A lot of life in three congregations

Scattered among regular episcopal visitations are special occasions and special events.

Two weeks ago I visited St. Barnabas’, Augusta, for a regular visitation. St. Barnabas’ is a happy, family-sized congregation with several active ministries in the Augusta area. New rector, David Matson, and the people of St. Barnabas’ are getting to know one another and thoroughly enjoying the experience.

My visit to Augusta began early with a meeting of several people who were preparing to be confirmed or received. Among them was member of St. Philip’s, Wiscasset. It’s always fun to welcome someone from another congregation to a Sunday visit.

Following our meeting we joined for a joyful service, made special by the presence of a guest organist. St. Barnabas’ usually sings to the accompaniment of an electronic organist.

After the service I spent time with the Vestry addressing issues of ministry and finance and the possibility of shared ministry with neighboring congregations. We then adjourned for a gala luncheon in the parish hall – a real feast.

The morning ended with a time of conversation with the Vicar and his wife. A very satisfying visit.

A quick trip down the road brought me to St. Matthew’s, Hallowell, and the celebration of its 150th anniversary. Present for the celebration were several former clergy and parishioners. The choir had previously invited Gretchen to join them, and the singing was marvelous.

The service not only marked 150 years of service, but also committed the community to continuing service. Several folks were confirmed, we commissioned eucharistic visitors, and we blessed and dedicated an expanded and refurbished sacristy. A truly wonderful service. As the day lengthened into evening, the parish extended its celebration in a lively reception.

This past week I had the privilege of celebrating a service of renewal and hope with St. Matthias’, Richmond and its new vicar, Kitty Babson. St. Matthias’ is a small community that has wrestled with finances and declining membership over the last few years. The Celebration of a New Ministry looked to the future and declared that “small is beautiful.” God invites us to be faithful, not big. Reflecting on the lilies of the field text from Matthew, I noted that it’s enough for us to be lilies or sparrows. God does not require us to be orchids or eagles. We’re called to bloom where we are planted and to join God in the work God is already doing.

There was a good turnout of clergy and parishioners from neighboring parishes, including a merry band of five deacons. We concluded our celebration with good food and good conversation in the parish hall.

There’s a lot of life in our small communities.

Celebrating 50 years at St. Andrew’s, Readfield

St. Andrew’s was the first congregation I visited following my consecration, and I well remember my anxiety on that first Sunday. Fortunately, the folks at St. Andrew’s are warm and welcoming, and that visit went very well, giving me confidence for the weeks that followed. This year St. Andrew’s is celebrating 50 years as a worshiping community, and I returned to share in the celebration.

The first meetings of what became St. Andrew’s were held in May of 1960 in a private home in Kents Hill. At the time, there were several house churches in the area, and Bishop Loring united these in a single gathering under the name of St. Andrew’s. For 13 years, the congregation met in Winthrop. Two of the early clergy leaders, Charles Karsten and Roger Smith, still number among our retired clergy. (Roger and Edna were present for the service.)

In 1973, St. Andrew’s was forced to leave its worship space and moved to Readfield. There St. Andrew’s leased a small building adjacent to the Union Meeting Hall. The building had hosted a number of churches over the years, including the Methodist-Episcopal Society and the Unitarian Church. St. Andrew’s leased the building for $1 per year, and has occupied the space ever since. It’s a tidy building with a modest nave and adjacent kitchen. A couple of small classrooms on the second floor round out the space.

St. Andrew’s is what I call “right-sized.” Its membership, worship space, budget, and part-time clergy position all fit together. The budget is modest, but because there are relatively few building expenses, there’s a sizable chunk of change for ministry. It’s a happy, energetic community enjoying a fruitful partnership with Vicar Ed Greene.

Sunday was a very warm day, but there was a cool breeze blowing as worship began at 9:30 a.m. The church was full, due to both the anniversary and a number of summer visitors. Following the service we enjoyed red, white and blue cookies (it was also Independence Day) and then spent some time in conversation about the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. At noon, the whole community journeyed down the street to the original Weathervane Restaurant for a gala lunch.

The major issue confronting St. Andrew’s is that the lease is up next year and the Union Hall is considering tearing down the church building in order to address a drainage problem on the property. Although it’s not clear that removing the building will fix the drainage problem or that the Union Hall will finally decide not to renew the lease, St. Andrew’s is facing the future calmly and with hope. After all they moved twice before and the community has flourished. Without a doubt St. Andrew’s will find a new home, if need be, and continue its ministry.

+Steve

Visiting (and commemorating) the saints of God along Route 1

It’s a pleasure when a congregational visit can be spread out over more time than is available on a Sunday morning. Our visit to St. Thomas’, Camden, began mid-afternoon on Saturday with a conversation with the Vestry. The Vestry of St. Thomas’ is working hard at getting the word out about the life and ministry of the parish. Various means of communication are being explored and expanded, and the Vestry is considering ways to connect with the arts community as a way of drawing more people onto the campus. The parish is also working at sharing news about its several ministries through various media outlets. Of particular concern to the Vestry is youth ministry, and we talked about ways to share that ministry with other Episcopal and area congregations. After the meeting, Gretchen and I shared a relaxed supper with Rector John and Michele Rafter.

On Sunday we were up early to meet with candidates for adult baptism, confirmation and reception. People spoke about their journeys to St. Thomas and the Episcopal Church in moving ways. As in many of our congregations, a number of those being received were from the Roman Catholic Church. We spoke our need to be welcoming and hospitable, but also gentle and patient with people making a difficult transition to a new faith tradition.

The service was a festive affair with processions to the font and back. The music was terrific – Gretchen sang with the choir – and I got a chance to sing the sursum corda and proper preface, something I enjoy.

Following the service, we joined for a reception and conversation, and then I met with Sue Vorhees, one of the solitaries of the diocese. In Maine, we have three solitaries, who live lives devoted to prayer under vows. The bishop is responsible for the oversight and direction of these ministries.

Our time at St. Thomas’ came to a conclusion with lunch with the rector and Deacon Rosalee and Chris Glass.

We headed back down Route 1, but only briefly, stopping at St. Andrew’s, Newcastle, for a truly unusual occasion.

The new edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, our calendar of saints, is called Holy Women, Holy Men, and represents a much expanded calendar of saints, including a significant number of Americans. One of the new saints is Frances Perkins, first woman Cabinet Member and Secretary of Labor under FDR. Frances is responsible for a good bit of what we now call the social safety net and worked especially with labor law and with the development of Social Security. Holy Women, Holy Men is now undergoing trial use and part of that process is to demonstrate that there is “cultic expression” for those in the calendar.

Frances Perkins was a long time member of St. Andrew’s, her grandson, Tomlin, still attends. The parish planned a festive celebration including a lecture by historian Donn Mitchell (www.anglicanexaminer.com) and a service of Evensong. More than 90 people turned out. I had the great privilege of preaching at the service, and the joy of working with the clergy of St. Andrew’s, Frank Strasberger, Mary Ann Hoy and Vicki Black. We proclaimed ourselves to be the cult of “St. Frances of Newcastle” and celebrated the life of a woman whose Christian faith, nurtured in the Episcopal Church, led her to work diligently for social justice. I hope others in the diocese will want to lay claim to Frances’ day in the years ahead.

A gala reception followed the service. It was evening before Gretchen and I headed back to Portland.

+Steve

Read his sermon here.

Going Westward: Celebrating ministry in Rumford and Norway

One of the disciplines of blogging is keeping at it. Each week I try to write my blog entry as soon as I get home. But often something gets in the way and the days slip by. So this entry, as the last few, is a catch up entry. My apologies in advance to the congregations I’ve visited. The late blog is not a reflection of the importance of the visit.

On Sunday, October 4, I visited the good people of St. Barnabas’, Rumford. Gretchen and I were out the door very early on a chilly, overcast, fall morning. As we headed north, the sky constantly brightened, and the last few miles were in sunshine. The mountains were covered in glorious color as the foliage reached its peak. Since traffic was very light we arrived early and had time to tour the church. St. Barnabas’ is a jewel of a church, the exterior built of large river rocks and the inside smooth and white. The acoustics are excellent, and the windows are unique and unusual. There is one of Nicodemus up in his tree and another of the call of Isaiah. A simply lovely church.

The congregation was small but we sang with gusto. Fr. Tim Parsons, an accomplished guitarist, accompanied a couple of numbers. There was a confirmation and a reception. Following the service we joined for a lovely lunch and then I met with the vestry. St. Barnabas’ is concerned about the size and age of its congregation and about maintaining its ministries in the community. In those concerns, it joins many congregations of our diocese.

It would have been lovely to linger by the river, but Sunday was a very full day. Leaving Rumford, Gretchen and I dashed to Norway and Christ Church. There I joined with Bishop Richard Malone, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, in celebrating 30 years of a covenant relationship between Christ Church and St. Catharine of Sienna. These two churches have been colleagues in ministry for a generation and continue to share in all sorts of ministries together. The clergy, including our Anne Stanley, are colleagues and friends and provide continuing support for one another. Bishop Malone and I prayed for the continuing vitality of the covenant and that our relationship would endure despite the stresses between our denominations.

And then we went across the street to Catharine of Sienna to bless the animals! Dogs, cats, birds, ferrets… St. Francis’ Day. A lovely ending to the day leaving both bishops in their finery, covered with hair.

+Steve

Congregations old and new – both full of life

On Trinity Sunday, we made our first visit to St. Bartholomew’s, Yarmouth. St. Bart’s is one of our younger congregations, having been founded by Hoppy Hopkins and spending part of its life in a converted gas station. St. Bart’s now resides on beautiful campus in the woods and worships in a lovely contemporary, post and beam church, with clear windows looking out on meadows and trees, and a magnificent organ loft.

On the day of our visit, Rector Nina Pooley greeted us on arrival and we quickly reviewed the service. The main event was baptism, a rite Nina and I shared. The day was a little grey, it had been a rainy week (what else is new…) but the clouds cleared away to brilliant sunshine. (A nice touch on God’s part – in my homily I used weather patterns as a metaphor for God.) The music was wonderful. Following the service we joined for a barbecue luncheon.

I then met for the Vestry for a thorough-going conversation about ministry and growth and money. St. Bart’s needs more space, is using a temporary Sunday School classroom, is considering the possibility of new space, but loves its current space and wants to be fiscally responsible. It was a lively conversation that will continue.

Our day ended sharing ice cream cones with the rector and her family.

This past week we visited with St. John’s, Bangor. St. John’s was celebrating its 175th anniversary. It was founded in 1834 along with the City of Bangor. The original Richard Upjohn church was burned in a great fire in 1911. The new stone building is a replica of the original, and a lovely, classic, Gothic Revival Church. We marked the 175th anniversary with a sung evensong service on Saturday and the dedication of a large banner that was unfurled from the tower. The choir simply outdid itself offering several beautiful and difficult pieces.

On Sunday, Rector Rita Steadman met us early at the church and introduced me to the four candidates for confirmation and one for reception. St. John’s, Brownsville, was begun as a mission of St. John’s, Bangor, so folks from Brownville and Rector Nancy Moore joined in both the 175th celebration and the Sunday service. The candidates for confirmation and reception shared stories of their journey with me. They were folks who had journeyed from several denominations and through a number of life’s upheavals. As always, I found the stories moving.

The service was wonderful, and it was a joy to share the celebration with Rita and Nancy. Following the service was a gala reception. After the reception we blessed a new Oratory of the Visitation in the parish house. The prayer space will welcome visitors to the parish house and remind them of Christ’s call to serve one another. I then joined with the Vestry for lunch and for frank conversation about finances and about marriage of same gender couples. It was a solid, honest conversation. We spoke about continuing at the table together in the midst of our diversity and our theological differences.

Although it rained all weekend, the rain let up enough for us to be outside when we needed to be. As Gretchen and I headed home, the rain came down again.