Category Archives: Ministry Storytelling

“We must not let fear become another closet. “

by the Rev. Calvin Sanborn
Rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church, York Harbor, Maine

[Ed. Note: The Rev. Calvin Sanborn was invited to share his reaction to the Orlando shooting at a gathering earlier this week at Maine Street, a gay nightclub in Ogunquit. Pretty sure it’s where Jesus would have turned up.]

The Rev. Calvin Sanborn, center, marches with other Maine Episcopalians and hundreds from across the Church at a march against gun violence in Salt Lake City last year.

The Rev. Calvin Sanborn, center, marches with other Maine Episcopalians and hundreds from across the Church at a march against gun violence in Salt Lake City last year during the Episcopal Churches General Convention.

Let me begin by expressing my gratitude to Jimmie, Eddie and Normand for organizing this event. As we struggle with myriad emotions in the wake of the horrific and terrifying act of hatred toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Orlando over the weekend, it is SO good to be together. Thank you!

I learned about the shooting in Orlando as I was just about to begin my first service at St. George’s in York last Sunday. A beloved member of the congregation who has a gay brother in Orlando shared the news with me.

My gut immediately clenched, and my heart began to ache. It was difficult to absorb the words. I had to begin the service, so I did my best to maintain my composure, succeeding up until it was time to lead the congregation in prayer. At that moment I found myself unable to speak.

Through tears I could no longer hold back, after a few moments, I managed to choke the words out.

As a priest and a person of faith, of course, prayer is meaningful and important to me, but I’m not here tonight just because I’m a priest. I’m also here because I’m a gay man. I’m here because I know why an attack on a gay night club is so uniquely painful to the lgbtq community, our community.

I’m blessed be a part of a faith community where I’m not expected to hide or be silent or afraid. In my tradition I’m reminded on a daily basis that I’m imperfect, yes, but beautiful and beloved and holy in the eyes of God as is every single person here.

In the past few days, memories of my own nights in my early 20s spent with my friend Stephanie going out to clubs in the greater Boston area have been flooding my mind. I was there to dance, to celebrate, to feel joy. I was there to be surrounded by people like myself and to know that I was safe in the company of people who understood me in a way that other people did not.

I didn’t grow up in a community where I could count on that. I grew up in a small town in rural Maine. While my friends and family there loved me, I knew that love required me to keep parts of myself hidden. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case, but in my 20s it was, and, in those clubs, I didn’t have to hide.

As we honor the memory of the 49 people who were brutally murdered in their own safe space, I think it’s important to remember that they were not only lgbtq people, but also people of color. Several news reports have noted that many were from families who came to know their child’s sexual identity only because of this tragedy. Many of them may have been at Pulse because they, too, needed a place where they didn’t have to hide.

As we contend with our grief and our hurt and our fear and as we rally our strength and our pride for action, it is vital that we resist any and all attempts to erase or deny reality. This crime was a hate crime. I refuse to let that fact be ignored. These murders were of lgbtq people and their loved ones because they were lgbtq, and that is damn scary!

And that’s when I come back to being a priest in the Episcopal Church. I recognize that my faith and my traditions may not be shared by everyone in this place, and I completely respect and honor that. But I feel that there are parts of my faith, and yours too, that have meaning for us all. I’m blessed be a part of a faith community where I’m not expected to hide or be silent or afraid. In my tradition I’m reminded on a daily basis that I’m imperfect, yes, but beautiful and beloved and holy in the eyes of God as is every single person here.

And I follow the teachings of Jesus, a man who reminded his followers over and over and over again, “Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid. I say those words to you now.

We must not be afraid. We must not be silent. We must stand up. We must be proud.

We must NOT let this act of hatred cause us to shrink back into the shadows. We must not let fear become another closet. We must let the power that is in us and within our community well up and revive our commitment to seek justice, to be advocates for every person in this world who is being told that they are worthless, and to demand that safety and security are basic human rights.

We must honor the 49 lives lost in Orlando, and in so many other mass murders that have occurred in our country, by using our voices to support our leaders who value women, children, black people, latino people, gay people and transgender people. And we must help pass legislation to change our gun laws. Assault weapons do not belong on the streets.

And we must keep on dancing, keep on celebrating who we are, and keep on marching. We must never lose our pride!

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Filed under Ministry Storytelling, Social Justice, St. George's York Harbor

Creating a sheltered center with Ashes to Go

On Ash Wednesday, February 18, Maine churches offered dozens of services to mark the beginning of the season of Lent with the imposition of ashes. In five locations around the state, clergy and lay people shared God’s love with people they encountered on a street corner or in a parking lot. All those who took part were moved by the experience. Here are the stories and photos from several people who offered Ashes to Go in Brunswick, Farmington, Lewiston, Portland, and Windham.

Bishop Stephen Lane writes of his experience in Portland:

Bishop Lane and Canon Ambler listen to a young man at Monument Square.

Bishop Lane and Canon Ambler listen to a young man at Monument Square.

Today I had the privilege of sharing God’s love with folks in Portland’s Monument Square. From noon to 2, Michael Ambler and I prayed with and marked with ashes some 35 people who approached us and asked for some of our time. As each one came up we made a little circle, shared our names, and talked about what was on our hearts.

Those we prayed with were a remarkably diverse lot, of all ages and circumstances. Only two said there was nothing to pray about. The rest opened their hearts and shared deeply about their joys and sorrows. A young man in town for the day from New Jersey – and whose family was waiting in the car – asked to be a better father and to move closer to God, especially for the 15 month old in he car. A college student prayed for her sister who has Crohn’s disease and never smiles. A young mom asked prayers for her special needs daughter and her own efforts to do right by her. A homeless woman prayed for an apartment – and for her elderly mother in the hospital. A church goer who had forgotten today was Ash Wednesday asked prayers for her husband, who “just had a stroke.” Several people wished us to pray for peace – here and everywhere.

I was deeply moved by the experience. No one seemed to be running from the truth of life in this world. Everyone seemed pretty clear about mortality and sin. Some were church folks; some were not. And in the moment, each reached for community, for understanding, for a sign that God knows what it’s all about – and cares.

We do have great gifts to offer the world. I’m thankful for the chance to share God’s love and to be reminded how good it is.

The Rev. Cn. Michael Ambler was at Monument Square with Bishop Steve. He writes:

I was especially moved by how open people were willing to be about what’s going on in their lives.  We joined people in prayer for peace, for family members, for housing and stability, as well as in prayers of thanks for a great life.  We always know, when we pause to remember, that everyone passing us on the street has a story; but what a privilege to get a moment’s invitation to hear and pray about people’s lives.
It was also just great to have two of us there:  that meant that when someone came to receive ashes, we could form a little triangle, a space with a sheltered center. 
The Rev. Tim Higgins, rector of St. Ann’s, Windham staked out the parking lot at the Windham P.O. with Deacon Wendy Rozene. He writes:
Ash Wednesday has become for me one of the most fulfilling ministry days of the year. There is something about being in community where our folks live and work and offering them a true service of the Church, praying with folk and talking about the Episcopal Church in Windham and beyond. I am grateful to God for this opportunity and I realize that it could be the start of some other “ministry of presence” in the community.

Deacon Wendy Rozene talks with with a young man at Ashes to Go in 2014.

Deacon Wendy Rozene talks with a young man at the Windham post office in 2014.in the community where our folks live and work and offering them a true service of the Church, praying with folk and talking about the Episcopal Church in Windham and beyond. I am grateful to God for this opportunity and I realize that it could be the start of some other “ministry of presence” in the community.

We had little children with moms as well as elderly folk in their vehicle who couldn’t get out and we provided them “drive thru ashes.” We also offered “Ashes on the Go” to a Church member, accountant, who asked if I would stop by his office because he couldn’t make our service tonight.
One gentleman remarked,” this idea has inspired me so much that I’m NOT going to take Ashes to Go but I’m going to make the effort to go to Church tonight instead.” Amen! Isn’t that why we do what we do?
The Rev. Larry Weeks, rector of Trinity and priest in charge of St. Peter’s, Portland, took the morning shift at Monument Square with Dean Ben Shambaugh and Deacon Dick Rasner of St. Luke’s Cathedral. Larry, who has taken the lead on Ashes to Go since 2012, had this to say:

It was as usual a rare privilege to be with people. I find something revealing about the physicality of the ashes and imposing them, a holy spot is found.

A family of 4 kids and a mom brought over their grandfather, who prayed for his family, standing just behind him, beaming. Only the grandfather wanted ashes, and as they walked off, one of the grandchildren said, “See, I told you we would find a church.” We were a church! Wow.

Brenda Holman and the Rev. Tim Walmer on Main Street in Farmington

Brenda Holman and the Rev. Tim Walmer on Main Street in Farmington

The Rev. Tim Walmer of St. Luke’s, Wilton, and St. Barnabas’, Rumford, offered Ashes to Go for the first time in downtown Farmington. He was accompanied by St. Luke’s member Brenda Holman. Tim writes:

St. Luke’s secretary dropped by with her two children, and the oldest (aged 11) was reluctant. I told him No problem; you don’t have to.  Five minutes later he got out of the car and said, “I’ve changed my mind.”
One of our folks was with me, and we handed out cards with the prayer, “Life is short and we have not much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk the way with us; so be swift to love, make haste to be kind.”
All in all a moving experience, in part because we found ourselves doing something outside of our comfort zone.
St. Paul's, Brunswick, parishioner Jane Burke get ready to accompany Deacon Chick Carroll to offer Ashes to Go at the local soup kitchen.

St. Paul’s, Brunswick, parishioner Jane Burke get ready to accompany Deacon Chick Carroll to offer Ashes to Go at the local soup kitchen.

The Rev. Mary Lee Wile of St. Paul’s, Brunswick reports:

St. Paul’s sent five parishioners and two deacons out to four locations around Brunswick: the Soup Kitchen, Bowdoin College, the corner of Maine and Pleasant Streets, and (new this year, arranged by one of our parishioners) Midcoast Hospital. Total recipients of ashes and prayers = somewhere over 50. 

A story: a Jewish gentleman came back three times to talk about ashes in Hebrew Scripture, to thank us for being a public witness, and to listen in when someone requested ashes. Although he didn’t receive ashes himself, he said, “I like that prayer.” 
Klara Tammany, director of the Women’s Wisdom Center and member of Trinity, Lewiston, took Ashes to Go to Kennedy Park while the Rev. Steve Crowson shared Ashes to Go at the Trinity Jubilee Center. Klara writes:
Pat (a Methodist parishioner and clergy ordained through ChIME – the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine) and I were in Kennedy Park.  We used the traditional “Remember that you are made from dust and to you shall return.” but added at Pat’s suggestion “And remember that God loves you, now matter what.” 
 
We also asked if there were any prayer needs.  Several did request – one from a young man was for a friend who had died just three days prior. 
 
Another older couple came to us, walking hand in hand, having read about us in the paper.  They said they were Roman Catholic, and people had told them they should not come to us because we were not, but since the local St. Pat’s was now closed, they saw no reason not to come to us because they wanted to receive ashes and it was the only way they could do so.  They thanked us for being there. 
 
After we left the park, I took ashes to the women’s center.  A group of women who wanted to receive ashes, gathered in our meditation room.  A couple had never done this before. All were touched and thankful.

 

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Filed under Diocesan Life, Faith Development, From the Bishop, Ministry and Outreach, Ministry Storytelling

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

transforming ministry – moving from “you” to “we”

Musings from the Front Line of the Church
by Joseph Riddick
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Augusta

Epiphany 2013

Yesterday was “Super Saturday” at St. Mark’s Augusta, which meant Addie’s Attic and Everyday Basics were open and in the evening we had our Public Supper.  During the day I reflected on our bishop’s question at Diocesan Convention last October: “Where is the front line of your church?”  These are some observations about the front line of ministry from yesterday –

~ “Come inside where it is warm.  We will be open for distribution in an hour.”  People were arriving early and standing patiently in the cold waiting for Everyday Basics and Addie’s Attic to open.  Hospitality is to invite people into the warmth and that is what we did.  They waited patiently while we did our organizing and sorting.

~”We start the day with prayer and we invite you to join us.   Gather in a circle and hold hands while we offer thanks.” The circle was actually sort of an oval as people stood amidst chairs and tables to join in prayer – to be included in the community of believers.

~ “Where is my name badge?  Are there only name badges for St. Mark’s folks?”  I found the name badge and the person exhibited both a sense of relief as well as a sense of “I didn’t mean to imply that you were excluding me from volunteering.”  Deacon Rebecca made new name badges for all of the volunteers at Everyday Basics before she went into surgery this week.  It was a reminder that ALL God’s children want to be included.

~ “Where is Adam (a high school student who helped a few times in the fall)?”  Someone reported that she had seen Adam last week and that he would be working on Saturdays and not able to help.  The volunteers were saddened because they really like Adam and will miss him.  Five minutes later Adam walked in and asked, “Can I help?”  Not quite like the prodigal son returning but a real sense of joy that this ray of sunshine had come back to help.

~”Can I volunteer sometime?”  “Certainly,” I replied.  Then this worried look crossed the person’s face.  “I want to give back but I also need the supplies I get.  Is that possible?”  Of course!   It made me think about how people in poverty view those of us who help.  Do we look privileged?  Do we come across as wealthy?  How can we make sure that our humble offerings are given as humbly as possible to reduce barriers? 

~ ”Hmmm, not too many people today,” I said.  “The rush wasn’t too bad.”    And yet the people kept coming and coming and coming.  We ended the day with probably the largest number of guests we have had since we opened.  At 4 pm, I said, “let’s go upstairs to get ready for dinner.”  Someone said, “The dining room is closed.”  I laughed and said, “I know how to open the door – follow me.”  After checking with the kitchen, we poured into the dining room to await the delicious meal while being tempted by the wonderful smells wafting from the kitchen.

~ “You told me I could choose the tables for supper tonight – I know how to do it and it is easy.”  I smiled and told him that he was absolutely right.  “Remind me of your name,” I said.  I chuckled when I realized that I didn’t know his name because I would have remembered him as Joe.  I said, “It is the Joe and Joe Show tonight.”  He beamed.  A few minutes later he came up and asked, “How do I do this?”  “How do I choose?”  I told him which table was Number 1.   He balked, “They are always number 1.”  I told him how the people at that table left the dinners and led AA, NA, and Al-Anon groups in the evening and we wanted them fed so they could help other people.  “Ahhh, this may be more difficult than I thought.”  “By the way, when do we (Joe and Joe) eat?”  “After everyone has been fed,” I answered.  That was not well received. 

~ It was 5 pm and time to start the Public Supper.  I introduced Joe as part of the Joe and Joe team for the evening.  He beamed when he was recognized.   I started by talking about prayers for healing and that we needed to pray for Rebecca, [St. Mark’s deacon].  I called Rebecca on my cell phone and 125 people shouted out, “Get Well, Rebecca.”  She told me she couldn’t make out what they said and I had them repeat it.  It was spine tingling that these people wanted Rebecca to know how much they loved her and wished her a speedy recovery.  After that we invited the birthday and anniversary folks forward to blow out the candles on the chocolate/peanut butter cake Elaine had made.  I then said, “Let’s eat.”  Joe said, “But Joe, we haven’t said grace and we always say grace before eating at St. Mark’s Church.”  Everyone stood and we thanked God for the food, for the volunteers, for the people gathered, for the people not present and for wholeness and wellness for all of God’s people.  Then we ate.  The youth from the Unitarian Church were fully present preparing food, serving food, waiting tables, passing out Cake Pops and then cleaning up.  One of Rebecca’s co-workers made 180 Cake Pops for our dinner guests.  They were squares of cake on a lollipop stick.  These pops were worthy of being in the finest bakery in Maine.  Simply beautiful. 

~ The day was winding down.  I invited folks to stay and help clean up.  A young mother with two boys (4 and 6 years old) had made their first visit to Everyday Basics that afternoon.  They went home and then came back for dinner (15 minutes each way in the cold and snow).  The boys said, “Mom we want to help. We can stack chairs.”  And they did………. 

~ I was standing by the bread counter and Joe came up with a gentleman.  “Joe, this man needs help with heating oil.  Is there any way we can help?”  Did you catch the “we can help…..”  Not can you help but can we help.  Joe was starting to get that ministry is about “we”.  All of us working and helping each other. 

~ The day was another reminder of why I do ministry at St. Mark’s.  It is about the “we” statements, it is about pushing the front line, it is about honoring the dignity of each person, it is about being fully present and alive with God’s people.  It is about being physically exhausted but spiritually full as I head home to a house with heat and food on the table.

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Filed under Ministry and Outreach, Ministry Storytelling, Social Justice, St. Mark's Augusta, The Church in a Changing World

Different Means, Same Story

The final edition of Episcopal News Monthly, a print publication of The Episcopal Church launched just one year ago to succeed the 20 year-old publication, Episcopal Life, contains a column by the Rev. Scott Gunn, rector of Christ Church in Lincoln, Rhode Island.

In “Different Means, Same Story” Scott+ writes that the communication tools we have at our disposal for sharing the Gospel story may be radically different from the past, but the message is the same.  He writes

We have to remember why we are doing something before we can decide what to do. Whether we use hand-calligraphied scrolls or Twitter, the church is trying to share the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ and what God is doing in our own lives today. The question cannot be, “Should we have a Facebook page” or “How long will newsprint survive?” Instead the question is, “How is God calling us to tell the story of how our lives have been changed?” “How is God inviting us to share the good news with a world that desperately needs to hear an encouraging, hope-filled Word?”

[Read the whole piece …]

What my friend Scott+ is writing about is the crux of the conversation Episcopal Communicators across the church have been engaged in for a long time.  When I started as Communications Director at the Diocese of Maine in 1998, virtually every diocese had a monthly or bimonthly tab-sized newspaper.  Ours, The Northeast, published continuously since 1872, is the oldest news journal in the Episcopal Church, and we’ve been proud of that.  Today, very few diocesan newspapers publish even six times a year.  Many have gone to quarterly news magazines, and many – as we are in Maine –  are working hard to determine how we can retain a print presence that is relevant, timely and represents good stewardship of our limited resources.

Scott+ and I served on a panel with other New England communicators in October at the Province 1 Deacons Conference where the theme was ministry storytelling and its vital role in sharing the Good News  as it plays out in the our lives -for  both the teller and the listener.  In the column linked above, he writes that the more and more communication becomes relational through social media like Facebook and blogs like this, the NNE, “The publishing model will give way to the storytelling model.” I think that’s true.

In this newly created space, I invite you to share the stories and pictures of the ministries you and your congregations are engaged in across the Diocese of Maine.  And to make it a true forum – a dynamic interaction of ideas – please please please comment on the postings of others…ask questions, ask how one church’s program can be replicated in yours. Send your news (300-350 words is best) and photos to nne@episcopalmaine.org .

Monthly, beginning in February, we will gather the previous month’s stories into a pdf that congregations can share electronically or reprint for their own newsletters or bulletins.  That’s the plan for 2011, anyway.  Things are changing but our charge remains the same, as this week’s collect so aptly nails it:

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

–Heidi Shott
Canon for Communications and Social Justice

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