Category Archives: Social Justice

Bishop Lane’s statement on today’s Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage

June 26, 2015

Below is a statement from the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, on the Supreme Court’s decision regarding same-sex marriage. Bishop Lane is attending the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church meeting in Salt Lake City from June 25 – July 3.

Since 2012, when Maine was among the first states to approve marriage equality by popular vote, same sex couples and their families have enjoyed knowing their relationships and their families enjoy greater security and protection. With today’s Supreme Court decision, I rejoice that the right to marry, with its attendant benefits and responsibilities, will be afforded to all Americans who choose to exercise it.

In concluding his majority opinion for Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote most elegantly: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.”

Such recognition of the value of marriage and the love shared among members of a family echoes what is core to our Christian belief that we are all created in God’s image and, in baptism, we are all full members of the church. In many of our congregations, both in Maine and around the country, faithful same sex couples and their families are sharing in their local church’s life and ministry and in service to their communities. I give thanks for their faith, witness, and sustained pursuit of justice.

While the question of marriage equality is now settled in the civil sphere, I ask for your prayers as we at the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church seek to engage in generous conversation about the definition of marriage and revisions to our liturgies. Disagreement remains, but with God’s grace the justice attained in today’s decision will be extended across the Episcopal Church.



Filed under Diocesan Life, From the Bishop, Social Justice

One week: five offerings

Learn about the struggles of daily life in people in Gaza…
Navigate the intricacies of filling out the Parochial Report…
Join a spirited conversation covering strategic thinking in Maine churches…
Share your stories (or learn more) about Godly Play…

Between Thursday, February 5, and Thursday, February 12, the Diocese of Maine will offer five events on WebEx,  the web conferencing service that allows us to gather Maine Episcopalians from all corners of the state to learn and share ideas without leaving home!

There is no need to register for any of the events. To participate in any of these sessions, simply visit the web link a few minutes before the session is scheduled to start, click on the meeting title and the “Join” button, then follow the prompts.

See the list below for a descriptions of each session:

Thursday, February 5, at 7:30 p.m.
Eyewitness to Gaza” with the Rev. Bob and Maurine Tobin
The Tobins of Deer Isle had opportunity in December 2014 to enter Gaza to visit Al Ahli Arab Hospital, an institution of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (and supported by the Diocese of Maine), and to view the devastation resulting from the Israeli summer war on Gaza. (Read the Tobin’s updated account of their trip here.)

Via WebEx they will share their eyewitness experiences on Thursday, February 5, at 7:30 p.m. with commentary, photos, and brief videos that highlight both the catastrophic conditions under which Gazans are living and the extraordinary medical and psycho-social care provided by the Christian and Muslim staff of this remarkable hospital.  To learn more, visit

Monday, February 9, at 7 p.m.
Stewardship workshop with Lisa Meeder Turnbull
Diocesan Stewardship Consultant Lisa Meeder Turnbull will lead a session on Monday, February 9, at 7 p.m. She will cover the topic “Strategic Thinking.”    To join the conversation, visit

Tuesday, February 10, at 7 p.m.
Thursday, February 12, at 7 p.m. (repeat)
Take a Walk through the Parochial Report with Canon for Finance and Stewardship Terry Reimer
 Canon for Finance and Stewardship, Terry Reimer, will offer two sessions by WebEx to walk church leaders through the steps to fill out the Parochial Report. Choose either Tuesday, February 10, or Thursday, February 12. Both sessions will begin at 7 p.m. and last one hour, including time for Q&A. Go to shortly before 7 p.m. to be ready for a prompt start.

Wednesday, February 11, at 6 p.m.
Godly Play Storytelling Circle gathers at St. Ann’s, Windham, and online
On Wednesday, February 11, all are welcome to gather for a Godly Play session at 6 p.m. at St. Ann’s in Windham. Participants may also join from home through WebEx by visiting

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Filed under Diocesan Life, Faith Development, Ministry and Outreach, Social Justice, Stewardship, Training and Education Events

Maine eyewitness to Gaza

by Maurine and the Rev. Robert Tobin
St. Brendan’s, Deer Isle

[Al Ahli Arab Hospital, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, was the recipient of this year’s Diocese of Maine Millennium Development Goal funding . The annual donation, which represents 0.07% of diocesan annual income, totalled $13,000. In 2013, the hospital received one-half of the MDG funding with the balance going to support the ministries of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad. Both ministries serve all people regardless of religion, race, or ethnicity. Maurine and Bob welcome the opportunity to share what they have observed and learned in Gaza with Maine congregations. Email Maurine at to set a date.]


Maurine Tobin with Al Ahli Arab Hospital Director Suhaila Tarazi.

Having viewed countless reports, photos and videos, we felt prepared for what we would see on our visit to Gaza in early December 2014.   But the reality was overwhelming.  No video can capture the scope of the destruction, block upon block of Israeli-demolished apartment buildings, bullet sprayed shops and homes, children playing in rubble, men searching for reusable stones.

Arriving days after Gaza had been flooded by torrential rains, we were met by Suhaila Tarazi, Director of Al Ahli Arab Hospital, and taken on a “tour” of northern Gaza, starting with Beit Hanoun, a village near the checkpoint which had long since lost its citrus groves to an Israeli-created “no man’s land” and had struggled to survive by bringing light industry to the area, now bombed, adding thousands to the pre-war unemployment rate of over 50%.

Thinking we had seen the worst, we were overcome by Shujiya, on the edge of old Gaza City, a neighborhood of native Gazans, unlike the 2/3’s of citizens who are refugees from 1948. We were shocked to see people living among the debris – blankets over gaping holes attesting to habitation for some of the 250,000 now homeless, though they are luckier than the more than 2100 killed, including 500 children.  We talked with a family living in a sort of cave created by the fallen four floors of their apartment building, interrupting the father’s lunch, bits of canned meat and bread distributed to the 80% of Gazans dependent on international aid.  His wife and son were not eating.

As we later learned from the pediatrician at Al Ahli, children under 18 make up 54% of the population of Gaza, and 70% of

A young family makes a meal in the ruins of their home.

A young family makes a meal in the ruins of their home.

all children in Gaza are anemic and malnourished, 25% developmentally delayed as a result. Post-traumatic stress disorder is almost universal among children who have experienced three devastating wars in the past 6 years.

After viewing the lovely waterfront where people seek some respite, we drove alongside the Beach Camp, one of the densest refugee camps in the world, from which raw sewage flows to the sea.  We passed a bombed out mosque in an untouched area, obviously one of the 73 mosques targeted for destruction.

The next day, we visited Al Ahli  to experience the ongoing miraculously good work that small hospital does.  Dr. Maher recounted the trauma of the 51 day assault – surgeons operating round the clock, countless shrapnel and burn victims, and the horrifying puzzle of what new weapon the Israelis were testing in this war, not the white phosphorous of the previous attack, but something that caused the internal organs to become toxic after shrapnel had been surgically removed, forcing the surgeons to repeat surgeries to stop the infections if they were able to do so.  We visited the pediatric unit, where mothers receive nutritional advice while children receive medical care; the burn unit where a wide-eyed little boy stood waist deep in a hydrotherapy tub, soothing his badly burned legs.  We talked with a young man receiving physical therapy for a shrapnel-shattered arm after two of his family members were killed and 12 injured, and we visited a beautiful new diagnostic center recently built with funds from USAID funneled through ANERA because only American institutions can receive such funding.

People taking shelter in the bombed shell of their homes.

People taking shelter in the bombed shell of their homes.

The building proved to be the metaphor for our entire visit:  we entered the state of the art structure for high tech diagnostics only to find it completely empty!  There is simply no money for the desperately needed bone density and CT scans, the MRI, the laboratory equipment, the mammography machines. In fact, Ahli struggles to buy fuel to keep the generator working for the many hours a day when there is no electricity and to purchase urgently needed medical supplies.

The building is a tribute to the faith and hope of the Ahli staff and its resourceful leadership even though it is an empty shell today. We were reminded of the Palestinian flags flying proudly on every collapsed building we saw; the fisherman tending their boats despite the fact that the risk their lives when they put to sea, likely to be confronted by an Israeli patrol; the palpable sense everywhere that the people of Gaza, despite the ongoing siege and the repeated assaults are determined to live. Some resist their oppression violently, unsurprising in the face of their reality, and some resist non-violently by refusing to lose hope in the future, as do the staff of Al Ahli. It is clear that the world has not responded to their cry for justice, but it is also clear that the people of Gaza, are “afflicted in every way, but are not crushed.” ( 2 Cor. 4:3)

The Rev. Robert Tobin and Maurine Tobin are residents of Deer Isle and long-term volunteers at Sabeel Ecumenical Theology Center and the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.  They have led 23 groups to see the facts on the ground and to meet with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim advocates for a just peace.

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Love Heals: Ministry to address human trafficking starts in Maine

by Gretchen Lane

Human Trafficking isn’t an issue in Maine, is it?


The manufacturing plant at Thistle Farms, the social enterprise arm of Magdalene, offers jobs and opportunities for healing.

We’re talking about sweat shops in Asia, sexual exploitation in Thailand, labor camps in India and Africa. Nothing all that close to home really, right? (To answer that question, please see the links to news articles at the bottom of this post.)

I hadn’t taken much notice of human trafficking in the US until a year ago when I visited a ministry to survivors of trafficking, prostitution, addiction and homelessness in Nashville, Tennessee, called Magdalene, a residential two year for women, and Thistle Farms, a social enterprise where Magdalene residents create bath and body care products that support the ministry. The love shared there and the transformation of everyone involved in the ministry, from the survivors to the providers to the donors to the volunteers, was so inspiring. I was struck by how the Gospel message of love was being lived out in every aspect of the work and how it truly healed all it touched.

I was also struck by the need. Magdalene/Thistle Farms serves 28 women at a time and last year had a waiting list of 100 to enter their program. These were all women in the US who’ve been treated as commodities rather than human beings and have disappeared from the view of most of society. I came home from that experience with a box full of Thistle Farms products to sell to raise money for their ministry and to raise awareness of the issue in our minds. I set up an exhibit table at our Diocesan Convention where many of you stopped and talked with me about the issue and many of you bought the lovely products and some even just made donations. It was a wonderful opportunity to begin a conversation about how it is not all right to make human beings anything other than human.

Human trafficking ministry begins in Maine


Three Mainers, Gretchen Lane, Klara Tammany, and Peggy Day, recently attended a national conference at Thistle Farms to learn more about the ministry.

Since those beginning conversations I have invited a group to join me in exploring what is provided in Maine for survivors. We’ve also been investigating what needs the church or faith communities might try to meet. We’ve had wonderful conversations with providers, a school social worker, and other faith and ministry leaders and are working on several different fronts right now. We will have an exhibit at Diocesan Convention, we have worked with the Maine Council of Churches to get a faith-based voice on the Attorney General’s Work Group on Human Trafficking. We are also developing materials to use in small group educational settings to raise awareness of the issue and of resources available to survivors. We are working with Wisdom’s Women in Lewiston (part of the Trinity Episcopal Church) to try to bring the founder of Magdalene/Thistle Farms to Maine to speak in 2015. In the months to come we hope to build more resources for education and information from this event.

Earlier this month, Klara Tammany, Executive Director of Wisdom’s Women; Peggy Day, deacon and member of our Human Trafficking Ministry Group; and I attended the 2nd Thistle Farms National Conference. The topic of the conference was “Roots: Digging Deep and Growing Hope.” We encountered folks working to raise awareness, offering direct support and ministry to survivors, sharing about social enterprises that empower women to reclaim their lives. We explored addiction being healed in recovery, isolation being healed in community, and childhood trauma being healed by having access to trauma-informed care. All the solutions are undergirded by the belief that love heals. We are excited to bring this experience and energy to Maine and continue our own work to find ways to bring healing, not only to survivors, but to a culture that permits the dehumanization of vulnerable people.

Join us!

The Human Trafficking Ministry Group is a gathering of many different people, Episcopal, Lutheran, and secular, from all around the state, and we’d love to hear what you are doing in this ministry field and talk about how we can work together.

There is a catch phrase in many grant applications: “work collaboratively toward collective impact” (Cary Rayson, executive director of Magdalene shared this with us). While that is a great soundbite, it is also a good description of the call to Christian mission.

Join us in our work to end this kind of trauma. We do a lot of our ‘meeting’ with each other via email and WebEx meeting technology. If you’re interested in getting more involved, please come see our display at Convention or you can email me at

Learn more…

Magdalene and Thistle Farms

Maine Sex Trafficking and Exploitation Network

Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault

The Center for Women’s Wisdom at Trinity Jubilee Center, Lewiston

“Portland resident who helped pimp Maine girls gets four year sentence” Portland Press Herald, September 23, 2014

“Bought and sold: Sex trafficking in Maine” Bangor Daily News, August 24, 2014

“Maine gets mixed reviews in annual human trafficking report; rural states are ‘sources for the pipeline,’ expert says” Bangor Daily News, August 14, 2014

“Police uncover sex trafficking ring in Kennebec County” Morning Sentinel, April 10, 2014

“Report includes 19 indicators of sex trafficking in Maine” Bangor Daily News, November 21, 2013


Filed under Ministry and Outreach, Social Justice

Convention resolutions: Church funds should not support militarism

by Maurine M. Tobin
St. Brendan the Navigator, Deer Isle-Stonington
Episcopal Peace Fellowship of Maine

The way in which the Trustees of Diocesan Funds invest funds given and bequeathed to the Diocese of Maine and many of its congregations by generations of Episcopalians is a compelling moral issue. Should these monies, gathered over time in the name of the church to do God’s work in the world, be invested in companies whose sole or major profits derive from munitions and war materials designed for killing and destruction?

The obvious answer is that funds given for the work of the church should be invested in socially responsible companies, not in those dedicated to militarism.

I strongly commend support of Diocesan Convention Resolutions #6 and #7, which are co-sponsored by Episcopal Peace Fellowship of Maine and St. Brendan the Navigator, Deer Isle- Stonington.

(The full text of the resolutions is available on pages 26 to 28 of the Convention booklet found here.)

The essence of Resolution #6 is to urge the Trustees to bring their policies into alignment with National Church resolutions so that the Diocese of Maine does not invest in the top five military defense contractors nor in those companies that receive more than fifty percent of their revenues from military contracts or those involved in the production, manufacturing or distribution of tobacco products.

Resolution #7 urges the Trustees not to invest in six specific companies that profit from the Israeli military occupation of Palestine and the subsequent harm suffered as a result.

Because the Trustees of Diocesan Funds serve as a separate legal entity from the Diocese of Maine, it is clear that Diocesan Convention has no direct authority over the Trustees and cannot compel them to take any action. The intent of these resolutions is to give delegates to Convention an opportunity to vote on an issue of deep concern: namely how the Trustees invest the funds that belong to all of us in the Diocese.

It is time to convey to the Trustees that we no longer wish to invest in corporations that both generally, and specifically in Palestine, profiteer from warfare and military occupation.

The Trustees have had ample opportunity to examine the portfolio to determine if we have holdings that compromise our integrity. Mainstream Christian denominations have sought to change policies of such companies via active corporate engagement. That effort has failed universally, and is it now time for us to adhere to the resolutions of our own Episcopal Church and to join other denominations in refusing to invest in companies whose practices run counter to our deepest Christian convictions. These resolutions offer a chance for this Convention to urge the Trustees to act as ethical stewards of the resources placed in their care.


Filed under Diocesan Convention, Social Justice

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

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.

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 For more information, contact David at 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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Filed under Anglican Communion, From the Bishop, Ministry and Outreach, News from The Episcopal Church, Relief and Development, Social Justice

A member of the team: the Committee on Indian Relations

by Nicholas N. Smith
St. Paul’s, Brunswick
Diocesan Committee on Indian Relations

In 1950 I was a history major at the University of Maine. My advisor suggested that I work on Maine Indian history. There was little published material available. I decided that I would have to go the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy to learn about their history. One day I went to see Penobscot Chief Albert Nicola and observed his high school grandson reading a state directive to him. Education on Indian Island had little improvement since 1840 when Chief Joseph Polis struggled to improve Maine Indian education. Passamaquoddy schools were no better and I heard many, many complaints about it. I took the complaints to Gov. Cross who listened and took some action. Their present day schools didn’t get started until about another 30 years.

In the 1940s returning veterans saw their rights strangled by the Maine Welfare Dept that had been charged to care for Indians. In 1957 a young Chief Francis Ranco, a former Marine, was determined to tackle Maine Indian right. With a Marine buddy, now a lawyer, he promised to take the Penobscot case to the UN. International Law required that had to meet minimum governmental requirements for a nation. The Penobscot did not meet these requirements. I was asked to do research to remake the Penobscot government meet the standard. The UN Human Rights Committee’s only power was to recommend that the Human Rights Committee accept the Penobscot’s case. It took 25 years for the case to come before all the UN member nations. They voted it down. A generation passed. Who remembered?

Employment opportunities took me elsewhere. Each change in job and place opened up new opportunities to support Maine Indians. I felt that while I could forget the Indians, a Power much stronger was leading me on to greater and wider opportunities to get to know them better and support them. One way to support them was to write articles in an effort to educate the public including a column in the Bar Harbor Times. I spoke to school classes including Indian historical events that occurred in their region, and offered information not included in their school texts.

I became more impressed with a people who have been documented as living in Maine for 12,000 years and who maintained environmental standards guaranteeing an abundance of food for the following year. There was no need for game laws until after the greedy, wasteful strangers first as visitors and as settlers on their lands. Successful Indian hunters cut what they wanted from their quarry and took the rest to a bark structure where any one needing food was welcome to take what they wanted. Still today food is commonly shared, especially with the elders and disabled. Although the young hunter was trained to be self-sufficient, he was to take his place in a community noted for sharing and caring.

When I learned that our Episcopal Diocese of Maine had created a Committee for Indian Relations I happily joined it thinking how much more could be done by a group than by a solitary person. It seems to me that joining such a group could be compared to a person joining a baseball club knowing nothing about the game. Maine Indians have proudly retained their customs and traditions into the twenty-first century. One must be willing to learn to respect the differences of their way of life just as the ball player must learn how to play his position but also create team togetherness with all the other members of the team.

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Faith-based community organizing takes root in central Maine

by the Rev. Ann Kidder

Participants practice one-to-one meetings, a cornerstone of community organizing. Photo courtesy of Food AND Medicine/Faith Linking In Action

Participants at the St. Patrick’s session practice one-to-one meetings, a cornerstone of community organizing. Photo courtesy of Food AND Medicine/Faith Linking In Action

For the past year and a half St. Patrick’s, Brewer, has engaged in Bishop Steve’s call for Holy Conversations through participation in Faith Linking In Action (FLIA). FLIA is the outcome of a conversation begun in November of 2012 at the offices of Food AND Medicine in Brewer. Individuals from more than 20 different faith communities as well as representatives from a number of civic and social service organizations present at that first meeting agreed that our congregations and agencies were already very involved in programs to directly support people in need and that, even if we were all acting at full capacity, we could not come close to meeting the need in our region. We discussed two general directions our group could go in:

1. Working to better coordinate programs that directly meet peoples’ needs – as one person expressed it, “to pull people who are drowning out of the river”
2. Working to support people in taking leadership in overcoming their own poverty so there are fewer unemployed, hungry, struggling people in our region ten years from now– to “go upstream and fix what causes people to fall into the river.”

In February of 2013 we agreed to explore why the needs of our communities were so great and, if possible, to find ways to bring about systemic change. Over the next three months we began to learn about a process called “faith-based community organizing” as developed and practiced by PICO (People Improving Communities Through Organizing). PICO is a national network of federations of faith-based organizations. In PICO, congregations decide to form an ongoing alliance to build relationships and “go upstream” to address the problems in their communities. The process begins with intentional one-to-one meetings with hundreds of community members to listen to their life experiences and challenges. Through these “listening campaigns” a larger picture of the community’s challenges, hopes, dreams, and needs begins to emerge. At the same time, through these deep one-to-one conversations, powerful relationships are being built among members of the community across the many social and economic barriers that typically divide us. As individuals find their voice in the telling of their stories, they also discover their own potential as community leaders.

St. Patrick's, Brewer, welcomed people from more than 20 faith communities and civic organizations to learn how to identify and combat community problems 'upstream." Photo courtesy of Food AND Medicine/Faith Linking In Action

St. Patrick’s, Brewer, welcomed people from more than 20 faith communities and civic organizations to learn how to identify and combat community problems ‘upstream.” Photo courtesy of Food AND Medicine/Faith Linking In Action

By June of 2013 FLIA members committed themselves to “going upstream” using PICO’s faith-based approach and six members of FLIA attended PICO’s National Leadership Training, including the Rev. Ann Kidder and Ms Mary Ann Perry from St. Patrick’s, Brewer. Over the winter FLIA members focused on the details of preparing for a regional Listening Campaign. On March 1 St. Patrick’s, Brewer, hosted Faith Linking In Action’s day of Listening Team training, kicking off a three month Listening Campaign.

On Saturday, May 3rd, there will be a Listening Campaign Wrap-up Gathering at First United Methodist Church, 703 Essex Street, Bangor. We will share what we’ve heard in our one-to-one’s, welcome new leaders we’ve identified, and plan next steps to address the concerns that have surfaced through our listening. This is an open meeting and all are welcome. Please RSVP to Martin Chartrand if you would like to attend and learn more about this work.

For more information about faith-based community organizing visit PICO’s website at

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Filed under Ministry and Outreach, Social Justice, St. Patrick's Brewer, The Church in a Changing World, Training and Education Events

What happens when you pray for those living in poverty for a year

by the Rev. Chick Carroll
Deacon at St. Paul’s, Brunswick

Poverty Roundtable at the 2013 Diocesan Convention

Poverty Roundtable at the 2013 Diocesan Convention

During all of 2013 many, perhaps most parishes in the Diocese of Maine have followed the practice, at the beginning of each meeting in the parish or the Diocese, of saying a prayer for those who are poor, sick, destitute, homeless and old( BCP page 826) and then asking a searching question. Perhaps some parishes will even continue the practice indefinitely.

The searching question asked was this:
    ” How will this meeting ( agenda, program) affect or involve those who are living in poverty?”

For those of us who have been asking this question, shouldn’t we now inquire of ourselves, individually and collectively, whether and how our consciousness of those living in poverty has changed. Have we gained in understanding?

From workshop conversations at this past Diocesan Convention, and from other conversations and readings my own understanding of our impact (those of us with plenty) upon those living in poverty has evolved considerably.

Perhaps foremost is the understanding in the Early Church of the relationship with those in poverty. To put it simply, many of the early church leaders, especially the Cappadocian fathers, made the shocking point that the poor give a gift to us, to those of us who are not in material poverty. The gift they make is that their need affords the rest of us the opportunity for love and for the making of our own gift to the poor. The poor, as Jesus, are powerless and in need. They are Jesus. They are the Body of Christ. ( See Matthew 25: 31- 46) And, we in our plenty, are given the opportunity to show the love which the Father showed to Jesus.

Summarizing the views of the Cappadocian fathers, author Susan Holman  said it clearly: “Both rich and poor take on the face of the Divine. The rich do this by imitating God’s mercy and justice… The poor do this by their basic needs… thereby imaging Christ. Service to the poor is treated as liturgy. In other words it is just as important for true worship as going to church.”

The idea that originated much later, the idea that basic human rights demand that we who have much must share with those who have little, is a notion that carries within it the danger of “them and us.” The danger is that we give out of obligation or “noblesse oblige.” The early church fathers saw the question not as one of human rights, but as one of our relation to God–God as giver of justice and mercy, and Jesus Christ as the face of the poor.

The early church fathers understood so much more clearly than we that Jesus was not simply a friend of the poor, not a stand-in for the poor. He is the poor, and he gives us the supreme gift of responding to him and to the poor as the Father responded to Jesus. We are in a liturgical relationship to those living in poverty. They give us the gift of giving to them- not in a relationship of inequality but in a dance of partners.

For me, this has been the most radical change in my own understanding. I owe much of it to reading and beginning to understand early church views, as translated by author Susan Holman.  And from it flow other understandings that have implications for the gifts and the programs we devise today.

One of these is for us to discern what it is those in poverty say they need, and not to impose our own ideas of what they need. We are in a relationship with those living in poverty, an intimate relationship, one in which deep understanding and discernment are needed. It is dangerously and deceptively easy to decide for others what they should need or want, and the results are always resentment, misunderstanding, and ingratitude.

There is another understanding that flows from the paradigm of the liturgy, the relationship of Jesus to the Father, and the relationship of those of us in plenty to those in poverty.  For us to be complete beings, beings in a sacred and liturgical dance, who give as God does, and who receive, as  Christ does, we must somehow be in direct relationship with those with whom we are dancing. And,that relationship must be one of equals, equally loved by God, even though the culture would tell us that we are not equals.

A merely transactional and impersonal relationship whereby we give and others receive is undoubtedly needed in our complex world, our world where there are designated agencies that take responsibility for collecting and distributing donations. But, for us, if we are to be in a relationship with Jesus, there is an equal necessity for us to overcome our fear of the “other”, to be in real and direct relationship with those in poverty, those who are the face of Jesus, the Body of Christ.

Note: For those wishing to explore these questions further, see God Knows There’s Need,
by Susan R. Holman, Oxford University Press, 2009; and Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, by Robert P. Lupton, Harper Collins, 2011.


Filed under Diocesan Convention, Diocesan Life, Ministry and Outreach, Social Justice