Mainer find common threads of faith at national workshop

by Elizabeth Barker Ring
Diocesan Ecumenical Officer

Last week I attended the National Workshop on Christian Unity and Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers Annual Meeting. This year we worked with both our desire for visible unity as Christians and our collegial relationships with other religions.

Our Ecumenical work centers on making our Christian unity visible through our relationships with other denominations. We are already in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Moravian Church in North America, The Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, the Philippine Independent Church, and the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, India. We are in a time of Interim Eucharistic Sharing with the United Methodist Church. We have formal dialogues with the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Roman Catholic Church. We also are in conversation with members of the eastern Orthodox Churches.

We are active members of the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, Churches Uniting in Christ, and Christian Churches Together, and many local councils of churches.

Our conversations with other religions are centered on finding our common values and the places where we can stand side by side in support of our shared understandings of justice and living faithfully. All partners in these conversations are clear that we are not about converting each other, but about finding issues and occasions on which we can witness together as people of faith.

This most recent National Workshop on Christian Unity and Annual Meeting of the Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers included keynote presentations, Bible study, and workshops to help us move deeper into both our ecumenical and our interfaith relationships.

The four days were woven together with wonderful and diverse worship experiences. Joyous opening worship was held at an AME Zion church. Morning prayers featured evangelical music, Taizé liturgy, and guided silent prayer. On Tuesday evening, we celebrated Communion at St. Peters Roman Catholic Church; on Wednesday evening, we celebrated Communion at St. Peters Episcopal Church. Each service used the same music and the parallel shape of the liturgies was very clear. This intentional example of what we share was powerful.

Sandra Keating started our program time off with a presentation on Nostra Aetate and, in particular insights from the Catholic-Muslim dialogue. It is important to note that our credibility as Christians is compromised by our lack of visible unity. Muslim concern about our disunity goes back to the 6th and 7th centuries and our common search for truth and for God. The text of Nostra Aetate is found here.

Amy-Jill Levine led the morning bible studies, guiding us through the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son using the lens of historical context of Second Temple Judaism and the wider cultural/political climate of the first century. How these stories would have been heard by the people of those times is quite different from how we most often use them as allegories today, which takes a lot of the punch out of them. Her insights prodded us to look more closely at what it means to live as Christians today and to look at the layers that we have added over the centuries as we talked about making our Christian unity visible and living into the risky, gritty business of being disciples of Christ. Levine explores these three parables in the first chapter of her book, Short Stories by Jesus.

We were honored by the presence of two prominent Imams, Abdul Malik Mujahid, Board Chair of the Parliament of the Worlds Religions, and Abdullah Antepli, faculty member at Duke Divinity School.

Mujahid spoke about the connection of war-terror-hate, the statistics that never make it into the press, and the importance of thought and communication. His skepticism is that interfaith actions are nice people doing nice things and going nowhere. He was clear that we need to be more business like and have goals. He recommends organizing a thinking retreat of local interfaith leaders to set an agenda and goals, and adopt a resolution to push back the rising tide of hate, anger, and fear. They anticipate 10,000 people at the 2015 Parliament in Salt Lake City; 5000 are already registered. Can Maine be there?

Antepli was Duke Universitys Muslim Chaplain at the time of the controversy about the Muslim Call to Worship using the chapel bells, an idea which he did not support. His recounting of the threats to his family, the rancor across the community, and the overwhelming unpleasantness was stunning. He stressed the importance of getting to know each other because God, having created our differences, commands us to know each other. This gentle mans presentation was one of the most important of the four days.

During our Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers meetings, we heard from Ellen Wondra about The Church: Towards a Common Vision, the new document that grows from Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry. She outlined the points of convergence of our understanding of Church that we have achieved in the years between 1982 and 2013 and the areas in which there is still work to do. The complete document can be downloaded here. It is a wonderful resource for study groups and the churchesresponses will be used to help us move further forward.

Together with our colleagues in United Methodist Ecumenical and Interreligious Training we heard from Tex Sample about the challenges of poverty and the implications for faith communities to respond with action and advocacy working toward tangible justice.

We had a chance to be in conversation with Margaret Rose, Presiding Bishops Deputy for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations and her colleague Richard Mammana. Richard is a wonderful addition to the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations and will be focussing his time on the Dialogues. Our membership on the Dialogue with the United Methodist Church will be including several new members, with gratitude to the retiring members and the important work they have done to bring us to where we are now. The first three resource documents for dioceses and congregations are available at Make Us One with Christ, A Theological Foundation for Full Communion, and Guidelines for Interim Eucharistic Sharing. The newest document, That They May Be One? is available from Amazon, and we hope will be available as a download soon.

Those of us from New England dioceses hope to hare with our bishops, and the bishop of the ELCA Synod, that we join the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign as a group. [Ed. Note: Bishop Lane gathered with 22 Maine faith leaders at USM on April 7 to Stand Shoulder to Shoulder against hate and violence in the name of religion.] This is a very tangible way to support our Muslim, and Jewish, sisters and brothers. This was part of the conversation about being the church in troubled times. The exponential benefits of taking this step together, we believe, would be significant. The work that Shoulder to Shoulder is doing is already making a positive difference in attitudes and actions.

If you would like to know more about any of these topics or what resources are available to introduce them to your congregation, please be in touch at

Comments Off on Mainer find common threads of faith at national workshop

Filed under Anglican Communion, News from The Episcopal Church, Training and Education Events

Presiding Bishop’s celebrates with the people of Saint Mary’s, Falmouth, on their 125th anniversary


Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori engages in conversation with Matt Bear-Fowle, a member of St. Matthew’s, Hallowell

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, visited the Diocese of Maine over the weekend. On Saturday about 165 people from across the diocese gathered at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland for her talk about “Change and the Church” and to engage in a town hall-style question and answer session.

For an hour Bishop Jefferts Schori fielded questions about a wide range of issues such as youth engagement with the church, the Cursillo movement, ministry in Haiti, the importance of telling our faith stories, and inclusion of people with disabilities.

Also included in the day was a short worship service to give thanks for her ministry as presiding bishop as her nine-year term comes to an end in November 2015. A new presiding bishop will be elected on June 27 at the upcoming General Convention in Salt Lake City. The nominees for that election will be announced by Episcopal News Service on Friday, May 1.

Click here for a photo album of her visit to Maine.


Bishop Stephen Lane and Bishop Jefferts Schori begin to process at Saint Mary’s, Falmouth

On Sunday, Bishop Jefferts Schori joined Maine Bishop Stephen Lane, the Rev. Nathan Ferrell, rector of Saint Mary’s, Falmouth, and the people of Saint Mary’s for a worship service to mark the church’s 125th anniversary. Bishop Jefferts Schori preached and presided. In her sermon she make us of the day’s designation as Good Shepherd Sunday:

The sheep in this fold have all been called to help shepherd others. We all have one Good Shepherd, who asks us to come and follow, to seek the lost and serve the least. There will always be more sheep of other folds to discover, meet, befriend, feed, and heal. Sometimes that lost sheep is you or me. When we’re feeling lost, who brings us home again? It’s usually a friend or a loved one, who knows our name and says, come on, come in, come home, you are well loved, treasured, God’s own beloved.

17101727088_3beafffd72_zThe text of her sermon is available here.

After the worship serve Bishop Jefferts Schori gathered with members for another full hour of questions and answers.

Additional photos and video of her visit will be available soon.

Comments Off on Presiding Bishop’s celebrates with the people of Saint Mary’s, Falmouth, on their 125th anniversary

Filed under Congregational Events, Saint Mary Falmouth, St. Luke's Cathedral

St. Margaret’s, Belfast, celebrates centennial with gift of books

by Pat Griffith

St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Belfast has assembled a cast of notable Americans, mythical characters, adventurous children and creatures from robots to whales to celebrate its Centennial Year with literary flair.image3

They parade through the pages of 100 books that St. Margaret’s parishioners are giving Belfast area elementary schools in the next two weeks. The books are an expression of appreciation to the community as St. Margaret’s, the only Episcopal Church in Waldo County, marks its 100th anniversary.

The “100 Books for 100 Years” project began in mid-January when the church collected book “wish lists” from six schools: Captain Albert Stevens and East Belfast elementary schools in Belfast, Edna Drinkwater in Northport, Kermit Nickerson in Swanville, Gladys Weymouth in Morrill, and Ames in Searsmont. These were books that library aides and teachers wanted for their students but didn’t have money available to purchase them.

Members and friends of St. Margaret’s then signed to buy individual books. Left Bank Books in Belfast joined the drive by offering substantial discounts on books they ordered. Many of the requested books were no longer in print, necessitating some online sleuthing to procure “gently read” copies from dealers as far away as Texas, Washington state, Illinois, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

belfastThe most elusive book of all was close to home and an essential part of Maine’s heritage, Upriver Passamaquoddy by Allen Sockabasin. Out of print, it showed up at out-of-state websites for eye-popping prices ranging from $145 to $999. St. Margaret’s wasn’t buying. And that’s when the book’s publisher, Tilbury House in Thomaston, stepped forward and arranged a special reprint as a favor to St. Margaret’s and the students waiting to learn about life as a Passamaquoddy in Maine. The fresh book, which cost less than $20, will be among two dozen that St. Margaret’s will deliver to Drinkwater Elementary School on Friday (March 27).

Inside every book is a special bookplate designed by St. Margaret’s senior warden, Chris Urick, that identifies it as a Centennial gift from St. Margaret’s. It features a rampant lion with crown that was taken from the century-old bookplate of the church’s founding benefactor, Maud Gammans. A Belfast native and civic philanthropist who died in 1928, Miss Gammans endowed St. Margaret’s and also left a $40,000 bequest to the Belfast Free Library to establish the Gammans Reading Room in memory of her parents and brother. Always attentive to the needs of children and the poor, she left other substantial bequests to the Children’s Aid Society of Maine and Waldo County General Hospital, and set up a trust fund to help Belfast’s neediest residents that is still in operation today.

The next date on St. Margaret’s Centennial calendar is June 20, the longest day of the year, when the church will be offering a lively evening program of music and poetry through the decades from 1915 to the present. The public event will be topped off with an outdoor ice cream social. On Saturday September 19 parishioners will mark the precise 100th anniversary of the first service held in the church with an Evensong service celebrated by Bishop Steve Lane of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine. It will be followed by a festive community reception in St. Margaret’s parish house.


Filed under Congregational Events, Diocesan Life, St. Margaret's Belfast

Creating a sheltered center with Ashes to Go

On Ash Wednesday, February 18, Maine churches offered dozens of services to mark the beginning of the season of Lent with the imposition of ashes. In five locations around the state, clergy and lay people shared God’s love with people they encountered on a street corner or in a parking lot. All those who took part were moved by the experience. Here are the stories and photos from several people who offered Ashes to Go in Brunswick, Farmington, Lewiston, Portland, and Windham.

Bishop Stephen Lane writes of his experience in Portland:

Bishop Lane and Canon Ambler listen to a young man at Monument Square.

Bishop Lane and Canon Ambler listen to a young man at Monument Square.

Today I had the privilege of sharing God’s love with folks in Portland’s Monument Square. From noon to 2, Michael Ambler and I prayed with and marked with ashes some 35 people who approached us and asked for some of our time. As each one came up we made a little circle, shared our names, and talked about what was on our hearts.

Those we prayed with were a remarkably diverse lot, of all ages and circumstances. Only two said there was nothing to pray about. The rest opened their hearts and shared deeply about their joys and sorrows. A young man in town for the day from New Jersey – and whose family was waiting in the car – asked to be a better father and to move closer to God, especially for the 15 month old in he car. A college student prayed for her sister who has Crohn’s disease and never smiles. A young mom asked prayers for her special needs daughter and her own efforts to do right by her. A homeless woman prayed for an apartment – and for her elderly mother in the hospital. A church goer who had forgotten today was Ash Wednesday asked prayers for her husband, who “just had a stroke.” Several people wished us to pray for peace – here and everywhere.

I was deeply moved by the experience. No one seemed to be running from the truth of life in this world. Everyone seemed pretty clear about mortality and sin. Some were church folks; some were not. And in the moment, each reached for community, for understanding, for a sign that God knows what it’s all about – and cares.

We do have great gifts to offer the world. I’m thankful for the chance to share God’s love and to be reminded how good it is.

The Rev. Cn. Michael Ambler was at Monument Square with Bishop Steve. He writes:

I was especially moved by how open people were willing to be about what’s going on in their lives.  We joined people in prayer for peace, for family members, for housing and stability, as well as in prayers of thanks for a great life.  We always know, when we pause to remember, that everyone passing us on the street has a story; but what a privilege to get a moment’s invitation to hear and pray about people’s lives.
It was also just great to have two of us there:  that meant that when someone came to receive ashes, we could form a little triangle, a space with a sheltered center. 
The Rev. Tim Higgins, rector of St. Ann’s, Windham staked out the parking lot at the Windham P.O. with Deacon Wendy Rozene. He writes:
Ash Wednesday has become for me one of the most fulfilling ministry days of the year. There is something about being in community where our folks live and work and offering them a true service of the Church, praying with folk and talking about the Episcopal Church in Windham and beyond. I am grateful to God for this opportunity and I realize that it could be the start of some other “ministry of presence” in the community.

Deacon Wendy Rozene talks with with a young man at Ashes to Go in 2014.

Deacon Wendy Rozene talks with a young man at the Windham post office in the community where our folks live and work and offering them a true service of the Church, praying with folk and talking about the Episcopal Church in Windham and beyond. I am grateful to God for this opportunity and I realize that it could be the start of some other “ministry of presence” in the community.

We had little children with moms as well as elderly folk in their vehicle who couldn’t get out and we provided them “drive thru ashes.” We also offered “Ashes on the Go” to a Church member, accountant, who asked if I would stop by his office because he couldn’t make our service tonight.
One gentleman remarked,” this idea has inspired me so much that I’m NOT going to take Ashes to Go but I’m going to make the effort to go to Church tonight instead.” Amen! Isn’t that why we do what we do?
The Rev. Larry Weeks, rector of Trinity and priest in charge of St. Peter’s, Portland, took the morning shift at Monument Square with Dean Ben Shambaugh and Deacon Dick Rasner of St. Luke’s Cathedral. Larry, who has taken the lead on Ashes to Go since 2012, had this to say:

It was as usual a rare privilege to be with people. I find something revealing about the physicality of the ashes and imposing them, a holy spot is found.

A family of 4 kids and a mom brought over their grandfather, who prayed for his family, standing just behind him, beaming. Only the grandfather wanted ashes, and as they walked off, one of the grandchildren said, “See, I told you we would find a church.” We were a church! Wow.

Brenda Holman and the Rev. Tim Walmer on Main Street in Farmington

Brenda Holman and the Rev. Tim Walmer on Main Street in Farmington

The Rev. Tim Walmer of St. Luke’s, Wilton, and St. Barnabas’, Rumford, offered Ashes to Go for the first time in downtown Farmington. He was accompanied by St. Luke’s member Brenda Holman. Tim writes:

St. Luke’s secretary dropped by with her two children, and the oldest (aged 11) was reluctant. I told him No problem; you don’t have to.  Five minutes later he got out of the car and said, “I’ve changed my mind.”
One of our folks was with me, and we handed out cards with the prayer, “Life is short and we have not much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk the way with us; so be swift to love, make haste to be kind.”
All in all a moving experience, in part because we found ourselves doing something outside of our comfort zone.
St. Paul's, Brunswick, parishioner Jane Burke get ready to accompany Deacon Chick Carroll to offer Ashes to Go at the local soup kitchen.

St. Paul’s, Brunswick, parishioner Jane Burke get ready to accompany Deacon Chick Carroll to offer Ashes to Go at the local soup kitchen.

The Rev. Mary Lee Wile of St. Paul’s, Brunswick reports:

St. Paul’s sent five parishioners and two deacons out to four locations around Brunswick: the Soup Kitchen, Bowdoin College, the corner of Maine and Pleasant Streets, and (new this year, arranged by one of our parishioners) Midcoast Hospital. Total recipients of ashes and prayers = somewhere over 50. 

A story: a Jewish gentleman came back three times to talk about ashes in Hebrew Scripture, to thank us for being a public witness, and to listen in when someone requested ashes. Although he didn’t receive ashes himself, he said, “I like that prayer.” 
Klara Tammany, director of the Women’s Wisdom Center and member of Trinity, Lewiston, took Ashes to Go to Kennedy Park while the Rev. Steve Crowson shared Ashes to Go at the Trinity Jubilee Center. Klara writes:
Pat (a Methodist parishioner and clergy ordained through ChIME – the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine) and I were in Kennedy Park.  We used the traditional “Remember that you are made from dust and to you shall return.” but added at Pat’s suggestion “And remember that God loves you, now matter what.” 
We also asked if there were any prayer needs.  Several did request – one from a young man was for a friend who had died just three days prior. 
Another older couple came to us, walking hand in hand, having read about us in the paper.  They said they were Roman Catholic, and people had told them they should not come to us because we were not, but since the local St. Pat’s was now closed, they saw no reason not to come to us because they wanted to receive ashes and it was the only way they could do so.  They thanked us for being there. 
After we left the park, I took ashes to the women’s center.  A group of women who wanted to receive ashes, gathered in our meditation room.  A couple had never done this before. All were touched and thankful.


Comments Off on Creating a sheltered center with Ashes to Go

Filed under Diocesan Life, Faith Development, From the Bishop, Ministry and Outreach, Ministry Storytelling

Bishop Lane offers Ashes to Go in Portland; Ashes to Go also in Windham, Brunswick, Lewiston and Farmington

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

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

On Wednesday, February 18, a group Episcopal clergy, including the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, Bishop of Maine, will brave the snow to take the traditional Ash Wednesday practice of the imposition of ashes from inside of church buildings out to the people on the streets of Portland, Windham, Brunswick, Lewiston, and Farmington.

Started by Episcopal clergy in Chicago in 2007, Ashes to Go marks its fourth year in Maine communities. First offered on a commuter rail platform, the practice has spread to dozens of cities across the U.S.

“Not everyone is able to be in their church today. It’s a way of bringing the church’s presence outside a building and offering an opportunity for people to practice their faith as they go about their daily life and work,” said the Rev. Larry Weeks of Trinity Episcopal and St. Peter’s Episcopal Portland. In 2012 Weeks organized the first Ashes to Go in Portland. The first year more an 120 people availed themselves of the opportunity to receive ashes and a blessing.
Shirley Bowen offers ashes to a passerby at Monument Square.  Tim Higgins (left) and Peter Bowen look on. (Photo: Robert Bukaty/AP)

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

In Portland all who wish the imposition of ashes and a brief blessing are welcome at Monument Square from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dean Ben Shambaugh and Deacon Dick Rasner of St. Luke’s Cathedral and the Rev. Larry Weeks will be on hand from 10 a.m. to noon. Bishop Stephen Lane will take the noon to 2 p.m. “shift” in full Bishop vestments (though maybe with a warm hat under his mitre.)

In Windham the Rev. Tim Higgins and Deacon Wendy Rozene of St. Ann’s Episcopal will offer Ashes to Go at the Windham Post Office parking lot on Route 302 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

In Farmington the Rev. Tim Walmer of St. Luke’s Episcopal in Wilton will offer Ashes to Go on Main Street near the Franklin Savings Bank from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

In Brunswick Deacon Chick Carroll of St. Paul’s Episcopal will offer Ashes to Go at 11 a.m. at the soup kitchen located at Midcoast Hunger Prevention on Union Street and at 1 p.m. in front of the Bowdoin College Chapel. The Rev. Carolyn Eklund and Deacon Mary Lee Wile will offer Ashes to Go from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. in front of the Tontine Mall at the corner of Pleasant and Maine Streets.

In Lewiston, the Rev. Steven Crowson of Trinity Episcopal will offer Ashes to Go at Kennedy Park at the corner of Bates and Spruce from 11 to 11:30 a.m. From noon to 12:30 Ashes to Go will be available at the opposite end of the park across from City Hall.

In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the six weeks leading up to Easter. As a time of self-reflection for believers, Lent is often marked by prayer, penance, and charity.

The Rev. Tim Higgins, rector of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Windham, described his experience last year as “one of the coolest ministries I have ever been involved with.” He added,  “A jogger 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!’”

Weeks added, “We found that many people had forgotten that it was Ash Wednesday and welcomed the opportunity to receive ashes and a blessing. It’s high 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.”

Comments Off on Bishop Lane offers Ashes to Go in Portland; Ashes to Go also in Windham, Brunswick, Lewiston and Farmington

Filed under Diocesan Life, St. Ann's Windham, St. Luke's Cathedral, St. Luke's Wilton, St. Paul's Brunswick, Trinity Lewiston, Trinity Portland

One week: five offerings

Learn about the struggles of daily life in people in Gaza…
Navigate the intricacies of filling out the Parochial Report…
Join a spirited conversation covering strategic thinking in Maine churches…
Share your stories (or learn more) about Godly Play…

Between Thursday, February 5, and Thursday, February 12, the Diocese of Maine will offer five events on WebEx,  the web conferencing service that allows us to gather Maine Episcopalians from all corners of the state to learn and share ideas without leaving home!

There is no need to register for any of the events. To participate in any of these sessions, simply visit the web link a few minutes before the session is scheduled to start, click on the meeting title and the “Join” button, then follow the prompts.

See the list below for a descriptions of each session:

Thursday, February 5, at 7:30 p.m.
Eyewitness to Gaza” with the Rev. Bob and Maurine Tobin
The Tobins of Deer Isle had opportunity in December 2014 to enter Gaza to visit Al Ahli Arab Hospital, an institution of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (and supported by the Diocese of Maine), and to view the devastation resulting from the Israeli summer war on Gaza. (Read the Tobin’s updated account of their trip here.)

Via WebEx they will share their eyewitness experiences on Thursday, February 5, at 7:30 p.m. with commentary, photos, and brief videos that highlight both the catastrophic conditions under which Gazans are living and the extraordinary medical and psycho-social care provided by the Christian and Muslim staff of this remarkable hospital.  To learn more, visit

Monday, February 9, at 7 p.m.
Stewardship workshop with Lisa Meeder Turnbull
Diocesan Stewardship Consultant Lisa Meeder Turnbull will lead a session on Monday, February 9, at 7 p.m. She will cover the topic “Strategic Thinking.”    To join the conversation, visit

Tuesday, February 10, at 7 p.m.
Thursday, February 12, at 7 p.m. (repeat)
Take a Walk through the Parochial Report with Canon for Finance and Stewardship Terry Reimer
 Canon for Finance and Stewardship, Terry Reimer, will offer two sessions by WebEx to walk church leaders through the steps to fill out the Parochial Report. Choose either Tuesday, February 10, or Thursday, February 12. Both sessions will begin at 7 p.m. and last one hour, including time for Q&A. Go to shortly before 7 p.m. to be ready for a prompt start.

Wednesday, February 11, at 6 p.m.
Godly Play Storytelling Circle gathers at St. Ann’s, Windham, and online
On Wednesday, February 11, all are welcome to gather for a Godly Play session at 6 p.m. at St. Ann’s in Windham. Participants may also join from home through WebEx by visiting

Comments Off on One week: five offerings

Filed under Diocesan Life, Faith Development, Ministry and Outreach, Social Justice, Stewardship, Training and Education Events

Maine eyewitness to Gaza

by Maurine and the Rev. Robert Tobin
St. Brendan’s, Deer Isle

[Al Ahli Arab Hospital, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, was the recipient of this year’s Diocese of Maine Millennium Development Goal funding . The annual donation, which represents 0.07% of diocesan annual income, totalled $13,000. In 2013, the hospital received one-half of the MDG funding with the balance going to support the ministries of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad. Both ministries serve all people regardless of religion, race, or ethnicity. Maurine and Bob welcome the opportunity to share what they have observed and learned in Gaza with Maine congregations. Email Maurine at to set a date.]


Maurine Tobin with Al Ahli Arab Hospital Director Suhaila Tarazi.

Having viewed countless reports, photos and videos, we felt prepared for what we would see on our visit to Gaza in early December 2014.   But the reality was overwhelming.  No video can capture the scope of the destruction, block upon block of Israeli-demolished apartment buildings, bullet sprayed shops and homes, children playing in rubble, men searching for reusable stones.

Arriving days after Gaza had been flooded by torrential rains, we were met by Suhaila Tarazi, Director of Al Ahli Arab Hospital, and taken on a “tour” of northern Gaza, starting with Beit Hanoun, a village near the checkpoint which had long since lost its citrus groves to an Israeli-created “no man’s land” and had struggled to survive by bringing light industry to the area, now bombed, adding thousands to the pre-war unemployment rate of over 50%.

Thinking we had seen the worst, we were overcome by Shujiya, on the edge of old Gaza City, a neighborhood of native Gazans, unlike the 2/3’s of citizens who are refugees from 1948. We were shocked to see people living among the debris – blankets over gaping holes attesting to habitation for some of the 250,000 now homeless, though they are luckier than the more than 2100 killed, including 500 children.  We talked with a family living in a sort of cave created by the fallen four floors of their apartment building, interrupting the father’s lunch, bits of canned meat and bread distributed to the 80% of Gazans dependent on international aid.  His wife and son were not eating.

As we later learned from the pediatrician at Al Ahli, children under 18 make up 54% of the population of Gaza, and 70% of

A young family makes a meal in the ruins of their home.

A young family makes a meal in the ruins of their home.

all children in Gaza are anemic and malnourished, 25% developmentally delayed as a result. Post-traumatic stress disorder is almost universal among children who have experienced three devastating wars in the past 6 years.

After viewing the lovely waterfront where people seek some respite, we drove alongside the Beach Camp, one of the densest refugee camps in the world, from which raw sewage flows to the sea.  We passed a bombed out mosque in an untouched area, obviously one of the 73 mosques targeted for destruction.

The next day, we visited Al Ahli  to experience the ongoing miraculously good work that small hospital does.  Dr. Maher recounted the trauma of the 51 day assault – surgeons operating round the clock, countless shrapnel and burn victims, and the horrifying puzzle of what new weapon the Israelis were testing in this war, not the white phosphorous of the previous attack, but something that caused the internal organs to become toxic after shrapnel had been surgically removed, forcing the surgeons to repeat surgeries to stop the infections if they were able to do so.  We visited the pediatric unit, where mothers receive nutritional advice while children receive medical care; the burn unit where a wide-eyed little boy stood waist deep in a hydrotherapy tub, soothing his badly burned legs.  We talked with a young man receiving physical therapy for a shrapnel-shattered arm after two of his family members were killed and 12 injured, and we visited a beautiful new diagnostic center recently built with funds from USAID funneled through ANERA because only American institutions can receive such funding.

People taking shelter in the bombed shell of their homes.

People taking shelter in the bombed shell of their homes.

The building proved to be the metaphor for our entire visit:  we entered the state of the art structure for high tech diagnostics only to find it completely empty!  There is simply no money for the desperately needed bone density and CT scans, the MRI, the laboratory equipment, the mammography machines. In fact, Ahli struggles to buy fuel to keep the generator working for the many hours a day when there is no electricity and to purchase urgently needed medical supplies.

The building is a tribute to the faith and hope of the Ahli staff and its resourceful leadership even though it is an empty shell today. We were reminded of the Palestinian flags flying proudly on every collapsed building we saw; the fisherman tending their boats despite the fact that the risk their lives when they put to sea, likely to be confronted by an Israeli patrol; the palpable sense everywhere that the people of Gaza, despite the ongoing siege and the repeated assaults are determined to live. Some resist their oppression violently, unsurprising in the face of their reality, and some resist non-violently by refusing to lose hope in the future, as do the staff of Al Ahli. It is clear that the world has not responded to their cry for justice, but it is also clear that the people of Gaza, are “afflicted in every way, but are not crushed.” ( 2 Cor. 4:3)

The Rev. Robert Tobin and Maurine Tobin are residents of Deer Isle and long-term volunteers at Sabeel Ecumenical Theology Center and the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.  They have led 23 groups to see the facts on the ground and to meet with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim advocates for a just peace.

1 Comment

Filed under Anglican Communion, Social Justice