Category Archives: Faith Development

Enrich your faith by understanding other traditions at the Downeast Spiritual Life Conference


With the success of the first Downeast Spiritual Life Conference in 2012, the steering committee and the people of St. Francis by the Sea in Blue Hill are excited to welcome attendees to the conference on Friday and Saturday, August 23 and 24. All sessions and lodging will be at the Atlantic Oceanfront Hotel in Bar Harbor.

This year’s conference — Spirituality in Our times: Embracing Diversity, Creating Community — is committed to the multi-faith approach to the life of the spirit. How do we embrace and value other’s faith traditions and deepen our own faith by learning from other faith traditions? How can we create a broader and more inclusive community of the faithful?

One way is to hear from those who have done it. Join key leaders of the interfaith movement — Muslim, Jewish and Christian — and learn how they are successfully building communities of faith that broaden and enrich the spiritual lives of all their members.
“This conference is an opportunity for all of us to deepen our own faith and not merely an exercise in religious tolerance,” said the Rev. Claudia Smith, rector of St. Francis, Blue Hill. “We wish to go far beyond tolerance for, and a surface understanding of, other faiths to an embracing of diversity. In other words we wish to use a deeper understanding of other faith traditions to enrich our own spiritual practices.”

Primary speakers Eboo Patel, Muslim director of the Interfaith Youth Core; writer and Christian religious educator Elizabeth Drescher; and Rabbi Or Rose, director of the Center for Global Judaism at Hebrew College, will help bring religious diversity to life.

Two additional workshop leaders – Robert A. Jonas and George Emlen – will show us how to find spiritual sustenance in “dual belonging” and how to join hearts and lift spirits through singing.

New! A Pre-Conference Retreat.
This year you can participate in a one-day spiritual retreat with renowned inter-spiritual educator and author Mirabai Starr. One Love, A Contemplative Experience is a celebration of the interconnected wisdom of the world’s spiritual paths. You will learn how to apply the mystical and social-justice teachings of many religions to your lives. You will explore mystical poetry and sacred scriptures of different faiths, practice powerful writing exercises, and engage in brief contemplative practices–all ways to touch the unifying love that underlies all the worlds’ spiritual paths. Mirabai will joined be renowned singer /songwriter Jenny Bird.

New! More Workshops
This year we are offering five workshops to choose from:

The Power of Interfaith Cooperation with Eboo Patel
Kabbalah and Contemporary American Culture with Rabbi Or Rose
Distributed Spirits: Compassion, Connection and Community in the Land Between Religion with Elizabeth Drescher
Jesus and Buddha: Spiritual Guides for the 21st Century with Robert Jonas
Building Community through Song with George Emlen

New! A Location by the Sea
The conference will take place on the shores of Frenchman’s Bay in Bar Harbor. All events will be in one location — the conference center at the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel. For your convenience, discounted rates at the hotel and its sister properties are available for conference participants. Book early!

New! Optional Early Morning Yoga or Meditation
Take advantage of our free early morning yoga and meditation sessions to help you ground yourself for a day of learning and sharing.

Benefit Concert with Noel Paul Stookey
We are again blessed to have Noel Paul Stookey share his rich, lyric-driven music with us. The songs in One & Many: A Musical Village will tell a story. They speak to compassion. To hopeful reminders that the presence of love in story and song can provide healing and forgiveness. For Noel it is the “Something’ we keep seeking — and sometimes find simply in the ‘one and many’ around us.” A fundraising event, the concert supports the 2014 Downeast Spiritual Life Conference and is open to the public without conference registration.

New! Group Rates
Group rates apply for groups of ten or more. To register your group, call 207.374.5200.

Everything you need to join us is at or at 207.374-5200. Learn about our speakers, register for events, and see how to participate in a variety of activities planned just for you.

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Belfast teens living and learning modern day parables

By the Rev. Martha Kirkpatrick
St. Margaret’s Church, Belfast

Driving home in a beat up Toyota...

Driving home in a beat up Toyota…

It looks like a sunny May afternoon in the St. Margaret’s parish hall, the room filled with teens and adults from St. Margaret’s, First Church UCC, the First Baptist Church and the Game Loft,  gathered for the next installment of Encounters. But we know it is a cold December day in the fictitious town of New Salem, Maine, not far from Belfast, in 2009. In this “HBO miniseries,” the central characters are a class of 13-year-olds of diverse social backgrounds and family situations. All of us, including the adults, have a main character that we play, as well as play several other characters to fill out a scene.


One last question at the end of the afternoon…

Welcome to “Encounters Episode 5 — A Stranger in Need,” where things have gotten very interesting in the town of New Salem. A mysterious stranger has appeared, a 13-year-old boy who calls himself Drew has hitchhiked his way from somewhere south and is apparently headed for Canada. We play out the scenes, making decisions as we go depending on our character’s situation and character traits. Drew is picked up and taken home by a kind local family, the Bucklins, who privately express concern that he might be a run-away, and contact the local police officer. Christopher Bucklin, who shares his room with Drew, looks in Drew’s wallet while he is sleeping and discovers that he is in fact, Justin Bieber. He decides to tell no one. Justin/Drew goes to school with Christopher, where he meets the rest of the 8th grade class. The responses of the class to this stranger are unscripted; we play it out in character. Antonio is resentful. Drew is  handsome and is attracting the attention of a girl Antonio has a crush on. My character, Emily, likes Drew, and is very curious as to why he has ended up in New Salem. Christopher tells Olivia Drew’s real identity. Olivia has a huge crush on J Bieb, but she is also gossipy. Can she keep the secret? She agrees not to tell anyone in exchange for a promise of J Bieb’s autograph.

The school bus drops the students off, and, as they are walking home, Drew and a couple of his new friends notice they are being tailed by a black SUV. Drew quickly gives his trademark hat to a shy boy, Ethan, and scuttles away with the help of Christopher and his younger brother. Ethan finds himself confronted by a thug in the black sedan named Turk, who angrily demands to know where he got that hat and drags Ethan into the black SUV. The scenes follow in rapid succession, The thugs end up at the police station where they prove no match for the police officer. A frustrated Ethan has an angry phone conversation with his mother, who thinks he is fantasizing again and refuses to believe he has been kidnapped. Drew and Christopher realize they have to get Drew hidden, so they (miming) tie sheets together and climb out the bedroom window so their father, who is downstairs reading up on early church history, won’t know they have left. They make their way to an abandoned house, where they plan to hide Drew and make arrangements to bring him food and water. Drew is hiding in the closet, and he hears a door in the house creak, and footsteps on the stairs …. stay tuned for the next Episode…

Next we are sitting in a circle at in the Parish Hall, back in our real personae. As the clergy of the host church today, I read the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). We talk about how living the Christian life is about taking care of each other, and how, when we don’t, we isolate ourselves. We explore how each character reacted to the stranger. We pass around our talking stick (actually, “Herbert,” a mechanical plastic 4-legged toy) and each person gets to say something (or pass) about what struck them that day. Patricia or Ray Estabrook gives a one-minute sermon, and we end with our acclamation — “This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it!”

Thus goes a typical session of Encounters, our ecumenical teen faith group in Belfast. We always meet on a Sunday at noon, and begin with a reminder of our basic ground rules for how we treat each other, grace, and lunch. Our signature warm-up activities help us to listen to each other and our particular version of “fruitbasket” gets our blood moving and gets us ready for our roleplay.

We started the Encounters program last year, and are now in our second full “season.” The design team of the clergy from the three churches and the Game Loft had as the program objective to help teens see how God is at work in daily life, seen through parables constructed for the present day. The other objective is to have fun! After the “pilot” we got the feedback from the youth in the program, who to a person said “this was so much fun and much better than I expected!” We don’t take a didactic approach; we learn by doing and get to try on responses to ethical challenges through roleplay in a safe environment. I have watched shy children blossom in character, and there are many situations where a scene in New Salem mirrors a situation in real life, like a strained relationship with a parent or a bully at school. Roleplay gives us a safe place to explore what it means to be a Christian in the midst of these challenges.

We recently received a Diocesan grant to develop materials for use by other church groups who would like to develop a roleplay based program for Christian education.  Interested? find us on Facebook at www.facebook.comBelfastEncounters, and contact me at St. Margaret’s Church in Belfast, or Patricia Estabrook at the Game Loft at or 338-3800.

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Check out the Maine Campus Ministry Blog

Diocese of Maine Campus Missioner, the Rev. Shirley Bowen, is blogging over at

She responds the question provocative question posed to a group of college students, “What does the church have to say to me about sex?”

She writes, in part:

This was the question to and resounding response from a large group of students in a session I joined at a recent bi-annual Episcopal College Student Conference in Colorado between Christmas and New Years. Students from around the country gathered to talk about matters of faith, culture and their lives. The session covered many ethical issues students face.

Although silent until that moment, I couldn’t remain so any more. “I’d like to push back against that response, if you don’t mind. I think the church has a great deal to say to young adults about sex.” There were a few eye rolls, but they politely said, “Sure. Go ahead.” I could read it in their smirks; they were expecting Just Say No. But as we all know, sexual intimacy is much more complicated than that. This is what they heard…

Read it all here.

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First Downeast Spiritual Life Conference a Success!

signing books

More than 450 people from as far away as Switzerland and Arizona found solace, grew spiritually, and pondered new ideas after attending the first annual Downeast Spiritual Life Conference in late August.  Feedback was exuberant. Overheard were remarks such as “This was one of the best organized conferences I’ve ever attended” and “great speakers!” A retired bishop wrote that he loved the conference and received much from it for his own spiritual journey. Clearly God was at work guiding this event.

Speaker styles ranged from passionately exuberant (Andrew Harvey) and down-home funny (Phyllis Tickle) to winsome and wise (Fr. Richard Rohr). Each primary speaker and workshop leader

Andrew Harvey

communicated his or her own particular message about the importance of the spiritual life.  Andrew Harvey brought the Sufi mystical poet Rumi to life and showed how the poet’s message was still viable in the 21st century. Fr. Rohr reminded listeners that the second half of a life should not be spent remodeling the bathroom numerous times … that there are more important late-life issues at stake. And Phyllis Tickle explained her theory about the reforming of Christianity every 500 years, claiming that we have reached the age where the Holy Spirit, rather than the son or the father, is the driving force and focus of Christianity.

Phyllis Tickle

In addition to fine speakers, the weather, special events coordinator Leanne Batten, the Steering Committee, and scores of volunteers came together to make the event a huge success.  Volunteers steered attendees to safe and “ticketless” parking spaces, others passed out almost 200 box lunches, sold books and music CDs, worked at the registration desk, put up signs, passed out maps, and so much more.  The result was an event that was bigger than the sum of its parts.
Music helped frame the conference. As the retired bishop said, “people learn in different ways and how wonderful that this program was bookended by such fabulous music that reinforced the message of the conference.

The number of attendees was astounding. Even though we announced the event to the Town of Ellsworth’s business

Fr. Richard Rohr

community through the Chamber of Commerce newsletter and via solicitation of program ads, business owners and others in Ellsworth commented that they were “amazed” at the number of people on Main Street on Friday and Saturday. One business owner said that she had never seen so many “happy and patient” tourists come into her shop.

Noel Paul Stookey and the Rev. Betty Stookey

Sales of tickets to the conference and the workshops were swift. Less swift were ticket sales to the Paul Winter Concert, the main fundraiser for next year’s conference. However, ticket sales picked up with more than 350 tickets sold by concert time.

Financially, the event was also a success. The Spiritual Life & Learning Center at St. Francis that sponsored the conference will pay the church about $15,000 in conference profits to help offset its deficit.  The Saturday night concert raised $4,600 as seed money for next year’s conference. That money plus other funds, including a donation from the Bishop’s discretionary fund, brings seed money for next year to about $7,000.

Paul Winter

To ensure that the next conference will be as good if not better than this year’s event, the Steering Committee will email a survey to all who attended. Feedback will guide future conferences.

Next year’s conference will be at the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel and Conference Center in Bar Harbor. Plans for that event are already falling onto place; names of speakers and workshop presenters will be announced in January.

all photos by Marjorie Vaughan

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WWJD revisited

The Rev. John Rafter, rector of St. Thomas’, Camden, invites you to weigh in:

Ten or fifteen years ago, the youth in the church I was serving then, as well as many of their friends around town, wore wristbands with the letters WWJD, short for What Would Jesus Do? As you may know, WWJD was a sort of stripped-down version of theological reflection, encouraging young people to make ethical decisions based on Jesus’ example. “If he were in this situation that I’m in, what would Jesus do?”
I’ve thought about WWJD recently in the context of the contemporary church. We have been called by God to live and minister in this time of profound change in our culture, and in the Christian Church itself. All of us responsible for making decisions in these times — and that’s all of us, whether a member of the vestry, a service guild, a committee, the staff, the clergy, or the congregation; whether doing outreach, planning a budget, teaching a class, preparing for worship, or showing up to pray — all of us desire to build up the church and serve the needs of the community. And so we seek the best and latest information, share important ideas, and work hard to be both creative and faithful.
And, of course, we pray. But speaking for myself at least, I sometimes pray for the success of what I want to do for God, when I should be praying for the success of what God wants to do through me. Knowing that about myself, I think the question for the Church to ask in these times is not, “What do we think we ought to do?” The question is not even, “What would Jesus do?” The question we really need to be asking is, What would Jesus have us do?
So what surprises do you think God might have in mind that we never even dreamed of?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


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Holy Week video meditation from Bishop Steve – Good News

Here is the last meditation from Bishop Steve Lane’s Lenten series on practicing the presence of God.

The text version is here.

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What is Our Hope: A video meditation from Bishop Steve

Bishop Steve offers this reflection on practicing the presence of God.

The text version is here.

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We are already home: Bishop Steve’s video reflection

Live from Portland! It’s Wednesday in Lent!

Bishop Steve Lane offers a video reflection on practicing the presence of God.

The text version is here.

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Saying Yes – Wednesday reflections in Lent

This week, Bishop Steve share the fourth in a series of Lenten meditations on practicing the presence of God.

He says,

The heaviness with which so many of us view ourselves, the desire we have to be somehow other or better than we are, misses the truth that God created us and loves us as we are.

or read it here.

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Wednesdays in Lent: a new video reflection from Bishop Steve

Who am I?  What do I want to do?

Here is the third in a weekly series of reflections on practicing the presence of God.

Read the text version here.

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