My Dad always told me that I was named after Stephen in the Bible. I thought that was cool until I learned that Stephen was stoned to death for proclaiming Christ. It made me wonder a bit about what my Dad had in mind… (In actual fact, I think I was named after my older cousin, Stephen Jenks, who has lived in Portland, ME, for the last twenty years. We’ve reconnected since my election.)
In any case, I felt right at home at St. Stephen the Martyr. My GPS always over-estimates the time it takes to get places (no… I’m not speeding) so Gretchen and I arrived well before our planned arrival of 9 a.m. That gave us time to sit with the folk in the parish hall as they prepared for the reception to come. We had the luxury of leisurely conversation about the winter, the high water on the lake, the ice fishing derby, the ice houses still on the lake, the noise ordinance that keeps snow-mobiles away from the church on Sunday morning, etc., etc. We also had a chance to tour the food pantry which is broadly supported by the greater Waterboro community and now serves 70 families a month! Contributions come from the school, from community groups and from the ice fishing derby.
There were no baptisms or confirmations, so our service was the usual sort for Lent. We did bless quilts and caps and mittens crafted by members of the parish and the Sunday School. The children gathered to help me bless them for those who would use them. It’s the ancient custom of the church that things are blessed by their use. It’s our hands and hearts that make things holy. But it’s always good to set aside a moment to remind ourselves that things have not only practical purposes, but also carry the grace of God.
A festive reception followed the service. There was food in abundance. Then I met with the Vicar, Kit Wang, and Bishop’s Committee. St. Stephen’s is small but mighty, very engaged in ministry and very happy about it. Finances are struggle, but the Bishop’s Committee is constantly looking for ways to save money. They’ve had some good success with saving energy.
The visit ended with some time with the Vicar in reflecting on her first months of service at St. Stephen’s. It’s good to share my name with such a place.
I had no formal visitation this past Sunday. Instead I participated in two special events that testify to the vitality of our ministry in Maine.
On Sunday morning, Gretchen and I joined with the vicar and people of St. Nicholas, Scarborough, in the Celebration of a New Ministry. St. Nicholas’ has been on a remarkable journey this past year. Burdened by the debt for their new and beautiful worship space, there had been times when some questioned the congregation’s vitality. But with the loving leadership of Vicar Eckart Horn, St. Nicholas’ has experienced genuine renewal. We celebrated that renewal in a service that focused on the renewal of baptismal vows. (I just love the opportunity to get people wet!)
A fine sermon was preached by the Rev. Ron Baard, a Reform pastor and CPE colleague of Eckart’s. The congregation presented and shared symbols of ministry througout the service. Since it was Sunday morning, children assisted with the Advent wreath. And, for good measure, we blessed a roomful of new chairs (already fully blessed by their use). The chairs, replacing green plastic lawn chairs, were the gift of a grateful parishioner.
In the afternoon we journeyed to St. Stephen the Martyr in Waterboro for the ordination of Kit Wang to the priesthood. Kit has been serving St. Stephen’s since her ordination to the transitional diaconate in June. Her ordination was an eagerly-awaited occasion, and St. Stephen’s was packed to the rafters. There was good support from diocesan clergy and the congregation despite somewhat hazardous travel caused by the ice storm. The Rev. Suzanne Poulin preached a thought-provoking sermon, Kit’s son Jesse served as crucifer, and Kit was ordained with the enthusiastic affirmation of all present. She was vested in a beautiful stole and chasuble crafted by Challwood Studios, who also made my vestments. Our time ended with a great feast, and I understand the ham came from one of Kit’s pigs!
Occasions like these are very different than my regular visitations. The focus is on the larger life of the church, the diocese, and the way that life connects with congregations. This kind of vitality is essential if our congregations are to flourish. A celebration of new ministry lifts up the success of a transition process that is shared by congregation and diocese. And an ordination brings to conclusion a process of discernment and formation that benefits both a congregation and the whole church. Hopefully the energy of these occasions reverberates in the growing vitality of the congregations.