On Sunday, January 15, Bishop Steve Lane was the featured preacher at A Service of Light, a community service held at St. John’s, Bangor, to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In his sermon he had, in part, this to say.
[T]he dream of God is a different dream. It’s not about beating people down, it’s about building them up. It’s a dream of the love of God made flesh in Jesus. It’s a dream of hearts being changed and conquered by love. It’s a dream of light that was given, a light shining amidst the darkness of the world, that the darkness can’t put out. It’s a dream of ordinary men and women, people like you and me, inhabiting that dream and making it real in our lives and among the people we live.
On Sunday, Bishop Lane visited the people of St. John Baptist, Thomaston. In his sermon, he had this, in part, to say:
“I don’t know about you, but what I really want is to be found by God. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I go to church. There is truly no one who does not need God. There is truly no one who cannot grow in grace. There is truly no one who cannot offer greater service. And there is no meaningful distinction between those who are members of the church – the scribes and pharisees – and those who are not.”
My usual Sunday visits often include the service of Confirmation. I particularly enjoy the opportunity to meet with folks before the service and to talk with them about their journey in faith.
I’m also open to regional services of Confirmation. It’s always fun when people come together from several churches, and we get a sense of being part of something larger than our home congregation.
The greater Portland congregations had been planning a joint service for some time, and as the time approached, the service began to grow as churches from around the diocese joined in. On Sunday, May 1, nine churches of the Diocese, including St. John’s, Bangor and St. Mark’s, Waterville, convened for a joyful service. Some 40 persons, both youth and adults, confirmed the vows of their baptism or were received into the Episcopal Church. Although there wasn’t an opportunity for in-depth conversation, the large gathering had other joys – wonderful music, a wide variety of participants, the joy of hearing all those names as the clergy presented each person.
I’m very grateful for the energy that went into preparing for the shared service. My special thanks go to Dean Ben Shambaugh, David Savage and the Verger Corps, Cathedral Musician Albert Melton, the Altar Guild, Celine Baker (St. Ann’s, Windham) and Madeline Roberts (Cathedral), who read, and all the clergy of the several congregations who prepared the confirmands and took part in the service. It was a memorable celebration.
One of the things I enjoy most about my work as Bishop of Maine is to experience the different cultures of our congregations and to take part in different sorts of worship services.
Three weeks ago I joined the good folk of St. Thomas’, Camden, for a Founders Day service. The liturgy that morning was a scaled down version of a 19th century edition of the 18th century liturgy that was in use when St. Thomas’ was established. It was a grand occasion, and although we would all recognize some of the language from either the 1928 BCP or our current Rite I, the order of the service was quite different. Had we done the whole thing, it would have lasted over two hours! And the tone was much more evangelical than we are accustomed to. Indeed, for a parish with St. Thomas’ Anglo-Catholic preferences, it was a very different service. Still the outlines of our worship were readily identifiable, and although Maine is no longer the frontier, the work of preparing the faithful for the work of mission goes on – now as then.
The next week I visited St. Mary the Virgin, Falmouth. St. Mary’s is a growing congregation. Not everyone can fit in the church for one service. So we joined St. Mary’s at 8 and 10. Children were very much in evidence at both services, and the formality of the worship was leavened by a relaxed welcome of the children.
Rector James Dalton-Thompson presented the largest class of confirmands I’ve seen to date. Between the services I met with twenty folks who were being confirmed along with others who were being received or reaffirming their vows. We had good conversation about what had led them to the decision to claim the vows of their baptism. As always, our conversation uncovered moving stories about the pilgrimage we share.
The 10 a.m. service was a joyous affair with careful choreography – it took a lot of care to move 26 folks around the chancel – and wonderful music. Deacon Christine Bennett helped me manage crosier, book and chrism. St. Mary’s was full to overflowing. We also took special care not to spread the H1N1 virus. I asked parents to see that their children took the bread only and that any who had health concerns might also receive just the bread. The H1N1 is on a tear through Maine. More than 50% of our schools have had absentee rates approaching 15%. It’s crucial that we not put children and young adults at risk. Receiving communion in one kind is full communion and protects our kids.
Following our worship we joined for a reception in the parish hall – great food and great conversation with many parishioners. And then ministry conversation with the Vestry. St. Mary’s is considering a careful plan to expand its campus to meet the needs of a growing congregation and to provide better space for ministry. The vestry is working hard both to support ministry and to steward the parish’s resources. It was a good conversation.
The day was not yet ended. Gretchen and I headed back to Portland, but went to the Cathedral for a service of sung Evensong and the Commissioning of James Dalton-Thompson as Canon Precentor and Samuel Henderson as honorary Canon.
Last week I was present at St. Dunstan’s, Ellsworth, for an extraordinary Sunday Service. Extraordinary Sundays are Sundays when the boundaries between Sunday School and Sunday worship are intentionally lowered and all present are invited to participate in intergenerational activities. We began with several craft activities including writing our gifts for ministry on leaves for a tree of ministry and using sidewalk chalk to decorate the front walk with invitations to worship. The service itself was great fun with the table moved down to just in front of the pews. There is no organist at St. Dunstan’s, the organist having recently taken a new position, but there was great music. The congregation sang with gusto following the confident leadership of Rector Chris Chornyak and sang much of the service, including the prayers. This was my first encounter with regularly sung intercessions in any of our congregations, and St. Dunstan’s, led by Deacon Peggy Day, did a beautiful job! (I understand that Deacon Joan Preble also sings quite well.)
Worship was followed by a gala reception and then a meeting with the Vestry. It was a beautiful fall day, and people we eager to get to their yards. Nonetheless there was a good period of questions at the reception, and then I joined the Vestry for a searching conversation about ministry and money. St. Dunstan’s is a powerhouse of ministry with many important community ministries. But they struggle to make ends meet. We had a good conversation about a reality many of us are facing and which our Mission Strategy Study Group (soon to be named) will try to address.
The sun was shining as Gretchen and I headed home down the Acadia Highway.
When I was first consecrated a bishop, I was invited by Jim Curry, Suffragan of Connecticut, to join Bishops Working for a Just World (BWJW). BWJW is a loosely organized group of bishops who meet to educate themselves about social change and social justice and who meet each year with our legislators in Washington. The group was formed sometime in the 1990’s and the visits to Washington began four or five years ago. The staff of the Office of Governmental Relations in Washington has provided significant support for our work.
This past week I had the opportunity to make my first visit to Washington as a member of BWJW. Also present were Bishops Curry, Andrus (CA), Beckwith (Newark), Chane (Washington), Singh (Rochester), and Sutton (MD). We met at the Washington Theological Union, a Roman Catholic continuing education facility near Tacoma Park, MD.
Our first day and a half were spent with Mike Gecan, lead organizer for the Industrial Area Foundation, which organizes communities to advocate for justice around the country. The IAF works with churches and faith-based groups in its work. We talked a lot about relational organizing, an approach to community organizing which begins with face-to-face meetings with individuals in the community to learn about the community and determine the most important issues for the community. The process then engages in education and training to address the issues, and then moves into focused action for justice. The process reminded me a lot of our normal practices in relation to pastoral ministry in a parish. The training was very helpful.
Following Mike Gecan’s presentations, we spent time with DeWayne Davis, Mary Getz and Ana White of the Office of Governmental Relations to prepare for our visits to Capitol Hill. Congress is in the midst of intense debate about health care reform, so much of our attention was focused on that issue and the resolutions adopted by General Convention this past summer. But we also spent time talking about immigration reform and global warming.
Wednesday was our time on Capitol Hill. Our headquarters for the day was the Office of Governmental Relations on the third floor of the United Methodist Building, which is directly across the street from the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Members of the Office accompanied us on our various visits.
I had the good fortune to meet directly with Senator Susan Collins. I thanked her for her work on health care reform and urged her to support the full inclusion of all Americans in the final bill. We talked together about the coarse nature of the current debate, and our desire to help people engage in civil dialogue.
I also met with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. I told her that the Episcopal Church had voted in favor of single payer reform this past summer. She supports that option as well. It does not look like that option will be in the final bill, but we agreed that the key issue is universal health coverage.
I was unable to meet with Senator Olympia Snowe, but I did meet with her legislative aides for health care reform and the environment. Again, I thanked Senator Snowe for her brave work on health care reform. The legislative aide for the environment was very interested on our work in our congregations to save energy and reduce our carbon footprint.
Congressman Mike Michaud was on the floor voting on an education amendment when I called on his office.
It was a good few days. I was very impressed by the warm welcome I received from each of our legislators. It’s clear that they are very interested in hearing from constituents and from communities of faith. I was also deeply impressed by the effective work of our Office of Governmental Relations and the expertise of the staff. It’s very important that voices of the faith community be heard in the public square.
Click here for a story from Episcopal News Service about the Washington trip
The 76th General Convention, just concluded, was a remarkable effort to tell the truth about the reality of our church and to do so in a way that allowed the whole church to remain at the table. We told the truth about our finances, about our theological and cultural diversity, about the participation of gay and lesbian persons at all levels of our church, about our desire to remain in conversation with the wider Anglican Communion, and about our passionate commitment to ministry. The result of this truth-telling was a remarkably irenic Convention marked by frank and mutually empathetic engagement. One sign of our success was that for the first time in many years, the General Convention addressed of all the legislation presented.
Although issues of human sexuality received the greatest attention from the press, a number of very significant measures were adopted. We now have a mandatory pension program for lay employees serving 20 hours per week or more. We now have a church-wide medical health plan which will result in significant savings for most dioceses. We adopted a new disciplinary canon, Title IV, rooted in a professional code of ethics. The canon begins by describing the behaviors to which we expect all the baptized to aspire. We adopted for trial use prayers and rites for pregnancy, childbirth, adoption, abortion and miscarriage, an attempt to bring the prayer of the church to one of life’s profound experiences. We adopted for trial use a new and expanded calendar of the saints, Holy Women, Holy Men. Of particular interest to us in Maine, we adopted a resolution, based on our resolution and resolutions from other dioceses, repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.
The budget process was wrenching. We cut $23 million from the budget for the next triennium. In 2011 and 2012, diocesan assessments will be reduced to 20% and 19%. 37 positions were cut from the Church Center staff and many important programs were not funded. Much of the church’s ministry has been sent to the dioceses for implementation. God willing and the economy recovering, the 2013-2015 triennial budget will restore some of the cuts. In the meantime, we hope to reduce expenses by making greater use of electronic meeting technology and limiting travel.
The Convention adopted two resolutions regarding the full participation of GLBT persons in our church. The first, D025, acknowledges that such persons are full members of the church who have been and may again be elected to serve as bishops. It also acknowledges that there is a diversity of opinion about this matter in the church and across the Anglican Communion. It expresses our desire to continue to be a constituent member of the Communion and to engage other provinces in conversation about our differences. D025 does not explicitly overturn 2006-B033 or end any moratoria. It acknowledges that our Constitution and Canons remain our guiding authority.
C056 was a substitute for a resolution produced by the Committee on Prayerbook and Liturgy that included material from several resolutions, including B012, the resolution written by bishops of the six states where same-gender civil marriage is legal. The substitute was produced by 26 bishops representing a wide spectrum of views. The resolution acknowledges the pastoral challenges created by the changing landscape of civil legislation. Both marriage equality and legislation banning same sex marriage have created these challenges. Bishops are granted “generous discretion” in responding to these challenges, particularly in states where there is marriage equality. In addition, the church will begin to gather and develop theological and liturgical resources for consideration in 2012. The resolution also acknowledges that we do not all agree about this matter and asserts that no one is required to violate conscience or belief. Permission to utilize Prayerbook rites is not given. I will issue draft guidelines regarding civil marriage in Maine in the coming days, and we will talk about the matter during the September Clergy Day.
There is much more to say about our General Convention. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read and view the blogs of your deputation. I am very grateful for their hard work and long hours spent representing the Diocese of Maine so well. The links can be found on the Diocese of Maine homepage. In addition, I urge you to invite members of the deputation to come to your congregation to speak. A full report will be offered as part of our Diocesan Convention.
I’m grateful to God for the presence of Holy Spirit during the last two weeks. Thanks to all of you for your prayers and support during our time in Anaheim. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you.
The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane
Bishop of Maine