Category Archives: Christ Church Biddeford

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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Filed under Christ Church Biddeford, Ministry and Outreach, Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center, Social Justice

Seeds of Hope: the power of belonging

by the Rev. Shirley Bowen
Executive Director of Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center in Biddeford
a Mission Enterprise Zone of The Episcopal Church

On a cold March morning I joined Biddeford’s General Assistance Director to visit the home of one of our neighbors. I had contacted the neighbor the week prior to inquire about his sister, a regular at Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center. He confirmed the rumor that his sister had been given a terminal cancer diagnosis and that she had just weeks to live. I asked if I and the GA Director could visit. He gladly welcomed us.

Even after making many home visits over the years, I always feel sadness when I enter the living spaces of some apartments in our neighborhood. I am reminded that it is hard to feel hopeful when one’s surroundings are so dark and marginal. I gave a brief thanks for the space we have been able to create at our neighborhood center, offering a “hang out” which is bright and welcoming.

The beautiful young woman we were visiting had a life so abusive and damaging, I have often wondered at her resilience. When she was 15 her mother said she would “give” her daughter to a man 20 years her senior for $500. To this day her brother cries when he tells the story, knowing that he was too young at the time to intervene. She was physically abused by this man until she finally had enough and left.

Unfortunately, the person who was “helpful” to her in her escape was an addict. Thankfully, she eventually extricated herself from that lifestyle to return home to start working. All who knew her said she worked very hard and was generous to those who needed help. She kept a motherly eye on the neighborhood children and made sure they knew they had someone in their corner.

Because of her hard life, she eventually suffered an aneurism and a stroke which left her physically and cognitively impaired. Her struggle became much worse. She was frequently bullied by people in the town and, to cope with all her pain, she often turned to drugs for self-medication. When she first came to Christ Church, it was clear that she didn’t understand what was happening in the service, but it was apparent that she felt welcome and knew that God was at the heart of our community. She always joined us in prayer. She also came to me just a few months before her death when her mother passed away. As we prayed together, I saw her cry for the first time.

When Seeds of Hope opened, she became a regular, always looking for a cup of coffee, a little breakfast and some company. She took pride in her appearance and loved giving hugs to anyone who showed her an ounce of kindness. Over the next five years, we saw a steady decline in her health and in her ability to care for herself. We made regular reports to adult protective services, but, because she refused all assistance and had a private guardian, our attempts to get her help were blocked. We were informed that unless we believed her to be an immediate threat to herself or others by the local police there was nothing that could be done. Eventually she became incontinent, incoherent in conversation and, on occasion, agitated and hostile, which only increased the abuse she received from others. Although our hands were tied, we kept feeding her and loving her until she disappeared for a period of time. It was then we heard about her diagnosis.

Seeing her at her brother’s was quite a shock. Although she was now receiving regular personal hygiene care from hospice and looked better than she had for months, she had also started wasting away. All her bones were evident and she had stopped eating. We are unclear whether she knew who we were, but we reminisced with her, got an occasional smile, and tried to calm her as her anxiety kept her bouncing around the room like a pin ball.

We quickly learned that her brother had no means to pay for her burial (they had just buried their mother a few months before). I offered to do her service, and the GA Director put him in touch with a local funeral home whose staff is excellent in working with the poor in our community. Her brother’s astonishment at the love we expressed for his sister was touching. He had not realized there was a community that had loved her for more than years.

She passed, peacefully in her sleep, and we quickly began making arrangements. The volunteers of Seeds of Hope offered to bring in food for a reception after the service. Neighbors, volunteers and community members attended her service and a large crowd of neighbors attended the reception. Her family was overwhelmed at the ways in which we encircled them, sharing the love we had for her with them.

At the end of the reception, after all the wonderful volunteers cleaned up and distributed leftover food to her family and to some of our neighbors, I sat quietly in my office and said out loud: this is church. WE ARE THE CHURCH. We are a community of souls who have come to love and serve each other. Some come from a clear understanding that the love of God is at the heart of our work; others just know that belonging means giving and sharing, and for some this is the most powerful experience of belonging they have ever known. We don’t have weekly services and we certainly don’t have pledging units, but we have sacramental moments at the times our neighbors are yearning to connect with the sacred. And we have love. And isn’t that what Jesus called us to?

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Filed under Christ Church Biddeford, Ministry and Outreach, Ministry Storytelling, Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center

Letting go leads to rebirth in Biddeford

The Rev. Shirley Bowen, executive director of the Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center housed at Christ Church in Biddeford, tells a great story. Check out her article featured in the August edition of Vestry Papers.

She describes the transformation made by the people of  Christ Church in becoming a ministry-centered neighborhood center with the Baptismal Covenant at the heart of their service to their neighbors.

This was a critical moment in the life of the parish. With an endowment already in place, the parish could have decided to reduce the priest-in-charge position to an even smaller percentage and continue for a very long time. Or, the parish could listen to the Baptismal Covenant, take the risk of expending all its endowed income on serving others, and possibly eventually close or become something very different. We chose the latter, and have never once looked back in sorrow.

Read it all here.

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Filed under Christ Church Biddeford, Ministry and Outreach, Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center, Social Justice

News from Christ Church, Biddeford

From the Rev. Shirley Bowen, rector of Christ Church –

This month Christ Episcopal Church in Biddeford will suspend its Sunday services and be at rest until the annual Diocesan Convention in October 2013. We see this not as a closing of a church but as a transformation of a ministry. The parish will be in recess but the offspring of the church, Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center is growing and open for all in need. We are forming new partnerships and caring for our neighbors in new ways. I will continue to offer weekly services and pastoral care for our neighbors.

On Sunday, Dec. 23 at 3:00 p.m. we will have a Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Christ Church and its ministry to God’s people in Biddeford. Bishop Stephen Lane and several diocesan leaders will be in attendance to acknowledge this transition.

In the coming weeks, you will learn more about our partnership with the Biddeford Housing Authority/Learning Works/YouthBuild. We believe this will be an exceptional collaboration and are excited about how we will be better positioned to serve our neighbors.

If you’re able, we would love to have you join us on the 23rd. Click here for an invitation.


Filed under Christ Church Biddeford, Congregational Events, Congregations in Transition