Trinity Church – Poised for new engagement in the heart of Portland

The children of Trinity gave the Bishop a frame filled with their thumbprints.  Here a young girl shows him which one belongs to her.
The children of Trinity gave the Bishop a frame filled with their thumbprints. Here a young girl shows him which one belongs to her.

Gretchen and I took just two minutes to drive to this Sunday’s visitation – Trinity Church, Portland. Still we managed to drive in the exit of the parking lot and miss the sign and parking space designated for us… We’ll get the right entrance next time.

Sunday was the first Sunday of the month and, therefore, a Sunday morning for breakfast at Trinity. Lots of folks pitched up for breakfast and a question and answer period. The questions covered a wide range of subjects including stresses in the Anglican Communion and the use of Facebook and other web-based programs for ministry.

Following breakfast I met briefly with two persons being received into the Episcopal Church and then we all joined for a festive celebration of the Eucharist. A bishop’s visit in Lent brings an interesting convergence of themes and readings to the day. But, since it’s always Easter on a Sunday, we managed just fine.

Mert Henry, Beth Quinlan, Gretchen Lane, and Jan Lewis
Mert Henry, Beth Quinlan, Gretchen Lane, and Jan Lewis

Trinity Church was originally founded as a Sunday School for railroad workers and congregationalists. The original church was built in the Gothic style. The new church, built in the sixties, added a large worship space at right angles to the old, combining both old and new into one unified space. Trinity has long prided itself on it’s Morning Prayer traditions and still offers Morning Prayer as the Liturgy of the Word twice a month.

Following worship and brief reception, when the Church School presented me with a picture and a sweatshirt, I met with Vestry for a challenging and exciting hour. The first question asked had to do with how the church would survive after the Baby-Boomers are gone. We talked about the rapid growth of the Episcopal Church in the decades after World War II, the building boom that followed, and the decline of the last decade. Things have changed a lot, but we still tend to do business as if it were 1955. Today requires flexibility and a willingness to try new things. Trinity is well suited for such experiments being close to USM, many community services, and right on one of Portland’s main streets. A small Sudanese congregation is developing as well. The present recession is also creating pressure to collaborate with other congregations and to find ways to share and reduce expenses. There are no easy answers, but there are certainly a lot of possibilities.

Bishop Steve with the Rev. Larry Weeks
Bishop Steve with the Rev. Larry Weeks

The morning ended with a conversation with the rector, Larry Weeks, about his perceptions of the next steps for ministry at Trinity. As Gretchen and I left the first flakes of the next major snow storm were falling. But it was just two minutes to home.

A visit to Grace Church feels like Spring

Our visit to Grace Church, Bath, fell on the day after the February meeting of the Diocesan Council in the same place. Because of that coincidence, I was able to meet with the Rector, Michael Ambler, on Saturday and to undertake a thorough review of the life and ministry of Grace Church. On Sunday morning, Gretchen and I drove to Bath as the temperatures rose in the first real thaw of the winter. By the time we arrived, everything was dripping.

I met first with the Vestry and clergy. We had a lively conversation about the ministry and finances of Grace Church, and, particularly, about the ongoing efforts to reach out to the community. We also talked about the tensions in the Anglican Communion and the ongoing work of the Episcopal Church in wrestling with the full participation of all our members.

Kimberly Gates (center) was received into the Episcopal Church.  Her presenters, Marnie Hackenburg and the Rev. Lois Hart, join the Rev. Michael Ambler and Bishop Steve after the service.
Kimberly Gates (center) was received into the Episcopal Church. Her presenters, Marnie Hackenburg and the Rev. Lois Hart, join the Rev. Michael Ambler and Bishop Steve after the service.

After the Vestry meeting I had the opportunity to talk with a long time member of the parish who was choosing to be received into the Episcopal Church. The rite for confirmation, reaffirmation and reception is designed to give baptized members of the Episcopal Church the opportunity to renew their commitment to the baptized life at significant times of transition in their lives. The authors of the rite envisioned the possibility that faithful people might renew and confirm their baptismal vows at the time of marriage, the birth of a child, transition to a new job or community, retirement, death of a partner, etc. This was an occasion when the parishioner desired to renew and strengthen her commitment, and I was glad to encourage her in that decision.

The service was a joyous occasion. The music was wonderful. For those who haven’t been to Grace, it’s a contemporary, open space with seating in an arc of about 150 degrees. And floating serenely above, the good ship Mary Ann. I couldn’t find Gretchen in the congregation and looked up to discover her singing in the choir, blue robes and all. Great fun for her and the choir!

My visit ended with conversation with Grace’s curate, Martha Kirkpatrick, about her internship at Grace and possible next steps. Then Gretchen and I returned home through the mild, wet afternoon.

A joyous visit to Gardiner’s Christ Church

We began our visit to Christ Church, Gardiner, with a parish breakfast and a conversation with Grand Pa. Grand Pa is a muppet-like figure who lives in the pulpit and speaks to the children before each 10 am service. Rector Jack Fles says Grand Pa has been speaking with the kids for nearly thirteen years! This morning we talked about the Bishop’s vestments, particularly the miter, and his crozier. Grand Pa had a cold this morning and his voice was raspy, but his wit was lively. I’m not sure who had more fun – me or the children.

The worship that followed was joyous with both the choir and Christ Church Unplugged leading our singing and offering praise. After the service we joined for a reception. At both breakfast and the reception, members of the congregation asked questions about the recession and the future of the church.

Of particular interest was the recent meeting held for nine congregations in the greater Augusta region. I had invited the clergy and wardens of the congregations to come together on Saturday, January 24, to talk about the possibilities for shared ministry in the region. There was no planned outcome, just a hope to share common strengths and concerns and to identify possibilities for collaboration. The meeting was lively and enthusiastic, and we ended the day with a long list of possibilities. The participants are now sharing their experiences with the leaders of their congregations, and we will consult together about next steps. For their part, the people at Christ Church are eager to explore possibilities for working together with others to strengthen their ministries.

After the reception, I met with the vestry for a conversation about the life of Christ Church. While finances are a concern, a greater concern is to reach out to a new generation of church goers and to find creative ways to extend hospitality to the visitors who come through their door.

Our visit ended with lunch at the rectory. Gretchen and I joined with the Fles family and Deacon Gary Drinkwater for delicious soup and delightful family conversation. A great visit to the Mother Church of our diocese.

Maine Episcopalians not daunted by a little snow

I’d been waiting for a Sunday when the winter weather would test our ability to make a visitation. And one finally came. We visited St. Philip’s, Wiscasset, on January 18. A major storm was expected and, as Gretchen and I drove north from Portland the caution warnings were lit and the pavement was slippery. Snow was falling heavily when we arrived, and I wondered for a moment if we, the wardens and the organist would be the congregation. But the members of St. Philip’s turned out in force for the service.

Bishop Lane and the kids of St. Philip's
Bishop Lane and the kids of St. Philip's

St. Philip’s has just begun the transition process. The rector departed early in January and the congregation is considering next steps. As always in small communities, the issue of finances looms large. But the spirit is good and the ministries of St. Philip’s are strong. The worship, held in the parish hall to reduce heating costs, was lively, the singing robust. After the service I had the opportunity to tour St. Philip’s extensive clothing ministry in the parish hall basement.

Because the weather continued to deteriorate, conversation after the service was briefer than usual. And I would be back during the week to speak with the vestry. The drive home was truly an adventure of blowing snow, poor visibility and snow clogged roads. But the joys of the morning kept us warm ’til we arrived back home.

Bishop Lane blesses the faithful at St. Philip's, Wiscasset
Bishop Lane blesses the faithful at St. Philip's, Wiscasset

Stopping by St. Giles’ on a snowy morning

Welcome to St. Giles' without the snow
Welcome to St. Giles' without the snow

Sunday marked our first visitation in snow. There was a beautiful light snow falling as we left Portland. The roads were wet – and the warning signs suggested that they were icy – but our travel to St. Giles’, Jefferson was uneventful. We arrived at St. Giles’ in time for a brief rehearsal before the service.
St. Giles’ is a wood frame building constructed in the mid-1950’s. It’s deceptive in appearance being much larger inside than it appears outside. A beautiful addition, Jewett Hall, named after the former rector and built in 2004, provides space for larger gatherings, vestry meetings, and a weekday daycare center.

St. Giles’ is in transition and hopes to move into calling a new rector in 2010. Interim Rector John Van Siclen and Deacon Lee Burns are working well together and providing solid leadership for the transition. The parish has strong ministries and is experiencing modest growth.

Our visit began with a festal Eucharist, including a sung creed and the lighting of a large Advent wreathe. The wreathe is suspended from the ceiling and has a reputation for being cranky, but on this Sunday was steadily lowered for lighting and raised again. Following the service we gathered in Jewett Hall for a reception. After the reception I met with the wardens, vestry and clergy for a lively conversation. Topics included St. Giles’ transition, the roles and relationships of deacons and priests, full communion with the Methodists, and the state of relations in the Anglican Communion.

As I talked with the vestry of St. Giles’, I was asked what I saw as the greatest challenges facing the diocese. My responses were, first, how we remain a community given the great distances, the cost of transportation, and our need to reduce our carbon footprint. I talked about the need to use new technology and to experiment with video conferencing, distance learning, etc. The second challenge facing us is how we negotiate the changing Maine economy and the resulting dislocations. I talked about not only parish budgets, but the difficulty in attracting clergy. Our time at St. Giles’ ended with a lunch with the clergy and spouses.

I’m slowly filling in my mental map of the diocese. In the morning we arrived in Jefferson by way of 295 and Gardiner and in the afternoon departed by way of Damariscotta and Rt. 1. It feels good to venture off the main roads and to head out cross-country. The pine forests had a beautiful dusting of white snow which gave the countryside a magical appearance. More of God’s gifts to us.

+Stephen

Transitions spark renewal and new energy for congregations

The past two Sundays were spent with congregations in the midst of transition between ordained leaders.

Last Sunday, a 5:30 am wake-up was rewarded with an absolutely spectacular sunrise as we drove to St. Mark’s, Waterville. The crystal clear blue sky was streaked with pink and orange at first light. A stunningly beautiful drive.

We were met by Interim Rector Steve Foote and the Vestry for breakfast. Over muffins and coffee we discussed the search process and the life of St. Mark’s. Like many congregations, St. Mark’s is wrestling with finances and working on stewardship. The Vestry members made it clear that they wanted to take the time necessary to do a good search.

After breakfast we met with the family of an infant to be baptized and walked through the service. An impromptu rehearsal with the choir helped me prepare to lead the African chant Thuma Mina (Send me, Jesus) as we processed to the font. The service was great fun, the baby was well-behaved, and the music was glorious.

Following the service and a brief coffee hour, many folks joined with me for a lively question and answer session. Questions included probing inquiries about the search process, the future of the church, the Lambeth Conference and relationships in the Anglican Communion, and partnerships for mission.

This morning we enjoyed another brilliant sky as we drove to St. Andrew’s, Newcastle. Today was St. Andrew’s Day and the 125th Anniversary of St. Andrew’s Church. A grand procession was led by a kilt-clad piper. The liturgy began with the blessing and rededication of the building, the font, the organ, the pulpit and the altar and prayers for the rededication and recommitment of the congregation. Every seat was filled and the overflow crowd watched on a tv monitor in a nearby room. Young people participated as acolytes, a litanist and members of a children’s choir. The senior choir sang a stunning anthem written for the occasion. The Eucharist closed with the singing of Thuma Mina. The 125th Anniversary service was a celebration to be remembered.

Following a festive reception, we joined with Interim Rector Frank Strasburger, Associate Mary Ann Hoy and Deacon Vicki Black, and the members of the Vestry and the Search Committee for lunch and a wide-ranging conversation about the life of St. Andrew’s. St. Andrew’s is just beginning the search process and is taking time to prepare carefully. Search Consultant Diane Patterson was present to take part in the conversation. We talked about the transition process, finances, stewardship, the divisions within the Episcopal Church, plans for the care of faithful Episcopalians in the dioceses that are leaving, and St. Andrew’s participation in ministry, particularly the Jubilee Center at Trinity, Lewiston.

Both St. Mark’s and St. Andrew’s are enjoying the time with their interim rectors. The process of preparing to undertake a search has released new energy and galvanized new activity and enthusiasm. People are stepping up to take on new responsibilities. Vestries and search committees are excited about their work with diocesan search consultants. Ideas for new programs and new ministries are surfacing. With effective and energetic leadership, it’s clear that the time of transition can be a time of genuine renewal for a congregation.

Bishop Steve

An uplifting visit to where America’s day begins

As I travel around the state, I’m often asked about my vestments. This is what I usually say: my vestments are a consecration gift of the Diocese of Rochester. They were designed and created by Challwood Studios of New York. They’re intended to be a celebration of the beauty of God’s creation in the Diocese of Maine. The cope is covered with the forests of Maine. The chasuble depicts the rocky Maine seacoast with waves against the shore and, even, seagulls. The stole represents sunrise on the water, and the golden miter is a symbol of the First Light – both Christ and the sunrise which begins in Maine. The vestments are great fun to wear and remind me every time of the beauty God has given us.eastport1

I wore the vestments this week at Christ Church, Eastport. Eastport is an island port town built right on the water’s edge. The weather was very foggy and, although I could sense the water all around, I couldn’t see it. I arrived Saturday afternoon and, after settling in at Todd House, a B&B, I joined Deacon Lynn Rutledge at the Pickled Herring, a new restaurant in town. Lynn helped me catch up on the happenings at Christ Church, including recent illnesses and deaths.

After a good night’s rest I joined the Vestry for breakfast at the church. (Gretchen was not with me this week because I was heading to the clergy retreat after the visit.) Our conversation focused on the struggles of an aging congregation in a small Downeast community. Although Eastport remains an active port, both fishing and shipping have declined. Newer residents are often retirees and stay only during the summer. Despite these challenges, Christ Church has an active community ministry and is particularly involved in the Labor of Love Community Foodbank, a program of the local Ecumenical Association. Regular community breakfasts help the parish run in the black.

After breakfast I met with two candidates for confirmation, one a freshman at UM Orono and the other an adult who works as as a therapist at a local tribal clinic. They spoke about their faith journeys and what had moved them to seek confirmation. About forty others joined these two at the 10 a.m. in renewing the vows of our baptism.

eastport3After the festal eucharist – supported by a small but lovely, newly installed tracker organ – we joined for a reception in the parish hall. At Christ Church, folks sit down for coffee hour and so our time together included extended conversations.

Lynn showed me the newly constructed home of the Labor of Love Food Pantry and then we adjourned to a local restaurant where we were joined by the Rev. Lyman Harding and his wife, Margaret. Lyman is a priest of the Anglican Church of Canada, who lives in St. Stephen’s, New Brunswick, across the river from Calais, and who supplies at Christ Church three Sundays a month. It was a privilege to meet them.

All in all, a very uplifting visit Downeast.

Peace,
+Stephen

A beautiful fall day with all the saints

To all the Saints in Maine:

Sunday was one of those beautiful days – crisp temperatures, sunny, blue skies – that made us deeply thankful to be in Maine. Gretchen and I enjoyed the morning sun as we made our way to Christ Church, Norway.

Breakfast with comfirmands at Christ Church, Norway
Breakfast with comfirmands at Christ Church, Norway

For those of you who’ve never been there, Christ Church is a beautiful, gray-shingled facility with an intimate and open worship space. A recently acquired pipe organ provides wonderful support for congregational singing.

The change in the clocks to Standard Time seemed to cause our GPS to wander a bit, but we arrived at Christ Church by 8:30 a.m. We were greeted by the Rector, Anne Stanley and joined the candidates for confirmation and reception for breakfast and conversation. There were seven candidates representing a wide range of age and experience. Three were high school students. Several were newcomers to the Episcopal Church. All were committed to renewing their commitment to Christ and to Christ’s work.

Following our conversation, Anne and I prepared for worship. I had the opportunity to greet the Rev. Rhys Williams, a long time member of the parish and a retired faculty member of General Theological Seminary. Rhys is well known for his teaching and preaching.

Assisting priest, the Rev. Rhys Williams with Jane Dann, Beulah Ayer, and Gretchen Lane at the confirmation reception.
Assisting priest, the Rev. Rhys Williams with Jane Dann, Beulah Ayer, and Gretchen Lane at the confirmation reception.

The nave was packed and rang with our singing. It was All Saints’ Sunday, and we celebrated our mystical union with all those who have ever loved and followed Christ and all those who ever will – a great occasion for confirmation and reception.

Following the service, we joined for a festive brunch and then I met with the Rector and Vestry. Christ Church ministers in an active ecumenical setting. There is a strong clergy association that shares in pastoral care for the community. Next year Christ Church will celebrate thirty years of covenant relationship with the neighboring Roman Catholic Church! Our enthusiastic conversation about ministry – and the weather and the election – took us to 1:30 p.m.

We ended our visit in quiet reflection with the rector before heading south through the beautiful lake country of western Maine. A truly glorious day in Maine.

Faithfully,
+Stephen

P.S. Visit the sermon page link to the right for the All Saints Day sermon I preached at Christ Church. New sermons will be posted there in the weeks to come.

photos by Barbi Tinder

A full morning and a more-than-full week

Today Gretchen and I visited the Cathedral of St. Luke in Portland. In honor of the Feast of St. Luke (Saturday), we used St. Luke propers. We had a full morning.

St. Luke's gathers at the font for baptisms
Gathering at the font for baptisms

The visit began with an adult forum, an opportunity for members of the Cathedral to engage with me in conversation. I began by sharing some of my impressions of the Lambeth Conference. That sparked a series of questions about the Anglican Communion, including questions about the Episcopal Church’s support for faithful Episcopalians in the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Fort Worth. I explained that the Episcopal Church consists of the faithful Episcopalians living in a geographic area. Although a number of Episcopalians have chosen to leave the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh remains. Already faithful Episcoplians of the Diocese, with the support of the Presiding Bishop, are preparing for an Organizing Convention to elect new leadership. Although there will undoubtedly be litigation over property, the Episcopal Church will continue. A similar process will take place in Fort Worth and other places, if necessary.

The forum was followed by festive worship which included the baptisms of four persons: an infant, two teens and an adult. It was a great celebration of the community, accompanied as always by colorful pageantry and fine music.

Bishop Steve commissions volunteers
Bishop Steve commissions volunteers

The morning ended with a coffee hour and a special presentation in words and pictures of the life of St. Luke’s. A number of parishioners spoke movingly of their experience of the Cathedral and the reasons why they worship there and undertake the ministries they do. I concluded our time together by commissioning a large group of volunteers for their ministries.

Our visit to the Cathedral followed an up-and-down week. Having spent 30 hours in Maine General Hospital in Waterville during the week, it was great to spend Saturday and Sunday doing what I usually do. I also want to note that our experience at Maine General was the best hospital experience we have ever had. The staff, from the ER to the cardiac staff to the Nuclear Med staff to the housekeeper, were unfailingly attentive, responsive and kind. Our stay gave us more reasons to be glad we’re in Maine. I am happy to report that all tests came back negative and indicate that a recent change in medication may have been the cause of an episode of lightheadedness that sent me to the ER on Thursday. I will follow up with my regular physician. Gretchen and I are very thankful and greatly appreciate your prayers and concern.

+Stephen

photos by Nancy Mawhinney

Getting a taste of Maine: From Biddeford to Munjoy Hill by way of Cape Elizabeth

+Stephen blesses the altar and baptismal font at St. Alban's, Cape Elizabeth
+Stephen blesses the altar and baptismal font at St. Alban's, Cape Elizabeth

One of the joys of the Diocese of Maine is the diversity of the parishes and their ministries. Today I got a good taste of that diversity.

The morning began with confirmation at Christ Church, Biddeford. Neither Google Maps nor my GPS is much good with the tight twists and turns of an old Maine city downtown. We got lost twice after getting off 95, but managed to find South Street and the back door in good time. Team Bowen (the Revs. Shirley and Peter) met us at the door, and we sat for a while with those preparing for confirmation. After a joyous service and reception, the Vestry and I met to discuss Christ Church’s many ministries and the development of their Jubilee Center. Christ Church has been identified as a “warming center” and the parish is preparing to receive folks who will need a place to get warm this winter. There was just enough time for lunch with Shirley and Peter before Gretchen and I left for Cape Elizabeth.

The Children's Waterfall

We met the Rev. Jim Adams at the rectory of St. Alban’s for conversation before a reception and the dedication of St. Alban’s new Peace Garden. The Peace Garden is a stunning outdoor worship site which combines a eucharistic space, a small amphitheatre and a columbarium/burial ground. Benches and walkways are woven through plantings and trees. A stone table and font provide focus for the worship area. A Children’s Waterfall, offered in memory of children who have died, is a unique feature of the garden. Two years of imagining, designing and building went into the creation of a marvelous space for prayer, meditation, rest and worship – truly a garden for the communion of saints.

A quick trip into Portland brought us to Grace Church, Munjoy Hill. Grace Church meets in old St. Lawrence Church, now a community center. Munjoy Hill is one of the most densely and diversely populated places in all of Maine. Staffed by the clergy of St. Alban’s (Jim Adams, John Balicki, and Audrey Delafield), Grace Church hosts an informal Eucharist every Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Folks come from all over the area. Today, amidst the scenery for a production of “On Golden Pond,” we celebrated a baptism and confirmation. Although we were a little constrained by the need to be out before a 7:30 pm performance, we managed to preach, baptize, confirm, celebrate Eucharist and still have time for a party!

Somebody asked me today what I like best about being bishop so far. I said, “Meeting all the people and learning about their ministries.” There’s a lot of good ministry happening in very different places in the Diocese of Maine.

+Stephen