Click here for the text version.
Click here for the text version.
The Spring House of Bishops Meeting drew to a close with further conversation about young adults, this time focused on theological education. For the first time in anyone’s memory, the deans of all eleven Episcopal Seminaries joined the bishops for a conversation about seminary education. The good news is that nearly all of the seminaries have taken strong and positive steps to address issues of enrollment and finances. All are discovering new ways to deliver theological education and most are financially stable. That said, the seminaries still face many challenges, most particularly the challenge of forming clergy and lay leaders for a church that is very different from the church of just a few years ago.
The last session of our meeting was a brief business meeting during which we heard commentary from the visiting Primates, elected members of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, and approved a letter in support of the Bishop of Jerusalem.
Since returning home, I’ve reflected a bit on the bishops’ time together. It seems to me that part of what it made it feel so jam-packed was that what we were discussing – ministry with young adults and conversations with Islam – is so very challenging. Our assumptions about the value of the church are not shared today by many in Western culture. Indeed, many young adults have no experience of or interest in the church at all. And in our increasingly pluralistic communities, Christianity no longer corners the market on meaning or morals. Other religions/philosophies have passionate adherents. Like the early church, we are in the position of having to show the world our good news, to take what we believe on the road, and to risk the encounters of the marketplace. And, frankly, we don’t know how. We have some ideas. There are successful programs in a number of places. But a lot of our congregations are stuck in a manner of life that no longer serves.
These are the questions behind our struggles with finances, with liturgy, with governance. These are the challenges that will continue no matter what we decide about an Anglican Covenant. They are, I suspect, messages from God about the new thing God is doing. But only God knows where it’s all going.
We bishops learned a much that was helpful at our Spring Meeting. For all of us the task now is to bring it home for your consideration and to work with you to make a new church.
Read the text version here.
I’ve been at the Kanuga Retreat and Conference Center for a week now, and I must say that I’m eager to return home. The time has been well spent, but I’ve received so much information that I’m looking forward to some time to process it all. In addition, it’s been cold and wet here, much as it has been in Maine. So any thoughts of enjoying an earlier spring have not be realized.
The first two days here were spent learning about the new Title IV canons – the clergy disciplinary canons – which will take effect on July 1. Canon Vicki Wiederkehr joined me for the conference. The new approach is based on our faith values of truth, healing, restitution and reconciliation, and the new procedures require efforts to mediate disputes and reconcile the parties. Only if this is not possible do we move toward an ecclesiastical trial. As with any new process, there are lots of questions that will only be answered as we use Title IV. And while it’s clear that there are some procedures that will be amended at upcoming General Conventions, we are now focused on recruiting and training people for the several responsibilities required by Title IV. Vicki and I learned a great deal that will help the Diocese of Maine as July 1 approaches.
After the Title IV conference, I spent one day taking part in a short course for coaches of new bishops. I am currently serving as a coach for a new bishop, and it was good to share experiences and learn new skills with other coaches.
The Spring House of Bishops meeting is styled, in part, as a Lenten retreat, and we have had some quiet time over the last five days. However, the rest of our time has been so packed that many of us are feeling overfed.
The theme of this meeting is Proclaiming the Gospel in the 21st Century, and we have looked in particular at ministry with young adults and at interfaith dialogue with adherents of Islam. On both these subject we have been addressed by several different presenters, some with national and international reputations.
On the matter of ministry of young adults, it’s clear to me that we in Maine are on the right track. But we have a long way to go in turning our conversation into real ministry. One of the major issues is getting us out of our churches into the places where we may encounter young adults who either know little about Christian faith and the church or who are suspicious about what the church believes and does. As long as we wait for folks to come us, we’re likely to wait by ourselves.
The conversation with Islam is clearly a critical conversation for our larger world. More than 60% of the world’s population is either Christian or Muslim. The conversation may seem pretty distant from Maine, but, in fact, we have a number of Islamic political refugees with whom it might be possible for us to begin conversations. I’ll be returning with a number of ideas for those conversations.
Today we began discussion about the Anglican Covenant. We benefited from a presentation by Bishop Neil Alexander (Atlanta) on the interface between ecclesiology and polity. Ecclesiology is the theology of what we believe about the church. Polity are canons, and practical policies and procedures which grow out of our ecclesiology. Ecclesiology and polity exist together and influence one another. If we change either, the other also changes. The Anglican Covenant will clearly impact both, and while that may be good or bad, we should not think there will be no change.
Bishop Alexander’s presentation was followed by short statements by the Primates of Canada, the Congo and Korea. Each explained the state of the discussion about the Anglican Covenant in their Province and their concerns and critiques. I think it is fair to say that each of these churches has significant concerns about the Covenant. All are committed to staying in the conversation.
As always, worship has been a significant part of the House of Bishops. The music has been quite wonderful – I have some great new music to bring home – and we greatly enjoyed the presence of a new chaplain, the Rev. Stephanie Spellers of The Crossing in Boston.
I’ll write some further reflections when I return home.
Click here for the text version.
Click here for the text version.
A Christmas Message from the Bishop
There is something about the early sunset of a Maine winter that affects us deeply. Dark and cold are still humankind’s ancient foes, and in the dark of winter we are touched by feelings of vulnerability and loss. Surely we sit in darkness waiting for the light.
The birth narratives of Jesus were recorded nearly a century after his life. Perhaps they had been told as stories for some time, but they appeared in written form when the early church was struggling with darkness. Christ had not returned as expected. The Second Coming was delayed, and it looked like the Roman Empire was going to hold sway for a long, long time. What hope was there in that ancient night?
The answer of faith, the answer of the church, was that there was no need to wait for Christ to come again. God had already made his home on earth, not just in the things God had made, but in the human heart. In the birth of God’s son, God had claimed earth and all its darkness as the dwelling place for God’s divine light.
There’s nothing like the rising sun, and we human beings still greet the longer days of spring with rejoicing. But the great good news of Christmas is that God’s light is with us in our darkness: in our country, in our churches, in our homes, in our hearts. We hold that light by faith, and God invites us to fan the flame and to share it.
My prayer for us all this Christmas is that by God’s grace the son of righteousness will rise in our hearts and that we will hold the light for each other.
The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane
Bishop of Maine
December 21, 2010
Below is the eulogy I wrote for my father, William T. Lane, drawn from the remembrances of his children and shared with family and friends at his funeral on July 17 at the First Presbyterian Church of LeRoy, New York. +Steve
If this sounds a bit like a committee report…
William Taylor Lane, Bill, as he was always known to nearly everyone, grew up in a mountain valley in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Son of a railroad man and a piano teacher and grandson of a State Supreme Court Justice and a country farmer, he loved the mountains and the lakes of Vermont. As a boy he was an avid hiker and skier. His Granpy Taylor’s summer camp was a particular joy. A simple cottage built in 1909, it was a constant in his life and in the lives of his children and grandchildren as well – a place that feels like home even if only for a week in the summer.
Despite his love for Vermont, Dad was always restless; wanting to know what was beyond the mountains. He left Hardwick for UVM. Sharing his mother’s love for music, he pursued a career in music. It was at UVM that Dad also met our mother and connected with the Jenks clan, our mother being the youngest of eight siblings. [Our lives are inextricably linked with the Jenkses.] WWII intervened, and he spent several years in Europe with the 5th Armored Division. One of the treasures we have from that time is a collection of delicate pen and ink drawings of village scenes in France and Belgium. Given the number and the serenity of the drawings, my mother sometimes wondered if he actually went to war.
After the war, Dad finished his education and married mother, the beginning of a 64 year partnership, which is responsible for five children, ten grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Following two of the Jenks brothers, Bob and Paul, our folks came to Western New York to find work. Dad taught briefly in Wyoming, NY, then they settled in LeRoy, where they have lived ever since.
Dad’s decision to teach was a good one. He had many gifts for teaching. Most people in LeRoy remember him for his more than 20 years as Director of Choral Music at LeRoy High School, for his work with the Oatkannaires – we understand the Christmas concert still commences with “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” and for the many Broadway musicals he staged and directed. Those musicals were enormously popular with both the artistic crowd and the athletes. Schedules were carefully arranged so athletes could participate in the midst of their seasons. And the income from the shows bought uniforms for the Band and for the teams.
In the course of producing those musicals, Dad, in an almost off hand manner, painted the backdrops. His eye, his sense of scale and proportion, were remarkable. The backdrops were painted freehand. One of my vivid memories of him is his striding in his stocking feet across the canvas backdrop laid out on the Auditorium floor paintbrush in hand, dipping down to add a line, a bit of shading so that his rendering of Brigadoon or Siam was precisely proportioned and almost three-dimensional. Dad was also a perfectionist. I also remember his repainting an entire backdrop just a day or two before opening night because the perspective wasn’t quite right.
That sort of casual expertise was one of Dad’s hallmarks. He had any number of intense avocations over the course of his life: stamp collecting, paleontology, gardening, photography, creating and maintaining an exquisitely clothed and decorated crèche, studying the history of the Genesee Valley, cooking – and he was never happier than when he was engrossed in a project. In all his avocations, his eye, his sense of color and proportion, his attention to detail, were fully displayed. His interest in paleontology, for example, issued in formal exhibits or dioramas, painstakingly created with backdrops and landscapes of carefully painted plaster of Paris. He brought that intensity, that care for detail, to his second career as reference librarian and archivist at SUNY Geneseo. (It also made him a formidable opponent at Trivial Pursuit – although you could get him with a sports question. We reserved these for the end of the game…)
More importantly our father brought this intensity to his parenting. He set a high standard, was demanding and often unsatisfied. He wanted us to do things correctly right down to the details. He wanted good grades, but more importantly our best efforts. He was a big man, sometimes given to anger. If he was unhappy with us, we certainly knew it. But he was also a teacher, patient in teaching new skills, like how to catch a fish or ride a bicycle. He encouraged our interest in the arts and music. Classical music and show tunes were always on the phonograph, and he often played the piano in the evening before bed. In an era when not many people spoke openly about sex, I remember a kind and detailed introduction to the birds and the bees.
There being five of us kids, family gatherings were large and boisterous. We moved like a small army in a Chevy wagon and later a VW van. Christmas and Thanksgiving, shared with the Jenks clan, were especially important. Dad was often the chef for such occasions and enjoyed both the cooking and the conversation. He enjoyed the humor and the banter with Betty’s family and with his kids and grandkids.
Dad was a deeply spiritual man. He spent much of his life wrestling with the great works of the religious choral repertoire. He directed the Senior Choir here at First Presbyterian. But his spirituality was more aesthetic than doctrinal or theological. He wanted the world to be a more beautiful place. He was never satisfied with simple answers. He was forever discontented with the way things are. And he was dissatisfied with his own efforts, wondering if they were adequate, if he perhaps should have done something else, if he should have gone to Broadway and made a career there. Whether it was a concert, a diorama, a presentation, or Thanksgiving dinner, Dad often felt his efforts fell short. That restless perfectionism continued even in the nursing home as he cast about for things to do, efforts worthy of the investment of time and energy.
I suspect we are all too close to the event to appreciate or evaluate the impact of our father on our lives. He and mother created a secure, loving and stimulating home environment. He and mother traveled the world over and brought the information and the stories into our conversation. And it’s clear that Dad lives on in the drive and the restlessness we all experience in our own lives, in our desire to achieve and to do things right. We all want to see what’s beyond the mountains. And he lives on in the traditions of family life, especially of Thanksgiving and Christmas. We entrust him now to God’s love and care, knowing that in God’s seeking after a better world, he may find solace and peace.
By now you’re undoubtedly aware that we are very much into the process I spoke about at our Diocesan Convention last fall. (click here for the mp3.) Perhaps you’ve taken part in an online survey. Perhaps you’ve been part of conversations in your congregation or in the regional meetings held by the Mission Strategy and Mission Priorities Study Groups. And you are certainly aware of the impact of the recent recession on your congregation and community. The change we see all around us continues to put pressure on our churches.
Of the many things I might address to illustrate this process, the thing that most comes to mind is the shrinkage of full-time clergy positions in the diocese. In 2004, there were 35 full-time clergy positions. In 2010, there are 28 full-time clergy positions. As of this writing, St. Mark’s, Augusta, has moved from a full-time to a half-time position for its rector. St. Peter’s, Portland, has reduced its full-time clergy position to part-time. St. Andrew’s, Newcastle, has just called a new rector but, at the same time, is reducing clergy positions from two to one. The Cathedral Church of St. Luke will not replace its clergy intern when the current canon departs. St. Alban’s, Cape Elizabeth, has reduced its clergy staff from two to one during the time of transition to a new rector.
To speak of these changes in numeric terms helps us get a sense of the size of the change we are experiencing. But it doesn’t do much to convey the causes of the change or the pain of the change. The cause of the downsizing is found in the loss of current income. Some of that is due to the recession, but much of it is the result of living beyond our means for too many years. The endowments and savings that allowed us to do so are now gone. In a number of places, change is the necessary alternative to insolvency.
It must be said that it is simply excruciating for all parties to downsize. For the clergyperson, it means the loss of income and, perhaps, the need to find a new position or move to a new location. For those who take on the newly part-time position, it means trying to cover the same pastoral bases with much less time available. For the parish it means thinking through who does what and taking on responsibilities that, in the past, were given to the rector. It means prioritizing ministry and, perhaps, sharing resources, including clergy, with other congregations. It means the loss of the person whose full-time commitment was the health and ministry of the congregation, and requires the parish to reconfigure its programs and ministries if those programs and ministries are to continue. It raises the question, “Will there be anyone left to take care of me?” There is immense grief in these changes.
At the same time, there are opportunities and possibilities in the current situation that I think are very important for us to understand. The church, the ekklesia, consists of those called out, called out of the world and sent back to the world with the saving news of Jesus Christ. Such a self-understanding begs the question, “Sent for what?” What is it that we are supposed to do?
In places where the church has existed for a long time, like Maine, the church has become defined by places – sacred buildings where the worship and the pastoral care of the church are offered. Most of our self-understanding is related to place and to the traditions that grew up in that place. When we think of church we think of Christmas and Easter services, of baptisms, weddings and burials, of special events and suppers. We think of beloved clergy men and women. We think of a place where lovely and sacred things occurred and where, hopefully, lives were transformed.
Yet the church was originally not a place, but a mission. The church was people who had a mission to take Christ’s love to the world. The focus was not a place, but people in need of Christ’s love. To be sure, the worship of the church always required a place to meet, but that might have been someone’s home, or the village square under a tree, or a barn, or a storefront. The primary thing was the connection between people, not with the place. As the catechism in the BCP puts it, “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (p 855) Or, as I might say, the mission of God’s people is to witness in word and action to the presence of God among us.
I think one of the questions being raised by our changing world is whether or not we can be church communities in different ways and, perhaps, in different places. If we can afford fewer of our buildings, can we still be people of Good News, can we still minister to our neighbors? If we can afford fewer clergy, can we still find ways to be nurtured and fed, to receive the sacraments, to be equipped for ministry?
What would that look like? Can we be committed enough to the mission of the church to be flexible about the places of the church? Can we see our call to proclaim good news as important enough to take more responsibility for ministry and to allow for new forms of pastoral care for ourselves? Can we find new ways of being God’s people?
The essential thing, I think, is to understand our identity as primarily and profoundly missional. Theologian Emil Brunner once wrote that “the church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.” The mission of the church is not one more thing to do, not an add-on to Sunday morning. It’s not reserved to the outreach committee or the focus of what we do with discretionary income. Rather mission is the very character of the church. It is what gives the church its being.
If one of the outcomes of our current struggle is a reclamation of our identity as people on a mission, people called to witness to God’s love and to serve God’s creation, then I think we might find our current circumstances energizing, even inspiring. Then we might ask how God is calling us to serve in our communities and how we might use our abundance to support that work.
Our shared work as a diocese, in our home congregations, at Diocesan Council, and at Convention, is to help us as God’s people wrestle with our identity as witnesses to the reign of God. The Mission Study Group process is raising questions about who we are and what we are called to do. It will go on to study strategies and priorities for sustaining the mission of God in a new time. The budget building process that has been proposed by the Finance Committee is meant to engage all those who are supported by the budget in a conversation about mission and resources. What are the missionary purposes that the budget supports? How will the money be used to further said mission? Caught as we are between two worlds – one that is passing away and one that has not yet clearly emerged – the decisions we will make will not be easy ones. I suspect each will involve grief as well as joy. But the possibility exists that as a result, we might begin to live more in tune with the dream of God for us and for God’s world.
I have no sense whatever that the God’s mission is in danger. God continues to love God’s creation. What needs our attention are the ways in which we witness to God’s love in our communities. I want to encourage all of you to continue to be part of the process we are in, to take part in the regional conversations, to be part of the conversations in your home church, to help us wrestle with the budget and program for 2011 and beyond. I have every confidence that God will bless our work.