Ordination sermon: roles may differ, intentions do not

Bishop Lane with new deacons, left to right, Jane Chatfield, Corey Walmer, Lanny Wenthe
Bishop Lane with new deacons, left to right, Jane Chatfield, Corey Walmer, Lanny Wenthe

The Diocese celebrates the ordination of three new deacons today: the Rev. Jane Chatfield, the Rev. Corey Walmer, and the Rev. Lanny Wenthe. In his ordination sermon Bishop Lane had, in part, this to say

“…in the midst of institutional changes that will leave us with a very different church, these deacons remind us of apostolic ideals.  We are called by God into a radical unity in which no social or cultural distinctions divide us. We are called by God to serve in a church where roles differ, but intentions do not; where all are called to the ministry of reconciliation. We are invited to follow Jesus, to model ourselves on the one who told us, ‘I am among you as one who serves.'”

Read it all here.

Always calling for greater love

Prayers and congratulations, blessings and joy to the five members of the Diocese of Maine who will be ordained this morning at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland: to the Diaconate, Dick Rasner of St. Luke’s Cathedral; to the Transitional Diaconate, Kevin Kinsey of St. Paul’s, Fort Fairfield, and Suzanne Roberts of St. Luke’s Cathedral; to the Priesthood, Gary Cyr of St. Mark’s, Waterville, and Laura Peckham of St. Andrew’s, Newcastle.

Bishop Steve, in his ordination has, in part, this to say:

“Perhaps God is once again calling us to pluck up and destroy, to build and to plant.

“And the focus of all that work is this: that we should love one another. As Christ laid down his life for us, so we ought to lay down our lives for one another. For Christians no person is more important than any other. For Christians there are no “others,” no enemies, who may be shunned or turned away. For Christians there is no command greater than this, that we should believe in the name of Jesus Christ and love one another.

“And you, my brothers and sisters who are ordained today, are the icons and servants of that love. You are among the laborers sent out into the fields of the Lord to remind us all that God loves us. And you are to share that message and convey that love no matter how the forms of church and society shift around us. It is not ok that one in five American children lives in poverty. It is not ok that we continue to solve our disagreements by means of violent force, whether as individuals or nations. It is not ok that we tear up the earth and pollute the air and water making life more dangerous for all God’s children in the pursuit of energy or profit. It is not ok that we treat those who differ, by race or culture or sexual orientation, as anything but beloved children of God for God loves them all and commands us to do the same.”

Read all of it here.

Ordination Sermon by Bishop Lane

Preached today at the ordination service at the Cathedral of St. Luke in Portland Maine.

And these two offices, priest and deacon, are not related to one another in a hierarchical manner. Rather each stands as a full and equal order, each representing an aspect of the fullness of Christ. The priest is the icon of God’s presence, a sign to the gathered community that God is present among us, one who teaches and forms us from riches of the scriptures, and who offers signs of God’s continuing love and care through the sacraments and pastoral support.

The deacon is the icon of Christ’s service, one who witnesses to Christ’s love for the world by offering service to the poor and needy and who encourages and trains us for our own ministries of witness and service. And both offices are essential for the people of God to have a glimpse of the fullness of our calling: the sharing in God’s work of reconciling all creation to God in Christ.

Click here to read it all.

Congratulations and blessings of those ordained today:

To the Diaconate
Charles Moisan Carroll
Julie Ann McAlhany

To the Transitional Diaconate
Heather Jeanette Blais
Laura Lee Peckham
Jennifer Mary Reece
To the Priesthood
Regina Gilmartin Knox

Ordination Sermon June 19, 2010

Jeremiah 1:4-9; Psalm 119; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6; Luke 22:24-27

We’re gathered here today to celebrate the ordination of five faithful, hard-working Christians to the transitional diaconate. In many ways this service is very much about the ordinands. That is, it’s a sort of matriculation service; the marking of a transition from a time of intensive preparation to a time of what we hope will be a fruitful and satisfying service. For the ordinands and their families, today marks the realization of a long held hope, a deeply felt sense of vocation. We join them in their celebrating this accomplishment and giving thanks to God for God’s gracious care.

In other ways, though, this service isn’t much about the ordinands at all. Rather, it’s about the church, about how the church understands its life, why it calls people to ordained ministry, how it organizes itself so that we, all of us, may proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and to share the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. And it’s this second aspect that I’d like us to consider for a moment.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about the future of the church. And one of the matters that occupy my attention is what the ordained ministry might look like in the future. Clearly the long cherished norm of a full time resident priest is fading from the scene in many places. It’s being replaced by all sorts of other patterns that attempt to sustain our sacramental life and to preserve the partnership between lay and ordained which is the core of our governance. In some places there are now ministry teams or circuit riding priests. Some think we should go even further, replacing ordained ministry with the ministry of the baptized, including lay presidency of the Eucharist. Ordained ministry is being evaluated, like most things in contemporary life, in terms of its cost effectiveness.

The difficulty with such thinking in my view is that it misses the main point. Ordained ministry isn’t primarily about governance or administration or, even, sacramental life. It’s about apostolic teaching. It’s about conveying the faith once delivered to the saints. Our Anglican tradition places the highest value on well-formed, well-educated people who can teach us the faith.

You may recall from the Book of Acts that as the church grew, the Hellenists complained that the Hebrews were neglecting the Hellenists’ widows. And so the twelve called together the whole community saying, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” Those seven became the first deacons, called to serve the poor in the midst of the community, so that the apostles could devote themselves to teaching. The orders of the church exist so that the people may be taught, may understand, the Word of God.

And what do the orders teach? I’m not asking here what bishops, priests, and deacons teach when they hold a class. I’m asking what the orders themselves teach. And I think it’s this: the bishop, as chief pastor, is the icon of God’s care for the world. The bishop is responsible for caring for the flock, for all the people and all the clergy, and, more importantly, for all the world. The bishop is the chief spokesperson for the church to let the world know that it is beloved of God. The priest is the icon of God’s presence in the midst of the people. In the proclamation of the word, in the breaking of the bread, the priest reminds us that God is always present, always among us, in, with and under us, accomplishing God’s purpose. And the deacon is the icon of Christ’s service, helping us to connect our own empowerment as the body of Christ with the needs of a wounded world. In the deacon’s service we see the call of all Christians to serve the world. The orders of ministry, by their very existence, remind us that we, the baptized, are to embody all these things – the love of God, the presence of God, the service of Christ – in our homes, in our work, in our relationships – wherever we live and move and have our being.

So the church ordains to insure that the apostolic faith continues. Yet such ordination does not thereby elevate the ordained to a superior place in the life of the church – far from it. Ordination is something the baptized do for the health of the body.

Take a look at page 15 in your service booklet. You’ll note that the consecration of deacons begins with the people standing and the ordinands kneeling. So the active participants are the people. You’ll note too that the consecration begins by invoking the presence of the Holy Spirit. And following that invocation, there is a long period of silent prayer asking the Spirit of God to descend powerfully on the ordinands. And out of the prayer of the people, the bishop, as the president of the gathering, lays hands on the ordinands. At the end, the people say in a loud voice, “Amen.” The power for ordination, the source of authority for the ordained, is the prayer of the people. The baptized select and empower the ordained so that the whole body may be strengthened in its knowledge of the glory of God.

Today we happen to be ordaining transitional deacons. Transitional deacons are an odd bunch, being neither fully deacons nor yet priests. The ministry of deacons is a full and equal order of the church, and the folks who are ordained today will spend but a short time as deacons and will spend most of that time learning to be priests. But the church in her wisdom decided not to ordain candidates for priesthood directly to priesthood, but to continue to require an experience of diaconate for those who would lead congregations. Some of that decision was undoubtedly rooted in the sentimentality of bishops who remember their own time as deacons fondly. But some of that decision was also rooted in the desire for the leaders of congregations to appreciate the fullness of the ministry to which we are all called – a ministry of love AND SERVICE in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s not enough to love Jesus in our heads or in our hearts. We have to love him with our arms as well.

Ultimately, it seems to me, this ordination service isn’t about either the ordinands or the church. It’s about God. Like Baptism, like Holy Eucharist, like God’s mission of reconciliation, it’s about the salvation of the world. It’s about how this community, this Body of Christ, prepares itself to take part in the redemption of the world.

What really matters today is the ruptured oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. What really matters today is the ethnic violence which is shattering Kyrgyztan and so many nations across the globe. What really matters is plight of refugees and immigrants in every place, even here. What really matters is the endless war in Afghanistan and Iraq and Pakistan and Palestine. And if this service is not about those things, then nothing we do here today really matters.

What the world needs more than ever, what the world needs to recover from the oil spill, from religious and ethnic warfare, from global greed and recession, from poverty, famine and disaster, is the Word that we are charged in this service to carry. Our problems will not be solved by competition, by favoring one group over another, by pillaging and polluting this green earth for more and more products. Rather our hope is in the proclamation that this is God’s world, that God loves it – all of us and all the creatures, that God is in our midst right now, that God wants us to serve one another. It is this truth by which we commend ourselves. It is this knowledge that is the light we carry in our hearts. It is this Word that we are all called to teach to one another and everyone we meet.

My charge to each of you today, our charge to you as a community of faith, is that you claim the apostolic faith – that you teach it, that you share it, that you call us to it. Help us to remember that God has charged each of us to proclaim God’s love by word and deed wherever we are.

And may all of us who participate in this ordination, may you who are ordained and you who by your prayers call God’s spirit upon them, be deeply aware that it is the salvation of the world that we are all about. Our call is not to preserve the church. Our call is to be the church for the sake of the world – to love the world, to be signs of God’s presence, and to serve one another in the name of Christ. May it be so. Amen.

Celebrations in Western Maine

In June we ordained three deacons and a transitional deacon at the Cathedral. Ben Wetherill was not able to participate in that ordination because his daughter was graduating from high school in June. So on Saturday, September 26, I ordained him to the diaconate at Church of the Good Shepherd, Rangeley.

Fall was definitely in the air as Gretchen and I made our way to Rangeley on Friday afternoon. The colors were spectacular, and the innkeeper at the Country Club Inn speculated that peak color would come in just a few days. Arriving the night before the ordination gave us the opportunity to meet and share a meal with Good Shepherd’s new rector, Jud Peeler and his wife, Sandy. We enjoyed a relaxed supper full of conversation about life in Rangeley and the Diocese of Maine.

Saturday began with a rehearsal at the church followed by some prayer time with Ben. Then at 1 p.m. we celebrated the baptismal ministry of the church and Ben’s ordination to the order of deacons. The music, some of it provided by Ben’s family, was accompanied by flute, guitar and organ. The Episcopal Church capable of throwing some wonderful liturgical parties, and this was certainly one of them.

After a sit down reception, Gretchen and I headed down the mountain to St. Luke’s, Wilton. We were the guests of the rector, Tim Walmer and Corey. After a little R&R, I met with the Vestry over supper.

St. Luke’s serves Wilton and Farmington and is involved in a number of ministries. For those who haven’t been there, St. Luke’s is a “recycled” Roman Catholic church with a gracious sense of light and space. But the church is a bit off the beaten path. So my conversation with the Vestry was about ways to get St. Luke’s presence before the larger community. We talked about ministry partnerships and use of their new website.

Sunday morning there was one service at 9 a.m. As part of the service, we celebrated confirmation and reception. I was particularly moved that the person being received is someone who was burned out of her home just two weeks ago. The St. Luke’s community has gathered round her, and she was firm in desire to be received in the Episcopal Church.

Our morning ended with a fine brunch and more conversation about life and ministry, particularly about the recent General Convention. The Episcopal Church is alive and well in Wilton.


Deacons: Teaching Us to See Need

Ordination Sermon by the Rt. Rev. Stephen Lane
June 20, 2009
Cathedral of St. Luke, Portland, Maine

Jeremiah 1:4-9; Psalm 119:33-40; Acts 6:2-7; Luke 22:24-27

When I served in parish ministry one of my favorite services was the service of Maundy Thursday with its agape supper and foot-washing. There is a simplicity and directness to the service I found very appealing. The message is eat and drink and be like Jesus, and even very young children could grasp it. We held the service in the parish dining hall where spilling water wouldn’t be a problem. The children loved that part. Making a mess was part of the liturgy, and a grown up got down and washed your feet! Too cool!

The foot washing was never really popular. I think it grew to maybe 30 people over the years. There was always a particular awkwardness to the foot washing. I always found myself a little flushed afterwards. I discovered that no one thinks they have nice feet. And a lot of people actually have club toes and messed up toenails. There’s a kind of reversal of the expected social order. And then there’s the whole matter of offering personal service, of treating someone’s unlovely feet with reverence. It’s recognition of an intimate, a sacred, a holy, connection with someone I don’t usually think of in that way. After a time, I came to see the awkwardness of the foot washing as the whole point: a reminder that social conventions are simply that – matters of arbitrary status – and a reminder that the service of Christ always involves relationships of love and care with other folks – folks who are all pretty much the same under their socks.

The early church made the connection between preaching Christ and serving Christ pretty early on – in fact, almost immediately. The apostles quickly discovered that there was more work to do then they could manage by themselves. They saw their primary responsibility as preaching the good news of the Jesus Christ crucified and risen. Yet they recognized their responsibility for what their preaching produced. Everywhere they went communities of believers sprang up. And those communities needed to be supported and organized, worship needed to be conducted, instruction needed to be offered. And then, in every community, there were those members who could not really care for themselves – who were poor or sick or old. The community needed to care for them.

Indeed, care for the widows and orphans soon became a major undertaking, so important and so time-consuming that the apostles needed help. And so the first servants of the church were chosen, the Magnificent Seven, who were given responsibility to care for weaker members of the community, to visit the sick, to prepare for worship.

And so, from the very earliest days, the church was marked by worship, by preaching and teaching, and by service. We now call the icons of Christ’s service deacons. Deacons represented Christ’s own service. Deacons represented and were emissaries of the bishop. Deacons shared the gifts of the community with the wider world.

But foot washing has never been all that popular in the church. As the church grew, the deacons were soon outnumbered by the elders, the leaders of the local communities, who represented the apostles in that place and led the services of worship. And over time, as the church embraced the trappings of empire, the offices of deacon, priest and bishop became hierarchical and serial. Eventually the diaconate became a stepping stone from the offices of acolyte and sub-deacon to the office of priest.  And it has remained that way until today. We still require priests to be transitional deacons before they may be ordained priests.

The recovery of baptism and the renewal of the diaconate both began in the Vatican II era in the mid 20th century. It’s probably no surprise that they’re linked because both movements are rooted in the conviction that the church is the body: the church is the body of Christ whose members carry the ministry of Christ to the world. And because that’s so, what happens outside the church is every bit as important as what happens inside the church. The renewal of the diaconate is helping us to recover our balance as a church, to rediscover the ancient balance of worship and service.

And perhaps, even more important, the diaconate is helping us recover our theological conviction that the purpose of the church is to help us grow up into Christ, to be like Jesus, to be like the one washing the feet. “The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. I am among you as one who serves.”

To make direct, intimate human service the goal of the Christian life is awkward. It means to forego our usual notions of status and power. It means to recognize our essential equality as human beings and the need we all have or will have for such personal care. It means to acknowledge that someplace close to the heart of our faith is the necessity of putting the neighbor in first place. It means being like Jesus with all the risks he once faced.

The world desperately needs this humble service. We are confronted by so many intractable problems in the 21st century – global warming, religious fundamentalism, declining standards of living, poverty, air and water pollution – you make your own list. None of these problems will be solved unless we are willing to humbly wash our neighbor’s feet.

We in Maine have done a good job with the renewal of the diaconate. We have deacons serving in many communities. But we have much more to do because the goal is not to make a lot of deacons. The goal is to help the people of God be like Jesus. Deacons can be for us persons whose own ministries serve as examples of the ministries to which we are all called as servants of Christ. Deacons bring the needs of the world into the life of the church so that we can see and respond in the name of Christ. Deacons help us pray for the world, recruit and train us for service, organize us to do Christ’s work. There is no limit to the need and no limit to the possibilities for service.

These ordinations this morning give me hope… not because I think these deacons are a source of cheap labor for the church – I’ve given them specific instructions to resist that – not because I think they will help us solve our financial problems as an institution, but because I think they will call us to wash feet. The heart of our baptismal promise is to live a life that is faithful to the one who calls us, the one who sees us all as children of one family, the one who understands that we all have the same needs and the same hopes, the one who died for us that we might live for him and one another.

My prayer for you, my friends and colleagues, is that you will simply get on with it. That with our support you will plunge into the work that lies before you, that you will show us the opportunities for our own service and help us claim them, that you will makes us feel a little awkward, help us to see the world as it really is – help us to see all those feet out there in need of a good washing.

God grant you the will and the grace to accomplish the ministry God sets before you.


Blue skies in the North Country

The first weekend of Spring found us heading north to Houlton and Millinocket. We left early Saturday morning for Ginny Urbanek’s ordination to the priesthood. It was a beautiful morning – a great day for a drive – and Mt. Katahdin shone brightly against the blue sky. It was our first sighting of Maine’s great mountain. The other times we’d been in the area, the mountain had been hidden in clouds or haze.

The Rev. Leslie Nesin, priest in charge of Good Shepherd; Bishop Steve; the Rev. Ginny Urbanek; the Rev. Jessie Drysdale, deacon at Good Shepherd.
The Rev. Leslie Nesin, priest in charge of Good Shepherd; Bishop Steve; the Rev. Ginny Urbanek; the Rev. Jessie Drysdale, deacon at Good Shepherd.
We arrived at Good Shepherd in time for a soup lunch and brief conversations about the service. Ginny is the first priest formed for the priesthood by our local formation program. Her service will provide flexibility and strength to our ministry in the North Country.

The service began promptly at 1 p.m. with good support from Winn, where Ginny has served her transitional diaconate, Houlton, Millinocket and the County. Carolyn Metzler (Winn) preached a fine sermon on baptismal ministry and priesthood, and the service was graced with music by the Sunday School and the Adult Choir. Leslie Nesin and the good people of the parish gave a wonderful reception.

We left Good Shepherd after the reception and headed to Millinocket for Sunday’s visitation. We arrived in time to change for dinner and conversation at the rectory with our host and cook, Bob Ficks. Bob serves half time as rector and commutes some 70 miles to St. Andrew’s from Hodgton where he lives. (Long distances are a fact of life in the north; Leslie Nesin commutes 90 miles to Good Shepherd.)

For those of you who’ve never been there, St. Andrew’s has a beautiful, contemporary worship space with a large attached parish building. The circular nave is bathed in natural light and the white walls are adorned with beautiful bronze stations of the cross. Adjacent to the table is a large t-shaped crucifix with a figure of Christ bursting from the cross and across the elevated choir loft at the rear is a stunning Pentecost mosaic. It was a truly lovely setting for the service of reception. We arrived early enough to meet with the person to be received. Following the service, we enjoyed coffee hour and I met with the Vestry.

St. Andrew’s is concerned about the closing of the mill and Millinocket’s declining population. Despite that, the parish has a vital mix of long time members and younger families. The parish has recently begun a series of health luncheons to help people of the community live healthier lives.

We ended our visit to Millinocket over lunch with Deacon Bob Landry and his wife.

Last but not least, we headed along the Penobscot for a visit to St. Thomas’, Winn. Along the way we saw what first appeared to be small children ice fishing on the river. Closer inspection showed the figures to be five bald eagles, two adults and three juveniles, standing on the ice. Fantastic.

I met with the Bishop’s Committee and other interested parishioners to talk about the period of transition that is beginning at St. Thomas’. Later this spring Carolyn Metzler will leave with her husband for New Mexico concluding her seven years of ministry at St. Thomas’. We talked about possible options and next steps.

Another blue sky accompanied us as we followed the setting sun home.

Joyous occasions show growing vitality

I had no formal visitation this past Sunday. Instead I participated in two special events that testify to the vitality of our ministry in Maine.

On Sunday morning,  Gretchen and I joined with the vicar and people of St. Nicholas, Scarborough, in the Celebration of a New Ministry. St. Nicholas’ has been on a remarkable journey this past year. Burdened by the debt for their new and beautiful worship space, there had been times when some questioned the congregation’s vitality. But with the loving leadership of Vicar Eckart Horn, St. Nicholas’ has experienced genuine renewal. We celebrated that renewal in a service that focused on the renewal of baptismal vows. (I just love the opportunity to get people wet!)

Kit+ is presented with her ordination certificate at St. Stephen's in Waterboro.

A fine sermon was preached by the Rev. Ron Baard, a Reform pastor and CPE colleague of Eckart’s. The congregation presented and shared symbols of ministry througout the service. Since it was Sunday morning, children assisted with the Advent wreath. And, for good measure, we blessed a roomful of new chairs (already fully blessed by their use). The chairs, replacing green plastic lawn chairs, were the gift of a grateful parishioner.

In the afternoon we journeyed to St. Stephen the Martyr in Waterboro for the ordination of Kit Wang to the priesthood. Kit has been serving St. Stephen’s since her ordination to the transitional diaconate in June. Her ordination was an eagerly-awaited occasion, and St. Stephen’s was packed to the rafters. There was good support from diocesan clergy and the congregation despite somewhat hazardous travel caused by the ice storm. The Rev. Suzanne Poulin preached a thought-provoking sermon, Kit’s son Jesse served as crucifer, and Kit was ordained with the enthusiastic affirmation of all present. She was vested in a beautiful stole and chasuble crafted by Challwood Studios, who also made my vestments. Our time ended with a great feast, and I understand the ham came from one of Kit’s pigs!

If there's not a cake, it didn't happen.
If there's not a cake, it didn't happen.

Occasions like these are very different than my regular visitations. The focus is on the larger life of the church, the diocese, and the way that life connects with congregations. This kind of vitality is essential if our congregations are to flourish. A celebration of new ministry lifts up the success of a transition process that is shared by congregation and diocese. And an ordination brings to conclusion a process of discernment and formation that benefits both a congregation and the whole church. Hopefully the energy of these occasions reverberates in the growing vitality of the congregations.

Bishop Stephen

photos by the Rev. Sudie Blanchard