The New Northeast

tracking the Spirit in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine

Summer Finale Week – a new way to gather at Bishopswood

For the past 50 years, young people from across Maine and beyond have immersed themselves in the natural world at our diocesan camp, Bishopswood. Located in the midcoast town of Hope, Bishopswood is just five miles from downtown Camden.

For all those adults who have had to wave good-bye to children and grandchildren on Sunday afternoon, wishing they could stay at camp themselves, your time has come – finally!

Introducing Summer Finale Week! This new camp for all ages will be offered from August 21 to August 27.  Fred Fowler of St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland, who serves on the Summer Finale Planning Committee recently visited Bishopswood as part of the planning process. He says, “Camp has never looked so good. I’m looking forward to new sailing and rowing opportunities in the great outdoors while meeting new people and celebrating God in our lives.”

A few years ago, Bishopswood Director Mike Douglass began to invite Maine churches to consider using Bishopswood in the spring and fall for parish retreat weekends. The churches that availed themselves of this opportunity discovered that the chance for people of all ages to come together for fun and fellowship – away from the busyness of the outside world – was good for everyone, kids and adults alike.

Emily Keniston, of St. Ann’s, Windham, who attended one of those parish retreats, is also on the Summer Finale Week Planning Committee. She says, “For me, Summer Finale Week represents the very best that church can be. People from all over, in very different places and stages of life, coming together to share experiences, time and fellowship with one another. We will relax into each other’s company, breathe deeply the fresh air all around, and take the time to really experience the Body of Christ in a way that can be challenging while we’re in the midst of our busy, daily lives at home. Summer Finale Week will be a restful, exciting, inspiring, peaceful, delicious, growing time that we can all choose to experience together.”

In addition to the many activities to be offered,  Bishopswood will provide delicious home-cooked meals made with many ingredients harvested from local farms. Several housing options include cabins or RVs set-ups and tenting sites. A number of L.L. Bean 3 to 4-person tents are available to borrow.

Kerry Mansir of Mustard Seeds at Church at 209 in Augusta, also serves on the planning committee. “I’m looking forward to getting away from the crazy pace of life with three kids to a space where we can slow down and be mindful of the beauty around us, our relationships, and the relationships we will build within the larger Bishopswood community. I am excited about a week of playing outside, worshiping together, and sharing meals,” she says.

For those who can’t commit to the entire week, half-week options – from Monday afternoon (Aug. 21) to Thursday morning (Aug. 24) or from Thursday afternoon (Aug. 24) to Sunday morning (Aug. 27)  – are available.

Embedded into Summer Finale Week will be a discrete Youth Camp modeled after BION,  the diocesan teen camp held for many years.

Douglass says, “This is a perfect time for families, kids, youth, grandparents, anyone to be at Bishopswood and recharge. It’s a time to set electronics to the side and be a part of community that will allow us to grow, recharge, and head back home better than we arrived. Summer Finale is a time to reconnect with ourselves, our environment, and all the good in this world.  Summer Finale is going to be fun.”

Whether you are hoping to relax by the lake, enjoy active recreation, explore spirituality or have fun meeting new people— this Summer Finale Week is for you.

For more information about activities offered, registration fees, housing options, and a link to the registration site, visit www.bishopswood.org/finale-week . Click here for a brochure that lists all of the activities offer at Summer Finale Week. More questions, contact Mike Douglass at mike@bishopswood.org.

Register now for Spring Training 2017

Saturday, April 29, 2017
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
27 Pleasant Street
Brunswick, Maine

Gather with Bishop Steve Lane and Episcopalians across the diocese for a day of learning, sharing, and growth. A church leader? A clergy person? Someone interested in spiritual growth or community outreach? With 21 workshops to choose from, you’ll find what you’re looking for. The topic offered by each workshop will be framed around the question: How do I be a Christian? There’s no cost for this event, which will be held at St. Paul’s Church and the public library in Brunswick.

Register Now! | Display Registration | Schedule | Download a bulletin insert and flyer | FAQs

Workshops Offered (Click here for full workshop descriptions)

Workshop Session I and Dwelling in the Word: 9:30-11:00 a.m.

  • Optimal Vestry meeting – led by Stephen Lane
  • Beyond (and deeper into) the Hymnal – led by Thew Elliott
  • How to Love Our Neighbor When You Disagree – led by the Rev. Calvin Sanborn
  • All of Us for All of God – led by Merle Marie Troeger
  • Ministry to the Aging and Elderly in our Communities – led by Betty Balderson, Mary Ann Hoy, Rachel Zoller, and Edie Vaughan
  • Stewardship/Annual Pledging – led by Terry Reimer
  • Maine Pilgrims Share Their Palestine Stories – led by members of the pilgrimage

Plenary with remarks from Bishop Stephen Lane, worship, and music: 11:15 to Noon

Workshop Session II: 12:30-1:45 pm

  • Money and Wisdom for Vestries – led by Michael Ambler and Heidi Shott
  • Dinner Church – led by the Rev. Reed Loy and Linden Rayton
  • The Art of Being with the Poor and Homeless – led by the Rev. Chick Carroll
  • Telling the Gospel as if you believe it is GOOD news – led by Klara Tammany
  • Incapacity and Death: How to take care of yourself, your loved ones and your favorite charities – led by Betsey McCandless and Terry Reimer
  • Discernment Tools for Everyday Life – led by Jane Hartwell

Workshop Session III: 2:00 – 3:15 pm

  • Leadership in Contentious Times – led by Stephen Lane
  • Messy Church – led by Kerry Mansir
  • Community Partnerships – led by Susan Murphy, Erik Karas, and Andree Appel
  • Discovering our Roots: Exploring Celtic Spirituality – led by the Rev. Claudia Wyatt Smith
  • The Other Six Days: Prayer and Spiritual Practice – led by Michael Ambler
  • Church Finances – led by Terry Reimer
  • Best Practices for Social Media – led by Heidi Shott

Schedule of the Day

8:30 to 9:15 – Greeting and Coffee

9:30 to 11:00 – Workshop Session I (with Dwelling in the Word)

11:15 to noon – Plenary with remarks from Bishop Lane, worship, and music

12:30 to 1:45 – Workshop Session II (with lunch)

2:00 to 3:15 – Workshop Session III (and clean up)

FAQs 

WHEN? Saturday, April 29, 2017.

TIME? Coffee and a snack are available from 8:30 – 9:15.  The workshops begin at 9:30 and end at 3:15.

WHERE? St. Paul’s Church, 27 Pleasant Street in Brunswick. It’s on the corner of Union Street. Come in the backdoor. Some workshops will also be held at the adjacent Curtis Public Library. A full schedule with workshop locations is available at the registration table just inside the lower level entrance from St. Paul’s parking lot.

PARKING? Please plan extra time so you can park in a municipal lot or on the street.  To reach the public parking in the Fire Station lot, continue on Pleasant Street and turn left onto Abby Lane.  OR Drive beside the church to the public parking lot on Union Street. OR Park along Union Street.  Please don’t take one of the limited spaces in the church parking lot unless walking is difficult for you.

WHERE SHOULD I GO WHEN I ARRIVE?  The parking lot door will be the easiest to use.  Register at the door and come to the Great Hall for coffee and to browse the display tables.

WHAT TO BRING? Your lunch and a nametag.  Be prepared to eat in a room without a table.

WHO CAN COME?  Everyone is invited, but registration is required so we can plan for you.  The workshops were chosen to appeal to clergy, wardens, vestries, staff, teachers, lay leaders and all parishioners in churches around Maine.  Space is limited to 170 people.

WHERE DO I REGISTER? Register here. Registration will close if we reach capacity of 170 people. Otherwise, it will close on Tuesday, April 25. Sorry, group registration isn’t available. We need to get a headcount for workshops in order to put them in the right-sized rooms.

I FORGOT WHICH WORKSHOPS I REGISTERED FOR? Look at your confirmation email.  Or use your best guess.  Or check the list available on the bulletin board at St. Paul’s. Also, the bulletin board will indicate which workshops have unlimited seating.

ACCESSIBILITY? St. Paul’s Church and the Curtis Public Library both have an elevator.

ABOUT THE BUILDING?  There are four bathrooms on the first floor and two on the second floor.  The building has two sets of stairs and an elevator.  Come to the Registration Table when you arrive and we’ll give you a packet with workshop locations and a map. At the end of the day, we’ll pitch in to move chairs and clean up so the building will be ready for Sunday morning.

HANDOUTS/DISPLAYS?  If you would like to highlight your church program or ministry, we invite you to reserve a display table. Sign up to reserve a display table here.

GRATITUDE:  Thank you to St. Paul’s Church for your wonderful hospitality!

QUESTIONS? Ask Jane Hartwell at jhartwell@episcopalmaine.org.

Faith in Action: Maine Advocacy Days, March 27 & 28

Follow #faithinaction

Maine Episcopalians are invited to gather with people of faith from across the state for a first-ever training in Augusta on March 27 and 28. “Faith in Action: Maine Interfaith Advocacy Days,” sponsored by the Maine Council of Churches, Maine Episcopal Network for Justice, and Preble Street Faith Action Network, is designed to bring people together to worship, learn, and advocate effectively with Maine’s elected officials on pressing issues faced by our neighbors and our wider communities.

On Day 1, Monday, March 27, participants will gather at South Parish Congregational Church located at 9 Church Street in Augusta. After worship and prayer, the Rev. Bill Barter, long-time social justice advocate and rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Lewiston, will offer a keynote address, “A Case for Faith-based Advocacy: The Ethics of the Collective ‘We.’”

Barter says, “In faith-based ethics, we focus on the oneness, on the collective “we” of our humanity. The keynote will focus on advocacy as an ethical decision made by all people of faith, reminding us that advocacy is only truly authentic when it comes from a place of honest self-awareness, and a recognition of our oneness with others. Ethically, there is no “them and us” – we are all simply “us”.  And in this recognition, in this identity, we find our way to advocacy and justice.”

Participants will then choose two workshop focused on the following issues: hunger/poverty, homelessness/housing, health care, and climate justice. In each workshop a policy expert and a faith leader with expertise on that issue will guide participants through current bills under consideration by the Maine legislature, a faith-based rationale for advocacy, and strategies for talking to legislators and policy makers.

Workshop presenters are:

Hunger/Poverty: 
Mr. Joby Thoyalil, Policy Analyst, Maine Equal Justice Partners
Ms Jan Bindas-Tenney, Advocacy Director, Preble Street
The Very Rev. Ben Shambaugh, dean of St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland and Preble Street board member

Homelessness/Housing:
The Rev. Jim Gertmenian, retired United Church of Christ minister and Preble Street board member
Ms Donna Yellen, Chief Program Officer, Preble Street

Health Care:
The Rev. Suzanne Roberts, MD, St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland and family physician
Mr. Mitchell Stein, Health Care Consultant and Policy Expert
Ms Ann Woloson, Policy Analyst, Maine Equal Justice Partners

Climate Justice:
Dr. Elizabeth Parsons, past faculty, Boston University School of Theology
Ms Beth Ahearn, Political Director, Maine Conservation Voters
The Rev. Dr. Steve Hastings, United Church of Christ minister serving at Leeds and Hartford Presbyterian Church

After lunch, representatives from Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions will offer a panel discussion on the impetus for faith-rooted advocacy in each faith. Rabbi Joshua Chasan; the Rev. Maria Anderson, of St. Ansgar’s Lutheran Church in Portland; and the Rev. Calvin Sanborn of St. George’s Episcopal Church in York Harbor; will offer their perspectives on faith in the public square.

On Tuesday morning, March 28, equipped with information and inspiration, participants will meet in the Cross Cafe of the Cross Office Building (11 Sewall Street) adjacent to the State House before going to speak directly their representatives and senators about pending legislation. Opportunities will also exist, depending on the legislative schedule, for participants to sit in on a legislative session or attend public hearings held by legislative committees.

A registration fee of $20.00 covers morning refreshments, a buffet lunch on Monday, and a lunch voucher at the Cross Cafe on Tuesday.

Registration is now open at www.tinyurl.com/AdvocacyDays.

Co-sponsors of Maine Interfaith Advocacy Days include: the Capital Area Multi-faith Association; Winthrop Area Ministerial Association; Faith Linking in Action, Bangor; and Maine Unitarian Universalist State Advocacy Network (MUUSAN).

For more information contact:
John Hennessy at the Maine Episcopal Network for Justice, at jhennessy@episcopalmaine.org or Jane Field of the Maine Council of Churches, at jfield@mainecouncilofchurches.org.

Click here for an event flyer  or a bulletin insert.

A virtual pilgrimage to Palestine and Israel in five conversations

Last October a group of 20 Maine Episcopalians from a dozen congregations traveled to Israel and Palestine for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In addition to the holy sites, they had the opportunity to hear from many people involved in working for peace and dealing with circumstances resulting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The visitors from Maine were profoundly moved by the people they met and the conditions they witnessed.

As they considered how to share their experiences with their fellow parishioners, friends, and neighbors back in Maine, they lighted upon the idea to bring the remarkable Palestinian Christians and Muslims they met to Maine…by way of online conversations.

These online conversations – a virtual pilgrimage – with people from different walks of life in Palestine and Israel will allow Mainers and others interested to learn first-hand about the region and the conditions under which our five guests live and work.

Held on five Sunday afternoons in Lent, each conversation will begin at 3 p.m. (Eastern) with a 30 minute presentation and 15 minutes of Q&A.

Participants may ask questions through the chat function of Zoom – the webinar program – or via email to webhub@episcopalmaine.org.

No advance registration is required to participate. A solid internet connection and computer speakers are the only requirements. Each meeting can accommodate up to 50 viewers who are encouraged to join the meeting (by clicking the Zoom link for that presentation listed below). Please plan to join the meeting ten minutes prior to the start time to work out any technical issues.

Please join us for this remarkable opportunity to hear directly from five fascinating, accomplished Palestinians.

Schedule:

Daily life under occupation
Sunday, March 19, 3 .m. (EDT)
with Walid Abu Alhalaweh, Hebron Rehabilitation Committee

Ten years ago, the Old City of Hebron, an ancient city south of Bethlehem on Palestine’s West Bank, was

Walid giving Mainers a tour of the Old City of Hebron

regarded as the poorest part of town. It suffered from social and economic problems, and environmental pollution. More than a third of its buildings were desolate, abandoned or crumbling. Infrastructure was lacking. Israeli soldiers and settlers harassed the occupants. Closures, curfews and shortages caused residents to leave, bringing commerce almost to a halt.

In the face of this discouragement a Presidential Decree was issued on 12 August 1996, ordering the creation of Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, of which Walid serves as Public Relations Director. This initiative acknowledged Hebron’s religious and cultural status and recognized the determination of the people of Hebron, their institutions – municipal, communal and academic – and the Palestinian leadership, to cherish the cultural heritage of the City and to safeguard it from the encroachment of illegal Israeli settlements.

Learn more from Walid on March 19 at 3 p.m. at https://zoom.us/j/282439822 

The Church’s Response to occupation and its call to ministry
Sunday, March 26, 3 p.m. (EDT)
with Father Fadi Diab, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Ramallah:

Fr. Fadi Diab is the rector of St. Andrew’s in Ramallah on Palestine’s West Bank. In addition to the many parish activities, the congregation works to develop job programs for youth enabling them to stay in the area and to continue to support Christians spiritually and socially. The parish provide leadership and pastoral support for St. Andrew’s School, the Episcopal Vocational and Technical Training Center, and our sister parish in Bir Zeit with a developing elderly housing project. Fr. Diab

will also talk about many of the healthcare ministries in the Diocese of Jerusalem including Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza and the Arab Episcopal Medical Center, adjacent to St. Andrew’s, that offers services to patients with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Learn more from Fadi on March 26 at 3 p.m. at https://zoom.us/j/700562854

Life as a Palestinian Christian in Israel
Sunday, April 2, 3 p.m. (EDT) with Violette Khoury, Director of Sabeel Nazareth

Sabeel is an ecumenical grassroots liberation movement among Palestinian Christians. In Arabic Sabeel means “The Way” and also a “Spring of Water.” Sabeel strives to develop a spirituality based on justice, peace, nonviolence, liberation and reconciliation for the different national and faith communities. Sabeel also works to promote a more accurate international awareness regarding the identity, presence, and witness of Palestinian Christians.

Violette is the Director of Sabeel Nazareth. The Nazareth branch of Sabeel ministers to the Christian population living inside Israel. Their unique circumstance of being Arab, Christian, Palestinian, and citizens of Israel creates an identity problem that involves unemployment and discrimination.

Learn more from Violette on April 2 at 3 p.m. at https://zoom.us/j/471912955

Economic realities under occupation, especially for young Palestinians
Sunday, April 9, 3 p.m. (EDT)
with Sam Bahour, Muslim Palestinian-American businessman

Sam is a Palestinian-American based in Al-Bireh/Ramallah, Palestine who relocated with his family to Palestine from the United States in 1995 to assist in the building of the Palestinian telecommunications sector. He was part of the core team that established the Palestine Telecommunications Company (PALTEL). In 1997, Sam established a management consulting firm, Applied Information Management (AIM), which is engaged in business development, executive counsel, strategic management, and investment, with a niche focus on start-ups. In addition, he founded the Palestine Diaspora Investment Company (PDIC) and is co-founder of American for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy.

Learn more from Sam on April 9 at 3 p.m. at https://zoom.us/j/650117784  

 

Ashes to Go in nine communities across Maine

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

On Wednesday, March 1, a group of Episcopal clergy, including Maine Bishop the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, will 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, Rockland, Bath, Waterville, Windham, Brunswick, Winthrop, Wilton, and Farmington.

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

The Rev. Barbara Clarke and a helper on Main Street in Farmington

“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. Each year more than 100 people, including many passers-by have availed themselves of the opportunity to receive ashes and a blessing.

In Portland all who wish the imposition of ashes and a brief blessing are welcome at Monument Square from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Bishop Lane will join clergy from several Portland-area congregations to offer Ash Wednesday blessings beginning at 11 a.m.

In Rockland – 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. in front of Rock City Cafe and at other spots along Main Street with the Rev. Lael Sorensen and church leaders of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.

In Windham – 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Windham Post Office parking lot on Route 302 by the Rev. Tim Higgins and the Rev. Wendy Rozene of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church

In Wilton – 9: a.m. to 9:30 a.m. near the Wilton Post Office by and in Farmington – Noon to 12:30 p.m. on Main Street near the Post Office by the Rev. Barbara Clarke of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

In Winthrop – 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Winthrop Commerce Center on Main Street by the Rev. Jim Gill of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church

In Brunswick – 10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. at Midcoast Hunger Prevention and from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. in front of the Bowdoin College Chapel by the Rev. Chick Carroll and the Rev. Mary Lee Wile of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

the Rev. Ted Geiser in downtown Bath

In Bath – 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the corner of Front and Center Streets by the Rev. Ted Gaiser of Grace Episcopal Church

In Waterville – 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Colby College’s Pulver Pavilion and from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church’s Evening Sandwich Program at 69 Silver Street with the Rev. John Balicki of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and members of the Waterville-Winslow Interfaith Council.

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 in past years 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, forgiveness, and healing to people who may still have a spiritual hunger but aren’t so sure about Church.”

Tracing the steps of Jesus: past, present, and future

by Judy Smart
Grace Church, Bath

In late fall, 18 Episcopalians from 11 Maine congregations* (and one adopted from the Diocese of Oregon) joined the co-leaders, the Rev. Bob and Maurine Tobin, on a pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine.

The purpose of the trip was twofold: to walk in the footsteps of Jesus (the past) and to experience the everyday life of Palestinians in both Occupied Palestine and Israel (the present). Our ten days were filled with overwhelming encounters and experiences.

THE PAST

We did follow, where known and possible, “the footsteps of Jesus” in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth, although these cities have expanded beyond what anyone in Jesus time could have imagined! New cities have been built on top of old; buildings are high rise and – where Palestinians live – topped with huge water storage tanks; people crowd every corner; traffic is terrifying. Holy places and spaces are a press of bodies, local and foreign, competing to see and imagine what life in Jesus’ day was like. I had difficulty.  The country was far more meaningful to me: hot, dry hills of stone and rocks, cracked dirt gullies, no growth for miles, occasional Bedouin camps, no visible roads or paths other than the road on which we traveled.  This is where I could imagine Jesus. I think each one of us experienced this historical aspect of the trip quite differently and very personally. It was, however, the present that profoundly affected us all.

THE PRESENT

As a former student of Middle East history, I knew the “facts” surrounding the creation of the State of Israel and the subsequent seizing of land from and denial of human rights to the centuries-in-resident Palestinians. Now being present to the everyday life of Palestinians was sobering, and it was unimaginable. The following two experiences are two among many that had a great impact on me.

The Tent of Nations

Climbing over the barrier that shuts off the Nassar Farm

Early in our pilgrimage, we visited the Tent of Nations, a 100-acre farm, south of Bethlehem owned by the Nassar family since 1916.  Because a permanent Israeli-built road block cuts off access, we had to climb over it and hike a half-mile to the farm. At the entrance, a large boulder is inscribed the family’s motto: “We Refuse to Be Enemies.”  The road block and the inscription were among the first of many disconnects we were to see between occupiers (Israelis) and occupied (Palestinians).

The farm “buildings” included family sleeping quarters, an open kitchen, a compost toilet, several miscellaneous outhouses and two worn tents that house volunteer workers. In winter, the family and volunteers move into age-old caves for additional warmth. The farm itself produces olives and other crops.

Daoud Nassar tells of this family’s struggle to keep their farm in one of the caves

We were warmly welcomed and given a bountiful lunch cooked by Mrs. Nassar. After lunch we explored the immediate surroundings and settled in one of the caves to speak with the director Daoud Nassar, whose grandfather, in 1916, made the unusual but prescient step to legally document the ownership the land. He spoke about the ongoing intimidation, physical pressure, and the violence that is a constant in their life and work.

The farm is surrounded by five illegally-built Israeli settlement cities – one with a population of 45,000 people – and constant construction circling the farm. Throughout our visit, we could hear the sounds of construction of a new yeshiva at the edge of the farm by the road block. Access to the farm, except by foot, has been cut off, as have water and electricity. Building permits, even erection of additional tents, are denied. The right to use solar power with equipment donated by a German nonprofit is currently being challenged by the Israelis. The family has been threatened by Israeli settlers. Thousands of olive trees have been bulldozed.

walking back to the bus

With the help of volunteers from many nations, the family has worked tirelessly for 25 years to overcome barriers creatively, sustainably, and peacefully through the legal process. It is the volunteer presence, support from around the world, and Grandfather Nassar’s decision to register his property that keeps the farm from being bulldozed and seized in order to expand Israeli settlements on what is rightfully and legally Palestinian land. Israel knows the world is watching the farm at Tent of Nations.

Daoud repeated, “we will not be enemies” and “we are not optimistic, but we are hopeful.”  The pilgrims from Maine were overwhelmed.

Hebron

Mainers negotiate one of the 121 checkpoints in Hebron’s Old City

Hebron, located in the West Bank of Palestine south of Jerusalem and one of the oldest cities in the world, is a holy place for Muslims, Christians and Jews as the burial site of Abraham and the Patriarchs. It is the largest city in the West Bank with 215,000 residents. While the New City is major economic and commercial center, the once-thriving historic Old City of Hebron now is largely a ghost town. It is home to about 6,500 Palestinian residents and about 500 Jewish settlers who are guarded by 1,500 Israeli military personnel at any given time. Because of the occupation, apartments and homes remain empty where for centuries both Muslim and Christian Palestinian families lived and worked. Hundreds of businesses have been forced to close or have shut down due to lack of customers. Settlers and the military control local life and do so brutally.

walking through the empty streets of Abraham’s city where once there was a vibrant marketplace

We arrived by bus. Our guide, Walid Halaweh of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, pointed to the place where the pavement changed color thereby differentiating the levels of security between the “New City” and the “Old City.”  He indicated that from this spot until our return our every step would be recorded. An armed guard in a tower looked down on us from one of 121 checkpoints in the Old City alone. We watched the high-mounted cameras – 106 in all in the Old City – track our process through the once-vibrant market place.

We walked down a dimly lit street where most businesses were boarded up. The few shops still operating had few or no customers. With all the heavily-guarded checkpoints, people don’t come and businesses suffer. Overhead, metal mesh covered the street. It kept out garbage, including bottles of urine, which Israeli settlers throw out of their apartment windows into the Palestinian area below. A line painted on a wall showed the level of sewer water that had arisen when sewers had been purposely blocked, thereby flooding shops and destroying merchandise.

At a checkpoint our guide was stopped by very young, heavily-armed Israeli soldiers. Because Walid is a Palestinian, he was not allowed to accompany us down a street of “ghost” houses. One of our members was screamed at for going too close to a wall. The sole bright spot was a Palestinian shop keeper who invited us to stop for coffee. He refused payment because “you are guests.” As we exited the Old City, one of our group said that she had never felt so dirty in her entire life. It was not a physical statement but an emotional one. I think most of us felt the same.

There are so many stories and so many disconnects.  On one side we saw checkpoints and walls; land and property appropriation; refusal of permits to build or rehabilitate or to travel; an armed military that can threaten, beat, kidnap, and imprison without charges, trials, or judges; reduced or cut off water or electricity, educational and employment opportunities, garbage collection, and other human services. These are just a few of the violations of human rights and international laws we observed first hand.

On the other side we saw and we heard over and over again: speak the truth to power, we will not be enemies, we are not optimistic, but we have hope, we want justice and peace, we want an end to military occupation, we want our human rights. Who will prevail? How can peace be achieved?

The Future?

Our co-leader, the Rev. Bob Tobin, introduces Fr. Fadi Diab, rector of St. Andrew’s, Ramallah

We visited St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ramallah. In my mind, its small size and simple beauty eclipsed the big Cathedrals we visited earlier. Father Fadi Diab described the work of the Christian church in Ramallah and elsewhere in the Diocese of Jerusalem. Most of the work involves providing social services: human, health, and educational services that Palestinians pay taxes for but that Israel does not provide except at the most minimal levels.

After describing the work, he then turned to us and said if the Church united and took a stand against the Israeli military occupation, it would have more power than the Church imagines it could possibly have. “What the Church needs today is a prophetic voice, and it does not have one. You can pray and pray but in the end you must also do. We are God’s hands.”

And so here we are back in the United States, the Diocese of Maine, our communities and homes. I think most of us are committed to doing something, yet we do not know how or what that might be. Perhaps telling what we witnessed there is a start.

*The pilgrimage, sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Maine and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship – Maine Chapter, included members from the following congregations: St. John’s, Bangor; Grace Church, Bath; St. Francis, Blue Hill; St. Paul’s, Brunswick; St. Brendan’s, Deer Isle; Christ Church, Gardiner; St. David’s, Kennebunk; St. Andrew’s, Newcastle; St. Luke’s, Portland; Trinity Church, Saco; St. John Baptist, Thomaston.

Photo albums from your Maine Pilgrims

Twenty-one intrepid pilgrims from 11 Episcopal congregations across Maine have learned and experienced a great deal in the first two days. More storytelling to come, but, considering our non-stop schedule, please check out our photo albums for now.

Maine Pilgrims at the Dome of the Rock in East Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Maine Pilgrims at the Dome of the Rock in East Jerusalem on Wednesday.

These albums are open to the public. You don’t need a Facebook account to view them.

Maine Pilgrims arrive

Maine Pilgrims – Day 1

Maine Pilgrims – Day 2

Take me to the river

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.

jordan6Rustom 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.

jordan1As 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 jordan2powerful 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,jordan5 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.

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To view the public photo albums from each day of our trip, visit facebook.com/heidoshott/photos_albums 

Whelmed in the city of compassion

by Heidi Shott
Canon for Communication and Advocacy

gadaraMany years ago a wise woman – named Esther – introduced the notion of “whelmed” to me. She posited that it was possible to be not overwhelmed, not underwhelmed, but simply whelmed – full to the brim.

Upon waking on this third morning in Amman, that’s exactly how I feel. Here at the invitation of the Jordan Tourism Board, our small band of Episcopalian religion writers and bloggers, along with a larger Ecumenical group, is touring historic and Biblical sites to gain a greater appreciation for “the other Holy Land.”

On our full first day in Jordan we traveled two hours north of Amman to the ruins of the ancient (really ancient) trading city of Gadara in present day Umm Qais. How strange to follow signs to the Syrian border. How could we possibly be just a few hours’ drive away from the horror and devastation of Aleppo when the previous evening we were gathered in the departure gate at JFK?

stoneFrom its perch high in the hills, we could look out to the northwest into Israel to see Lake Tiberius, or the Sea of Galilee. Due north, the seemingly barren slopes territory of the Golan Heights rose across the far side of the Jordan River. To the northeast, we gazed into the vast plateau of southern Syria. Also within view was the hillside where three Gospel writers recount the account of Jesus casting out demons from an afflicted man into a herd of pigs. Surrounding us were the ruins, in various state of restoration, of traces of a vast Greek and later Roman trading city. Walking the Roman road, surrounded by Greek columns and a group of stone carvers working in the shade of a small grove of trees, it was impossible not to be moved by thought of the thousands of people who had trod this path before us, including, perhaps, Jesus.

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Raed, our guide, stands on the later Roman expansion (106 AD) of the Forum at Jerash. In front of him are the original Greek pavers dating from 500 BC.

Returning south toward Amman, we paid a visit to the city of Jerash, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the most extensively preserved Roman cities. Again, the wonder of the ingenuity of the ancient builders and engineers and the thousands of years of human history that has unfolded in that very spot fills one’s heart and mind to bursting.

Back in Amman our we Episcopalians stopped for a 5 p.m. English service at the International Anglican Church of the Redeemer. There a kindly Australian priest and his warm congregation mixed with Jordanians and ex-pats welcomed hymnus. I confess that, during the sermon, I found it impossible to resist leafing through Book of Common Prayer in Arabic. It is a fine thing, when your heart and mind are whelmed, to allow the familiar language of the prayerbook and the fine company of dear people, to wash over your soul.

Much more to come. Stay-tuned.

Our group album from Day 2 

Visit my companions’ blogs as well.

Neva Rae Fox, Public Affairs Officer for The Episcopal Church at Neva’s Notes.

The Rev. Tim Schenck, Rector of St. John the Evangelist and Creator of Lent Madness, at Clergy Confidential.

Hannah Wilder, Director of Communications for the Diocese of San Diego, here.

The Rev. Rosalind Hughes, Rector of Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio, and News Blogger for Episcopal Cafe at Over the Water.

Our group album from Day 1.

 

Why me, Lord?

by Heidi Shott
Canon for Communication and Advocacy

kris

He does have that ’70s Jesus thing going for him.

Of late I’ve been posing a question that was once asked by the venerable 20th Century theologian and Rhodes scholar, Kris Kristofferson.

“Why Me, Lord?”

It’s not that I’m facing some Sunday-Morning-Coming-Down existential crisis, far from it. It’s that I’m a slightly mystified as to why I’m propping up a wall in JFK’s international terminal waiting for the Royal Jordanian Airways ticket counter to open at 6 p.m.

It seems that I, along with six talented Episcopal writers and bloggers – and an additional 18 or so religion writers from other denominations – have been invited by the Jordan Tourism Board on a nine-day tour of “the other holy land.”

When the offer to apply first arrived in my inbox this summer, I was loath to believe it.

“What a great opportunity,” an encouraging Bishop Steve Lane offered by way of blessing several weeks later.

Then he said this: “But I also want you to represent my office on the Diocese of Maine pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine in late October.”

Two trips to the Middle East in five weeks with a little event called Diocesan Convention in between. As daunting and overwhelming as that seems, experiencing the hospitality of Jordan, which is often described as “a quiet house in a noisy neighborhood” in advance of a trip to Israel/Palestine where strife and violence, or the fear of it, are woven into the fabric of daily life offers an opportunity to bear witness to so many human stories. It’s an offer I can’t refuse, even if I’m not sure why I’ve been graced with it.

It is my great hope that I will find ways to do justice to the telling of a few people’s stories and the circumstances in which they find themselves and the way that God is at work in their midst.

My colleagues and I invite you to follow along with us. On various social media channels, we’ll use the hashtag #holyjordan. We’re a varied group in terms of both geography and vocation so our perspectives will, I hope, complement the our story-telling styles.

Please join us  – and join in – our Jordan journey.

Here are some posts already shared as we head out.

The Rev. Rosalind Hughes, rector of Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio
“Crossing the Jordan” at www.rosalindhughes.com

The Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of St. John the Evangelist, Hingham, Mass.
“Journeying to Jordan (TODAY!)” at www.clergyconfidential.com