Sermon Preached on October 27, 2019
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME
Portions of Bishop Brown’s Address Read as the sermon.
Yesterday the Diocese of Maine held our 200th Diocesan Convention – after which we went to the Cathedral for the seating of our new bishop, The Rt. Rev. Thomas James Brown, 10th Bishop of Maine. I wanted to share some of his address with you today, which was delivered as the sermon portion of our Eucharistic celebration at the Cathedral. The full text of the sermon is available on the diocesan website:
Excerpts from the Bishop’s address: Bishop Brown began his address talking about the 6th bishop of Maine, Frederick Barton Wolf, who was elected in 1968.
Bishop Brown said: At Bishop Wolf’s first convention he spoke about a changing church, the decline of Sunday Schools, and the need to be flexible. Turns out the adage, “everything old is new again” holds true. His episcopate, just shy of two decades, coincided with women’s ordination, a gift he himself eventually came to embrace. Other legacies were more personal: his recovery from alcoholism, and after his retirement, in 1986 – a more public disclosure that he was a gay man. Bishop Wolf was able to transform himself, weaving the enormous social changes of those 18 years into his leadership. He did this by loving you, an action he carried into retirement, and unto the moment he was embraced by everlasting arms.
Bishop Brown then showed us Bishop Wolf’s pectoral cross, which was on display in front of the altar. He told us that Bishop Wolf’s only surviving child, Molly, called him two days after his election, saying, “you should have my father’s cross.” She wanted him to melt it down and reuse the gold to make a new cross, “a symbol of resurrection and of the great strides the church has made in the last 50 years.” Molly felt that Thomas’ election is a sign that the Episcopal Church in Maine was moving forward. Thomas was able to convince her that it should remain whole, as part of the archives of our diocese. But he did point out that his pectoral cross, given to him by the people of Maine, is modeled after Bishop Wolf’s, and so is Bishop Knudsen’s.
+Thomas continued: Bishop Wolf, like each of us, was both saint and sinner; true enough. Yet there’s another kernel in this history. I find in this story and his legacy, a growing affection for who you’ve been, and who you are.
As we begin another 200 years ministering in these 16 counties, Bishop Wolf’s words echo – with a changing church comes blessing, and in our swiftly changing society, in an environment where people understand and relate to the sacred in several ways, we face what can feel like an impossible challenge, but nothing is insurmountable when we stand on the rock of Jesus Christ.
He went on to say: In these four months, every place I’ve visited I’ve found vitality and joy, creative worship, and to be honest, a few liturgical sensibilities Bishop Loring probably introduced in the 1950s, delicious food, churches that are physically accessible and in excellent repair, and the Holy Spirit among you. All of this leads me to ask, “what do you need to feel more connected to God and to the Diocese of Maine” and “how can I best walk alongside and support you?”
The 8,000 miles logged on the diocesan truck represent nearly 1,000 conversations, three celebrations of new ministry- Newcastle, Lewiston, and Saco; an ordination in Portland; visits to our Jubilee Centers in Biddeford and Portland (and soon to be in Lewiston), where we are addressing issues of domestic poverty and immigration outreach, and not only there, but also in Yarmouth, Bath, Brewer and so many more.
Direction and Priorities
Many of you want to know where we’re headed from here. You’re understandably curious about a vision, about how we might together be the Episcopal Church in Maine. I am curious too, and eager; however, I believe we’ll be most faithful to the challenges faced today if we conduct this essential planning collaboratively and collectively. I propose that our Standing Committee and Diocesan Council work together to help us chart a course for our next several years, outlining measurable goals reflecting priorities, the input and insights gathered from our entire diocesan community. Your voices and the perspectives of the people with whom you worship and serve will be crucial to informing and guiding this process. It will affirm not only our diversity, but also unify uscommunicating to the people of Maine that we walk in the way of love. It is too soon for us to know what we shall do together, much less, what legacies we might leave, but at this early outset I want you to know I’m humbled and excited that God has brought us together.
He shared seven thoughts: First, Anglican Christianity holds a glorious promise for who Maine is right now… a community of people who are both indigenous and from away, who are both black and white, and every other color, who are both poor and rich, politically active and politically disengaged, unchurched and churched, along with any other polarity we might imagine. A strength of Anglicanism is our insistence that from our nourishment in Word and Sacrament, we are sent to join our neighbors to engage the mission God gives us: restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
Last month in Washington DC, thanks to the leadership of our church’s Office of Government Relations, I heard Congressman Golden, Congresswoman Pingree, and Senator Collins ask us, in essence, “please, please gather the faith communities to heal the lack of civil discourse in our country.” Right now, Members of Congress are looking to us to bring our strengths to bear, to gather with all Mainers so that we are sources of unity and compassion. The Presiding Bishop speaks about us being the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, and now, the Way of Love. To be the Movement and to Walk in the Way will mean listening intently to the people beyond the church for whom reference to Jesus will be foreign at best or off-putting at worst.
Second, I applaud your historic value to make sure there is an Episcopal presence in every county. Although, as our state’s demographics undergo constant change accomplishing this will become more challenging. It will require ongoing commitment on all our parts, particularly those with the capacity to share more from what God has given them, so that ministry thrives in the north and east. At the same time, I assure you that I look forward to supporting and cherishing and ministering to every congregation in this diocese, north and south, east and west. This is one of our special charisms in the Episcopal Church: Just as much as in our parishes, we find our identity in an inter-connected community of communities-something we call a diocese. With a larger circle of fellowship, we build upon each other’s ministries. As a diocese, more than a single parish, we can do more to share the good news of Christ.
Third, on the more practical side, now might be time to look at changing some of our governance and management structures. We ought to do whatever possible to free you to be more efficient and responsive. Some of what we’re doing now isn’t much different from 1968 when Bishop Wolf arrived… that was 51 years ago!
Fourth, improving how we communicate with each other will reflect a growing spirit of generosity and access. All Mainers and certainly every Episcopalian ought to be able to say, “I found that on the website” or “in the bishop’s video message I learned about this resource which might help us improve (you insert the blank).”
Fifth, the Diocese of Maine is known for our faithful public policy agenda, and we must continue on the path of leading a church who makes a positive difference in the world. Earlier this month I was honored to speak briefly with the Reverend William Barber at the Poor People’s Campaign event in Portland, an organization with which the Episcopal Church signed on at its genesis. Going forward, we’ll look to the Episcopal Creation Covenant as a resource for environmental stewardship. You’ll hear me speak about health care, and affordable housing, but our advocacy topics ought to be what we declare together, and not solely my opinion. Our partnership with the Maine Council of Churches will guide us, and in everything we do in Augusta and Washington gospel values of collaboration and peace with justice will be our hallmarks.
Sixth, where your bishop is will say almost everything about his priorities. Am I visiting with youth joining them at Miqra 2019 to read the entire Bible in 48 hours? Am I at Camp Bishopswood? (the list continued!) … My energy will also communicate priorities. Do clergy and their families experience in me one who cherishes them, who continually says “thank you”? Can you and your congregation say, “the diocesan staff helps us get the resources we need to do what we believe God is calling us to do?”
Finally, when I visit you, you’re going to hear me ask how things are going in town, in your community. With local, civic groups and organizations, we can partner easily to address our community’s needs. … Lastly, when it comes to conversations about your congregation’s future you’ll her me ask repeatedly a set of three questions, “Who are you? Why are you here? What are you doing about it?”
Jumping ahead to the conclusion: Part D-Conclusion
We all know, every single one of us, that the Church throughout the ages has changed and evolved, according to the Spirit’s will. Where the church of Bishop Wolf’s era started is not where it ended; it moved and changed. It was dynamic; it was good. It revealed then the very thing we can see now: an ongoing, even daily, relationship with the living God.
We may discern only a few of the opportunities that Grace will put before us; we can intuit only some of the challenges that will test our faith, our generosity, even our resolve. But through it all there are constants too: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. On Christ the solid rock we stand.
Growing in the knowledge and love of God is our aim, the Golden Rule is our guide, and openness to honoring the Spirit in all whom we meet is the way forward. Doing this together will be at once as familiar as a well-worn Prayer Book from Bishop Loring or Bishop Wolf’s days, and as bold and venturous as a new-found love. Amen.