Category Archives: The Church in a Changing World

Ashes-to-Go in Portland: bearing the sacred amidst the secular

The Rev. Larry Weeks and Dibbie Appleton from Trinity, Portland, offer Ashes-to-Go at Monument Square.

On Ash Wednesday, several Portland-area priests, a lay person, and a deacon-in-formation took, as one priest describes it, “the sacred to the secular” by spending several hours in full vestments at Monument Square in downtown Portland and at Post Office Park in the Old Port.  Over the course of the day, they offered Ashes-to-Go to more than 120 people who, moments before, had been going about their daily business on the streets of Portland.

Earlier this winter the Rev. Larry Weeks, rector of Trinity Church on Forest Avenue who also serves St. Peter’s on Washington Avenue, approached other Portland-area priests about the possibility after reading about Ashes-to-Go offered in the Diocese of Chicago last year.  The practice has been slowly spreading across The Episcopal Church since 2007, when a priest in St. Louis dreamed up the idea of offering the imposition of ashes and a blessing at commuter rail stations.

“I figured it’s time we venture outside our church walls to offer hope and forgiveness and healing to people who may still have a spiritual hunger but aren’t so sure about Church,” Weeks said. “Why can’t we do this in Maine?”

Together with Trinity member Dibbie Appleton, Weeks took the morning “shift” at Monument Square, where they offered ashes to a few dozen people between 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Weeks described one of the encounters, “A man in an expensive business suit walked by quickly, glanced at sign, and us and kept going. Then he circled back slowly and approached and when he was in front of me, had tears in his eyes and said haltingly, ‘It’s been so… long.’”

Meanwhile the Rev. Regina Knox, diocesan urban missioner, and Dick Rasner, director of the St. Elizabeth’s Essentials Pantry and a deacon-in-formation, offered ashes to about the same number of people in the Post Office park at the corner of Middle and Exchange Streets.

Knox recounted her experience this way, “I remember very first couple to came forward, grateful and reverent and expectant;  an entire Hispanic family, devout, with a little boy with eyes closed and hands in prayer position; a number of young women; numerous older men, professional and sophisticated; a family from out of town, a man who came forward to make sure he saw a collar, a little concerned that it might be a joke, but so happy to know it was not.”

The Rev. Regina Knox and Dick Rasner ready to offer ashes at Post Office Park in the Old Port.

She continued, “What stands out for me is the way people came forward in a way that was sacred, quiet, and so very much in the moment. All those bowed heads, waiting. Dick Rasner and I took turns saying the collect for Ash Wednesday and imposing the ashes. Even though it was ashes-to-go, there was nothing on-the-go about it. It was a moment in eternity and worship equal to that experienced inside of a church. On that morning there was an inbreaking of God’s Kingdom there on the sidewalk. People slowed down in their cars to look, some took pictures (including a Fedex driver who stopped his truck to get a picture with his phone), and some asked questions.”

Later in the day the Rev. Tim Higgins, rector of St. Ann’s in Windham, was stationed at Monument Square along with the Rev. Shirley Bowen, Episcopal Chaplain at the University of Southern Maine, and the Rev. Peter Bowen, deacon at Christ Church in Biddeford. Together they administered ashes to more than 50 people between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.

Higgins described the experience as “one of the coolest ministries I have even been involved with.”  He recounts how two women with five pre-teens stopped on their way to the girls basketball play-off game between McAuley High School and Windham High School at the Civic Center. They lamented the fact that they had been to three other churches looking for an opportunity to pray and receive the ashes but to no avail. “They were ‘blown away’ by the fact that we were on the street corner, available and willing to offer ashes to anyone who came to us.”

He described another encounter in which “a jogger who came through and stopped long enough to pray with us, receive his ashes and continue on his jog, while saying, ‘I’ve never done that before, thanks so much!’”

Shirley Bowen offers ashes to a passerby at Monument Square. Tim Higgins (left) and Peter Bowen look on. (Photo: Robert Bukaty/AP)

Shirley Bowen, reflecting on the experience of taking Ashes-to-Go to the people, had this to say, “What I took with me from Ash Wednesday is the extraordinary gratitude we could see in everyone’s eyes. On the street I read yearning and gratitude. When we insert the sacred into the secular, something happens. Hearts break open, whispers from years past call people back to the specialness of receiving ashes – which I think is that sacramental moment of offering that visible, physical connection, to experience God once again.”

Down in the Old Port that afternoon the Rev. Nina Pooley, rector of St. Bart’s in Yarmouth, and the Rev. David Heald, priest at St. Nick’s in Scarborough, found themselves offering ashes and prayers to 20 to 30 people, but not – at first – without some trepidation.

Pooley confessed, “David and I were both surprised by how hard it was to put on the vestments and walk a few blocks in the Old Port. It took courage to do that, and it was tempting not to. But there is both safety and accountability in numbers – so, in full vestments, we walked together with our sign and our table and our flyers and two little plastic containers of ashes to offer a moment of prayer and reconciliation to those who walked by.

“It took more courage than I anticipated. I was afraid we’d be among the wild beasts and discovered instead that we were tended by angels.”

Nina Pooley of St. Bart's, Yarmouth, and David Heald of St. Nick's, Scarborough, prayer with a man in the Old Port.

Pooley and Heald encountered many different people. “We met people from out of town who didn’t have a church here; we met people from down the road – literally, who are looking for a church; we met Lutherans who didn’t have time in their workday to get to church; we met a few lapsed Catholics who were glad for the opportunity to take part in this beginning of Lent without having to go back into a church they were no longer attending. We met some Episcopalians who cheered us on. A young man dressed like a gangster tipped his hat at us as he walked by and said, ‘God bless you.’”

While Heald was explaining what they were doing to a young girl and her mother, a twenty-something young woman rushed over to Pooley, who recalled their encounter.

“‘Oh my God,” the young woman said, ‘it’s Ash Wednesday I had completely forgotten – you saved my life!’ When I put the ashes on her forehead, adding to the many piercings, she told me that her mother would be so pleased. And I thought, I’m making a mark on your face that will please your mother!”

Shirley Bowen summed it up, “When we offer sacramental moments in the secular world, when we meet people where they are, in their environment, we enlarge the landscape. It is a different world when God is present.”

Comments Off on Ashes-to-Go in Portland: bearing the sacred amidst the secular

Filed under Diocesan Life, Ministry and Outreach, The Church in a Changing World

Six minutes with Diana Butler Bass: Does the Church have a future?

Church historian and author Diana Butler Bass talks about her new book, Christianity After Religion. In this short Day 1 segment, she talks about Bishop Jeff Lee of the Diocese of Chicago taking “Ashes to Go” on Ash Wednesday to the busy street corners of his city and the surprising response of the people he encountered.

In other news, here are some links to stories about Maine’s people, congregations, and ministry around the web.

St. Francis must be smilingThe Kennebec Journal reports on a community pet food pantry recently launched at Christ Church, Gardiner.

Retiring military chaplain the Rev. David Sivret and other Maine veterans are honored at a recent ceremony held at St. Anne’s, Calais –  in The Bangor Daily News – on Channel 5 WABI-TV

St. Elizabeth’s Essential Pantry – a ministry of eight Episcopal congregations housed at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland was recently featured on page three of the February edition of Witness, the newsletter of  London-based Anglican Frontier Mission.

1 Comment

Filed under Christ Church Gardiner, Diocesan Life, The Church in a Changing World

Bishop Lane reports from Program, Budget, & Finance

This week Bishop Lane spent time first at The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council and then  at the Joint Standing Commission on Program, Budget, & Finance (PB&F) in his role as Co-Chair.  That’s the body responsible for presenting the 2013-2015 budget to General Convention in July.  He writes about it in his blog:

This is my first experience with PB&F, and I must say it’s a bit daunting. Our work will need to be accomplished in five or six days at the General Convention. We will hold three hearings on July 4, 6 and 7, and the budget will be presented to the General Convention no later than July 10. It will be a time of concentrated effort. The situation is made more complex by the proposals for reform of The Episcopal Church being brought forward from many quarters. To craft budget to support a church in the midst of dramatic and rapid change is both really exciting and very challenging.

Read his entire post here.

For more –

The mandate to PB&F
Read the Episcopal News Service story on this week’s PB&F meeting.
PB&F Membership Roster


Comments Off on Bishop Lane reports from Program, Budget, & Finance

Filed under General Convention, News from The Episcopal Church, The Church in a Changing World

Back to Church Sunday: September 18…Invite Someone

Watch this super-inviting video. Share it widely.

1 Comment

Filed under Diocesan Life, Faith Development, Ministry and Outreach, The Church in a Changing World

Bishop Steve reflects on the House of Bishops meeting

Since returning home, I’ve reflected a bit on the bishops’ time together. It seems to me that part of what it made it feel so jam-packed was that what we were discussing – ministry with young adults and conversations with Islam – is so very challenging. Our assumptions about the value of the church are not shared today by many in Western culture. Indeed, many young adults have no experience of or interest in the church at all. And in our increasingly pluralistic communities, Christianity no longer corners the market on meaning or morals. Other religions/philosophies have passionate adherents. Like the early church, we are in the position of having to show the world our good news, to take what we believe on the road, and to risk the encounters of the marketplace. And, frankly, we don’t know how. We have some ideas. There are successful programs in a number of places. But a lot of our congregations are stuck in a manner of life that no longer serves.

Read it all.

1 Comment

Filed under Diocesan Life, From the Bishop, News from The Episcopal Church, The Church in a Changing World

Ash Wednesday Two-fer: A video message from Bishop Steve and the Mission Priorities Study Group White Paper and Recommendations

Also today on this Ash Wednesday, after more than a year of work, the Mission Priorities Study Group has released its White Paper and Recommendations for members of the Diocese of Maine to read, consider and comment upon.

Please read, consider and comment upon it here.

Last week the Mission Strategy Study Group posted its White Paper and Recommendations. It is available here.

An overview of the Mission Study Groups: how they got started, what they are charged with, their interim reports to last year’s Diocesan Convention and such. Read on…

1 Comment

Filed under From the Bishop, The Church in a Changing World

the Mission Strategy White Paper hits the street

The Rev. Patricia Robertson, rector of St. Mary and St. Jude, Northeast Harbor and chair of the Mission Strategy Study Group talks about their work during a well-attended convention workshop. The Rev. Tim Higgins, rector of St. Ann's, Windham and chair of the Mission Priorities Study Group, looks on.

For nearly 18 months members of the Mission Strategy Study Group (and its counterpart, the Mission Priorities Study Group) have been at work gathering information, listening to people from across the Diocese of Maine, and thinking and praying about recommendations for change that – if implemented – will allow our 65 congregations to grow and thrive in the changing world.

Today, Mission Strategy Study Groups welcomes members of the diocese of read, reflect and comment on a White Paper and their recommendations.  Over the next month, members will gather your comments and suggestions and then meet again to begin the process of transforming the recommendations into resolutions to go before our Diocesan Convention in October 2011.

Click here for the Mission Strategy Study Group White Paper and Recommendations

The members of the Mission Priorities Study Group have also been hard at work.  Their White Paper will be published on Tuesday, March 8, in a similar format.  You will find the link in a new post here on the  NNE blog when it goes live.

For an overview of the two Mission Study Groups’ work and the interim reports they issued at Convention 2010, please click here.

Members of both study groups confer at a joint meeting in Brewer last fall.

Comments Off on the Mission Strategy White Paper hits the street

Filed under Diocesan Life, The Church in a Changing World