by Heidi Shott
Canon for Communication and Advocacy
Mid-way through my recent journey to Jordan, our band of religion writers arrived at Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the site where early believers and pilgrims marked the place of Jesus’ baptism. Many archeological studies have confirmed the veracity of the claim, and the Bible tells us that John the Baptist preached (and partook of locusts and honey) on the east bank of the Jordan. Today the baptism site lies about two kilometers from where the river, which marks the boundary between Palestine and Jordan, now flows.
Rustom Mkhjian, Director of Archeological Works of the Baptism Site Commission, an engineer trained in preservation of historical monuments, shared his expertise and love for the site with us. The hugely complicating factor of any archeological work in this region is sifting through the many the layers of human history: from paleolithic to Greek, Roman to Byzantium, the Islamic period onto the present day. As he led us to several sites, including the discovery of mosaics from a 4th Century monastery, it was fascinating to pass through the modern baptism pavilion with its concrete pool (that looks like it could double as a hotel swimming pool) used by visiting Christians for baptisms. “Popular with Baptists,” he remarked in passing.
As Mr. Mkhjian pointed us to the entrance of the shaded path that meanders along the springs of John the Baptist to the baptism site, he encouraged us to walk in meditative silence. I was glad for that advice and struck by the stark contrast of the verdant growth of trees and shrubbery near the stream from the springs and the vast dry sameness in every other direction.
At the baptism site, early Christians crafted steps leading down to a cruciform pool. The pool has survived through some of its foundations lie askew because of powerful earthquakes over the centuries. As we stood looking over the pool below as Mr. Mkhjian sprinted through two thousand years of history, I was struck less by standing in a place where Jesus and John the Baptist stood, where the heavens opened and God the Spirit and God the Father manifested themselves, but rather by the sense and presence of the steady stream of pilgrims who have visited this site. Many of our group took the opportunity to go down to gather water to take home, but I wasn’t moved to do so. I knew we weren’t done with this place yet.
The convenient thing about traveling to the Holy Land with two Episcopal priests is you can celebrate the Eucharist wherever you please. In the few weeks leading up to our trip, the Rev. Rosalind Hughes (Diocese of Ohio) and the Rev. Tim Schenck (Diocese of Mass.) proposed that we Episcopalians celebrate the Eucharist and renew our Baptismal vows at the Jordan River.
We didn’t have any sense of how this would work out or where exactly along the river we would worship, but, upon arrival at the Russian Orthodox guesthouse – one of several Christian denominations that have built churches along the Jordan side of the river – we were offered several options. We choose the Greek Orthodox baptism site – with its changing rooms, a sheltered porch, steps into the river with helpful handrails. On the porch’s dry ground we began our worship through the renewal of our baptismal vows and then carefully stepped into the water, taking care not to lose anyone on the slippery steps. Our priests asperged us and we asperged them in return. We joyfully (and carefully) offered the peace to one another, these pilgrims and good-humored companions on this remarkable journey.
I think I can say with confidence that each of us was deeply moved by the experience of worshipping along the banks of the Jordan. The cool water refreshing our hot and dusty feet as it had the feet of myriad pilgrims before us and surely Jesus and John so long ago. As we said our closing, “Thanks be to God!” a quiet descended upon this group of boisterous, wise-cracking Episcopalians that lasted long after we made our way back to the bus.
And before long I realized why I was more genuinely moved by the experience at the modern river than at the scientifically-verified baptism site. Jesus was baptized by John in the river where it flowed in his day. We renewed our vows in the river of our day. If baptism is the sign of new life, then we can’t expect to find resurrection in the old places where water has to be pumped in. Over the 2,000 since the heavens opened, the Spirit descended and the Father was “well-pleased” with his son, the river has moved and transformed and the green of healthy, growing things has followed its path. If we expect to thrive and grow, we must be willing to do the same.
To view the public photo albums from each day of our trip, visit facebook.com/heidoshott/photos_albums
Bishop Stephen Lane recently named two new chaplains to retired clergy in the Diocese of Maine.
Maine’s Chaplains to the Retired, the Rev. Lawrence (Larry) Estey and the Rev. Elizabeth Miller, stand ready to help retired clergy and surviving spouses by providing or helping locate local pastoral care if needed; by hosting gatherings; and by keeping in touch through regular communication.
They step into the shoes of Archdeacon Tom Benson, of St. John’s, Bangor, who has served retired clergy and surviving spouses for many years. The new chaplains agreed that they “look forward to developing new ways of carrying out this important ministry.”
Maine currently has 115 canonically resident clergy and 150 non-canonically-resident clergy, widely dispersed through our state and beyond. The mean age for both groups is in the early 70s. While some of retired clergy continue to serve congregations, most do not.
Chaplains Miller and Estey hope to reach out to this scattered band of clergy and to surviving spouses, in ways that take account of the limitations of geography and time. “We look forward to developing an occasional newsletter, and to being available to help locate resources to help in whatever stage of retirement we may find ourselves. We’re a work in progress!” said Chaplain Estey.
Elizabeth Miller grew up in the Bangor area and has lived in the Portland area for most of her adult life. She worked in the business world until she was ordained in 2002, and served in Maine at S. Mary the Virgin Church in Falmouth, St. Matthew’s in Hallowell, St. Mark’s in Augusta, and Christ Church in Norway. She also has been active as supply priest to many congregations.
Larry Estey came to Maine in 2000 to serve as rector of St. Brendan’s, Deer Isle, after serving parishes in Massachusetts, Maryland and New York since his ordination in 1969. He retired from St. Brendan’s in 2006.
Please feel free to contact them with requests for assistance or with suggestions to help develop this ministry.
Larry Estey (207) 367-8884 firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Miller (207) 650-2911 email@example.com
Apply now for a 2016 Round 2 New Initiative Fund grant from Diocesan Council.
Each congregation and organization in the Diocese of Maine is eligible to apply for funding to support new ministries or expanding existing ministries in new directions. Applications will be evaluated on the how closely they meet the Diocese’s Seven Criteria for Mission.
The next deadline for Round 2 applications is 4 p.m. on Monday, August 15. Diocesan Council will make grant recommendations at its September 10 meeting.
The online application may be found at www.surveymonkey.com/r/2016-NIFRound2
Download the application worksheet and complete your application on that before cutting and pasting your application into the online Survey Monkey application linked above.
Once your application is processed, you will be contacted by a Diocesan Council member from your area. That member will serve as your advocate through the application process.
What kind of ministry might a New Initiative Fund grant get going? Below is a list of grants made by Diocesan Council over the past two years in spring and fall grant cycles.
2016 Round 1 New Initiative Fund Grants
St. Paul’s, Brunswick – $2,500 to develop a community collaboration to educate and support at-risk teens vulnerable to trafficking and domestic violence.
Center for Wisdom’s Women/Trinity, Lewiston – $6,805 to fund training and travel to Thistle Farms for a team that will minister at at Sophia’s House, a supportive housing program for vulnerable women.
St. Margaret’s, Belfast – $2,500 to support two weekend retreats at Camp Bishopswood for the Encounters Youth Program.
All Saints, Skowhegan – $1,200 to support “Conversations that Matter,” a program of community conversations on timely and important issues.
Church at 209, Augusta – $10,000 to support “Bridging the Gap,” a collaborative ministry serving newly-arrived refugees and immigrants in the Augusta area.
Trinity, Portland – $4,200 to support “Songlines Maine,” a collaborative community music program to build new and deeper connections between Trinity and other Portland nonprofit service organizations.
2015 New Initiative Fund Grants
St. Luke’s, Wilton – $3,000 to install a community labyrinth
Human Trafficking Ministry Group – $2,650 to bring Becca Stevens and women of Thistle Farms to a conference in November 2015
St. Matthew’s, Hallowell – $2,450 to support a Ecumenical mentoring program for women recently released Kennebec County Jail, Walk with Me: A Journey
St. Paul’s, Brunswick – $1,750 to gather and create resources for congregations to effectively talk about alcoholism
2014 New Initiative Fund Grants
The Congregations of the Southern Kennebec Valley (The Kennebec 6 – St. Mark’s, Augusta; St. Barnabas’, Augusta; Christ Church, Gardiner; St. Matthew’s, Hallowell; St. Andrew’s, Winthrop; and Prince of Peace Lutheran, Augusta) – $10,680 to establish a Sunday afternoon community Christian education program for families called “Mustard Seeds”
Trinity Church, Portland – $4,600 to assist All Saints Community Church, a Sudanese congregation that had met at Trinity for four years, in establishing a Christian education program
St. Nicholas’, Scarborough – $2,200 to establish a community garden on their Route 1 campus
St. Ann’s, Windham – $3,000 to establish an essentials pantry for needy members of their community
St. Peter’s, Bridgton – $2,400 for Women’s Initiative Mentoring Program
Diocesan Christian Ed Collaboration – $6,700 to bring Godly Play training to Maine
After nearly two years of discernment and planning, four St. Paul’s high school youth (all seniors) and three leaders boarded a plane on February 12 to embark on pilgrimage to Dominican Republic. There they volunteered with Outreach 360 in Montecristi near the northwest Haitian border. Youth included Ally Collins, Cedric Hipkins, Markis Larrivee and Joanna Brown. Leaders were Myrna Koonce, Hugh Savage and Macauley Lord. The group returned on February 21, changed and moved. Their experience was, by turns, challenging, absorbing, confusing, rewarding and joyful. Here are some highlights:
- Awakening to dozens of roosters crowing and many motor scooters (“motos”) heading to school or work
- Standing in front of groups of schoolchildren and chanting, “Wa-wa-wa-what’s the weather, what’s– what’s the weather?”
- Watching our planning ideas take shape as children of all ages eagerly volunteered to engage in activities designed to help them speak English
- Playing chasing and ball games with children during recess at tiny Pasluz Escuela
- Playing “Papa Caliente” (hot potato) with the fifth and sixth graders at an even smaller school in Laguna Verde
- Holding our own prayer service each morning on the rooftop of our Outreach 360 building in Barrio Salomon Jorge, Montecristi
- Singing, drumming and dancing merengue with our new friends from Berkley High School in Michigan
- Answering Spanish/Dominican trivia questions before eating rice, beans, meat, plantain and tropical fruits for lunch and dinner
- Hiking up El Morro, the local mountain, to watch the sunrise
- Giving and receiving friendly “holas” everywhere we walked in the town
- Buying fresh juices from the local “juice lady”
- Touring the salt flats where salt is harvested solely by hand
- Visiting the crowded twice-weekly market in Dajabon, where Haitians cross the border to trade with Dominicans
The youth and their parents and leaders worked hard to raise funds for this trip by offering several events, food and services to their fellow parishioners. In thanksgiving, the youth will offer reflections at an upcoming all-parish worship service, and a Dominican dinner for the parish, cooked by the journeyers. We are so grateful to have such an active and inquiring group of teens among us, and we wish them the best as they leave for college next year.
Three sessions will offer a 20 workshops in areas such as spiritual growth, formation, music, public policy advocacy, church leadership, conflict mediation and more. We’ll pause at mid-day to gather, worship, sing, and hear more about change in our wider culture and the role the church may play in our communities. (Full workshop descriptions are here.)
- Know Jesus and follow him.
- Go into the world where Jesus already is.
- Leave your baggage behind.
My hope is that Spring Training 2016 will help to prepare us to take our place in The Jesus Movement.
Here’s Bishop Curry’s take:
Want to learn more? Visit our diocesan homepage at www.episcopalmaine.org to link to event information, full workshop descriptions, and registration. You may register directly at www.tinyurl.com/springtraining2016.
Registration is limited to 150 people, so please don’t delay in signing up.
We look forward to seeing you there.