Last weekend, Bishop Steve Lane visited with the people of the Diocese of Newark where he preached at their Convention Eucharist on the conversion of St. Paul.
He had this, in part, to say:
We have been chosen to bring God’s spirit to a weary world, not because we deserve this high calling, but because God loves us. Our hope is not rooted in our own abilities or the survival of our institutions, but the love of God which fills us, which pulls the scales from our eyes, and sends us out.
An open letter to the clergy of the Diocese of Maine
January 20, 2016
Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
I’m sure you are all aware of the recent meeting of the Primates in Canterbury, England, and the expressed desire of a majority of the Primates that The Episcopal Church be excluded from certain meetings and decisions for three years. I did not write a statement at the time because I felt that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s short video said all that needed to be said. I write now in response to inquiries I have received.
There are questions in many quarters about whether or not this decision of the Primates is within their authority. (See links below.) My own view is that the Primates have exceeded their authority. But it may be that the Anglican Consultative Council, meeting in April, will agree with the Primates that our church needs to take a time out. The Episcopal Church will participate fully in that meeting, and I am content to wait and see what happens.
What I’d like to talk with you about for a few moments is vocation. It is my view that, since the Fires of Smithfield, it has been the vocation of the Anglican Church to ask, “Who belongs at the table?” The answer, imperfectly and sometimes painfully wrought, has always been everyone. Protestant and Catholic, High Church, Low Church, and Broad Church, people of all races and colors, men and women alike – all belong at the table.
In this country, we’ve continued in that vocation. We’ve asked the questions of race and culture and, more recently, of human sexuality. And we have determined through more than forty years of conversation and reflection that gays and lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons all belong at the table. Members of The Episcopal Church in Maine have been leaders in that conversation. Our position is a scriptural one: All who are baptized into Christ are full members of the body. In Christ all are one. (Galatians 3:27-28) And in Christ, all have the right to the sacraments of the church and all are expected to live Christ-like lives. For me, the issue of marriage equality has never been about civil rights or equality, but about baptismal rights and responsibilities. As Desmond Tutu is fond of saying, “All means all.”
I grew up during the Civil Rights era, and one of things I learned from that time is that advancing rights, moving ahead of social, civil norms and religious norms, has a cost. People may not like what you’re doing. They may hold you accountable to unjust laws. Part of the vocation of seeking baptismal equality is peacefully holding firm in the midst of rancor, rejection and punishment. I believe we are being asked to exercise this part of our vocation.
I want to be clear that nothing has changed in either The Episcopal Church or the Diocese of Maine. LGBT persons are full members of the body of Christ and full members of The Episcopal Church. We will uphold marriage equality here and throughout The Episcopal Church. We will continue to work with our Anglican Communion partners in mission and ministry. We will offer our gifts, even if, in some quarters, our gifts are rejected. And we will engage one and all in peaceful conversation about the issues of the day, loving even our enemies. It may be that their hearts – and ours – will be moved.
This comes to you with my thanksgiving for your ministries and for all you do in your communities. God bless your work. In this season of light, may Christ be manifest in you, that your lives may be a light to the world.
Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a group of more than 60 Episcopal bishops, will sponsor a prayerful procession through the streets of Salt Lake City on Sunday, June 28th, during the church’s General Convention. The gathering, called Claiming Common Ground Against Gun Violence, is intended to lift up the memory of all those who have died from gun violence and to demonstrate our conviction that life and freedom from fear must be available to all.
Bishop Lane recently shared his thoughts in the Bangor Daily News on gun violence and concealed carry permits:
“I believe Maine people, like folks in most of our country, have grown weary and afraid of gun violence. They are tired of being scared in this post-9/11 world. They are tired of working hard and not getting ahead. They are tired of hearing that others are taking advantage of a social safety net that they are supporting. They are afraid of living in a country that appears to be growing more dangerous by the day. I believe that hidden carry legislation of this kind contributes to that fear.”
One of the more than 60 Episcopal bishops who are members of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, Bishop Lane offers this post today on the group’s website. Writing on the topic of guns and domestic violence homicides in Maine and beyond, he has this, in part, to say:
“As people of faith, those committed to protecting all of God’s children entrusted to our care, we must support the organizations that advocate for protection against domestic violence and improved mental health services. We must be vocal and visible in our support of legislation that addresses the complicated interplay between what is on the books and what is actually enforced. Our legislators, our prosecutors, and our local law enforcement officials need to hear from us.”
Until the recent trip of the House of Bishops to Taiwan, I had never been to Asia. In fact, I had never considered going there, and, frankly, wasn’t interested. I had been warned that Asia would be more foreign for a westerner than anywhere else in the world, and, given the limits of my travel budget, I was much more interested in the lands of my own heritage – England, Ireland and France. I also wasn’t eager to face the 13 hour flight from the US to Taiwan.
So it was with no little trepidation that I joined the pilgrimage to Taiwan. I went because I believed it was important to show support for a small diocese which is part of our church.
Having now been to Taiwan and Japan, I am happy to report that the trip was a very good experience and that I learned a great deal that is relevant and important to us here in the US.
The reason for our trip was to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Episcopal Church in Taiwan. The current Bishop, David Lai, has never missed a meeting of the House of Bishops in 17 years. So the House of Bishops went to Taiwan to honor the Diocese and David. The hospitality we received from the Diocese was thoughtful and gracious beyond all imagining. Our every need was anticipated, and we were accompanied by interpreters and guides whenever we ventured beyond the walls of our hotel.
I have never experienced such warmth and support, and I think we were all humbled by the care we received. For their part, the members of the Diocese felt deeply honored that we would make the journey and reveled in the opportunity to share what their church is doing.
Here in the west, we struggle with the increasing secularization of our culture. At one time, we claimed that our culture was a Christian culture. Now, considerably less than 50% of the people are active participants in any faith community. And yet our public values retain the imprint of Christendom, the co-mingling of faith and culture which began with Constantine.
In Taiwan, the culture has never been Christian. Adherents to Christianity number no more than 2-3% of the population. The predominant cultural norms are a mix of Buddhism, Taoism, and ancestor worship. Christianity is received with indifference until it is perceived to violate norms for family unity and for respect of ancestors. When that happens, Christianity is harshly rejected.
Nearly every Christian in Taiwan is a convert or a family member of a convert, and the choice to become a Christian is fraught with difficulty and the likelihood of rejection by one’s family. The church community becomes not only a faith community, but, in many ways, one’s family.
As a result, many newcomers to the church hold off on baptism for years. They do so out of respect for parents and fear of rejection. They participate fully in the life of the church, but may not tell family members. It takes a lot of courage to break with culture and family. “Open communion” permits them to participate and opens the door to fuller inclusion later.
Worship in the Episcopal Church in Taiwan was very familiar, even if in Chinese. Worship at the Cathedral on Sunday included familiar hymns, sung in English and Mandarin. Bishop David chanted the liturgy using a familiar tone. A personal highlight for me was singing the Gloria with great gusto in Mandarin and English.
Mission and ministry are critically important in this context. Nearly all the recipients of the church’s ministry are non-Christian, and there is no expectation that they will become Christian (although a few do). Yet the ministry of the church is the means by which the church connects with the larger society and demonstrates its importance to the community. The churches of Asia are passionately committed to their ministries and are leaders in addressing issues of poverty, justice and peace. The voice of the church balances the sometimes passive acceptance of social ills that can be a feature of Asian culture.
We found the churches in Taiwan to be small but mighty. For example, Advent Church in Taipei ministers to the 7,000 students of St. John’s University (an Episcopal university), and a small church in southern Taiwan has planted 12 churches in the Philippines.
This commitment to ministry and to proclaim the Gospel was a primary feature in the testimony of each of the Asian bishops who addressed the House of Bishops. We heard from the Bishops of Taiwan, Japan, Korea and the Philippines. Each was passionate about ministry in their context. And each diocese was doing significant work with what I think we would consider limited resources. It was humbling to hear about the risks that these churches were taking to serve the poor and advocate for justice, in many cases being lone voices for compassion.
The most Christian nation in Asia is South Korea, with a Christian population approaching 30%. In a dialogue between the Bishop of Korea and the Bishop of Japan, it was said by both that the reason for Korea’s success in evangelism is that the Korean Church stood as voice against war during a period when the Japanese Church collaborated with the aggression of its government. The Korean Church thereby expressed a willingness to “walk the talk” about peace and earned considerable respect among the Korean people. The Japanese Church has since repented of its collaboration with the Japanese war effort and has publicly apologized to Korea and others. But the damage to its image has been done, and it continues to struggle.
Ten bishops, including me, also visited the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (the Japanese Holy Catholic Church) following the House of Bishops’ meeting. It was a whirlwind visit, riding the bullet train, and seeing the church in three dioceses. The first stop on our visit was the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima (which means “wide island” – central Hiroshima sits on an island in a river). The Peace Memorial is a stunning museum in the style of the Civil Rights Museum and the Holocaust Museum. It is deeply affecting. The museum makes clear the costs of war on all sides, and the continuing costs to the nation of Japan in terms of guilt, shame and leukemia.
Viewing the museum made my spirit sore, and I think there is no conclusion other than that death on such a scale, while perhaps a military necessity in some minds, is unjustifiable both humanly and religiously. We will all be judged for the taking of life on such a scale. Along with the church in Japan, we can only ask God to forgive us.
The west is not Asia, and our values here will continue to be connected with our Christian inheritance. Yet, there are many things we can learn from our Asian brothers and sisters. One is that witness doesn’t depend on numbers. We can have our say and make a difference even if there are very few of us. And we can support our churches to do God’s work even with slim resources. The issue isn’t size – it’s passion. If we are devoted to the cause of Christ, we can make a difference.
Ministry isn’t meant to serve only Christians or those who might become Christian. Evangelism is part of our work, but ministry is to be offered to all God’s children. The value of that ministry isn’t measured by the credit the church gets (or doesn’t get), but by the well-being of God’s people.
The church needs to be a voice for compassion and peace – because that’s who we are, that’s our identity. And when we have failed to serve as voices for peace and compassion, then we need to repent. There is no reconciliation without repentance.
By the end of our time in Taiwan, I felt – strangely – at home. Despite a complete inability to communicate in Chinese, despite dependence on cabbies and tour guides, despite the pervasive Buddhist culture, the Episcopalians I met were, well… Episcopalians. Their worship and their ministries felt very much like mine. And their aspirations and hopes are of the sort that we share. That they minister so passionately with far fewer resources than we have is inspiring and encouraging. I am hopeful that such inspiration will help us do the ministry that we are called here to do.
Join Bishop Stephen T. Lane for the next seven weeks as he grapples with questions around who we are as the Episcopal Church. Today he introduces the series and begins to answer the question. Look for a new video each Wednesday.
On Tuesday, November 6, 2012, citizens of the State of Maine took the momentous step of voting to include same sex couples among those who may apply for civil marriage licenses. For many this decision was the achievement of long delayed justice for an oppressed minority and an appropriate extension of the rights and responsibilities of marriage to all citizens. For others the vote represented a fundamental change in long held beliefs brought about by the profound cultural shifts taking place in our country. As your Bishop, I rejoice in the greater inclusion of all our members in the full life of our communities. I also recognize and grieve the deep pain which significant change can cause. To each one of you, I offer my continuing affection and support.
Whenever an event produces strong feelings in us, it may be difficult to remember that that same event produces very different feelings in others. I ask those who rejoice in last Tuesday’s decision to be gracious towards those who mourn. I ask those who mourn to refrain from bitterness and recrimination. Each of us is a child of God seeking to do what is right and a sinner for whom Christ died; and we are all brothers and sisters of one another.
A vote for change is not, by itself, sufficient to accomplish that change. For each of us now comes the hard work of getting used to a new situation and considering how we will respond. Vestries and lay leaders may need time to consider what it might mean to offer their church as a place where same sex marriage can take place. Clergy may need to decide whether or not they will preside at such services and under what circumstances. As Bishop, I will need to revisit the guidelines first developed for the possibility same sex marriage in 2009 and to consider carefully what adjustments may need to be made in light of our changed circumstances. I believe the pastoral generosity extended by the 2012 General Convention of The Episcopal Church to dioceses in states where same sex marriage is legal applies to the Diocese of Maine, and I will consider changes to our guidelines in that light.
I imagine that every generation believes it is living in a time of profound change. Whether or not history ultimately concurs with this assessment, I know the change of our time feels profound to us. The good news is that such change is among the means by which God works his purposes out. I firmly believe that God will use what we offer for good and that as we struggle to do what is right the Spirit of God is in our midst.
May we all trust that God is with us and may we treat one another with the love and compassion that are the marks of God’s reign.
The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane
Bishop of Maine
* This letter may be read or distributed as you determine is best.
Reflections on the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church from the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, Bishop of Maine
Many articles have been written about our recent General Convention, but I thought it might be helpful to some in the Diocese of Maine if I added my own reflections.
I’ve attended every General Convention since the Convention in Detroit in 1985. This Convention was the most irenic one I can remember. That’s not to say that people agreed on every issue. Folks often disagreed with great passion, but they did so civilly and with mutual respect. In part this was due to the hard work and good modeling of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music which made a sustained effort to reach out to people on all sides of the same sex blessing issue. The Presiding Officers and the Chairs of many of the legislative committees also made concerted efforts to preside calmly and even-handedly. As a result, folks on the losing side of voting decisions often expressed gratitude for being listened to and respected and for being fully included in the decision-making process. I think, perhaps, that The Episcopal Church has matured to the point that we recognize we have no expendable members.
This Convention also seemed to recognize when we weren’t ready to make a decision. On the matter of same sex blessings, the Convention felt ready and moved ahead. But in several other areas, like revising Title IV or reducing the financial asking of dioceses below 19%, the Convention decided we needed more experience and study. The primary example of this restraint was the Convention’s decision not to vote on the Anglican Covenant. Despite widespread belief before Convention that The Episcopal Church would vote the Covenant down, wholly or in part, we discovered that there was no significant consensus about what to do. Deputies weren’t sure what any vote would mean in light of the Church of England’s decision not to affirm the Covenant. So we decided not to decide and to continue in conversation and discernment with the other Provinces of the Anglican Communion. In the weeks since the Convention, I’ve come to regard this decision as a wise one.
Mission is a buzzword in The Episcopal Church. We all speak of becoming more missionally oriented. But it’s clear we understand the word in the fullness described in our catechism – participation in God’s mission of reconciliation. And that moves us well beyond simplistic notions of outreach or social justice. Much of the conversation at Convention revolved around the need for lifelong Christian formation and the need for congregations to help members live faithfully and missionally. People can advocate for justice only if they’re spiritually prepared to do so. Considerable support was given at this Convention for lifelong learning, for the education of clergy, particularly clergy representing indigenous people and other minority groups, and for education with youth and young adults.
The General Convention authorized a service of same sex blessing, as expected. It made clear in doing so that the service is not a marriage service in disguise and may not be used for purposes other than the blessing of same sex couples. The service must be authorized by the diocesan bishop, and its use will be reported to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. No church or clergy person can be required to hold at such a service, and no penalty may be imposed for declining to do so. The Convention made a number of changes to the text of the blessing rite, so a final text will not be available for several months. I will meet with the clergy of this diocese this fall to discuss the rite and its implications for our ministry in Maine. (The Convention also called for a study of marriage both as a civil act and a rite of the church. Our own study of marriage, which will be sent by the diocesan Task Force to churches and available online in the coming days, should fit well with that study.)
Probably the most significant conversation at the General Convention revolved around the need for The Episcopal Church to be a new church for a new day. Nearly everyone agreed that some sort of major reform is needed, but there was little agreement about what that reform might be. Much of the discussion was reminiscent of the conversations we’ve been having in Maine for the past several years, so we Mainers felt well-equipped to participate – and perhaps a little ahead of the curve!
After hearings and intense discussion, the Convention determined to appoint a special task force, including people outside the normal leadership of the church, to consider the matter broadly and to make recommendations to the next General Convention. The Episcopal Church has used this method twice before in its history in addressing major matters, and I believe most deputies and bishops think this is the most responsible and practical way to address reform.
My work with Program, Budget and Finance was closely connected with the conversation on reform. Should we hold the line the on budget while the church considers change or should we make changes through the budget? In the end, PB&F did a little of both. We reorganized the budget according the Five Marks of Mission, using the template created by the Presiding Bishop’s Office, but we drew numbers for the budget from all the proposals we had received. We restored funding for lifelong formation and youth and young adults, for the MDGs, for the College for Bishops, and for the General Board of Examining Chaplains. We expanded funding for mission partners and poor dioceses. We held the line on the asking from the dioceses, but asked the leadership of the church to plan for a reduced asking in the 2016-18 triennium. I believe we listened well to the church and balanced competing concerns as gracefully as possible.
There’s much more that should be said about the Convention. Some wonderful sermons were preached at our daily Eucharists. Of particular note were sermons by Bishop Michael Curry and theRev. Stephanie Spellers, and by thePresiding Bishop. The schedule was impossibly tight, but we still found time for fellowship and fun together. Many in our deputation managed to squeeze in a meal together late each day. Despite fears that there wouldn’t be enough time, I think we actually found time to do what we needed to do.
Your deputation was very present and worked incredibly hard both in committees and on the floor of the House of Deputies. They were well-respected for their contributions and are very knowledgeable about what happened at Convention. I hope you will call on them for conversation and education in your congregation. I’m incredibly proud to be part of the deputation from Maine.
It’s our belief, some might say, our conceit, that when The Episcopal Church gathers in Convention we gather in the presence of the Holy Spirit, and that our decisions are guided by the Spirit through prayer, worship, discussion and debate. I felt this to be more true at this Convention than I’ve ever experienced before. Amidst all the passion and disagreement there was a palpable sense that we were all trying to discern the truth as the Spirit gave us the light. And because we disagree, and any of us might well be mistaken, we’re learning to hold our “truth” with a bit of humility. We need all the voices among us to approximate God’s truth. I believe we the decisions of General Convention reflect the Spirit’s presence, and I’m grateful to have been there.