2 December 2019
Advent is upon us once again. The coming weeks will be filled with family visits, holiday parties, shopping, and prayerful reflection. As you reflect, I invite you to remember the experience of the Holy Family.
On Christmas Eve, as Mary prepared to give birth, she and Joseph found themselves in search of a place where they could rest. Having been forced to migrate to Bethlehem by the Roman authorities so they could be included in a census, they discovered they had no place to go. So they eventually found their way to the only place available to them … a barn. We affectionately recall it as a “manger.” But the reality is that it was a stable, more like what you and I think of as a barn with no escape from the cold night air. In short, they were homeless migrants.
No sooner had Mary delivered, she was again forced into migration to save her newborn son’s life. Subject to the whims of the authorities, after giving birth in stable Mary and Joseph were forced to pack what little they had and run for their lives into Egypt. So most of Jesus young life was as a homeless migrant, first as a newborn in a Bethlehem barn, and then again as an asylum seeker in Egypt to escape possible death at Herod’s hand.
As you ponder their story, I invite you to consider the stories of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in our midst. The reality is that while some leave their homeland for economic opportunity, the majority leave to escape violence, persecution, severe oppression, and the ravages of war. They then endure months, and sometimes years, of travel to strange lands where they do not know the language or the culture and are subjected to abuse and many forms of violence. Some become separated from loved ones, some of whom they might never see again. Some become sick due to food and living conditions, with the potential for life-long health problems due to a lack of medical care while searching for a new place they can call home.
This Advent, I invite you to give some thought to those we refer to as “New Mainers” living in Bath … those who are already here, and those who will be coming in the months and years ahead. Their needs are great and our opportunities to support them and welcome them into our midst are many.
As some of you may already know, the Vestry has approved the use of the lower parish hall to create what we’re referring to as a “Welcome Center” for New Mainers, and has also accepted an anonymous gift for that purpose. We have started to set up the space, have purchased an air purification system, received a grant from Androscoggin Bank for two computers, and received a donated copier. The immediate plan for the space is for there to be open hours during which people can use it to study and practice their English skills, use a computer, share ride opportunities and other information, and experience community among their fellow New Mainers. In addition, New Mainer women have asked for permission to use our kitchen one Monday a month so they can hold cooking classes to learn how to cook using what is available to them in our grocery stores. As time goes on, and as we develop our relationship, I anticipate that we’ll learn more ways in which the Grace community could get involved in supporting and assisting our new neighbors.
Given cultural differences, the fact that many New Mainers have had difficult life experiences which have led to challenges such as PTSD, before we can be good neighbors, we need to be educated neighbors. I am attending an advocacy and training program offered through Episcopal Migration Ministries that is being held in Washington, D.C. this Wednesday and Thursday. I hope to be able to explore opportunities and possible funding to help us in developing support services. In addition, I have invited The Rev. Dr. Ruth Bersin to offer training at Grace Church sometime in January or February. Dr. Bersin is the Executive Director of Refugee Immigration Ministry in Boston. She is also an Episcopal Priest with extensive experience in immigration issues. She has founded a number of refugee programs, is a licensed clinician with a specialty in PTSD, and is a member of the Association of Trauma Stress Specialists. Her doctoral research was entitled, “Community-based Resettlement: Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Asylees Rebuild Their Lives with the Help of Congregations and Community.” I’m sure her workshop will be well worth the time for those who attend.
To be clear, I don’t think any of us have any idea where all of this will lead us, or whether or not we’ll prove to be the best of neighbors. Our space is okay, but it isn’t ideal. While some basic training in diversity and dealing with someone who is experiencing PTSD is a good start, we clearly need more training in diversity. Does anyone think any of us have all the answers for addressing the needs of New Mainers? No. Does anyone think everything we’re doing or will try is going to work perfectly? No. But, Christ is at our door, and looking for a place to call home. This Advent, I hope we’ll give that some thought, and consider the ways in which we might be able to provide refuge, and offer a new beginning to those who want and need it.
In the meantime, I wish you all many Christmas blessings!
Your brother in Christ,
2 November 2018
As we prepare to go to the polls next Tuesday to participate in the elector process of our country, I’d like to offer some thoughts for your reflection. First, before you go, I encourage you to pray. In your prayers, you might consider remembering the upcoming 100th anniversary of Armistice Day and all those who have willingly given of themselves for our country. Additionally, remember all those who have given themselves selflessly in public service and those who have struggled for peace, justice, and equality. Second, you might consider listening to our Presiding Bishop’s brief talk on voting at https://youtu.be/an4-rxm90mU . And, finally, I offer you the following letter to the editor written by The Right Rev. Dr. Douglas John Fisher, Bishop, Diocese of Western Massachusetts.
What do you think is the most important line in the Bible?
Some theologians say the most important verse in the entire Bible is Luke 3:1. Here it is. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
That is the most important line in the entire Bible because it tells us that our faith is not a fairy tale. It is not an abstraction. It is not “once upon a time.” It is not “in a galaxy far, far away.” No! In this time and in this place, when these people held power, the word of God came to Zechariah’s son and the place was the wilderness.
In those days, the people did not get to decide who their rulers were. That was decided by wealthy families in Rome. But we are blessed to live in a democracy. We get to decide the kind of leadership we want. We get to have our voices heard on the issues of our day. We have that opportunity in just a few more days — Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Michael Curry is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Many of you know him as the preacher at the royal wedding. Did you know that a few days after the royal wedding, he participated in a vigil outside the White House? Did you know that Michael Curry is one of the authors of a document called “Reclaiming Jesus” — a document that begins with this statement: “We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest level of our government and our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.”
Michael Curry says this: “We are blessed as a nation to vote. As citizens of this country this is a right, an obligation, and a duty. Go vote. Vote your conscience. Your conscience informed by what it means to love your neighbor, to participate in the process of seeking the common good, to participate in the process of making this a better world. However you vote, go and vote. And do that as followers of Jesus.”
My friend and colleague, Rabbi Mark Shapiro of Springfield, draws on another source written about the same time as the Gospel of Luke. That text urges Jews to pray for the welfare of the government, which is to say it advises people to be engaged in the political process. “Go vote,” says Shapiro. “It’s what religious duty requires.” Jewish, Christian, Muslim — all people of faith are heading to the polls on Nov. 6 because it is our responsibility as citizens of this nation.
God spoke to John in the wilderness 2000 years ago. God is still with us, still speaking in the wilderness of 2018. May we all listen and bring what we hear to the holy obligation of voting. May we all vote faithfully and bring what is of utmost value with us as we exercise this precious privilege. May we seek the leadership we need to be a nation that truly is a shining light in a world so in need of hope.
30 November 2018
I fear we’re becoming desensitized to indiscriminate violence, have seen so much of it that we find it difficult to respond, or worse, start to treat it as normative. As I wrote to Rabbi Lisa Vinikoor, leader of the Beth Israel Congregation in Bath, “I can’t even begin to describe what I felt … outrage, frustration, pain, anger, disillusionment, and sorrow, to name just a few of my emotions. But then it became more personal, and I thought about you and the Beth Israel family, members of our wider family in Bath, and what you must all be feeling and going through right now.”
Much of the violence we read and hear about is senseless and indiscriminate. But the shooting in Pittsburgh wasn’t indiscriminate. It was directed and personal. This is different than the daily violence of the world. This is the evil … the sin … of hatred of “the other,” and it’s precisely the reason why our legal system differentiates between crime and hate crimes.
Many of us are hurting right now, and have friends, relatives, and neighbors who are also hurting and maybe even living in fear. I, personally, have a number of close Jewish friends and a Jewish sister-in-law. Whether or not we are experiencing the shooting that happened in Pittsburgh in a direct way we should all be outraged, and shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking this isn’t about us. It is. It’s about who we are and who we want to be; it’s about our responsibility to our neighbor; it’s about the kind of country in which we want to live; it’s about what our faith means to us in moments like this; it’s about the ways in which we choose to be the light of Christ in dark places.
I think it’s easy to feel powerless and voiceless in the face of overwhelming evil. But we, as Christians, know that God is in charge and Christ is with us. As such, we know that we do have power and we do have a voice. I invite you to exercise both of them by joining me in expressing solidarity with my colleague, Rabbi Lisa, and the Beth Israel Congregation, at an interfaith candlelight vigil in Bath on Sunday (11/4), at 4:30 p.m. at the gazebo in front of the library.
In the meantime, I encourage you to reach out to anyone you think might be hurting and also to pray.
Your brother in Christ,
4 September 2018
When we think of our Book of Common Prayer (BCP) from an historical perspective, we often think about Queen Elizabeth and the Elizabethan Settlement (1559) when the English church declared its independence from Rome and the Queen as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. But the BCP actually came into existence long before Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The BCP was first published in 1549 during the English Reformation in the reign of Edward VI. In a way, the BCP provided an identity for the Church of England as it went its separate way from Rome. Among other things, it provided for liturgical unity and consistency and also established clarity in the three holy orders of bishop, deacon, and priest.
In 1789 the U.S. church officially separated from the Church of England and created the Episcopal Church. Our first BCP was published in 1790 using the 1662 version of the English BCP and some Scottish liturgy from their 1764 BCP. Minor revisions were made in 1892 and 1928, and then more substantive changes made in 1979, our current BCP. There has been some debate in recent years regarding whether or not to make additional changes. General Convention recently debated this issue and voted on a resolution regarding a process forward with regard to changes in the BCP that I encourage you to read about at … https://sojo.net/articles/why-episcopal-church-changing-book-common-prayer.
18 December 2017
It is Advent once again and Christmas will soon be upon us. In our Christian tradition, we often speak of Advent in the context of three comings of Christ. Some refer to the incarnation, the coming of Christ in the flesh in Bethlehem as their central remembrance in Advent. Others speak more metaphorically about the coming of Christ into our hearts, transforming us and urging us on as Christ’s people. Yet others refer to Christ coming in glory at the end of times.
When life gets difficult I think we often find ourselves struggling to experience Christ in any of the three ways. We may have received a difficult medical diagnosis, we may be lonely having lost a loved one in the recent past, we may have lost a job or find ourselves struggling with heavy financial burdens, or we may find ourselves facing the realities of broken relationships. In those moments, it can be hard to see Christ present in our lives. The daily news about what many of us feel is a broken political system, our anxieties about the potential threat of war, or our frustration over what may feel like never-ending violence both within this country as well as around the globe, may make it difficult for us to be prepared for Christ to come among us this Advent, or make it a struggle to accept . . . even dare to believe . . . that Christ will come.
As John the Baptist reminds us, though, preparing the way of the Lord, we must. So I encourage everyone to take the time to be with family, to cherish time baking cookies with your children and grandchildren, donate a little more than you usually do to the Food Bank, or make a Christmas offering to the church as a way of preparing yourself for the coming of Christ. All of these can help us get into the holiday spirit and open us to experience God’s love. I also encourage you to take advantage of the many opportunities to worship this holiday season to help you experience the anticipation of the coming of Christ and remind you of Christ’s presence in your daily life.
- Blue Christmas, Bath United Methodist Church, 340 Oak Grove Ave, Thursday, 21 December, 6:30 PM
- Advent 4, Sunday, 24 December, 9:00 AM, Grace Church
- Christmas Eve, Sunday, 24 December 4:00 PM Children’s Service, 9:00 PM, Traditional
- Christmas, Monday, 25 December, 10:00 AM (in the Chapel)
Whatever you do this holiday season, I encourage you to always remember that God did come among us that first Christmas. And no matter where you are in life, remember that God came in the most unlikely of places. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, God continues to be present in our lives, and we have every reason to believe that we can trust in the hope that God will come again.
I wish you a joyous and celebratory Christmas and a happy and grace-filled new year!
Your brother in Christ,
6 October 2017
As I write this note I’m reminded of the Saturday I packed my car with altar supplies, vestments, service bulletins, and reception food for the Gatcomb reaffirmation of marriage vows ceremony at the Popham Chapel. Parishioners helped with arrangements, made various contributions to the celebration, provided worship leadership, and attended the service. That, to me, is what a church community is all about. Coming together to be “community” when it matters most. I invite you to ponder what that kind of community means to you, and how that is reflected in your stewardship in support of the community we know as Grace Church.
In the church the two primary ways in which we tend to talk about stewardship have to do with caring for God’s creation and giving back to God from the bounty of all that God has given us. Ultimately, it involves teaching ourselves how to create a life built upon the notion that all that we have is a gift from God. This includes teaching the holy habits of keeping Sabbath and tithing and the concept that giving regularly of our time, talent, and treasure to God’s work on this earth is as much a spiritual practice as are prayer and worship.
We Mainers know about the blessings of creation … the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the life-giving nature of water, and the beauty of mountains, forests, beaches and the swells of the sea. While we may not all agree on issues related to climate changes, their causes, or possible solutions, I suspect we all can agree that the beauty of God’s creation all around us, the gift we’ve been given, is worth caring for and saving.
Similarly, Grace Church reflects many blessings. And, again, while we may not all agree on the specifics, I think we can all agree that something about community … about the Grace Church community, specifically … is important to us and worth maintaining and caring for. To be able to give back from the abundance we’ve received, though, it’s helpful to first take stock of our blessings. We all have our own assorted blessings, but collectively we have many here at Grace Church. We have a great deal of knowledge, wisdom, skill, and talent. We see those talents exhibited in our worship, in the care provided in Eucharistic and pastoral visits, in church events, children’s programs and around the building. Flowers have been sold, food and clothing donated, and events and activities organized. Updates have been made to our building to improve our heating system, our sound system has been replaced, the offices have been repainted, and our library restored. Dead trees have been removed, infected trees taken down, and work has been done in care of our Memorial Garden.
Our stewardship of the planet often involves making decisions about how we’ll live our lives reflective of our baptismal call to be good stewards of God’s creation. Our stewardship of the church involves participating, volunteering, and providing the resources necessary to be Grace Church. In the coming days and weeks, I encourage you to reflect on what Grace Church means to you, the blessings you see around you in the life of the church, and prayerfully consider the ways in which God is calling you to follow Jesus.
Yours in Christ,
I know you join me in praying for all of the people impacted by the hurricanes. But I’m equally confident that many of you are feeling powerless and wondering what you might be able to do to help. While we may not all be able to volunteer and physically go to Texas to help with emergency services, there are ways we can help from here to assist with needed medical supplies, food and water.
If you’re looking for a way to help, I encourage you to consider making a donation to Episcopal Relief & Development, a relief and development agency that addresses urgent and on-going needs on behalf of The Episcopal Church.
They are accepting online donations at … Hurricane Relief Fund
Whether or not you make a donation, please keep praying. Everyone impacted by the hurricane is going to need all the prayers they can get in the coming days and weeks as they learn of the loss of loved ones, face the traumatic reality of their losses, and begin the arduous task of rebuilding.
Your brother in Christ,
11 November 2016 – a Veteran’s Day Reflection
As we remember those who have offered themselves in service and made sacrifices for their country on this Veteran’s Day I find myself thinking about Mildred (McAfee) Horton, our neighbor when my family lived in Randolph, New Hampshire, and our church colleague in the Gorham Congregational Church.
I guess you could say Mildred grew up in a religious household; her father was the Rev. Dr. Cleland McAfee, a leading theologian and activist in the Presbyterian Church. Her parents ensured that she received a good education including a degree from Vassar where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1920. In 1934 she became dean of women at Oberlin College and in 1936 was named the seventh president of Wellesley College.
In our many conversations Mildred shared receiving a call in 1942 from Eleanor Roosevelt. The war effort needed someone to organize and lead a women’s auxiliary. It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone that the traditionalist congressmen of the time feared for “the future of the family and Western civilization” by calling women into service. But their fears were allayed when Mildred was appointed as the new director of the U.S. Women’s Reserve and the special assistant to the director of the Bureau of Personnel given her professional style and gentle spirit. She was sworn in at the rank of lieutenant commander in August 1942, a service attended by both the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, and the chief of Naval Operations, Ernest King.
Mildred spent the war years touring the country, inspecting facilities and making speeches appealing to parents to allow their daughters to join the WAVES in the name of patriotism so that they could release a man for sea duty. In all 150,000 women joined; at the peak there were 86,300 WAVES. In November 1943, Mildred was promoted to captain. One of her claims to fame as the Director of the WAVES was to support the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, in forcing the Navy to accept a few dozen black WAVES. In March 1945, Mildred’s portrait appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
Mildred returned to Wellesley in 1945 and in August of that year married the Reverend Douglas Horton who later became the dean of the Harvard Divinity School. You may also know that he was the religious leader who facilitated the creation of what became known as the United Church of Christ (UCC).
In her retirement speech when she left Wellesley, Mildred denounced the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which had demanded the reading lists for all social science courses at 107 elite colleges. She said its action was one of the symptoms of “the fear which permeates our modern age” (New York Times, 14 June 1949). When President Dwight Eisenhower appointed her to a UN commission in 1953, HUAC’s friends had their revenge by mysteriously losing the paperwork in the State Department.
After retirement, Mrs. Horton was active in charitable and educational projects in Boston, as well as national and international church activities. She also served as a vice president of the National Council of Churches. In a major breakthrough for women, leading New York corporations added her to their boards, including the New York Life Insurance Company, Radio Corporation of America, and National Broadcasting Company. When her husband retired from Harvard in 1959, they settled in Randolph, New Hampshire, and started a retreat center which is where I attended summer camp and also where my church youth group went on winter retreats. She later served as a long-standing trustee of the University of New Hampshire, becoming the first woman to chair its board.
Like the leaders of other women’s services, Mildred McAfee Horton had an ambiguous relationship with the military. She repeatedly characterized the navy as “a man’s world” and expressed relief when it shut down its training facilities at Wellesley. On the other hand, patriotic duty was important to her. In February 1951 when American forces were in retreat in the Korean War, she called for drafting women for noncombat roles. She criticized the “folly of a national policy of discussing manpower in a national emergency as though it were only male power,” complaining that such an attitude “put women in the category of a national luxury instead of a national asset.” She argued that “the skills needed behind the fighting lines of all the armed services are not distributed on sex lines. They are shared by men and women” (New York Times, 11 Feb. 1951). It was the women serving in the field, not at headquarters, who made an impression on key military leaders such as Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley. After the war, they teamed up with the senator Margaret Chase Smith to secure a permanent place for women in the U.S. military.
We owe Mildred McAfee Horton a major debt of gratitude not only for her service and leadership during WWII, but for her academic leadership, her challenge to traditional male models of authority in society, and to a deep spiritual devotion that led her to work for justice and become a major contributor to society.
Mildred, we remember you on this Veteran’s Day and thank you for all of your effort and perseverance to make this world a better place.
*sources include the American National Biography, Naval History & Heritage Command, www.military.com/navy, Wikipedia, and family.