St. Mark’s Home in Augusta to close at year’s end

Statement from the Rector, Wardens, and Vestry of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (The Corporation of St. Mark’s Home)

August 27, 2014

101_0131_webAfter much deliberation and prayer, the Rector, Wardens, and Vestry of St. Mark’s Church, who make up the Corporation holding St. Mark’s Home, have determined to close St. Mark’s Home by the end of the year.

St. Mark’s Home was chartered by an act of the Maine State Legislature in 1870 as a home for indigent women and has continued as a ministry of St. Mark’s Church for 144 years.  Residents were first asked for payment in support of the Home only in the 1970s. We are proud to have served generations of women. The decision to close is a matter of great sadness to us and, we know, to all associated with the Home.

The decision was precipitated by the fragile financial condition of St. Mark’s Church and by the many new options now available for senior housing. The Corporation determined to act to close the Home as a matter of good stewardship and to provide the best possible outcomes for residents and staff.

To facilitate a smooth transition, the staff of St. Mark’s Home will assist residents and their families in seeking new residences in any way possible. A generous severance package has been offered to our employees, a number of whom have served for more than ten years. The target date for closure of the Home is December 31, 2014, but we will remain open until appropriate housing is secured for each resident. Disposition of the building and the assets of the Home is currently being investigated. Decisions will be made in accord with Maine Law, the intentions of the givers, and St. Mark’s commitment to community ministry.

We offer our prayers and support to all affected by our decision, particularly our residents and staff. We hope to continue our legacy of ministry to the Kennebec Valley community.

The Rector*, Wardens and Vestry of St. Mark’s Church, Augusta
The Corporation of St. Mark’s Home

*In the absence of an incumbent rector at St. Mark’s, the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, serves in that role.

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For now, it is enough

by the Rev. Shirley Bowen, Executive Director and Chaplain
Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center, Biddeford

an update from Maine’s Mission Enterprise Zone

"Whatsoever you do..." by Timothy Schmaltz

“Whatsoever you do…” by Timothy Schmaltz

Bishop Stephen Lane and Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant with the sculpture

Thanks to the generosity of a colleague from Christ Episcopal Church in East Norwalk, CT, a very special visitor came to Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center this summer. The sculpture “Whatsoever you do…”made an appearance, along with Bishop Stephen T. Lane and Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant, on Wednesday, July 30, with a very realistic presence. The sculpture was created by Timothy Schmalz, the sculptor who also made the famous “Homeless Jesus” bench.

“He looks so real,” was one response; “Oh my, it’s SO powerful,” was another.

“It really makes me stop and think about the places where people are on the street looking for help,” summed up the goal of bringing the sculpture to Seeds of Hope.

Looking very life-like in his shrouded form with his nail-scarred hand stretched out seeking help, it becomes clear to those who are Christian that this represents Jesus being in solidarity with the poor. Based on the Matthew passage, 25:40, “Whatsoever you do…” reminds us all that in the eyes of God, all children rich and poor, and especially the poor and suffering, are precious and are to be cared for with compassion and love.

The sculpture speaks to non-Christians as well. The universality of suffering and the desire to recognize the humanity and dignity of all persons resonates at our deepest soul level. Whether one is a disciple of Jesus or the prophets, or follows the tenants of humanism or the sacredness of nature, the message buries itself in our very being.

Bishop Stephen Lane and Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant with the sculpture

Bishop Stephen Lane and Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant with the sculpture

With the many debates in the political arena about ways in which to address poverty, there is one thing we all agree upon. In a world where there is so much wealth and plenty, there is no reason for starvation. In Maine, one in every 8 people live below the poverty line and don’t always have enough food to meet their family’s basic needs. Food insecurity is 43% higher than the average of other New England states and ranks 11th highest in the nation. (Source: Maine Community Action website)

Forty-seven of the 151 homeless identified in York County through the Point in Time Survey conducted by York County Maine Military Community Network in partnership with Biddeford’s HUD office and in cooperation with Seeds of Hope, were found in Biddeford. Fourteen are completely unsheltered and the remaining couch surf and move from place to place. Forty percent of the remaining 33 are 17 to 29 years old. (Source: Biddeford Courier, March 6, 2014.) Additionally, more than 50% of the children in the Biddeford School System participate in the reduced or free lunch program.

Spending nearly two weeks with the sculpture of a poor, begging Jesus helps revitalize the passion that Seeds of Hope’s staff and volunteers feel for their work. Walking into the room and seeing the vulnerable; standing nearby and recognizing how easily one might overlook a small figure wrapped within him/herself, softens one’s slightly rough edges from the bombardment of the uncivil world.

Hearing the appreciation of our neighbors for bringing another form of voice to their circumstances, reminds us that while it often feels like we can never do enough, for now, it is enough.

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Bishop Lane urges prayer and support for the Middle East

Dear Friends in Christ,

Here in Maine we are moving into deep summer. The temptation for all of us is to enjoy the sun and the breeze and to turn away from the painful pictures of war and devastation in Gaza and Iraq. The war between Israel and Hamas and the attack of ISIS on the Iraqi Christian community has caused thousands of deaths and created many thousands of refugees. For the sake of Christ’s work of peace and reconciliation, I invite you to take time to turn to God in prayer.

In concert with our Presiding Bishop, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East, I ask your unceasing prayers for peace and justice for Jews and Palestinians and for the Christians of Iraq. I further ask you to consider a donation to the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza and St. George’s in Baghdad. (See links below.)

The solution to these crises is political and will require costly commitment on the part of all parties. The cessation of violence is only the first step, but it is necessary if anything more is to be done. We Christians worship a God who has come among us to reconcile us to one another. May our prayers for peace be part of this Sunday’s worship and every Sunday going forward.

+Stephen
The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane
Bishop of Maine

* Both the Al Ahli Hospital (in 2012 and 2013) and St. George’s Church in Baghdad (in 2013) are recipients of the Diocese of Maine’s Millennium Develop Goals funding awarded each fall by Diocesan Council.

Updated links:

ENS – August 8: Statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury on Iraq

Huffington Post – August 6: Vicar Of Baghdad’ Canon Andrew White Refuses To Leave Iraq, Despite Christian Persecution By ISIS

ENS – July 30: Urgent calls for peace in the land of the Holy One

American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem – July 29 – Urgent Update

Two ways to give: American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem or Episcopal Relief & Development’s Middle East Fund

From the Anglican Communion News Service: “Emergency appeal made for Gaza hospital”

Statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury on Gaza- July 30

Media summary on July 31 from the Foundation for Reconciliation and Relief in the Middle East – the nonprofit that assists St. George’s, Baghdad. The American arm of the FRRME is directed by David Greer, a parishioner of St. Giles’ in Jefferson, Maine. While its website is under construction, it is possible to make a donation at FRRME – America’s www.frrmeamerica.org. For more information, contact David at frrmeamerica@gmail.com or 207.624.2548.

Interview with Canon Andrew White of St. George’s, Baghdad in Christianity Today by The Times (UK) religion reporter, Ruth Gledhill on July 27: “They just go around and shoot the odd person dead: Vicar of Baghdad on ISIS.”

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Young Mainer finds her longed for “fire” as missionary to Uruguay

by Kirsten Lowell
St. Ann’s, Windham

kirstenImagine waking up every day for an entire year in a place unlike anywhere you have ever been. Imagine waking up every day to form relationships with people in a language that you are attempting to comprehend. Imagine waking up every day to serve and worship in a culture that is outside your past experience. Imagine waking up every day to grow in your faith 5,351 miles away from your home. All that is pretty hard to imagine, but it’s about to happen to me in August as I head to the Anglican Diocese of Uruguay as a missionary with the Young Adult Service Corps.

Six months ago, I was living an average life for a 23 year-old. I lived with roommates, worked 40 hours a week, cooked dinner, and watched Jeopardy most evenings. While I was content with where I was and what I was doing, I desired more and longed for some fire in my life that I could not place my finger on.

Five months ago, I found that fire. I was presented with the opportunity to apply to the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC), a missionary program through the Episcopal Church for young adults ages 21-30. It is described like this:“The Young Adult Service Corps brings young adults into the life of the worldwide Anglican Communion and into the daily work of a local community.  At the same time, it brings the gifts and resources of the church into the lives of young adults as they explore their own faith journeys.”

Since then, life has been a whirlwind of interviews, prayers, discernment, prayers, training, prayers, education, and most importantly, prayers.

I grew up in St. Ann’s in Windham as an active participant in the acolyte and youth programs for not only St. Ann’s but in the Diocese of Maine. I represented the Diocese of Maine at the National Acolyte Festival in Washington D.C. in 2004, Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) in 2005, and a Province I event in Connecticut in 2007. I served as staff at many middle school events, TECs and Happenings, and served as Assistant Rector for Happening in 2007. While attending school outside of Philadelphia, PA, and working in the area for the past few years, I have stayed connected to my home parish and the Diocese of Maine and continue to consider it my home. I served as a counselor at BION this past summer, attended a young adult retreat in January, volunteered as an adult at TEC in March, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to attend BION again later this summer before heading to Uruguay to begin my work with YASC. I’m excited for what this coming year may bring, and I’m thrilled to have such an amazing and wonderful community of people to share it with.

There will be days when I am like Peter – walking on water, fearless, with a strong faith – but there are also days when, like Peter, I will begin to sink and have doubts. That’s when I’ll need to remember how quickly Jesus reached out and picked him back up. But for right now, I am stepping out of the boat, beginning my journey.

It is hard to predict what this year will bring for me and for the community I will be living and serving in, but we are in this together. We are the body of Christ. We are one body, many parts. This coming year as I serve as the hands and feet, and I invite you, members of the Episcopal Church in Maine, to be part of the heart of my ministry. Please share the journey with me by offering prayers and following my messages home to Maine.

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Seriously grown-ups: these kids can pray you under the table

By Liz Graves
St. Saviour’s, Bar Harbor

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

“Who knows how the awareness of God’s love first hits people?” Frederick Buechner wrote. “Some moment happens in your life that you say yes, right to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen.”

When high school teens and adults from across Maine, and a few from New Hampshire, converged at Trinity Church in Portland in February for the annual diocesan “Teens Encounter Christ” (TEC) high school weekend retreat, there were a lot of those moments.

We gathered on a Friday night for music and the parish hall was packed. More than 30 high school participants and 11 teen staff were led by two co-“rectors” of the retreat, CJ Wallace of St. Ann’s, Windham, and Kate Rogers of Trinity.

Building a safe, close community to experience and share those “yes!” moments is what youth ministry is all about.

“I told [the teen staff] that we have to be a team during this weekend, all of us, and that part of being a team is watching out for each other and making sure we leave no one behind,” CJ said in an email after the retreat. “Then I just tried to lead by example. It wasn’t easy, because I’m not really as outgoing as I probably appeared, but I was the leader so it was my duty to show everyone where I wanted this weekend to go.”

More than 20 adults were mixed in, too—some had brought teens with them, some wanted to learn about the program and try to start another one elsewhere. As a member of Diocesan Council, I, too, wanted to learn more and offer support to youth ministry in the diocese.

As a former youth minister and Episcopal camp leader, I had heard that the “Teens Encounter Christ” retreat was similar to “Happening” retreats that draw inspiration from Cursillo. I didn’t know what to expect.

The core group of volunteers who developed this retreat in Maine and have shepherded it through its long life had an uphill climb this year following Diocesan staff restructuring.

Despite those challenges, I was blown away by the effectiveness of the retreat. Youth and young adult leaders leading worship and giving short talks spoke from deep conviction and experience. The structure of small group discussion builds towards a powerful healing prayer service Sunday morning.

“You get to meet a lot of people and some of them are incredibly intelligent and thoughtful when it comes to God,” CJ said. “These events are fun and provide a safe environment for everyone no matter your background. I hope the participants came away knowing that Jesus is that friend who will help you out anytime anywhere. That is incredibly important.”

Seriously, grown-ups: these kids can pray you under the table.

 

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Godspeed, Canon Vicki Wiederkehr

Canon Vicki Wiederkehr (left) on Saturday joined by her sisters Pam and Deb.

Canon Vicki Wiederkehr (left) on Saturday joined by her sisters Pam and Deb.

Seventy-five people from across the Diocese of Maine gathered on Saturday morning at St. Mark’s in Waterville to give thanks for the ministry of Vicki Wiederkehr, Canon for Transition and Ministry Development, as she retires after 16 years on diocesan staff. In his remarks, Bishop Steve Lane said, “I think if you asked Vicki, she would say that she has done nothing remarkable – she has simply acted out of her love and care for God’s people – which is, in fact, the remarkable thing.”

Surrounded by her husband, Dan; two of her five sisters, Pam of  New York and Deb of Yarmouth; two of her children, Sarah of Freeport and Emily of Portland; and two of her four grandchildren, Maya and Grover, Vicki listened as 18 people stood to share their thanks and appreciation for her ministry. Several gave thanks on behalf of their congregations for her support to their transition processes, some clergy members shared appreciation for her pastoral care and friendship in times of sorrow, staff colleagues paid tribute to her example of professionalism and dedication.

As clergy and lay alternates at the 2006 General Convention in Columbus, Ohio,  the Rev. Calvin Sanborn and Vicki confer or goof off. It's hard to tell.

As clergy and lay alternates at the 2006 General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, the Rev. Calvin Sanborn and Vicki confer or goof off. It’s hard to tell.

With her retirement on June 27, Vicki will mark more than 25 years in the employ of the Episcopal Church. She started her career as a parish administrator in New York (working with the Rev. David Heald, now priest of St. Nicholas’, Scarborough.) When she and her family moved to Brunswick, she became the executive assistant to the Rt. Rev. Harold “Hoppy” Hopkins in the Office of Pastoral Development, a national church office based, during his tenure, in Yarmouth. She held that post for seven years. Bishop Hopkins’ retirement and the move of the office back to the Episcopal Church Center coincided with the election of Bishop Chilton Knudsen and, in 1998, she came to work for the Diocese of Maine. In 2002 she was named Canon for Ministry and Program. With the retirement of Canon Linton Studdiford in 2008, she added transition ministry to her portfolio.

Godspeed and God bless, Vicki!

Heidi Shott and Vicki (aka Pedro and Manny) in the Sunday River Chondala at the 2011 Convention. Photo by Michael Gleason.

Heidi Shott and Vicki (aka Pedro and Manny) in the Sunday River Chondala at the 2011 Convention. Photo by Michael Gleason.

Below are Bishop Steve’s remarks from Saturday’s service:

All of us who are baptized have a vocation to serve God in God’s world. Baptism both initiates our call to serve and empowers us for service. Moreover, it’s our confession that in baptism we receive all that we need to exercise our vocation, all the gifts we need to do the work God has invited us to do. Whoever we are… whatever our circumstances… we have all we need to share in God’s project of reconciliation.

That’s not how the world thinks about these matters, of course. These days, even the most basic occupation requires extensive education. We think in terms of degrees and certificates, in terms of the specific, sometimes highly arcane and technical, skills that are required for various kinds of work. A lot of us will be carrying the debt of our educations for decades.

Moreover today’s workplace is highly competitive. One can hardly rest on one’s laurels. Continuing education is a constant requirement. We have similar expectations in the church: we expect our clergy to be highly educated and expert at addressing issues as diverse as budgeting, fundraising, public speaking, volunteer management and suicide prevention. As a result of this kind of thinking, I believe it’s often the case that we exercise our ministries in the service of God with a certain hesitancy, a certain timidity. We aren’t sure we have what it takes, aren’t sure we can take the necessary risks.

But listen to what Jesus has to say… You are the salt of the earth – the flavoring for all God’s creation. You are the light of the world called to shed divine light into the darkest corners of the world. You are God’s chosen, God’s ministers. Be bold. Be brave. Stand on a lamp stand for all to see. And shine, shine, shine!

The power for our ministries is rooted not in education – although education is helpful – but in the confidence that we are loved by God, sent by God to share that love, and accompanied by God in all our doubts and uncertainties. God provides what we need for our part in God’s mission.

It’s very encouraging to all who of us who call ourselves Christian to see someone act in such confidence and share the love of God with his or her neighbors. That, quite simply, is what Vicki Wiederkehr has done among us.

We know Vicki as a loving presence, who loves the beauty of the natural world, flowers and trees; who loves children, her own and others; and who loves us. We who have had the pleasure of working with Vicki have felt the respect and love which Vicki has offered us. She brings to her work great care for people’s commitments and sensitivity to their emotional life. She cares for not only for the decisions that we need to make, but for how we feel about those decisions. She is voice reminding us that people need time to think, to process, to change.

Vicki has also reminded us of the sacramental nature of all ministry. It’s about relationships, about care for people, about the presence of God in people and things. Her ministry of caring for the sacred vessels and for the memorial gifts of churches that have closed has been inspiring

I think if you asked Vicki, she would say that she has done nothing remarkable – she has simply acted out of her love and care for God’s people – which is, in fact, the remarkable thing. In the midst of all the pressures to get her work done, to find clergy for the congregations, to follow the Title IV processes, to increase compliance with the requirements for safe church training, and all the rest, she has remembered that we are God’s people, and she has treated us that way.

Vicki has been clear with me that she doesn’t want long flowery speeches or flowing tributes, so I won’t carry on. Yet I believe she has put her light on a lampstand so that it gives light to the whole room. And all of us have responded to the light.

In a moment there will be a brief opportunity for you to share recollections about Vicki’s ministry. For now let me simply say, “Thank you.” Thank you, Vicki for the love and respect that has characterized your ministry. Thank you for your devotion, for your patience, for your steadfastness – for your commitment to God and us. You have flavored our life in the Diocese of Maine in a way that we will savor for years to come.

Amen.

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The Church Bully

by the Rev. Tim Fleck
St. Andrew & St. John, Southwest Harbor and St. Saviour’s, Bar Harbor

Tim-headshotWhen I was a child, I knew and my friends knew what a bully was: A bully was a kid who beat up or threatened to beat up other kids. The quintessential bully who comes to mind is the yellow-eyed coonskin-capped Scut Farkus of “The Christmas Story,” terrorizing other kids apparently just for the thrill of it (or at least so it seemed to his victims). The idea of bullying someone online or adults bullying one another in the workplace would not have made sense to us kids.

Recently, though, the term “bullying” has expanded to include all sorts of manipulative behavior or speech, not necessarily threatening physical violence, but using intimidation and fear to get others to do what one wants. The fact that bullying has sometimes been overused to describe any sort of behavior that we don’t like or any kind of speech that hurts our feelings doesn’t change the truth that real bullying does take place. Thank goodness that we live and work together in the Church, a place where bullying could never happen, right?

Sadly, the church is not immune from bullies. In fact, our churchy instinct to be nice, to be pastoral, to give one another the benefit of the doubt creates a perfect habitat for bullying. Physical abuse or threats are rare (although they happen), but there are other kinds of manipulation and intimidation. Let’s have a look at the natural history of some of our native church bullies:

The Financial Bully: This person lets it be known, either explicitly or tacitly, that his or her financial support for the church is contingent on getting his or her way. This is especially powerful if the parish is reliant on a small number of large givers, but can occur around even small sums of money. Ironically, someone perceived as a major financial supporter can be treated as a financial bully even if he or she is not: “We’d better not change that, because Mrs. van der Guilder might withdraw her pledge” – when Mrs. V has never indicated that she might do any such thing.

The Long-Term Bully: This person is similar to the financial bully, but the threat is not about withdrawing money but withdrawing long-term membership: “My family have been members of this church since it was founded, but I don’t know if I can stay here if you do X.”

The Indispensable Bully: This person has set himself up as the only person who knows how to do a particular ministry or meet a particular need. He or she may have others convinced that the church will not be able to function if he or she is not there, so you’d better not tick him or her off.

The Knowledge Bully: Similar to the Indispensable Bully, but using perceived superior knowledge as a weapon. Clergy are particularly prone to this kind of bullying (“I went to seminary, and I know what an epiclesis is, so just do what I say. You probably wouldn’t understand it, anyway.”), but it can also occur among those with any type of specialized knowledge that can be used to cow others: financial, liturgical, musical, or even knowledge of parish history.

The Emotional Bully: As a church, we are called to respond pastorally to our brothers and sisters in need. This bully takes advantage of that by making it clear that he or she will fall apart emotionally if things don’t go his or her way. This bully can also engage in all sorts of outrageous behavior, but need not be held accountable because he or she is perceived as emotionally fragile.

The Angry Bully: A particular type of Emotional Bully, relies on the fact that many church people cannot stand to see someone actually express anger, and will do anything to get him or her to calm down.
Have you experienced any of these types of bullying in church? This list is far from exhaustive. If you find yourself walking on eggshells around particular people or particular subjects, look around for the bully. If you experience someone engaging in behavior that would never be tolerated in another setting (insulting or belittling others, shutting down conversation, keeping secrets or having secret conversations about others, threats, emotional blackmail), you may be being bullied. If a group or person has been given the responsibility to carry out a task only to have their authority undercut, a bully may be at work.

scut

Scut Farkus (right) with his sidekick Grover Dill

Of course, it’s one thing to identify bullying, but quite another to put a stop to it. In “The Christmas Story,” Scut Farkus gets his comeuppance when his victim Ralphie flies into a berserk rage and pummels him bloody. While perhaps satisfying, this is not recommended (in fact, it is not even satisfying for Ralphie: he is so overwhelmed by his own rage that he bursts into tears and has to be taken home by his mom).

The element of truth in the story, though, is that bullies usually can’t stand up to being challenged. Jesus gives us a pretty good plan for dealing with bullies in the church in Matthew 18:15-17:

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

If it feels like you are being bullied, call the bully on it. He or she may not even be aware that his or her behavior is bullying. Check yourself, though, to make sure that you are not functioning as an emotional bully yourself when you do this, using your own feelings of discomfort to get your way. Are you uncomfortable because you are being intimidated, or are you just frustrated that things are not going your way? Is someone threatening you, or are they simply pointing out how you have hurt them?

If that doesn’t work, try taking a small group – ideally people who are trusted by the bully as well as by you. Again, though, make sure that you are not bullying in turn: “I’ve got this whole group of people here who back me up, so you’d better back down.”

One hopes that bullying does not rise to the level of needing to be called out before the whole church, but when the behavior of one person or a small group threatens to sabotage the ministry of an entire congregation, it may be necessary to tell them in love that certain behaviors will not be tolerated, even in church. This is not a matter of saying that the church doesn’t love them unless they straighten up (remember Jesus’ attitude toward Gentiles and tax collectors?). This is a matter of being together in one Body, and working to make sure that every member of the Body has the opportunity to live up to the image and likeness of God in whom we were created.

– reprinted with permission from the June 2014 editions of the St. Saviour’s Voice and The Net Tender

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