Over the past two Sundays, Bishop Steve Lane visited Maine summer chapels celebrating their 100th anniversaries: All Saints by the Sea on Bailey Island, Harpswell, on July 31, and St. Martin in the Fields in Biddeford Pool on on August 7.
[We’ll add more photos as they become available.]
In his sermon at St. Martin’s he had this, in part, to say:
Although the chapels operate according to the traditions of The Episcopal Church, they do so without all canonical bureaucracy of an Episcopal congregation. They are places where the church and the world can meet in the beautiful Maine landscape, where persons of all sorts can mingle without pressure to join, and where the love of God isn’t nuanced by church politics. Summer chapels are places where people who deeply love God and the church can share their faith and tradition, and people who rarely come to church can hear and consider the love of God. It may well be that the openness and low key vibe of summer chapels offers some important learning for year round congregations.
While I was on vacation in July, it seemed for a while as if all hell had broken loose. There were the killings of unarmed black men by police in two cities, the sniper attack on the police in Dallas protecting a Black Lives Matter rally, and the murder of 80 persons run over by a terrorist truck driver during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France. All this while the nation prepared for the Republican and Democratic Nominating Conventions. The newscasts and the internet were alive with exaggerated statements about the unleashing of a race war among us and the end of life as we’ve known it. I eventually needed to stop paying attention to preserve my vacation.
It’s true, of course, that life as we’ve known it is ending. That’s always the case. Change alone is constant. And the pace of change is much more rapid today.
Our country is becoming increasingly diverse with more and more persons holding to traditions other than those from England and northern Europe. Millennials now outnumber Baby Boomers. In a very short time, there will be no majority culture in America.
More and more of us find our standard of living declining. Real income has been declining in America for more than 40 years. It now takes two incomes to earn less in real dollars than what one earned in 1965. The American Dream of homeownership and a comfortable retirement is increasingly difficult to achieve.
And our racism is a real problem. Not bigotry – all people prefer their own clans and cultures – but racism: personal prejudice enforced by power that makes it difficult for people to drive while black, rent an apartment in a burka, or get a job while speaking Spanish. Our old white-Anglo prejudice, our sin of racism, is staring us in the face, and the picture isn’t pretty.
None of these things is new, of course. But a majority of us suddenly seem to have become aware of them. We seem to have reached a tipping point. It’s as if we awoke recently from a long sleep to realize that this is no longer the world of our grandparents.
For many of us, the changes are frightening. We don’t know what to do. It is all too easy in the face of these things to try to build dikes to hold back the tide and to fall prey to fear and panic: to believe that the solution to the ills we face is to close our borders, purify our communities, and buy guns. But none of these efforts have ever prevented change, and they won’t now. Change will come because the forces driving it are larger than we are, and because it is God’s will. “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
God surely does not want a world that looks like the present one, filled with divisions, genocides, poverty, and terrorism. Rather, I believe God seeks a new world where people of every race and color are affirmed in their dignity as children of God and have the means for safe, secure and happy lives. As Christians, as members of the Body of God’s Son, we are called to join God in building that new world.
I think we are called now to nothing less than being who we say we are: members of the Body of Christ. We are called to trust that God is in charge, that God is working God’s purposes out can be trusted to be faithful to the world God has made. We are called to love God and neighbor and to act on that love every day.
As Christians our trust is in God, not the next President. No matter who is elected in November, neither will save the world. Both candidates are fallible humans who will have to deal with an stubborn political process and prickly world neighbors. Both will be found to make mistakes, to be less than perfect in relation to the economy and terrorism and climate change. They will be sinners in need of redemption, as we all are. We can not put our trust in them. We must vote as wisely as we know how, but we must not kid ourselves that the election will make everything right.
President Obama recently said that America is not as deeply divided as recent events would make it seem. I agree. Most of us do our jobs, raise our kids, care for our communities, and live peaceably with our neighbors. When we get a chance, we try to have fun. We don’t all like one another, but we get along. And we all want a better world for our children.
The thing Jesus said most often in scripture was: “Do not be afraid.” I believe that’s the Word we need to hear now. Do not be afraid. Trust in God. And do your part, however small, to love the world God has made. Be kind to one another and civil to those with whom you disagree. Share what you have and work to affirm the dignity of those who are different. Pray for the wounded and the dead. Hope for a better world. Only love has the power to overcome the world as it is, and we have that love in Christ Jesus.
My greetings and love to each and every one of you. May God bless you and keep you today and always. I encourage you to be in conversation with one another and with me about these things.
On Sunday, June 19, Bishop Stephen T. Lane confirmed (12!), received, and baptized at a regional service hosted by St. George’s in York Harbor.
In his sermon he had this, in part, to say:
“…there is no place God can not or will not go to meet us, to reach us, to save us. God, in Christ, crosses the Lake of Gennesaret in the middle of a storm, goes to any unclean land, confronts any evil, for us. God is with us in the midst of all that terrifies us, all that causes us despair, in the midst of the evil done to us, and the evil we do to others. God meets those lost to addiction, challenged by illness, twisted by hatred, and oppressed by wickedness. God lies down in bathroom stalls with the wounded and the dying in a nightclub in Orlando.”
As our country turns toward the election of a President this fall and attention focuses on the upcoming nominating conventions, I’d like to remind us of the rules guiding church participation in politics. These are set out in the IRS rules governing non-profit religious institutions and churches. www.irs.gov/uac/charities-churches-and-politics
Social Media and Elections
Our churches and in our roles as church leaders, we are not permitted, in church publications or from the pulpit, to advocate for or against a particular candidate for public office. With the advent of social media, the category of “church publication” is a bit vague but may well include blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts. If a personal account commingles personal opinion about a candidate and also shares church information, the page might be construed as a church publication. This is new territory for us and has the potential to introduce confusion as to whether the individual clergy person or the church is advocating for or against a particular candidate.
Advocacy on Legislation and Ballot Initiatives
Our churches and in our roles as church leaders, we are permitted to educate and advocate regarding public issues and legislation as well as teach about how faith, beliefs, and church doctrine intersect with public issues and legislation. (Please see the House of Bishops’ statement issued March 2016)
Our churches may hold educational forums, and we as clergy may participate in issue-based political action groups. We may testify before the legislature and speak at public events. We may not spend a “substantial” percentage of the church budget on advocacy efforts. (While the IRS does not define what a “substantial” amount is, the American Bar Association defines it as more than 20 percent of an organization’s operating income.) While it is highly unlikely that a church would expend such an amount, to do so would open the church to questions about its primary purpose.
We may hold candidates forums or debates about public issues. Such events, when opposing views are expressed, are meant to educate the public and should be presented in an unbiased manner, regardless of any point of view we may hold.
Holding Up Civil Discourse as the Standard
Beyond our obligation to adhere to the IRS rules, we have committed ourselves to civil discourse as a way to honor our Baptismal covenant. The Diocese of Maine is a signatory to the Maine Council of Churches Covenant for Civil Discourse. Civil discourse encourages vigorous debate about ideas and policies. Contrariwise, attacks on the character, intelligence, appearance, background, etc., of any candidate or spokesperson are a violation of our belief that every person is a child of God for whom Christ died.
The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations has just released a very comprehensive and helpful toolkit and resource, Policy for Action 2016, to assist individual Episcopalians and churches engage in public life.
Also the Maine Episcopal Network for Justice has many resources on several of the ballot initiatives that Maine citizens will consider this year. Learn more on its webpage or Facebook page and consider asking MENJ Director John Hennessy to visit your church to learn more about its work.
On April 10, Bishop Steve Lane visited with the people of St. John’s in Bangor. In his sermon he had this, in part, to say.
Jesus says to Peter, if you love me, come as you are, and feed my people; share my love with the world, bring my good news to everyone. This is not about making converts, although some may be converted. It’s about lighting fires, and making a meal, and sharing breakfast on the beach. It is about reaching out to people in their ordinary lives – as fisherman or lobstermen or bankers or lawyers or shopkeepers – and helping them find abundant life.
Bishop Steve Lane’s address at Spring Training 2016
St. Paul’s, Brunswick
April 9, 2016
[More than 135 Maine Episcopalians gathered on April 9 for day of learning and sharing in workshops on church leadership, spiritual growth, ministry and advocacy. At mid-day Bishop Lane called everyone together to worship and consider his remarks on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who called Jesus a man for people, and how we will meet up with God’s mission in the world.]
Today we mark the Feast of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer, the brilliant theologian, pastor and seminary professor, was a member of the so-called Confessing Church in Germany during WWII and also a participant in the plot to kill Adolph Hitler. He was executed at Flossenburg Prison just before it was liberated by the Allies.
Bonhoeffer’s writings are of great interest today, not only for his acute Biblical and theological insights, but also for the way in which his writings seem to anticipate and predict the world of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Bonhoeffer spoke of a world come of age, a world which had no need of religion – particularly in his view, the denominational religion that had failed completely to stand up to the Nazis. What the world needed now, he said, was “religionless Christianity,” that is, a devotion to Jesus Christ, whom Bonhoeffer called “the man for others.”
As a devout Christian, a Biblical scholar, a Lutheran pastor, Bonhoeffer did not advocate doing away with the Bible or the sacraments, but he saw no point in the church unless it pointed to Jesus and encouraged its members to follow Jesus.
We live now in an age when most people no longer participate in a religious community. The United States is among the most religious countries in the Western World, with more than 80% declaring belief in God. Despite that confession, however, fewer than 20% are in church or synagogue on any given weekend. More than ⅔’s of adults 30 and under have no contemporary religious experience, and people declaring no religious affiliation are now the largest single group of young adults. Although many Americans see themselves as connected to a religious tradition, increasing numbers simple describe themselves as “spiritual, not religious.” Maine is one of the four least-religious states in America, along with Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Moreover, many people no longer see the church as the place to go for spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment. That’s frustrating for all of us who love our churches, but the fact is that many folks experience the church as being more interested in its own needs and in people’s wallets than in them.
Some of this reaction is the unintended consequence of the Reformation, each denomination competing with others over worship and doctrine. (We Episcopalians sometimes pride ourselves on having the best stuff, the best worship. We don’t do guilt – that’s our poke at the RCs. We aren’t fundamentalists – that’s our poke at the Baptists. Every other denomination thinks about itself in similar fashion – as superior to the rest.) As a result, every church is a destination church, drawing people out of the community into more homogeneous groups on Sundays. Sunday morning remains the most segregated time of the week, the church being far less diverse than business, education or the military.
And some of this reaction is related to the vast cultural changes we are all experiencing: the declining income of the middle class, the cynicism of many about large institutions, including the church, the distrust of the intentions of leaders of all stripes, the patriarchal culture of the church, etc., etc. The church is in decline, and the bottom is nowhere yet in sight.
So… what to do? What kind of response can we make to all this which is not simply defensive, not simply a matter of self-preservation?
Well, this day, Spring Training, is a partial response, growing from my conviction that if we are to serve God’s mission, then we must find our personal stories in the Biblical story, must be deeply grounded in the traditions of our faith, and must learn the skills needed to follow Jesus into the world.
More of a response can be found in reshaping our common life not around our survival as institutions, but around our faithfulness to the man for others. In preparing for this day, invited each of the workshop leaders to consider three principles in shaping their workshops: Follow Jesus… into the neighborhood… travel light.
Our fundamental conviction as Christians is that God is present and active in the world God has made and that Jesus is the key to understanding God. We discover God by following Jesus. Jesus shows us who God is and where God is.
Jesus leads us into the world. God may be found in the church, to be sure, but not exclusively so. God is in all the places where people live, and it is to these places that Jesus leads us. We go into our communities not because potential members live there. We go to meet our neighbors because that’s where Jesus is.
And as we follow Jesus, we need to travel light, to leave as much baggage behind as we can. Our task is not to make Episcopalians, but share the good news that God is present. We’re not in search of clients or missionary targets, but friends – friends who, through us, might discover that they are also friends of Jesus.
This movement – following Jesus into the neighborhood traveling lightly – is what Bonhoeffer called religionless Christianity and what some of us are calling Going Local – moving beyond our doors into the places where Jesus is.
God is not finished with us yet. I believe that God is intent on completing the work of reconciliation. God is inviting us into the work of reconciliation. “Do you not know, says Paul, that you were baptized with Christ in his death…”
Dying and rising is what this is all about. Our work is Easter work. Death to ourselves and perhaps to our way of doing things, so that God’s reconciliation might take place among us. As long as it is necessary for people to be like us in order to be saved – in our minds or theirs – there is no reconciliation. Only in moving toward one another, in serving Christ together, across all our difference and diversity, will reconciliation take place.
Bonhoeffer was involved in the plot to kill Hitler, and he has been roundly criticized for that involvement. Bonhoeffer, for himself, never tried to justify his action. He knew he would face God for his part. Yet he believed that in the face of evil, Christians have to act. Christian faith is not simply a matter of piety or intellectual assent. It is rather a matter of action on behalf of others. The task of reconciliation is the lifestyle of Christians. We are called not to save the institution, but to be Christ’s body – to bring our gifts and skills to bear on the work of making friends for Jesus. Bonhoeffer put it this way: “This is what we do with the world that inflicts such suffering on us. We do not abandon it; we do not repudiate, despise or condemn it. Instead we call it back to God, we give it hope, we lay our hand on it and say: may God’s blessing come upon you, may God renew you; be blessed, world created by God, you who belong to your Creator and Redeemer.”
May the work we do this day help to center and steady us in the work of reconciliation. May we find inspiration and hope to follow Jesus… into the neighborhood… traveling light. Amen.
Bishop Steve Lane made his way downeast during Holy Week. He celebrated Easter Day with the people of St. Francis by the Sea in Blue Hill. In his sermon he had this, in part, to say:
And the deepest truth about ourselves is the relationship we have with God: the truth that we were created in the image of our loving God, who called us out the depths by name and loves us with a love greater than death, and who gives into our hands the work of sharing the Good News of God’s love. The great good news of Easter is that God’s love cannot be broken – ever – and that, from beyond death, God calls us to share what we know with the world around us.
On Sunday, Bishop Steve Lane visited St. Ann’s in Windham. He preached on the Gospel reading of the Prodigal Son, God’s grace, and God’s crazy irrational love for us. He had this, in part to say:
Let me suggest to you that today’s Gospel is not about lostness — we’re all lost more or less. It’s rather about grace, and our responses to receiving grace. And the fact is, we have trouble with grace. Because grace isn’t fair. Grace isn’t just. Grace doesn’t give people what they deserve but, rather, what God wants to give them.
On Sunday, February 28, Bishop Stephen Lane visited the people at Church@209 in Augusta. Since late 2014, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church have worshipped together, engaged in local ministries together, and shared a pastor, the Rev. Erik Karas. Last fall St. Matthew’s, Hallowell, and St. Barnabas, Augusta, joined the Church@209 experiment, but a few weeks ago that arrangement was suspended for now.
In his sermon last Sunday, Bishop Lane has wise words for the people of Church@209. He had this, in part, to say:
What gives us hope – in Lent, on this journey, in our lives – is not that we might somehow escape suffering, but that God loves us. God loves us enough to give us some more time, to loosen our soil, to fertilize our roots, to let us grow. The realities of today are not the final realities. The possibilities for turning around, of bearing fruit, still lie before us.