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Baptismal Hospitality – a Parish/Jubilee Center’s story

by the Rev. Shirley Bowen

I would like to tell you a love story. A story that begins with a small, semi-urban parish that has experienced a downward spiral of membership, beginning with the closing of the textile mills that sustained the “English” church members. Formed for and attended by the blue collar working class of Biddeford, the parish has always been an active contributor to the community.

The years of declining membership have taken a toll on this tiny faithful parish. In 2008 they found themselves looking at making a decision. They could make further reductions and stretch out their existence for 5-6 more years. Or they could take a leap of faith. Calling together all of the organizations that met at or contributed toward the small outreach efforts from the parish, it became clear that the working poor and generationally impoverished residents of the city were falling deeper into despair, and that they could do much more if they collaborated on their efforts. With the collective commitment of a sister parish and local organizations, the second Diocesan Jubilee Center was formed.

From the beginning, the parish knew that their endowment accounts would only support them for no greater than 3 years. But they believed to their core that God was calling them to be a new kind of witness in the city. The entire downstairs, the parish hall, the nursery, and the kitchen are dedicated primarily to the Neighborhood Center. They welcome everyone who walks in the doors. They gave up a critical piece of their physical identity to highlight their spiritual conviction. Repeatedly they are asked, how they could give up so much for all of the headaches they have taken on. But their answer is clear: because the Baptismal Covenant demands it. How do they love thee, Biddeford? Let me count the ways…

This tiny little parish has never wavered from their conviction that they are an outpouring of the love that flows from and between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

They are faithful in their corporate worship, understanding that it is in worship that they are sustained to give so much, to so many, with so little resources.

They recognize that each of us individually can lose sight of God’s plan for us and that our own egos can interrupt our vocation; they courageously seek support from each other to remain faithful to God’s call.

Although all of the programs and services of both the parish and the Neighborhood Center are available to anyone who walks through their doors, they are unapologetically Christian, unabashedly disciples of Jesus. When asked, the source of their compassion is enthusiastically shared.  They have freed up their Rector to provide pastoral care and the sacraments to anyone who seeks them, either through weekly worship, through daily interactions at the Center, and special services including weddings, funerals, ministry to the sick and reconciliation. In the past three years the partnerships have increased fourfold. They are both sought and invited.

They welcome, with arms wide open, everyone who walks through their doors. They understand that the young woman with significant psychological challenges who wanders in at coffee hour seeking a cup of coffee and a hug is their opportunity to see Christ that day. They shrug off the repeated theft of “things” around the Center, understanding that desperate people will sometimes do desperate acts. They welcome the homeless, the broken, the druggie and the pierced and tattooed teens. They provide a space for the poor to mourn tragic deaths and for the invisible to find their voice. They love, and love again. And even when it’s hard, they love again.

They envisioned a Center where volunteers strive to learn the names of the guests who walk through the door, understanding that for many, it might be the only time a guest hears their name that day. They look into people’s eyes, hold out a hand of welcome and share a warm cup of coffee. They make possible services which are foundational in Jubilee Ministry, mercy and justice, offering assistance where ever possible and working with the guests to interrupt those patterns which continue to oppress. They welcome all and expect much, insuring that the parish and the Center are a safe haven in the city.

Membership isn’t determined by the number of pledge cards submitted each fall, or in weekly attendance at worship. Rather, the measure of the ministry is in the ongoing relationships with those whose lives that are in some way transformed through the programs, services and sacraments offered. Christ Church in Biddeford practices Baptismal Hospitality. Radical? They don’t think so; it’s just an authentic outpouring of their understanding of discipleship. And they offer it to everyone.

The Rev. Shirley Bowen is the rector of Christ Church, Biddeford, and the Director of Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center.


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This week’s Lenten reflection

The text version is available here.

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This week’s Lenten reflection: Circles of Trust

The text version is available here.

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Spirited Gifts workshop canceled

The Spirited Gifts workshop, scheduled at St. Mark’s in Waterville for Saturday, April 2, has been canceled. It will be offered at the Baptismal Ministry Day set for October 1. More to info to come.

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Justice and Mercy ME: an online resource to help people of faith fight domestic poverty in Maine

Heather Blais, left, of St. Matthew's, Hallowell and a third year seminarian at BTS, with her mother, Deacon Rebecca Grant.

JusticeandMercyME is a web-based resource that seeks to encourage and empower people of all faith traditions to join in the battle to end domestic poverty here in Maine. We feature organizations that are making systemic changes through acts of justice, and organizations that are meeting the needs of the here and now through acts of mercy. We believe that if we each “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” that we can fulfill the hope of ending domestic poverty.

The idea for the project coincided when several clergy in the diocese decided to start a conversation about poverty in Maine and how the Gospel calls us to address the roots of poverty (justice) and, at the same time, respond to our neighbors in need (mercy.)  The group recognized that few people are imbued with  the gifts and inclinations to work on both at the same time.

Therefore, if we were to collect resources for congregations and ministries to learn more or take action or become involved, we would need to address the needs of both.  The hope was that such a collection of material could be shared with other denominations.  But how to gather it all?  What format could we use?  How would we get the word out?  Could it exist online?  Who might do it?

Enter BTS Seminarian Heather Blais.

In the midst of developing her senior project for her last year at Bangor Theological Seminary, Heather was thinking along the same lines.  Over the course of the last year, she has researched and gathered a great deal of information about social service and ministry agencies in Maine as well as Christian education curricula.

This spring is born.  More work is left to do, but this is a great beginning as we raise the need for Maine’s people of faith to find a way to do justice and show mercy to the neediest of our neighbors.

Stay-tuned!  And thank you, Heather!

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The Rev. Martha Kirkpatrick preaches it at the Environmental Roundtable

The Rev. Martha Kirkpatrick of St. Margaret's, Belfast, offers closing remarks at the Roundtable on Maine People and the Environment on January 20. Photo by Michael G. Seamans/Waterville Morning Sentinel.

Here are remarks by the Rev. Martha Kirkpatrick, rector of St. Margaret’s, Belfast, at the Environmental Roundtable with Gov. Paul LePage on January 20, 2011. Prior to attending seminary, Martha served as Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection in the King administration. Prior to her call to St. Margaret’s, she served as the diocesan Missioner for Environmental Stewardship.

Thank you, Governor, for taking the time to be with all of us today. Thank you for listening to all that has been offered in the last hour and a half.  In my own life, and often I think, in public discourse, we sometimes forget the one thing, which is where I will start and end. Which is gratitude. It is our task, all of ours, to remember all there is to be grateful for. Listening to the stories of the people here today, and there are thousands of stories, I am so profoundly grateful for all that we have been given, for the place we are lucky enough to live, for the people who share it with us, who have cared enough over the years to make this a place where human lives and the natural world can flourish.

This place, in which we have been so fortunate to have been set down, this place is a blessing. A place of astonishing beauty, abundant provision from the land and the sea, strong communities where people care for each other, a place where people want to raise their children. I was born and grew up here, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

It is a gift, this place. We know, those of us that live here, that the living isn’t always easy. In fact, it almost never is, except maybe for a week in August.  It isn’t, for most of us, a place for easy living.  But it is, and can be, a place of good living. Values and ethics are strong here, and they include being responsible, caring for each other and our homes and neighborhoods, planning ahead for our children’s future, sharing with others. We know, because we’re practical that way, that we are intimately bound up in the web of life, that we live in a system where everything and everyone is connected. Unlike many places, we still understand that we are dependent on the earth for our livelihood, for every aspect of health and wellbeing, physical, financial, moral, spiritual.

We have other gifts, beyond the beauty and abundance of this land. We have gifts of being resilient, resourceful and pragmatic. We weather storms. We don’t waste things. We know we’re dependent on each other and take care of each other. Our communities are places where relationships matter and we value responsibility and good citizenship. We make relationships and personal credibility a priority. We are small enough to try things on a human scale, and adapt and adjust them as needed. We work better with real problems than with abstractions. And we have entrepreneurs, many of whom you’ve heard from today, who have been leaders in sustainability beyond our borders, who are inventively finding new ways to make things and do things that use nature as a model, exciting new ways that are good for the long haul and that position us for the future.

Our connection to this good earth is deeper than we know. It is our home, it is in our blood.  It is a gift we are called to celebrate, to be profoundly grateful for.  This blessing, as all blessings do, comes with responsibilities, to care for it, to tend it and to keep it.  With gratitude for all that is and all we have been given, we are also called to operate from a place of hope. I’m not talking about some breezy optimism that obscures the real problems, environmental or economic. I’m talking about the kind of hope that opens our eyes to the blessings and gifts we have been given, the talents and resources we have, and emboldens us to envision a future where all life flourishes, where community and individual needs balance and support each other, where we work toward a common vision that celebrates and honors the goodness of creation and we were we put our heads together to find sustainable ways to live and work. Clean air to breathe, clean water; forests and farms, lakes and oceans that support and sustain all life that depend on them; healthy places to live and work, and play, places that inspire artists and excite our creativity and imagination and give rest to our souls; healthy children who look to the future with hope and aspiration; vital communities where people look out for each other and celebrate life. We can and should have this vision for ourselves and our children.  There is no good reason to sell ourselves short.  There is no reason to settle for anything less, or expect anything less.  More than a vision, this is our moral imperative, to love and care for what we have been given.

This is our place, our home. This is our time, to live with full and grateful hearts, into what we have been given, and to inspire hope for our future. May it be so.

Thank you.

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