One Holy Week, Six Congregations, Great Joy

I’ve just completed a rich and satisfying Holy Week in Maine, worshiping in six different congregations.

Gretchen and I were delighted to celebrate Palm Sunday with Lev Sherman and the good people of All Saints’, Skowhegan. The Palm Sunday liturgy is one of the more complicated liturgies of the Church Year with its marking of both Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his crucifixion on Good Friday. The Palm/Passion mix is meant to provide a bit of Holy Week for those who won’t darken the doors again until Easter Day. The Bishop’s Visit adds a few more wrinkles, but renewing our vows of baptism fit quite well with the themes of Palm/Passion Sunday.

Skowhegan is a pretty good drive from Portland, but under two hours, so Gretchen and I were out the door early. We met with those being confirmed and then joined for the Liturgy. The two confirmands were the sponsors of a grandchild being baptized, so there was great joy associated with the service. Seminarian Annette Joseph, in the midst of mentored practice at All Saints, assisted with the service and offered special music.

After the service, there was a gala reception and a time for questions. There was considerable interest in the Pope’s offer to welcome disaffected Anglicans. Then there was time with the Vestry. Finances are very tight at All Saints’ but the Vestry is working hard to keep ministry at the forefront.

On Tuesday, some 90 clergy gathered at the Cathedral of St. Luke’s for the annual Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oils service. The Revs. Calvin Sanborn of St. Matthew’s, Hallowell, and Rebecca Grant of St. Mark’s, Augusta, offered reflections on their vocational life, and then the clergy gathered with the Cathedral community for the renewal of vows, beginning with baptismal vows. It was a wonderful service with stirring music led by Cathedral Music Director Albert Melton and supported by the Vergers corps. After the service, the clergy gathered for fellowship over lunch.

Wednesday afternoon, Gretchen and I left for Mt. Desert Island arriving in time to share supper with Jon and Ruth Appleyard of St. Saviours, Bar Harbor. Over the next four days we had the opportunity to share worship with all four island congregations. On Thursday we shared the Maundy Thursday service, including the stripping of the altar, with St. Saviours. The pews of St. Saviours were filled with some 270+ Easter dinner boxes for low-income members of the MDI community, a ministry shared by a number of congregations on the island and coordinated by St. Saviours.

Good Friday we celebrated the proper liturgy with the Rev. Chuck Bradshaw and the people of the Church of Our Father, Hulls Cove. The service was marked by strong attendance and excellent singing. After the service Gretchen and I shared supper with Chuck and Beth Bradshaw at their home.

The Great Vigil of Easter was celebrated with an exuberant Eucharist by all four congregations at St. Mary’s Chapel, Northeast Harbor. Rector Patricia Robertson had crafted a wonderful service that was matched by the enthusiastic participation of the people – oh, the bells! All the MDI clergy took part, and I got the added joy of declaiming St. Chrysostom’s Easter sermon. The Vigil was as mystical and joyful as any I’ve had the good fortune share. A delightful reception followed.

We marked Easter with two services at St. John’s, Southwest Harbor. St. John’s is between rectors but that did nothing to diminish participation in the services. We enjoyed the additional support of a young trumpeter from the high school. Following the service Gretchen and I toured the West Side Food Pantry and got to witness the the wonderful ministry there.

My thanks to everyone who made the week possible and for the gracious hospitality of all the congregations. It was a moving time of worship and fellowship, a time for deepening our relationships and thanking God for the gift of God’s son. Sharing Holy Week is a different way for me to experience our congregations and to be with God’s people. I look forward to continuing this practice in the year’s ahead.

Alleluia!

Bishop Steve

The Church of Summer is Episcopal, of course

There are 18 summer chapels in the Diocese of Maine. Summer chapels are interesting communities. They’re not congregations in the strict sense: they have no members and elect no officers, and they’re not churches in union with the Diocese of Maine. Most are private trusts or foundations or family chapels. They were founded by a family or an Episcopal priest or bishop for the convenience and benefit of family and friends.

And yet they are Episcopal churches. They use the Book of Common Prayer and are served by Episcopal clergy. They are often quite involved in mission work and raise money both for the their communities and for the diocese. Some have been holding services for 100 years or more. Their congregants are devoted. Families have been attending them for generations and have returned for baptisms, marriages and even burials.

There is a long history of good relations between the summer chapels and the diocese. Bishop Knudsen hosted an annual luncheon for clergy and key lay leaders of the chapel, a tradition I’ve continued. The chapels were generous supporters of the One In Christ capital campaign.

I visit the summer chapels as I’m able. The Lambeth Conference last summer and the General Convention this summer limited the number of visits I’ve been able to make. The visits are usually very informal. There are no confirmations or receptions. Sometimes the resident priest presides, and I simply preach. Often there is a reception or lunch after the service. This year I’ve visited five chapels: Holy Trinity Chapel, Peak’s Island, Trinity Chapel, Kennebunk Beach, Trinity Chapel, York Harbor, All Saints’by-the-Sea, Southport, All Saints’ by-the-Sea, Bailey Island.

Some of these are very simple, wood-frame buildings. Trinity, York Harbor, is a quite large Gothic style edifice. Some have lovely locations. All Saints’, Southport is right on the water and has a dock for those who come by boat. Some have have a priest or bishop who comes and stays for a month or the summer. Some have a different priest or bishop each week. Some host weddings or baptisms. Others do not. Nearly all have quite good music. It’s a genuine pleasure to visit the chapels and meet the people.

What has struck me most about the chapels is the diversity and devotion of the people who attend. They come from all over the country, and they come back year after year. They love the sense of community, the informality, the music. And they are caught by the connection between the liturgy and the natural beauty of Maine. Paul Tillich, the great existentialist theologian, once said that only by walking next to the ocean could he get a sense of the vastness and beauty of God. I think Maine offers that sense to many who visit, and the summer chapels offer a place to nurture that spirituality.

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We spent much of the third and fourth weeks of August on Mt. Desert Island. I had a chance to meet with the clergy of MDI and the coast, meet with the Vestries of Church of Our Father and St. Saviour’s, and to make a formal visit to St. Saviour’s. We also had some time to take in the beauty of Acadia National Park and to enjoy a day on the water. It was a hot week, and MDI was crowded with tourists, but it was good to see the restaurants and businesses busy. That weekend was also the weekend Hurricane Bill sent huge rollers into the Maine coast. The sight of the waves crashing into the rocky coast was awe-inspiring and not a little frightening – such casual, uncaring power!

The various congregations on Mt. Desert Island have unique identities and common problems. The clergy are seeking ways to cooperate both on the island and with their neighbors in Ellsworth and the coast. Each church is confronting tight resources and is trying to discover new ways of being the church. There is a real willingness to think outside the box.

During our visit, we were guests of the the Rev. Jonathan and Ruth Appleyard at the “old” rectory of St. Saviour’s. It’s a wonderful old building with high ceilings and large rooms. It’s now used for the parish office, for meetings, for guests, and for the offices of a couple non-profit agencies. The Appleyards live in renovated space at the back of the old rectory. The parish is also considering new uses for another building on the campus for the benefit of the Bar Harbor community.

Sunday’s visitation included three receptions, the acknowledgment of half a dozen new members to the parish, and the welcome of more than a dozen “seekers” – folks who have joined St. Saviour’s in their spiritual journeys, but have not yet decided to make St. Saviour’s their home. The liturgy artfully connected the stories of all three groups, and I particularly appreciated the effort to meet people where they are in their spiritual journeys and acknowledge the gifts they bring to us. The music was lovely – and Gretchen got to sing in the choir!

It was a terrific week. I find it helpful to have the opportunity to stay several days in one place. That creates the chance for different sorts of meetings and to see folks in both formal and informal settings. And it saves a lot of time and energy driving back and forth. I hope that I will be able to have such extended stays in other places over time.

+Steve