Bonhoeffer spoke of a world come of age, a world which had no need of religion – particularly in his view, the denominational religion that had failed completely to stand up to the Nazis. What the world needed now, he said, was “religionless Christianity,” that is, a devotion to Jesus Christ, whom Bonhoeffer called “the man for others.”
As a devout Christian, a Biblical scholar, a Lutheran pastor, Bonhoeffer did not advocate doing away with the Bible or the sacraments, but he saw no point in the church unless it pointed to Jesus and encouraged its members to follow Jesus.
We live now in an age when most people no longer participate in a religious community. The United States is among the most religious countries in the Western World, with more than 80% declaring belief in God. Despite that confession, however, fewer than 20% are in church or synagogue on any given weekend. More than ⅔’s of adults 30 and under have no contemporary religious experience, and people declaring no religious affiliation are now the largest single group of young adults. Although many Americans see themselves as connected to a religious tradition, increasing numbers simple describe themselves as “spiritual, not religious.” Maine is one of the four least-religious states in America, along with Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Moreover, many people no longer see the church as the place to go for spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment. That’s frustrating for all of us who love our churches, but the fact is that many folks experience the church as being more interested in its own needs and in people’s wallets than in them.
Some of this reaction is the unintended consequence of the Reformation, each denomination competing with others over worship and doctrine. (We Episcopalians sometimes pride ourselves on having the best stuff, the best worship. We don’t do guilt – that’s our poke at the RCs. We aren’t fundamentalists – that’s our poke at the Baptists. Every other denomination thinks about itself in similar fashion – as superior to the rest.) As a result, every church is a destination church, drawing people out of the community into more homogeneous groups on Sundays. Sunday morning remains the most segregated time of the week, the church being far less diverse than business, education or the military.
And some of this reaction is related to the vast cultural changes we are all experiencing: the declining income of the middle class, the cynicism of many about large institutions, including the church, the distrust of the intentions of leaders of all stripes, the patriarchal culture of the church, etc., etc. The church is in decline, and the bottom is nowhere yet in sight.
So… what to do? What kind of response can we make to all this which is not simply defensive, not simply a matter of self-preservation?
Well, this day, Spring Training, is a partial response, growing from my conviction that if we are to serve God’s mission, then we must find our personal stories in the Biblical story, must be deeply grounded in the traditions of our faith, and must learn the skills needed to follow Jesus into the world.
More of a response can be found in reshaping our common life not around our survival as institutions, but around our faithfulness to the man for others. In preparing for this day, invited each of the workshop leaders to consider three principles in shaping their workshops: Follow Jesus… into the neighborhood… travel light.
Our fundamental conviction as Christians is that God is present and active in the world God has made and that Jesus is the key to understanding God. We discover God by following Jesus. Jesus shows us who God is and where God is.
Jesus leads us into the world. God may be found in the church, to be sure, but not exclusively so. God is in all the places where people live, and it is to these places that Jesus leads us. We go into our communities not because potential members live there. We go to meet our neighbors because that’s where Jesus is.
And as we follow Jesus, we need to travel light, to leave as much baggage behind as we can. Our task is not to make Episcopalians, but share the good news that God is present. We’re not in search of clients or missionary targets, but friends – friends who, through us, might discover that they are also friends of Jesus.
This movement – following Jesus into the neighborhood traveling lightly – is what Bonhoeffer called religionless Christianity and what some of us are calling Going Local – moving beyond our doors into the places where Jesus is.
God is not finished with us yet. I believe that God is intent on completing the work of reconciliation. God is inviting us into the work of reconciliation. “Do you not know, says Paul, that you were baptized with Christ in his death…”
Dying and rising is what this is all about. Our work is Easter work. Death to ourselves and perhaps to our way of doing things, so that God’s reconciliation might take place among us. As long as it is necessary for people to be like us in order to be saved – in our minds or theirs – there is no reconciliation. Only in moving toward one another, in serving Christ together, across all our difference and diversity, will reconciliation take place.
Bonhoeffer was involved in the plot to kill Hitler, and he has been roundly criticized for that involvement. Bonhoeffer, for himself, never tried to justify his action. He knew he would face God for his part. Yet he believed that in the face of evil, Christians have to act. Christian faith is not simply a matter of piety or intellectual assent. It is rather a matter of action on behalf of others. The task of reconciliation is the lifestyle of Christians. We are called not to save the institution, but to be Christ’s body – to bring our gifts and skills to bear on the work of making friends for Jesus. Bonhoeffer put it this way: “This is what we do with the world that inflicts such suffering on us. We do not abandon it; we do not repudiate, despise or condemn it. Instead we call it back to God, we give it hope, we lay our hand on it and say: may God’s blessing come upon you, may God renew you; be blessed, world created by God, you who belong to your Creator and Redeemer.”
May the work we do this day help to center and steady us in the work of reconciliation. May we find inspiration and hope to follow Jesus… into the neighborhood… traveling light. 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 Steve will be reading Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, in January. He invites members of the diocese to read along with him, follow (and weigh-in your impressions on) his blog posts, and then sign up for one of two one-hour webinar discussions on the book. The first will be Wednesday, February 8, at 7:30 p.m. and the second will be on Wednesday, February 15, at 7:30 p.m.
Because participation will be limited to 23 people for each evening, registration is required.
Phyllis Tickle will be one of the keynote speakers at the Downeast Spiritual Life Conference in Ellsworth on August 24 – 26, 2012. The conference which will also feature, Fr. Richard Rohr and Andrew Harvey. For more on the conference visit www.stfrancisbluehill.org
The Great Emergence is available for purchase for $12.23 on Amazon.com here.
This past Saturday I took part in a Maine institution – the Ministry Fair. It was held in Palmyra’s brand new church and parish hall. St. Martin’s, as you may recall, was struck by a tragic fire three years ago. The Ministry Fair – and the Social Justice Summit on Friday night – were the first diocesan events held in the new buildings. The space is wonderful – bright, open, inspiring. I suspect the meetings were the first of many.
The Social Justice Summit was a gathering of several of the social justice groups in our diocese. Canon Heidi Shott called them together to share about their ministries and to ask what more needs to be done. Representatives of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, the Haiti-Maine Connection, Prison Ministry, the Hispanic Ministry and several others joined for conversation and mutual support.
The Ministry Fair is an annual occasion to discuss our vocations as Christians. Some 60 persons gathered for morning devotions and then a series of stories about ministry. This year we were privileged to hear moving stories by Deacon Aaron Perkins, prison chaplain; Dr. Cynthia deSoi, doctor who serves in Haiti; Joshua Buck, student at UMO; and Rector Nina Pooley of St. Bart’s, Yarmouth. Between the stories we joined in the singing of hymns as a way of helping us reflect on what we’d heard. (The singing gave me an opportunity to work on my chops as a song leader.)
After the story-telling we joined for workshops. There was one on the diocesan discernment process, one sponsored by the Commission on Baptismal Ministry, one on the ordination process, and one on deepening our spiritual lives.
We broke for lunch provided by the hospitable people of St. Martin’s and enjoyed the new parish hall. Several members of the parish shared their experiences of the fire and the process of rebuilding. We heard touching stories of death and rebirth. Following lunch, the workshops were repeated, and we ended the day with prayer.
My deep thanks for all who participated, the rector, deacons and members of St. Martin’s, the members of the Commission on Baptismal Ministry, members of Commission on Holy Orders, the Rev. Jim Gill, and to Canon Vicki Weiderkehr, who planned and organized the Fair. It was a good day in the Diocese of Maine.