the core of our life is following Jesus

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.”

– Bishop Steve Lane

Reflections on Sanctuary: Guidance for Maine Churches

Reflections on Sanctuary: Guidance for Maine churches
By the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, Episcopal Bishop of Maine
April 7, 2017

pdf version

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.

DEFINITIONS

Some definitions might be a good place to start. I look no further than to

Signs available at www.welcomeyourneighbors.org/order-signs

those offered by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) at www.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:

English instruction, housing deposits, disability support, friendship/mentoring, meeting space, assistance with professional/educational credentialing, utilities, food, clothing, employment, transportation, household items, furniture, computers/cell phones.

Organization to support:

Catholic Charities of Maine https://www.ccmaine.org/refugee-immigration-services

Immigration Legal Aid Project ILAP www.ilapmaine.org

*Hopeful Links – support for unaccompanied minors in Maine – Contact Lucky Hollander at lucky.hollander@gmail.com

*Trinity Jubilee Center in Lewiston www.trinityjubileecenter.org

*Tree Street Youth – services for children in Lewiston – www.treestreetyouth.org

*St. Elizabeth’s Essentials Pantry based at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland http://stlukesportland.org/pages/general/st-elizabeths

*St. Mark’s Outreach Ministries – a range of programs that serve people in Augusta including newly arrived families from Iraq and other war-torn countries http://twoonine.org/ministries/

*Compassionate Housing Initiative in Yarmouth, offering temporary housing for newly arrived Mainers, http://www.uuyarmouth.org/justicework-refugees.php

Mano en Mano – supporting migrant agricultural workers in Washington County http://www.manomaine.org/  

*recent awardee of a grant from one of the following diocesan funding sources: New Initiative Fund, Domestic Poverty Grants, Bishop’s Discretionary Fund,

News stories and online resources

http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/12/churches-discuss-becoming-sanctuaries-for-undocumented-immigrants/

http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/03/29/512072151/sanctuary-churches-who-controls-the-story

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2017/02/01/episcopal-church-stands-with-refugees-immigrants-and-the-undocumented/  

http://www.dailynews.com/social-affairs/20170318/how-some-churches-are-preparing-to-offer-literal-sanctuary-to-fight-trumps-policies  

http://religionnews.com/2017/03/19/analysis-new-sanctuary-movement/ 

https://www.nhepiscopalnews.org/blog/2017/4/4/guest-blog-the-greatest-commandment-is-never-easy

Welcome signs in three languages for free linked at “Welcome Your Neighbor” Facebook page or https://www.welcomeyourneighbors.org/order-signs  

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles – Task Force on Sanctuary’s website, Sacred Resistance
http://www.lasacredresistance.org

Resources from Episcopal Migration Ministries

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2017/04/04/trumps-immigration-policies-force-reduction-of-episcopal-churchs-refugee-resettlement-network/

https://vimeo.com/39648553   — Video about allies

http://www.episcopalmigrationministries.org/learn_more/resources_for_churches.aspx  

http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Can-we-count-on-you-.html?soid=1120909577537&aid=093UjOeVLq8   (liturgical resources and more)

PDF of powerpoint on EMM shared at the House of Bishops https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/19179943/HoB%20Presentation%20-%20EMM%20-%20Distributed.pdf   

A Pastoral Letter to the People of the Diocese of Maine

February 1, 2017

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
John 12:32

The last several months have witnessed a period of upheaval and political conflict in our nation such as I have not seen since the height of the Vietnam War. Many people are angry and bitterly opposed to one another, and some are finding it hard to listen to one another and to discover common values and aspirations. We are in danger of making one another aliens and strangers in our own land.

In this context, I call you to affirm that God loves us all and that we are all members of a single human family. Moreover, our Savior Jesus Christ died for each one of us. The Episcopal Church in Maine will continue to be open to all persons without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, sexual identity, or political party. We will continue to pray for the welfare of all, including our elected leaders. We will continue to exercise radical hospitality and inclusive participation in all aspects of church life. We will “respect the dignity of every human being.”

Episcopalians have always been able to come together at the Lord’s table across difference, and now might be a time to practice this particular gift together.

At the same time, as followers of Jesus, we will continue to preach the Good News of God in Christ and to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.” Our ministries with the poor, the sick, the stranger, and the alien have not and will not change. I will continue to speak out on issues of related to immigration, refugees, poverty, and war and peace. The recent decisions of the new administration regarding immigration have made some of this work more urgent, but it is work we know well and will continue to do. I invite you, no matter your politics, to invest yourself in your local communities and to work with other Episcopalians through our Maine Episcopal Network for Justice. If you haven’t been involved, now is a good time to jump in.

We will also continue to work with other churches and members of other faiths to create secure communities where all are safe and all have the opportunity to grow and prosper. Our good relationships with the Jewish and Muslim communities are sources of strength, and we will remain faithful partners with them.

The particular opportunity we have before us may be the chance to participate in the development of new understandings between people who have different visions for our country’s future. We might well host – first in our congregations and then in our communities – conversations about important community issues, seeking to learn from each other how and why we differ and what hopes we might share. Episcopalians have always been able to come together at the Lord’s table across difference, and now might be a time to practice this particular gift together.

“Fear Not” Stained glass over the altar of St. Columba’s, Boothbay Harbor

At the core of our current struggles is fear: fear of change, fear of loss, fear of the other. None of us is untouched by the changes of the last 40 years. All of us have experienced the loss of something we cherished. Jesus’ most frequent admonition was, “Fear not.” Fear not. God is with you. Our hope is not simply in what we can create as individuals or as a nation. Our hope is in God, who loves us and cares for us. In all that we do we need to turn to our God, to trust in God’s presence with us, and to share God’s love with others. “Perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18

I write to you with a deep sense of thanksgiving for your faithfulness and for the work you do on behalf of Christ. I know you will make conscientious, faith-based choices and will live into your convictions, even at the risk of misunderstanding. I invite you to trust that you are not alone. I walk with you. And Jesus walks with you. We must remember that Christ meets us in our weakness. It is on the cross that Jesus overcomes death and sets us free to live new lives. It is in that new life that we now walk together.

Faithfully,

+stl

The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane
Bishop of Maine

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download as a pdf on letterhead

A Christmas message from Bishop Stephen T. Lane

December 15, 2016
Dear Ones,
The pain and the urgency of living in an in-between time are very

19897470681_a4cb1621cc_zapparent to us these days. Whether our focus is personal or political, whether we’re waiting for a child to be born or an illness to pass or an injustice to be redressed, waiting is hard. We want to know what will happen. We want to know when the waiting will end. We want our dreams to be realized. And… we just don’t know.

As some wag once put it, the question for Advent is (to quote the rock band Chicago) “Does anybody really know what time it is?” Advent is the season of the in-between time, the season when we wait for the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth, Christ’s first coming among us, and when we wait for Christ to come again to set things right. Our world is an in-between world, a world in which the outlines of a better way of life are visible, but far from realized. We long for the world we think we can see, and we hope that God will make it real.

I’m frankly not very good at not knowing. It challenges all my illusions of power and control. There really isn’t anything I can do, but wait, and fret – which, as my wise wife, Gretchen, says – doesn’t help.

It does help me to remember that while I wait for a more perfect realization of God’s new world, I am not alone. Christ came down at Christmas and remains with us. Jesus’ was born among us and still invites us to follow. Jesus was crucified and raised and calls us to live as his body. The time in-between is also the time of Jesus’ presence through the Spirit.

Our cry, “How long, O Lord, how long” (Psalm 13:1) is met with this assurance:

“…I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.” (Ps. 31:14-16)
Let the radiance of the child in the manger calm your heart. God is here, right here, right now. May this Christmas be for us a time not only of celebration, but of peace. May we rest in God’s love for us. May we trust in God’s presence among us. May we know that we are held – in this in-between time as in all times – in God’s loving hand.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

+STL
The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane
Bishop of Maine

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Click the links for this message as a half-page bulletin insert or for a full-page letter.

Bishop Lane on the 2016 election

“This may be the time to claim our vocation of embracing all God’s creation, all God’s children.”
                                      Bishop Stephen T. Lane on the morning after the 2016 election

He also posted this message and invitation to prayer to Maine Episcopalians on election night:

Dear friends in the Diocese of Maine,

In the midst of all the division and polarization in our state, our nation, and our world, in the midst of disrespect and name-calling, we are invited to be kind.

In the midst of all the violence, the wars and rumors of war, we are invited to be gentle, to make peace.

In the midst of calls to take sides, to choose for ourselves and against others, we are invited to be friends with all, to seek Christ in every person and to respect the dignity of every human being.

Going forward after this long season of politics, we need the calm, steady, kindly presence of people who are not flapped by what is happening around them, who believe that God is with them and that God can be trusted come what may.

Tonight we elect a President, not a savior. What we’re doing in the polling booth is a reflection of our values and our commitments.

The manner in which we conduct our lives is a sign of the trust we have in God and that all things are possible with God. In the midst of our many lamentations, may we have confidence in God’s presence among us.

Please pray with me this prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book:

Lord,
it is night.

The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys,
new possibilities.

In your name we pray.
Amen.
(from Night Prayers, the New Zealand Prayer Book)

Faith leaders support a living wage for Mainers

On Thursday, September 8, Bishop Stephen T. Lane was joined at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland by St. Luke’s Cathedral Dean Ben Shambaugh and the Rev. Larry Weeks, rector of Trinity Church and St. Peter’s, Portland, as well as ministers and rabbis from several Portland-area congregations to voice their support for Question 4, the ballot initiative that will raise the minimum wage in Maine to $12 by 2020. Also speaking were two women who would be directly affected by passage of the measure. Read the text and learn more about Question 4.

The text of Bishop Lane’s remarks may be read below the video window.

Good afternoon. My name is Stephen Lane, and I am the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine. I am here to offer my support for Question 4, the referendum which will raise the minimum wage for workers across Maine. I am also pleased to share the endorsement of the Maine Council of Churches, which represents nine denominations and 550 congregations.

It is fitting to offer support this week as our nation celebrates Labor Day to honor the contributions millions of workers have made to our country’s strength and prosperity.
For more than 20 years, The Episcopal Church has promoted efforts to establish a living wage, supported workers in achieving self-sufficiency, and worked to maintain a safety net critical to the welfare of vulnerable families.

Like many Mainers, I am concerned about the decades of growing wage inequality and how it compromises the dignity of every human being. Working people have been losing ground since the 1970’s. More than 180,000 working people in Maine will benefit from the first raise in the minimum wage since 2009, 90 percent of them over the age of 20 and many over the age of 55. The primary beneficiaries of an enhanced wage will be women, many of them single parents, as well as the parents of 63,000 Maine children. Our call as Christians is to love and support our most vulnerable neighbors, and the current income inequity requires us to speak out on their behalf.

The minimum wage is an issue of faith. Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves and that requires us to work for all of our fellow citizens. At our annual convention in October the Episcopal Church in Maine will consider a proposal to set a $12 per hour minimum wage for our churches’ lay employees for 2017 with the intention to move to a $15 per hour living wage by 2020. Churches from Dover-Foxcroft to Portland support this measure. We are taking our quest for economic justice to the pews and are hopeful Maine people will support our position.

I am proud to be among many Mainers supporting Question 4. As more small business coalitions and individuals support the increase to the minimum wage, I hope all businesses will realize this step will be beneficial to the whole economy in the long term. It is difficult to make a change such as this piecemeal. It makes much greater sense to do it together. This measured, incremental approach to achieving a moral economy will help our fellow citizens across the state. An economy where all work is justly valued benefits all Mainers.

June 2016 Executive Council resolution on supporting a living wage

General Convention resolution on minimum wage – 1997

General Convention resolution on minimum wage – 2003

A Pastoral Letter to Episcopalians in Maine

July 29, 2016

Beloved in Christ Jesus,

While I was on vacation in July, it seemed for a while as if all hell had broken loose. There were the killings of unarmed black men by police in two cities, the sniper attack on the police in Dallas protecting a Black Lives Matter rally, and the murder of 80 persons run over by a terrorist truck driver during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France. All this while the nation prepared for the Republican and Democratic Nominating Conventions. The newscasts and the internet were alive with exaggerated statements about the unleashing of a race war among us and the end of life as we’ve known it. I eventually needed to stop paying attention to preserve my vacation.

It’s true, of course, that life as we’ve known it is ending. That’s always the case. Change alone is constant. And the pace of change is much more rapid today.

Our country is becoming increasingly diverse with more and more persons holding to traditions other than those from England and northern Europe. Millennials now outnumber Baby Boomers. In a very short time, there will be no majority culture in America.

More and more of us find our standard of living declining. Real income has been declining in America for more than 40 years. It now takes two incomes to earn less in real dollars than what one earned in 1965. The American Dream of homeownership and a comfortable retirement is increasingly difficult to achieve.

And our racism is a real problem. Not bigotry – all people prefer their own clans and cultures – but racism: personal prejudice enforced by power that makes it difficult for people to drive while black, rent an apartment in a burka, or get a job while speaking Spanish. Our old white-Anglo prejudice, our sin of racism, is staring us in the face, and the picture isn’t pretty.

None of these things is new, of course. But a majority of us suddenly seem to have become aware of them. We seem to have reached a tipping point. It’s as if we awoke recently from a long sleep to realize that this is no longer the world of our grandparents.

For many of us, the changes are frightening. We don’t know what to do. It is all too easy in the face of these things to try to build dikes to hold back the tide and to fall prey to fear and panic: to believe that the solution to the ills we face is to close our borders, purify our communities, and buy guns. But none of these efforts have ever prevented change, and they won’t now. Change will come because the forces driving it are larger than we are, and because it is God’s will. “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

God surely does not want a world that looks like the present one, filled with divisions, genocides, poverty, and terrorism. Rather, I believe God seeks a new world where people of every race and color are affirmed in their dignity as children of God and have the means for safe, secure and happy lives. As Christians, as members of the Body of God’s Son, we are called to join God in building that new world.

I think we are called now to nothing less than being who we say we are: members of the Body of Christ. We are called to trust that God is in charge, that God is working God’s purposes out can be trusted to be faithful to the world God has made. We are called to love God and neighbor and to act on that love every day.

As Christians our trust is in God, not the next President. No matter who is elected in November, neither will save the world. Both candidates are fallible humans who will have to deal with an stubborn political process and prickly world neighbors. Both will be found to make mistakes, to be less than perfect in relation to the economy and terrorism and climate change. They will be sinners in need of redemption, as we all are. We can not put our trust in them. We must vote as wisely as we know how, but we must not kid ourselves that the election will make everything right.

President Obama recently said that America is not as deeply divided as recent events would make it seem. I agree. Most of us do our jobs, raise our kids, care for our communities, and live peaceably with our neighbors. When we get a chance, we try to have fun. We don’t all like one another, but we get along. And we all want a better world for our children.

The thing Jesus said most often in scripture was: “Do not be afraid.” I believe that’s the Word we need to hear now. Do not be afraid. Trust in God. And do your part, however small, to love the world God has made. Be kind to one another and civil to those with whom you disagree. Share what you have and work to affirm the dignity of those who are different. Pray for the wounded and the dead. Hope for a better world. Only love has the power to overcome the world as it is, and we have that love in Christ Jesus.

My greetings and love to each and every one of you. May God bless you and keep you today and always. I encourage you to be in conversation with one another and with me about these things.

Bishop Steve

The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane
Bishop of Maine

Download a pdf of this letter

An open message to Maine clergy about political advocacy

From the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane
Bishop of Maine

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 11.14.36 AMAs our country turns toward the election of a President this fall and attention focuses on the upcoming nominating conventions, I’d like to remind us of the rules guiding church participation in politics. These are set out in the IRS rules governing non-profit religious institutions and churches. www.irs.gov/uac/charities-churches-and-politics

Social Media and Elections
Our churches and in our roles as church leaders, we are not permitted, in church publications or from the pulpit, to advocate for or against a particular candidate for public office. With the advent of social media, the category of “church publication” is a bit vague but may well include blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts. If a personal account commingles personal opinion about a candidate and also shares church information, the page might be construed as a church publication. This is new territory for us and has the potential to introduce confusion as to whether the individual clergy person or the church is advocating for or against a particular candidate.

Advocacy on Legislation and Ballot Initiatives
Our churches and in our roles as church leaders, we are permitted to educate and advocate regarding public issues and legislation as well as teach about how faith, beliefs, and church doctrine intersect with public issues and legislation. (Please see the House of Bishops’ statement issued March 2016)

Our churches may hold educational forums, and we as clergy may participate in issue-based political action groups. We may testify before the legislature and speak at public events. We may not spend a “substantial” percentage of the church budget on advocacy efforts. (While the IRS does not define what a “substantial” amount is, the American Bar Association defines it as more than 20 percent of an organization’s operating income.) While it is highly unlikely that a church would expend such an amount, to do so would open the church to questions about its primary purpose.

We may hold candidates forums or debates about public issues. Such events, when opposing views are expressed, are meant to educate the public and should be presented in an unbiased manner, regardless of any point of view we may hold.

Holding Up Civil Discourse as the Standard
Beyond our obligation to adhere to the IRS rules, we have committed ourselves to civil discourse as a way to honor our Baptismal covenant. The Diocese of Maine is a signatory to the Maine Council of Churches Covenant for Civil Discourse. Civil discourse encourages vigorous debate about ideas and policies. Contrariwise, attacks on the character, intelligence, appearance, background, etc., of any candidate or spokesperson are a violation of our belief that every person is a child of God for whom Christ died.

The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations has just released a very comprehensive and helpful toolkit and resource, Policy for Action 2016, to assist individual Episcopalians and churches engage in public life.

Also the Maine Episcopal Network for Justice has many resources on several of the ballot initiatives that Maine citizens will consider this year. Learn more on its webpage or Facebook page and consider asking MENJ Director John Hennessy to visit your church to learn more about its work.

Additional questions? Please be in touch with Heidi Shott or Bishop Lane.

 

Finding our place in “a world come of age”

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.]

bishop4-9 (1)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.