The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Religion and Values Thu, 26 May 2016 10:37:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Interactive map: States of religion Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:43 +0000

Percentage of people who are “highly religious.”

  • 30 – 39%
  • 40 – 49%
  • 50 – 59%
  • 60 – 69%
  • 70 – 79%
NOTE: State details include national ranking
SOURCE: Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. February 26, 2016
]]> 5, 23 May 2016 16:35:04 +0000
A changing religious landscape: Where the spirit moves Maine Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The first time Christy Thyng went to a service at Eastpoint Christian Church in Portland, she knew she was in the right place.

It was a little louder and flashier than traditional Baptist services she had attended near her home in Kittery. Located in a former warehouse on the road to the Portland International Jetport, Eastpoint’s 360-seat auditorium was filled and lit for a performance. A contemporary rock band opened and closed the nondenominational service. Bible verses and song lyrics flashed on large screens above a modern stage. All of that would take some getting used to.

But Pastor Scott Taube’s preaching had an immediate and profound impact on Thyng. He delivered a welcoming sermon rooted in the pages of the Bible and spoke with love and compassion about the challenges of modern living.

She’s been traveling 45 minutes to Portland for Sunday services ever since.

“It was very clear that God was moving and speaking through him,” said Thyng, 40, a wife and mother of four. “He’s constantly sharing experiences from his own life. He’s just like everybody else. Even though it’s a bit of a drive, there’s something really happening at that church.”

Thyng and her family are among a growing number of Mainers, especially young people, who are swelling the ranks of nondenominational Christian churches across a state known for being among the least religious in America. Some are new to churchgoing. Many are trading traditional religious practices and mindsets for worship services and community outreach programs that strive to make the Gospel relevant to 21st century believers.

Eastpoint’s growth is so dramatic – a fourth Sunday service was added in April and weekly attendance has topped 1,300 in a little more than a decade – that church leaders recently announced an ambitious $7 million plan to move into a former big-box store near the Maine Mall in South Portland. From LifeChurch in Gorham to The Rock Church of Greater Bangor, similar congregations across Maine are attracting new members, adding worship services, building larger auditoriums and expanding to other locations.

“People still want the Lord, they just don’t necessarily want it in the same way,” said Kirk Winters, lead pastor of The Rock Church of Greater Bangor, which is on the verge of a $2 million expansion.


Growth among nondenominational congregations comes as many mainline Protestant churches – Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, etc. – and Roman Catholic churches in Maine struggle to fill their pews. Only 34 percent of Mainers say religion is very important in their lives and 22 percent say they attend worship services at least weekly, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2015 Religious Landscape Study. In Alabama, the most religious state, 77 percent say religion is very important and 51 percent worship weekly.

The number of nondenominational evangelical Christians in Maine is still relatively small – they make up about 1 percent of all adult Mainers, or about 10,000 people over age 17, the Pew study found. About 21 percent of the state’s population is Catholic and 37 percent belong to various Protestant denominations.

But nationally, nondenominational church members are the only Christians whose numbers appear to be growing, from 3.4 percent of U.S. adults in 2007 to 4.5 percent in 2014, the Pew survey found. And while dependable comparative data on state-level memberships are unavailable before 2010, nondenominational churches appear to be growing and multiplying in Maine, from a relative handful of congregations with a few thousand members in the 1990s, to 178 congregations with nearly 26,000 members of all ages in 2010, according to the U.S. Religion Census.

In contrast, the number of Mainers who are Catholic, the state’s largest denomination, fell from 283,000 in 2000 to 190,100 in 2010, a decline that has led to the closing of 18 churches since 2006 and the consolidation from 135 parishes to 55, according to church officials.

“Nondenominational churches are dramatically on the rise,” said Scott Thumma, professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary and director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research in Connecticut. Thumma is a leading expert and author on evangelicalism and nondenominational churches.

Outreach Pastor Kurt Holmgren leads a sermon at a recent Eastpoint Christian Church service. "We believe you should love everybody," Holmgren said, "no matter what they believe."

Outreach Pastor Kurt Holmgren leads a sermon at a recent Eastpoint Christian Church service. “We believe you should love everybody,” Holmgren said, “no matter what they believe.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Being nondenominational has become so desirable, Thumma said, some established churches are minimizing denominational ties and traditions, or dropping them altogether. Church names often include words such as “life,” “grace,” “point” and other uplifting concepts. Any connection to a denomination, if there is one, is often diminished or absent from church literature or websites.

Tracking this shift has been difficult because nondenominational churches aren’t organized under one administrative authority, though many are connected through organized affiliations, and most denominations aren’t eager to relinquish oversight of churches or report declining memberships.

“Sometimes the denominational identity carries a lot more negative baggage,” Thumma said. “Nondenominational churches are offering an alternative product in the religious marketplace. It’s a highly successful model at this point and it really is changing the landscape of religion in America.”


Without the labels, limitations and sometimes negative preconceptions associated with denominations, these independent congregations defy easy description or categorization.

Some are being “planted” by organizations with ties to churches in more religious areas of the southern and midwestern United States. Their members send pastors, support staff and money to establish new congregations in New England, as they would for a foreign mission. Others are developing as outgrowths of churches here in Maine.

Often, nondenominational churches aim to provide greater opportunities for community involvement and increased clerical accountability in the wake of recent high-profile church scandals. Many have strong youth ministries and small groups that provide opportunities for Bible instruction, socializing and support for men, women, singles and people struggling with grief, addiction and other issues.

Church leaders are undeterred by disapproval or criticism in a state where firm belief in God fell from 59 percent in 2007 to 48 percent in 2014, according to the Pew study. In contrast, 82 percent of adults in Alabama have an unwavering belief in the Almighty.

They’re acting on the premise that while many people today might be “anti-institution,” they aren’t necessarily “anti-religion,” said Thom Rainer, president and CEO of Lifeway, a Nashville-based nonprofit that is the largest seller of Christian books and other resources in the world. It’s also part of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in America.

Rainer is a widely known church consultant and author of books such as “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” who puts out a regular Web podcast on current issues in Christianity, and he has worked with a variety of congregations facing both positive and negative growth challenges.

“Denominational names are driving some people away,” Rainer said. “Many of the denominational churches have a negative brand. Nondenominational churches offer a fresh chance for people to try a church without a brand. I think the move toward nondenominationalism is in its early stages and it will increase.”


The Sunday afternoon service at Eastpoint had already started when Patty Peterson and her husband, Larry, slipped into their seats and immediately began singing along with the rest of the congregation. The couple exuded joy throughout the gathering, smiling at each other occasionally, his arm draped across her shoulders during the sermon.

The Petersons, who live in Gorham and have two adult children, started attending Eastpoint about five years ago. They came from a mainline Protestant church that was struggling and they were looking for something more, said Patty Peterson, 61, who works as a nanny.

At Eastpoint, the couple found a vibrant congregation with members of all ages that has enriched their lives far beyond Sunday services. They especially enjoy small group meetings and Bible classes that help them delve more deeply into their faith, cope with everyday challenges and do good works in the wider community.

Locally, church members help recent immigrants, hold recovery support groups and volunteer as street pastors who patrol downtown Portland on weekend nights looking for people who need assistance of any kind. They also have missions in Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Haiti. But it’s the atmosphere at the church that grabs most people.

“It’s comfortable,” Peterson said of Eastpoint. “You can walk in and feel welcome. The Holy Spirit is so obviously alive and at work at Eastpoint. That’s where the joy comes from.”

Paul Hancock of Naples sways to the music at Eastpoint Christian Church at a recent service in Portland. Weekly attendance has grown to 1,300 in a little more than a decade, prompting leaders to plan an ambitious $7 million move to a former big-box store in South Portland.

Paul Hancock of Naples sways to the music at Eastpoint Christian Church at a recent service in Portland. Weekly attendance has grown to 1,300 in a little more than a decade, prompting leaders to plan an ambitious $7 million move to a former big-box store in South Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Church leaders balk when critics question their motives and describe their outreach efforts as a form of trickery or a scam to win converts and support a tax-free enterprise.

“We don’t love people to convert them,” said Kurt Holmgren, Eastpoint’s outreach pastor. “We love people because we are converted. No bones about it, we believe Jesus is the way to go. But we believe you should love everybody, no matter what they believe.”


Eastpoint’s growth became obvious in March, when church leaders announced plans to create a “community center with a church inside” in a 92,000-square-foot commercial building that previously housed Bob’s Discount Furniture and HomeGoods chain stores.

South Portland’s Planning Board approved the project this month and Pastor Taube hopes to complete the purchase by mid-June, start renovations in July and celebrate a first service in the new church next Easter.

Financed through a Colorado-based nonprofit that supports church construction, the new church would have a 1,500-seat auditorium, a 40-seat cafe, 20 classrooms and meeting rooms, an indoor basketball court and an indoor soccer field.

If all goes well, it would be Eastpoint’s fourth move since Taube started the church in a rented movie theater in South Portland in 2004. He had been a pastor at much larger churches in Ohio – so-called “megachurches” with 2,000 members or more. He sent out three rounds of direct-mail invitations to 65,000 homes in Greater Portland. About 220 people showed up for the first service.

“I thought there was a definite need in this area, compared to the Midwest, where there’s a church on every corner,” Taube said. “And this is where the church in America began.”

LifeChurch in Gorham is another nondenominational church that’s growing. Started in the Howard Johnson’s ballroom in South Portland in 1996, it now has an average weekly attendance of 800 members at three weekend services.

Senior Pastor Brian Undlin said the congregation’s “slow and steady” growth led to the start of a second site with its own pastor in Bath in 2007. It now has 120 regular attendants who meet at the town’s senior center. The church plans to start a third site in Windham soon.

“It’s kind of a natural progression,” Undlin said. “A lot of people were driving from Bath. Now we have a lot of people from Windham. We’re kind of looking at the people God is sending us and trying to serve them better.”

The Rock Church of Greater Bangor, which grew out of The Rock Church of Greater Portland, plans to build a $2 million addition this summer to expand maximum seating capacity from 320 to 735 people, said Lead Pastor Kirk Winters. The church is already holding four services each Sunday to accommodate 1,035 regular attendants. It also holds worship services at sites in Orono and Sullivan, and it’s helping to jump-start established churches in Southwest Harbor and Washburn that had flagging memberships.

“This was our biggest year ever,” Winters said. “With the vast majority of Mainers, we have an opportunity to help them develop a relationship with Christ. We partner with people. We don’t care who gets the glory. We just want to reach people.”


Eastpoint Christian Church was planted here. Taube was recruited to be its founding pastor and partially funded by Restoration House Ministries in Manchester, New Hampshire, a church-planting organization that has started 16 churches across New England since 2000.

Dan Clymer, executive director of Restoration House, said more than 30 churches in the South and Midwest support his organization financially. They recall New England’s Puritan roots, when Harvard College was founded to train ministers, long before it became a secular intellectual bastion. They recognize the historical precedence for a religious reawakening in the region, following similar movements in the 1700s and 1800s, and they see a need to bring the Gospel to the many “unchurched” people who live here.

“They understand that New England is one of the most influential regions of the world,” Clymer said of his supporters. “They want the church to make a difference in New England because it also will make a difference in the world.”

It cost $650,000 to launch Eastpoint for the first four years, half of which was funded by Restoration House, Clymer said. Taube and his wife, Beth, along with two other couples from Ohio, raised the other half. They came to Maine a year before the first service to begin building a congregation.

It doesn’t surprise Clymer that Taube has been so successful. Restoration House seeks pastors who are dedicated to exploring and targeting the needs of the communities they serve. It encourages pastors to join secular organizations, such as the local chamber of commerce or Rotary Club, to make connections and meet people where they live. And it expects pastors to develop congregations that reflect and actively engage in the local culture.

“It’s difficult to find church leaders who are humble enough to know what they don’t know,” Clymer said. “If I believed in cloning, which I don’t, I would clone Scott Taube because he’s humble enough to know what he doesn’t know.”

That humility must be sustained for a church to remain relevant, said Jeff Tarbox, pastor of New Life Church in Biddeford.

Tarbox founded New Life in 1983 as an Advent Christian church. It became nondenominational in 1998 and now has about 1,100 members from 58 ZIP codes throughout southern Maine and New Hampshire.

At 59, Tarbox said he’s striving to stay flexible and maintain the right balance of faith and pragmatism. He believes his church exists for nonmembers who have yet to walk through its doors and he knows people “don’t choose churches based on labels anymore.”

“We’re going to work to stay relevant to the current generation rather than stay focused on mine,” Tarbox said. “If I’m not working toward that, we’re going to wake up one day and everybody in the room will have gray hair.”


Walk into Eastpoint on a Sunday evening and you’ll see dozens of middle- and high-school age kids playing interactive games, discussing Scripture or just hanging out. The church has about 120 active members in that age group.

Its strong youth ministry is one reason Melodie Gage and her husband, Chris, decided to join Eastpoint when his job with the U.S. State Department allowed the family to settle in Scarborough after living abroad for more than 20 years.

Through the youth group, Fusion, and other adults at Eastpoint, the couple’s two children, Evan, 17, and Olivia, 14, have been surrounded by “intelligent and loving role models who look out for them,” said Melodie Gage, 55. Having that support system has been especially important in recent months as Gage battled a serious illness, she said.

For Olivia Gage, who is an eighth-grader at Scarborough Middle School, Eastpoint provides both social and spiritual grounding, in part because some of her friends at school also attend the church.

“They really connect with each age group, no matter how old you are,” Olivia Gage said. “It’s really great to know that some of my friends share the same beliefs as me. My faith gives me a foundation for how I interact with people and how I present myself in the world.”

To appeal to younger believers, many churches are embracing technology, such as cellphone apps that make it easy to download worship service programs, listen to videotaped sermons or make financial contributions. Technology is especially attractive to members of the millennial generation, born between 1980 and 2000, said Rainer, the Lifeway CEO.

Millennials also tend to be “very spiritual” and less interested in all things “churchy,” Rainer said. They’re seeking more connected, intentional relationships at home, at work and in their communities. They’re attracted to new faith experiences that include relaxed, conversational worship services and meaningful community action.

They also want pastors who are accessible and transparent about church operations and show integrity in their personal and professional lives, Rainer said. That’s something millennials share with many older church members.

“The desire for accountability has increased with each generation,” Rainer said, especially when it comes to financial matters.

While many nondenominational congregations openly seek donations on their websites and ask members to “tithe” – or give as much as 10 percent of their income to the church – some also appear to be very open about how much they collect and what they do with the money.

Eastpoint, for instance, publishes financial information in its weekly program for worship services. At its April 10 service, it reported receiving $30,286 in gifts the week before – $3,576 more than its weekly goal and just $16,424 shy of its year-to-date goal of $347,230.

That kind of transparency is important to members like Christy Thyng of Kittery. She and her husband, Matthew, who works at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, make a point of giving 10 percent of their income to Eastpoint.

They support Eastpoint’s missions, including the $7 million plan to move to a larger location, though it has come at some sacrifice to their family of six.

“We haven’t been away on a vacation since the 12-year-old was 4, and that’s OK,” Christy Thyng said. “The possibility of (Eastpoint) getting into a bigger place that can further the goals of the church the way (Taube) envisions – it’s a win for everyone.”

Christy Thyng, 40, of Kittery shares communion with her 4-year-old daughter, Makayla, at Eastpoint Christian Church in Portland. "The move to a different church was a big decision," Christy Thyng said. "Lots of the churches (she and her husband, Matthew) visited were really good, but we found our spiritual home at Eastpoint."

Christy Thyng, 40, of Kittery shares communion with her 4-year-old daughter, Makayla, at Eastpoint Christian Church in Portland. “The move to a different church was a big decision,” Christy Thyng said. “Lots of the churches (she and her husband, Matthew) visited were really good, but we found our spiritual home at Eastpoint.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


The contemporary music fades, the band steps out of the spotlights and Scott Taube takes the stage at Eastpoint’s Sunday afternoon service.

Unassuming in jeans and a dark purple polo shirt, Taube stands near a round, bar-height table and begins speaking about the universal battle for self-control in the face of sin. His words are measured and his tone is calm, with an occasional lilt that tugs the listener’s attention. Without the Lord, he explains, we are powerless against any challenge, whether to avoid lashing out at loved ones or to fight whatever addiction troubles us.

“It is very possible to stumble less,” Taube assures his flock. “It’s not time to take control. It’s time to surrender. Because he will take control and he will do a much better job than you or me.”

Taube describes the devil as a deceiver waiting to trip us up and the Father as a savior offering a warm embrace. You won’t hear fire and brimstone at Eastpoint and most other nondenominational church services. You probably won’t see a lectern or pulpit, either, or a clerical collar, or even a necktie.

You likely won’t hear Taube or pastors like him urging church members to vote against gay rights, or protest at an abortion clinic, or vote for a particular party or candidate.

“I spend zero time talking about the issues in the media,” Taube said. “We’re not a church with a hate agenda. We’re not an issues-based church.”

That being said, Eastpoint and similar nondenominational churches hold to the belief that the Bible is clear on the subjects of homosexuality, abortion and other contemporary controversies. Marriage is between a man and a woman, they say, and abortion is taking a life.

When church members are conflicted in any area that Taube considers sin, he will pray with them and advise them if they seek it, but ultimately he believes each individual must sort out his or her sins and find redemption in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

It’s an approach that makes many nondenominational churches seem less outwardly judgmental and more welcoming. It’s also part of a conscious effort to be part of and bring change to the communities around them.

“Haters do a disservice to all others,” said Winters, pastor of The Rock Church of Greater Bangor. “That doesn’t mean we don’t speak the truth, but we speak the truth with love and try to help people work through their issues.”


Christy and Matthew Thyng attended services at several other churches near their home in Kittery before they brought their family to Eastpoint.

The moment of spiritual clarity came a little over a year ago. Their oldest child, Andrew, was one of several high school students who had taken a bus from Eastpoint for a weekend visit to Liberty University, a large Christian college in Lynchburg, Virginia, which he now attends. When the Thyngs traveled back to Eastpoint that Sunday to pick him up, they decided to attend a service there, too.

“The move to a different church was a big decision,” Christy Thyng recalled. “Lots of the churches we visited were really good, but we found our spiritual home at Eastpoint.”

Now, the whole family is eager to attend Eastpoint each Sunday, Thyng said. Sixteen-year-old Madison makes sure everyone is up and ready to go on time. The hour-and-a-half round trip between Kittery and Portland has made it difficult for the family to take part in other activities during the week, such as young adult cookouts or weekend women’s retreats, but Thyng said she hopes to change that.

“The desire to be more involved is very real,” she said. “Sunday morning isn’t a drag to go to church. I look forward to it every week to be with people who believe the same things that I believe. I want more of that in my life.”


]]> 48, 23 May 2016 13:10:41 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 21 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 “Friends of the Groom,” a series of humorous skits focusing on the human encounter with the divine. $10 for show; workshop free with reservation, Raymond Village Community Church, 27 Main St., 650-7845, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 7:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday, 10 to 11 a.m. Sunday.

Holy Grounds Coffee House open mic. Free. Church of the Holy Spirit, 1047 Congress St., Portland,, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Tibetan Buddhist Prayers for the Dead and Vairocana Empowerment. Khenpo Kunga Dhundop, abbot of Pema Ts’al Sakya Monastic Institute to speak. Suggested donation: $30 to $50, Curtis Memorial Library, 23 Pleasant St., Brunswick, 201-805-8683, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Beholding Nature: Spiritual Ecology Through the Eyes of the Heart. Ongoing discussion of Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth, including experiential practices in broadening perception and opening the “eyes of the heart.” By donation. Unity of Greater Portland, 54 River Road, Windham,, 6:30 p.m. Monday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Fri, 20 May 2016 19:16:52 +0000
Reflections: A pen pal seething with religious intolerance is no pal Sat, 21 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I have a pen pal, except he’s not a pal. My pen pal is not the kind you’d wish to meet in person or whose letters you’d cherish, the way I did when, as a teenager in a small town in Kurdistan, Iran, corresponding with an Austrian girl of my age, dreaming of spending an exciting life, dancing and singing with her and our many children in the rolling green hills below the Alps, mimicking the happy scenes of the popular movie “The Sound of Music.” This pen pal is anonymous, probably a man, an angry dude, hiding behind a pseudonym, expressing anger and hatred toward everything foreign, including my religion, and my being a Muslim. His words hurt like sharp needles.

He writes religiously every time a terrorist attack, committed by criminals claiming to be Muslims, happens in the Western world, and not elsewhere, as if to suggest it is geography that decides whose lives matter or not. His violent language, darkened by the lack of lucidity, makes me see him as a fearful man terrified by the demographic changes taking place around him and the world passing him by. Reading between the lines, I could feel his desperation, missing the time when Maine was as white as the snow on Mount Washington’s summit.

His emails; long texts, words I picture were stabbed angrily on a keyboard, show up on my inbox, every time my writings in support of immigrant causes, or to showcase the interfaith efforts, multiculturism, or to counter stereotypes that target minorities, including Muslims, appear in the local newspapers. His words are as toxic as the newspapers’ reader comment sections.

Every time I sit to write, as I do now, I shudder to think how he’d respond, and what would he label me next. I know outing him in this column, though no reader could possibly know who he is, would not please him.

I write back when I can, pleading, with no success, to have him see the oneness and the sameness of the core values that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share. In my responses, I gently invite him to feel the beauty that each faith tradition, despite its historical or contemporary shortcomings, has to offer. I suggest why and how distinctions have to be made between a faith and the criminal thoughts and actions of its followers. He dismisses my pleas, mocks me, and lectures me, repeating the lies, myths and ugly accusations he finds on dubious, and biased, websites. I imagine him not to read much history, for he’d have known of African Muslims’ presence in the New World, starting in the 14th and 15th century, before the birth of the Republic, or, the story of the Founding Fathers exchanging letters with Muslim rulers of that era. He might be a coffee drinker, use alphabet to write to me, add zero here and there, enjoy alcohol, all Arabic words borrowed by English, and not realizing these were given to the West by the early Arabs and Muslims.

I know his America has no room for me, and people like me. To him, my humanity is eclipsed by my ethnicity, faith, and race. He sees me representing some 1.5 billion Muslims, and billions more non-white persons, living across the world.

In his words, I hear the echo of a past where immigrants coming to Maine were met with distrust, hostility, and violence. I hear the ghosts of a troubled history here, when members of the Ku Klux Klan marched in cities across Maine, mostly targeting Catholics and Jews, for there were few African Americans here back then. He might have been there, in spirit, when in 1854 an angry Know Nothing mob burned down a Catholic church in Bath, or centuries and decades later when synagogues were desecrated, and a severed pig head was rolled inside a mosque in Lewiston.

A cyber-stalker, or a pen pal, he’s no pal.

Reza Jalali, a writer and an educator, is the author of “Homesick Mosque and Other Stories” and “Poets and the Assassin,” a play about women in Iran and Islam.

]]> 1 Fri, 20 May 2016 19:13:43 +0000
Mormons loosen policy on what missionaries can wear Fri, 20 May 2016 23:51:09 +0000 SALT LAKE CITY (AP)— Mormon leaders are giving their young missionaries some help for those long walks beneath the blazing sun by granting them permission to wear sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats.

Leaders with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints updated their dress and grooming guidelines this week to give proselytizing men and women who serve around the world more options to protect themselves from the sun.

But missionaries are being warned not to get too crazy with the new rules, ensuring the youngsters won’t be sporting fedoras and hot pink sunglasses as they try to convert people to a religion that counts 15 million members worldwide.

They are instructed to use “simple and conservative” sunglasses, and forbidden from bright-colored shades or mirrored lenses. A church website shows pictures of appropriate options.

They are also supposed to take the sunglasses off when speaking with people or when they are inside, unless they serve a medical purpose.

Missionaries in sunny spots around the world used sunglasses in the 1980s, sometimes leading people to confuse them for CIA operatives or FBI agents, but they never had official permission, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.

The Utah-based faith also announced Friday that women serving in parts of the world where mosquito-borne diseases are prevalent can wear dress pants. Women, who account for about 29 percent of young missionaries, are still we required to wear skirts and dresses during church services and at temples.

All missionaries are being encouraged to wear clothing that covers their arms and legs to avoid mosquito bites.

The rules announced earlier in the week allow for hats allow with at least three-inch brims. Missionaries are prohibited from wearing baseball, cowboy, bucket and newsboy hats. Fedoras are also banned.

Both men and women are supposed to avoid bright-colored hats but the options shown on the website reveal that women can have some color on their hats while men are limited to beige, gray or straw.

The Utah-based faith periodically updates its rules of dress for missionaries. Last year, the religion began allowing missionaries serving in hot climates to ditch the suit jackets and just wear a white shirt and tie.

]]> 0 Fri, 20 May 2016 20:13:32 +0000
Methodists try to avoid split over sexuality Fri, 20 May 2016 22:42:42 +0000 Struggling to avoid a split over gay rights, the top policy-making body of the United Methodist Church on Wednesday narrowly approved a full review of all church law on sexuality, amid an emotional meeting roiled by talk of schism.

Delegates at the Methodist General Conference, meeting in Portland, Oregon, voted 428-405 to delay all consideration of LGBT-related proposals. Instead, the delegates created a commission that will spend at least two years reviewing policy on the subject, contained in the Methodist Book of Discipline, with the goal of developing a plan to address their differences.

The denomination has 12.7 million members worldwide and is the third-largest faith group in the U.S.

“We are at a precipice,” said Lonnie Chafin, a delegate from the Northern Illinois Annual Conference, or church district, speaking in favor of forming the commission. “There is urgency before us. The church might divide.”

While other mainline Protestant groups, including the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), have approved same-sex marriage, the Methodists have upheld a policy they adopted in 1972, calling same-gender relationships “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

As gay rights gained acceptance in broader society and in other churches, Methodist LGBT advocates stepped up pressure for the denomination to lift prohibitions on ordination for people with same-sex partners, along with a ban on gay weddings. However, the denomination is on a more conservative path, with its greatest growth in the U.S. South and overseas, regions where conservative views predominate. Of the 864 delegates at the Oregon meeting, 30 percent are from Africa.

A recent survey by the church found about 54 percent of U.S. pastors and laypeople in leadership roles agreed with the church restrictions on gays and lesbians, although only 41 percent of congregants held the same view. The Rev. Adam Hamilton, who leads Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, estimates two-thirds of Methodists are centrists who could live with those differences. But Methodist conservatives and liberals have become even more polarized over the years, raising questions about how they can stay unified.

Matt Berryman, head of Reconciling Ministries Network, a Methodist LGBT advocacy group, said the commission plan “signals hope.” The Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, a caucus of evangelical Methodists, said the plan has “some potential to resolve our differences” but is “fraught with peril,” depending partly on whether conservative views will be heard.

Clergy who support gay rights have been increasingly defiant, conducting same-sex marriages or coming out as gay and lesbian from the pulpit. Doing so risked penalties, including permanent loss of clergy credentials. Conservatives have stepped up demands for punishment of such actions. Separately Wednesday, the top church court ruled that mandatory penalties, which conservatives had sought, were unconstitutional.

At the meeting, which began last week, buzz about a potential breakup grew as some bishops and leaders of different streams within Methodism, including conservatives and LGBT advocates, met privately on whether the church could stay unified.

The group discussed a proposed division of the church into conservative, centrist and liberal wings – a split that would have been the most dramatic realignment over homosexuality in American Protestantism. The church began in 1784 and has property and investments worth billions of dollars.

The rumors intensified to the point that the president of the Council of Bishops, Bishop Bruce Ough, was compelled to stand before the full conference Tuesday to address them. He said no plan would be advanced to break up the denomination, but he acknowledged bishops were divided and struggling to find a way to move forward.

“I have a broken heart in that collectively we have a broken heart,” Ough told the delegates. “Our heart breaks over the pain, distrust, anger, anxiety and disunity” evident at the conference.

As committees rejected appeals to lift LGBT prohibitions, gay rights advocates staged multiple protests, standing on the perimeter of one session with rainbow-colored duct tape over their mouths and lying on the floor with their hands and feet bound.

]]> 0, 20 May 2016 19:17:25 +0000
Pope warns bishops that Vatican can invalidate religious orders Fri, 20 May 2016 22:34:38 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is warning bishops that they must consult with the Vatican before approving new would-be religious orders or risk having their decisions overturned.

The revised law published Friday aims to ensure that new religious institutes meet all the criteria for religious orders, especially that they have a unique “charism” or founding spirit and that their members practice poverty, chastity and obedience.

Previously, bishops were required to consult with the Vatican about new orders but there were no consequences if they didn’t. Now, their decisions can be invalidated.

Usually, orders begin as small “institutes of consecrated life” that are approved by a local bishop to operate in his diocese. Over time, if they attract more members, they can apply to the Vatican to get pontifical recognition, like the Jesuits or Missionaries of Charity.

Kurt Martens, canon law professor at The Catholic University of America, said the new law aims to prevent “disasters from happening” when a bishop approves a new religious institute without doing the proper checks.

While Francis has been keen to decentralize church decision-making to bishops, Martens noted that the Holy See has a lot of experience to offer them. He said the new law seems to seek a “healthy balance.”

While the new law concerns the early phases of church approval for new orders, it comes as the Vatican is grappling with a new scandal at the Peru-based Sodalitium Christianae Vitae community, which received diocesan approval in 1994 and pontifical recognition in 1997.

The Vatican recently named its former No. 2 official in charge of religious orders, Archbishop Joseph Tobin, to oversee reforms at Sodalitium after an internal ethics commission found that young recruits were victims of physical, psychological and sexual abuse, according to the Catholic News Agency. The commission found an internal culture of extreme “discipline and obedience to the founder” – a parallel to the Mexico-based Legion of Christ.

]]> 1, 20 May 2016 19:14:45 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 14 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Rejoicing Spirits, a special worship service for persons with cognitive or developmental disabilities, followed by fellowship and supper. Free. Trinity Lutheran Church, 612 Main St., Westbrook. 4 p.m. Sunday. Call 854-5653 for more information.

Green Faith: A Call to Act from a Christian Perspective. Susan McKenzie, Ph.D., will lead an experiential workshop on how nature, as God’s sacred revelation, teaches and heals us as we explore its significance in our lives. $20 suggested donation, Unity of Greater Portland, 54 River Road, Windham, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.

Knowing and Caring for Your Heart: Three Aspects of the Human Heart in music, poetry, meditation and prayer, led by ChIME students Jon Gale and Thomas Kircher. Free, but donations appreciated. Portland New Church, 302 Stevens Ave., Portland,, 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

Beholding Nature: Spiritual Ecology Through the Eyes of the Heart. Ongoing discussion of spiritual ecology. By donation. Unity of Greater Portland, 54 River Road, Windham,, 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Labyrinth Walk. Indoor Chartres-style labyrinth for meditative walks. Free. Trinity Episcopal Church, 580 Forest Ave., Portland 4-7:30 p.m. Thursday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Sat, 14 May 2016 20:04:15 +0000
Reflections: Have faith ahead of time, so you can call on it when you’re hurting Sat, 14 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Mary drove down Route 1 in Scarborough with her young daughter in her car seat. She smiled with pleasure hearing her daughter recite the alphabet for the first time. Mary’s smile became a frown as she turned her gaze toward my office off to the left. That is when it hit her like it never did before: “It was really awful what I went through. I could have died. I could have never had my daughter or hear her recite the alphabet.” She took a deep breath as she turned into the parking lot.

During her appointment that morning, Mary sighed as she remembered: “Imagine my surprise returning to my Ob doc after having a small node in my neck biopsied and finding out the node was not ‘inflammation’ as everybody assumed, but Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I then ricocheted from one office to another, one lab to another, one X-ray to another until I plopped into your office. But that was not the end. Then came THE CHEMO!”

Fortunately, Mary was far enough along in her pregnancy that she could receive the chemotherapy she needed and deliver a healthy baby. With a job, a husband, a son, a house AND chemotherapy, there was little time to think about the future. “Future?” Mary was taken aback when she first learned of what she had to endure. “The future was today, getting through today. There was no time to think.”

Going to my office for a follow-up three-month appointment brought it all back. Mary was now living a normal life with a normal schedule, so she had time to appreciate the horror of what she went through and the uncertainties that she had pushed to the back of her mind. Mary exclaimed, “It was overwhelming. I only made it by having something readily available to fall back on.”

That something, Mary told me, was trusting God. Mary felt her greatest strength was knowing she was in God’s hands. She did not have to think about it. Her faith was there when she needed it. Mary’s faith was deep inside her and readily available, nurtured by her parents early in life and practiced regularly over the years with prayer and religious services.

One of Mary’s favorite stories about faith in the Bible was that of the widow of Zarephath. The story took place during the days of Elijah the prophet in the ninth century B.C. Israel. During a time of great famine, a widow was approached by the itinerant prophet who asked her for a cake of bread. The widow told Elijah, “I don’t have bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it – and die” (1 Kings 17:12). The widow acted on faith. Trusting she was in God’s hands with the prophet telling her that “the flour will not be used up and the oil will not run dry” (1 Kings 17: 14), the widow provided the prophet with the cake of bread. Later, when her son abruptly became ill and died, she called upon Elijah again and her son’s life was returned to him by Elijah’s actions (1 Kings 17: 17-24).

The widow’s faith in God was well known in her day and remembered through the ages. Jesus remarked about her faith 1,000 years later (Luke 4:26-27). In the Book of Hebrews written after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the widow is also included in the list of the great women and men of faith (Hebrews 11: 35).

The widow of Zarephath inspired Mary because the widow’s faith was readily available for her to turn to God for help when she needed Him: “Trust in the Lord with all thy heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). “That’s what I needed. Who has time to search for faith when you’re going through a crisis?” Mary advised. “It’s best to have faith even before you get sick, so you can call on it when you’re hurting. Otherwise, you’ll shop around looking for something to believe in, and may not find anything.”

Dr. Delvyn C. Case Jr. is a hematologist/oncologist, playwright and director, columnist, and consultant to the Department of Spritual Care at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

]]> 0 Sat, 14 May 2016 20:10:00 +0000
Trailblazing woman on path to train priests Sat, 14 May 2016 00:24:19 +0000 MUNDELEIN, Ill. — On the bucolic Mundelein campus that houses a theological university and the largest Roman Catholic seminary in the U.S., there are 220 men studying to be priests – plus one woman about to join a small cadre of female faithful blazing new paths.

On Saturday, Dawn Eden Goldstein was expected to graduate from the campus’ University of St. Mary of the Lake with a doctorate in sacred theology, which will allow her to help train aspiring priests. The feat marks the first time a woman at the north suburban school has earned such a degree.

Priests and administrators at the university emphasize that Goldstein, 47, is not earning her degree from Mundelein Seminary, but from St. Mary’s, a co-ed theological school where most students are men. Still, Goldstein’s accomplishment signals a new direction in American Catholicism.

“I’ve found a kind of equilibrium here,” she said, referring to the cautious pride professors have expressed about her pursuit. “I’ll be glad to move forward, but I’m thankful for the experience of being here.”

She is earning the degree, issued by the authority of Pope Francis, at the same time Francis is pushing to raise the profile of women in the Catholic Church, most recently in his 260-page apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” in which he praised some aspects of women’s liberation, though he did not go so far as to say women should be priests.

Goldstein is not calling for women’s ordination. She’s not condemning celibacy, and she voluntarily took a vow herself. She’s simply pursuing an education to shape the church’s ministers of tomorrow and mentor women who feel called to serve the church.

“There is a lot more room for women in leadership positions in the church than has been allowed in times past,” she said.

But overcoming suspicion that she is out to alter church teachings from within has been one of many challenges facing Goldstein and other women who want to accept the pope’s invitation to lead. Only a small number of lay women have earned the church’s highest theology degree from one of the seven American institutions that offer it.

Some people bristle at the term “woman theologian,” said Goldstein, sipping tea in the seminary’s dining hall recently, surrounded by a sea of men. “People think ‘feminist theologian with an ax to grind.'”

As a convert from Judaism, Goldstein has found a sense of spiritual fulfillment in the Catholic Church that she lacked for most of her first four decades.

Raised in a Reform Jewish household in New Jersey, Goldstein became an agnostic in 1981 after a rabbi preparing her for her bat mitzvah told her questions about her Torah portion belonged to scholars, not 13-year-old girls.

But by then, her connection to God already had begun to fray. At age 5, during her parents’ divorce, she accused a staff member at the synagogue of sexually abusing her – an allegation the rabbi did not believe at the time, and one Goldstein did not pursue. Goldstein said she was abused a second time years later by someone close to her mother, leaving emotional wounds that one day would direct her calling.

In high school, she began writing for rock music publications and dropped Goldstein from her nom de plume. Though she never legally changed her name, she remained Dawn Eden for decades to come. After graduating from New York University in 1989 with a degree in communications, she continued writing about rock.

Battling bouts of suicidal depression, she found herself drawn to Jesus 10 years later and sought baptism at a Seventh-day Adventist church where she lived in Hoboken, N.J. But the Protestant denomination didn’t hold much appeal for Goldstein. Initially, Catholicism’s complex liturgy and lack of fellowship also turned her off. But the church’s position against abortion rights and fertility treatments reflected Goldstein’s political views.

In 2002, she launched a blog called The Dawn Patrol to rail against abortion rights, in-vitro fertilization and groups such as Planned Parenthood. During that time, she also worked as an editor and headline writer for Women’s Wear Daily, The New York Post and New York Daily News. The blog occasionally prompted words of caution from editors – and eventually cost her her job at the Post.

She jokes that joining the Catholic Church in 2006 appealed to her rebellious streak.

By 2007, she left secular media to work for the Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative watchdog that monitors Catholic education. The organization eliminated her job within six months, leaving her without health insurance shortly before doctors discovered thyroid cancer.

Knowing she needed a full-time job with health insurance, she enrolled in a master’s theology program at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., with the goal of working in Catholic college ministry. But instead, she started down the road to a doctorate in May 2010.

In 2012, she wrote “My Peace I Give You,” a book about how the lives of the saints could offer hope for abuse victims.

“It’s not enough for the church to simply be in damage control mode,” she said. “We’re not serving our mission as a church if we’re not providing spiritual accompaniment to people who are hurting.”

]]> 0, 14 May 2016 20:08:15 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 07 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Why Jesus 2016, a one-time, all-day conference on evidence for Christian faith, $15, Cross Insurance Center, 515 Main St., Bangor,, 8 a.m.-9:20 p.m. Sunday.

Mother’s Day Celebration and Interfaith Service, join ChIME students, faculty and friends, with musician and teacher Russill Paul, donation, Ludcke Auditorium, UNE, Portland campus, 716 Stevens Ave.,, 10 a.m. Sunday.

Beholding Nature: Spiritual Ecology Through the Eyes of the Heart, ongoing discussion of “Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth,” including experiential practices in broadening perception, donation, Unity of Greater Portland, 54 River Road, Windham,, 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Author Talk with Glenn Kurtz, free, Congregation Etz Chaim, 36 Bacon St., Biddeford,, 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday.

Christian science lecture, free talk, Larissa Snorek-Yates will speak on “The Healing Power of Stillness,” free, Allen Avenue Unitarian Church, 524 Allen Ave., Portland,, Friday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Sat, 07 May 2016 20:41:05 +0000
Reflections: Conference follows words of Jesus: ‘Put down the sword’ Sat, 07 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Jesus and his followers were peaceful, practiced love of neighbor, and for three centuries rejected violence, choosing martyrdom over engaging in violence.

The link with Constantine’s empire resulted in contradictory loyalties. Many Christians retreated to the desert; most shelved the Sermon on the Mount and served Caesar. Augustine employed Cicero and contemporary philosophy to fashion norms for just war and war conduct, expanded and refined by Aquinas and Spanish scholastics: Force may be necessary for “the tranquility of order.”

Save for large medieval peace marches, the post-Reformation peace churches, and Catholic Worker movement pacifism, Gospel nonviolence disappeared. Just war norms were ignored more often than respected, i.e., the Crusades and World War I. Yet, in 1957 Pope Pius XII said that Catholics could not be conscientious objectors. But many Christians remained uncomfortable killing those they supposedly loved.

Europe’s post-World War II recognition of the futility of war, John XXIII’s challenge of modern warfare, Vatican II’s embrace of primacy of conscience, and wide disapproval of the Vietnam carnage all challenged war as a means of conflict resolution. John Paul II embraced just war but never found one he could approve. Nowadays, wars have deceitful justifications and predominantly civilian casualties.

Dan Berrigan, who burned draft records to protest the Vietnam intervention and engaged in numerous acts of resistance to war leading to jail time and who died Saturday, argued that the Gospel calls us to be faithful, however remote the prospect of results. The U.S. Bishops’ 1985 pastoral, “The Challenge of Peace,” rejected nuclear weapons and legitimized Gospel nonviolence as an alternative theology to just war theory.

John Paul II’s U.S. bishops largely ignored the call to peace. Assuming impunity from accountability, the U.S. has become the most violent, aggressive nation on earth, from Vietnam to East Timor, Central America, and the Mediterranean to the Middle East – at the sacrifice of addressing serious domestic needs. Both likely 2016 presidential nominees are adverse to dialogue, promising war at first blush. For the most part, Church criticism has been muted.

But in April, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Pax Christi International, and the Catholic Peacebuilding Movement sponsored a conference in the Vatican on nonviolence and just peace that may well herald a radical reversal of Roman Catholic teaching.

Pope Francis’s message to the conference proposed as goals the abolition of war, recognition of our common humanity as a basis for resolving conflicts, and substitution of mercy for indifference and dialogue for violence.

The conference produced “An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence.” It sees Christians “called to recognize the centrality of active nonviolence to the vision and message of Jesus” and “to our long-term vocation of healing and reconciling both people and the planet.”

The Church should invest its resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active nonviolence, employing “the power of love in action.” There is no “just” war, a theory too often “used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war.” Nonviolent social methodology works. It can resolve conflicts peaceably. And a “Just Peace” provides a “vision and ethic to build peace as well as to prevent, defuse, and to heal the damage of violent conflict.”

The statement calls for integration of Gospel nonviolence into the life and work of the Church; promotion of nonviolent practices and strategies such as nonviolent resistance and restorative justice, initiation of a global conversation on nonviolence; an end to teaching “just war theory,” and raising the prophetic voice of the Church “to challenge unjust world powers” and defend nonviolent activists working for peace and justice.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council and major author of Laudato Si, the climate encyclical, approved the statement.

The Rev. John Dear, a conference participant and longtime friend of Berrigan, observed that the encyclical the conference asks Pope Francis to write “could open up a whole new history for Christianity, and return us to the spirit of the early Church, where no one was allowed to participate in war, prepare for war, or kill another human being.”

After the wide disregard of “The Challenge of Peace,” this is revolutionary – like Jesus’s words: “Put down the sword.” Comfortable U.S. Catholics will be stirred and more Protestant churches will likely join those already committed to active nonviolence.

Fortuitously, the Vatican conference call for Just Peace theology gave Dan Berrigan a hopeful departure. May he rest in peace.

USM professor William Slavick was Pax Christi Maine coordinator for 23 years; he is author of the “War and Peace” chapter in “Rome Has Spoken.”

]]> 2 Sat, 07 May 2016 20:42:26 +0000
Pope asks Europe to welcome migrants Fri, 06 May 2016 23:38:49 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis, accepting a prize for promoting European unity, on Friday warned Europeans against the selfish temptation to put up fences to ward off newcomers, saying he still dreams of a Europe where migrants are welcomed.

“I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime, but a summons to a greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being,” he told an audience including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Premier Matteo Renzi and Spain’s King Felipe VI.

“I dream of a Europe that promotes and protects the rights of everyone, without neglecting its duties toward all. I dream of a Europe of which it will not be said that its commitment to human rights was its last utopia.”

The pontiff, the son of European immigrants to Argentina, accepted the prestigious International Charlemagne Prize, for his “message of hope and encouragement.”

Echoing the famous “I have a dream” speech by U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Francis offered his vision of a Europe that cares for children, the elderly, the poor and the infirm, as well as “those newcomers seeking acceptance because they have lost everything and need shelter.”

Merkel praised Francis for sending “very clear messages.” She said his comments were a call “for us to act and keep Europe together – be it regarding the currency, or the protection of our external border, and above all not to forget the humanity and humanitarian duty of Europe.”

Notwithstanding the prize’s underlying positive message, the pope tacitly acknowledged a backdrop of a Europe engulfed in a crisis of confidence, prompted by the threat of terrorism and surge of migrants, and giving strength to nationalistic sentiments that seek to undermine the notion of a united continent.

He bemoaned that the continent’s people “are tempted to yield to our own selfish interests and to consider putting up fences.”

And he said youth unemployment was sapping the continent of its dynamism, and he called for new economic models that are “more inclusive and equitable.”

“There is an impression that Europe is declining, that it has lost its ability to be innovative and creative, that it is more concerned with preserving and dominating spaces than with generating processes of inclusions and change,” Francis said.

He urged Europeans to undergo a “memory transfusion,” citing a phrase by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, to remember Europe’s fractured past when confronting issues that threaten again to divide it.

“A memory transfusion can free us from today’s temptation to build hastily on the shifting stands of immediate results, which may produce quick and easy short-term political gains, but do not enhance human fulfillment,” he said.

The pope said the Roman Catholic Church can play a role in “the rebirth of a Europe, weary, yet still rich in energies and possibilities.”

Before the ceremony in the frescoed Sala Regia, Francis met privately with Merkel, as well as with European parliament president Martin Schulz, a previous Charlemagne Prize recipient, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council President Donald Tusk, who also attended the ceremony.

Juncker, in his remarks, praised the pope for taking three Syrian refugee families to Rome with him at the end of his recent visit to Greece.

]]> 1, 07 May 2016 20:43:31 +0000
Fired worker sues company over Scientology exposure Fri, 06 May 2016 23:08:10 +0000 LAS VEGAS — A Catholic woman fired from her job at a bottled water company led by a Nevada lawmaker has filed a federal lawsuit against the business, saying she was pressured to watch videos on Scientology and was denied pay raises because of her religious beliefs.

Grecia Echevarria-Hernandez filed a discrimination lawsuit April 26 against Las Vegas-based, also known as Real Alkalized Water. Republican Assemblyman Brent Jones is president of the company. His son, Blain Jones, is executive vice president of the company and is running for a Nevada Assembly seat.

“I have not seen the legal documents at this time, so I cannot comment on the alleged claims,” Jones said in a statement Tuesday.

The plaintiff said she was hired in March 2015 as a “brand ambassador” for Real Water, which markets water infused with electrons that “can help your body to restore balance, and reach your full potential!” according to the company website.

On her first day, Echevarria-Hernandez said she was forced to watch several videos with religious undertones, including “The Secret” and others based on Scientology.

Her supervisor later told her that she could get a 25-cent raise if she participated in self-betterment courses, and the plaintiff said she tried to sit through one of the classes. But it also had to do with Scientology and made her feel uncomfortable, so she left early.

The plaintiff let her supervisor know she didn’t want to participate because she held different religious beliefs. As a result, she was not eligible for raises, according to the lawsuit.

Echevarria-Hernandez said that she wasn’t previously written up for poor performance, but her supervisor wrote three reports on Oct. 8, 2015, alleging she wasn’t fulfilling her job duties. Another person fired her the next day.

]]> 4, 07 May 2016 20:44:15 +0000
Reflections: No matter what happens, only love is guaranteed to last Sat, 30 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 “She won’t know the difference.” The neurologist shook his head.

In my lap I held Ruth, a 2-year-old abandoned baby with cerebral palsy that my family and I hoped to adopt from an orphanage in Uganda. Ruth had arrived in Maine one year before on a medical visa to receive therapy for cerebral palsy, a brain injury that left her unable to walk or talk.

Months before, while serving as her host family, we’d discovered that Ruth was also profoundly deaf – a devastating diagnosis since she was unable to use her hands to communicate. Now, one week before taking Ruth back to East Africa on a month-long trip to collect paperwork for her adoption, I was being told not to bother.

Ruth’s disabilities meant that she would never advance beyond the physical abilities of a 6-month-old, the neurologist said. In his words, she was also likely profoundly mentally retarded. “In my opinion, it won’t matter whether you adopt Ruth or leave her in Uganda,” he said. “She won’t know the difference.”

My husband, Dana, and I – along with our three young children – adopted Ruth anyway. In our early 30s, we were young and naive enough not to realize how hard the road with Ruth would be. All we knew was that we loved her – despite what loving her would cost us. But, with all of his education and experience, the neurologist failed to realize what a lasting transformation such love can make in the life of a child and family.

No, Ruth didn’t pull her crooked legs out of her stroller and walk the triumphant August day we returned from Uganda with papers declaring her a permanent American resident. She didn’t open her mouth and speak at the little courthouse, just up the road from our home, the following February when we celebrated her adoption. But slowly, beautifully – as Ruth became rooted in the love of our family and church, and our schools and community – she blossomed into a radiantly happy little girl who defied the doctor’s dire predictions.

Despite being told that she’d never understand spoken language, Ruth learned to hear with the help of a cochlear implant. She loved books and school and by first grade could spell the names of all the kids in her class by sticking out her tongue when someone pointed to the correct letter on an alphabet board. And she loved to play, squealing with delight when her same-age sister dressed her as a queen and pulled her around the house in her wheelchair while pretending to be a horse.

But what neither the neurologist – nor we – expected was how little time Ruth had. Two months before her eighth birthday, the rare condition responsible for her cerebral palsy and deafness caused Ruth to die in her sleep. The shock and grief of losing our daughter was excruciating. Equally unendurable was the devastating suspicion that, in the end, our decision to adopt Ruth hadn’t mattered, after all.

“It didn’t make a difference,” I sobbed to Dana one night during that long, dark winter.

“How can you say that?” he challenged me. “We gave Ruth everything we had. That’s all God was asking. And you know what? She knew the difference. That girl knew we loved her.”

This April, Ruth would have turned 13. In the five years she’s been gone, we still ache from the loss of her. But in that time, we’ve also come to know that every sorrow and sacrifice was worth it. Instead of dying forsaken and unclaimed – as many people with disabilities do in the developing world – Ruth knew that she was beloved upon this earth.

“All the special gifts and powers from God will someday come to an end,” the apostle Paul wrote in I Cor. 13:8, “but love goes on forever.”

Nine months after our daughter’s death, that love changed the life of another little girl with cerebral palsy when Dana brought Ruth’s wheelchair to Uganda through a Christian outreach, Wheels for the World. So even if you love and lose, keep sharing God’s love anyway. Love in the face of suffering and grief and heartache and loss. Love beyond racial and religious and physical borders and barriers.

Love like a fool, without considering what such love will cost. Because, no matter how and when life ends, only love is guaranteed to last.

Meadow Rue Merrill writes and reflects on God’s presence in her ordinary life from her little cottage in the woods in the midcoast. Find her at

]]> 0 Fri, 29 Apr 2016 21:00:33 +0000
Reflections: Grow in spirit and celebrate the life of the Royal River Sat, 23 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 What are your plans for World Fish Migration Day? You know, May 21, when people who care about rivers and fish around the world create celebrations along their river to honor the life of the river and the fish that move up and down it. There will be hundreds of celebrations on every continent in the world including the celebration of the Royal River in Yarmouth at Royal River Park.

People participating in Fish Migration Day in Yarmouth on the Royal River will be invited to consider the river as it has been, how it is now and what we can do for its health and well-being in the future. Opportunities to learn about the river will abound. Stories, speakers and guides will discuss life in and along it, people, plants and animals, from the days when the Wabanaki (meaning People of the Dawn, a people composed of many tribes), still here today, were caring for these lands, to the days of European settlements and industrialization to the postindustrial period of today.

I am particularly glad that John Bear Mitchell and Karyn Marden, members of the Wabanaki community, will be with us sharing their stories and knowledge. Native American spirituality and my own nature mystic Christianity teach me that the land, the waters and all forms of life are sacred.

I was introduced to this wisdom by John Waters, in his book “The Man Who Killed a Deer.” He tells a story of the Pueblo people of the American Southwest and their hunting ritual. When a hunter comes upon a deer, he acknowledges its sacredness and asks permission to take its life for the life of his people. He pledges to honor the deer with gratitude and the continuation of its sacred life in the life of the hunter and his tribe.

Europeans came to the shores of Maine, then a part of Massachusetts, to harvest the resources, cod, timber, whatever. Their rituals were spoken to an almighty God thought of as above them on a hierarchical ranking. What was harvested was below them. The worth of life below them was objectified as things, not sacred, and was calculated by what it provided them and theirs. This is the mindset that ultimately led to global warming. Of course, that was far beyond their horizon then.

In addition to Wabanaki spokespersons sharing stories and knowledge, Katie Worthing of the Yarmouth Historical Society will conduct a tour of the bones of industrialization to be found on the river today. She will tell how the town as we know it grew around industrialization and where industrialization went when it left. Landis Hudson of Maine Rivers will conduct a tour of the river today, its dams, their fish ladders that don’t work and consider, with you, what the river would be if fish could migrate on it today.

Yarmouth’s Merrill Memorial Library will have books about rivers for children. Classes from Yarmouth schools and North Yarmouth Academy will have tables to show you what they have been studying about the river. Environmental groups will be there to tell of their work.

Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will release 600 brown trout, half below the Elm Street dam and half below the Bridge Street dam. There will be 50 fishing poles for kids and people to help bait the hooks and conduct a catch and release learning project. Trout Unlimited will conduct a class in fly fishing for the first eight Yarmouth area women who sign up by calling Maura Halkiotis at 841-3327. There will be canoe rides and food, face painting and music.

What time and why? From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 21, answers the first question. The reason for the event is summarized in our working sheet: 1) To connect people to the Royal River, past present and future. 2) To raise awareness and caring for the river’s life – fish, plants, recreation and state of health. 3) To provide entertainment, education and fun for all ages.

Finally, why is this a column on the Religion and Values page of today’s paper? Because I am convinced that, as we come to understand the Earth and all life upon it as sacred, we will not only ask how the river can serve our lives but how can we serve the life of the river. When we grow in spirit to ask that question instinctively, we will be on the road away from environmental degradation and global warming.

Bill Gregory is an author and retired UCC minister. He can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Fri, 22 Apr 2016 18:59:14 +0000
Transgender people in India seek religious parity Fri, 22 Apr 2016 23:58:59 +0000 UJJAIN, India — In the waning heat of the evening, a group from India’s transgender community clambered down steep steps to a holy river in India, their multicolored saris catching the breeze before they plunged joyfully into the glittering waters of the Shipra.

India’s transgender people have long lived on the margins of society and are a familiar sight at traffic stops or weddings, where they sing and dance and ask for money. But the group – known as “hijras” – have made huge strides toward greater inclusion in recent years, culminating with a landmark decision in 2014 by India’s Supreme Court that recognized a third gender that is neither male or female.

Friday, the hijras took their fight for equality to the riverbanks of one of India’s biggest holy festivals – a gathering called the Kumbh Mela. Millions of Hindu saints, holy men, seers and pilgrims will come for a month of worship, including a ritual river bath to purify body and soul.

The hijra leaders, fresh from their historic court recognition, began thinking about starting their own group to participate in the Kumbh Mela last year, according to Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, one of India’s best-known transgender activists.

“After the Supreme Court decision, we decided that we should reclaim our lost position in the religion,” she said. “Of course there is no place better to do that than the Kumbh Mela.”

The city has spent years preparing for the festival, which turns the normally quiet temple town in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh into a megalopolis complete with campsites, temporary places of worship, WiFi hotspots, green-friendly electric rickshaws and even tented “resorts” for well-heeled pilgrims. The river this year is dotted with floating filtration devices that clean India’s polluted river water for bathers.

The government has allotted the transgender group a space for its own camp this year as a nod toward its inclusion.

Yet the religious gurus who oversee the official 13 Hindu monastic orders – called “akharas” – that traditionally participate in the mela have said they will not recognize the hijras as a 14th akhara. Nor will they recognize a women’s group.

Those leaders say to do so would go against Hindu tradition that dates back centuries.

“We respect transgenders in society but we will not allow them for the holy dip. It’s against Hindu law,” said Narendra Giri Maharaj, the head of the All India Akhara Parishad, the umbrella group of the akharas. “We will never recognize them, under any condition.”

Tripathi and others argue that transgender people have been a part of Indian society since ancient times and that references to them appear in classical Indian texts. They were also prized courtiers during the times of the Mughal kings. It was only after the British colonized India and imprinted the land with its own system of justice that transgender people began to be ostracized, activists say.

In recent years, they have made some inroads into traditional society, becoming state legislators and mayors. Last year, the first transgender police officer was hired in the southern India state of Tamil Nadu.

In recent weeks, India’s social-justice and empowerment ministry has drafted a bill that would give transgender people greater protection from harassment and wrongful eviction. They are also likely to be included in India’s quota system, which reserves government jobs and education for disadvantaged groups.

But they say they still have had to fight for jobs and education despite the Supreme Court ruling supporting a third gender.

“The judgment of the Supreme Court is just in a file, not on the ground,” said Pushpa Gidwani, a social worker with the transgender community in the city of Jaipur. She estimates that of the 5,000 or so members of her community in that city, 1,000 keep their sexuality “hidden” and many in the group still beg or work menial jobs.

This week, transgender people from throughout India gathered at the group’s camp site in Ujjain, which included a large hall where devotees lined up Thursday evening to touch the feet of the hijras and receive their blessing. Throughout the monthlong festival, they have planned fire rituals, devotional singing and social outreach programs about the transgender community.

Rajit Ojha, a graduate student, said he has seen a “drastic change” in the treatment of hijras since the court ruling.


]]> 1, 22 Apr 2016 20:24:46 +0000
Oklahoma voters to decide fate of Ten Commandments monument Fri, 22 Apr 2016 23:21:43 +0000 OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma voters will decide in November whether to abolish an article of the state Constitution so that a Ten Commandments monument can be returned to the Capitol grounds.

The House voted 65-7 late Thursday for a resolution calling for a statewide vote on whether to remove a constitutional prohibition on the use of state funds to support a religion. The state Supreme Court relied on that section of the constitution in June when it ordered a 6-foot-tall granite Ten Commandments monument moved from the Capitol grounds.

The monument’s removal angered many Oklahomans, particularly Republican lawmakers who vowed to return the monument to state property.

“Since the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in June regarding the Ten Commandments monument, my constituents wanted to know what could be done,” said Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon, an attorney who sponsored the bill in the House. “I knew it would be a difficult proposition to undo the ruling, so we looked at giving voters the opportunity to remove the basis for the ruling.”

Originally authorized by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2009, the privately funded monument has been a lightning rod for controversy since it was erected in 2012, prompting a lawsuit from Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister from Norman who complained it violated the state constitution.

Its placement at the Capitol prompted requests from several groups to have their own monuments installed, including a satanic church in New York that wanted to erect a 7-foot-tall statue that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard. A Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also made requests.

]]> 6, 22 Apr 2016 20:01:22 +0000
Board to review policy on 
prayer space at University of Iowa Fri, 22 Apr 2016 23:07:43 +0000 IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Iowa Board of Regents is examining the University of Iowa’s decision to have designated prayer and meditation spaces on campus.

The university created the spaces in the Iowa Memorial Union earlier this year after Muslim students, faculty and staff said they have trouble finding a place to fulfill their prayer obligations, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reports. School officials have said the spaces are available to people of all faiths.

“It’s the right thing to do,” President Bruce Harreld said during a board meeting in Council Bluffs Thursday. “We don’t want to be a community of exclusion. We want to be a community of inclusion.”

Regent Subhash Sahai asked Harreld how many non-Muslims have been using the rooms, but he didn’t have any statistics available.

“But I can assure you that at least one Christian has prayed there: me,” Harreld said.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation asked the university last month to close the rooms because of concerns over separation of church and state issues.

The foundation’s letter specifically raised questions about temporary signs the Muslim Student Association places in the rooms to separate spaces for different genders and to ask people to remove their shoes.

Aimee Claeys, associate counsel for the regents, said the rooms are bare and are not segregated by gender.

“Providing these spaces that may be used for religious purposes is not in itself a violation of the constitution,” she said.

Members of an organization for agnostic and atheist students, Secular Students at Iowa, have been supportive of the decision to open the space.

President of the board, Regent Bruce Rastetter, said the regents will review the use of such spaces as part of the board’s overall policy. Discussion about the issue will continue in its June meeting.

]]> 0 Fri, 22 Apr 2016 20:27:41 +0000
Religion Calendar Fri, 22 Apr 2016 22:34:53 +0000 People of the Earth: Indigenous Spirituality of Old Europe. Andras Arthen, vice chair of the Parliament of World Religions, presents his experiences with indigenous earth-based cultures of Europe. $20 suggested, Unity of Greater Portland Church, 54 River Road, Windham,, 10 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Sunday.

Christians and Islam, a talk outlining these religious traditions, free, Christ Church, 6 Dane St., Kennebunk ,, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

Interfaith Dialogue Dinner. Soup, bread and dessert will be served, with a discussion of many traditions. $10 suggested donation, St. Pius X Hall, 492 Ocean Ave., Portland,, 5:45 to 8:15 p.m. Tuesday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Fri, 22 Apr 2016 19:00:30 +0000
Reflections: Remember the Buddha: ‘Suffering is caused by desire’ Sat, 16 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 As I was writing in my journal one morning, facing my backyard, I watched a squirrel running around frantically looking for nuts. He was digging everywhere. Sometimes he was lucky. I saw myself in that squirrel’s behavior because for the last three or four weeks I had been perseverating over everything: my finances, my spiritual direction practice that was slow to get off the ground, the repairs that needed to be done to my condo and the lack of funds to do it, etc. I was filled with desire for many things. The more I allowed myself to be in that space, the less I turned to prayer, meditation and trust. I also fell back to self-blame and shame and old thinking about what I had done wrong to get myself in this state.

I was in a whirlwind and like Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” I ended up in a place far from my inner home. I realized fully that sometimes it’s hard to dig ourselves out from the debris when we spend time focusing on it. But as we often see on television after a catastrophe, folks who are interviewed talk about how they’ll get started right away on the cleanup, working with neighbors and volunteers to try to get back to normal. Sometimes, though, they have to settle for a new normal and find the courage to begin anew.

I was thinking that the latter would be true for me. But I kept focusing on lack and all the things I wanted. I was in a tizzy as I spoke to my spiritual director, who helped me look at all my present options. Then she told me to not make any decisions for a few days. I tried to follow her advice and rested, read a book, took walks, as I did the inner work of trying to get myself back to the serenity of “home.” I was still edgy and somewhat angry that my answers weren’t coming more easily. I was stuck in my mind and not in my heart.

I went to yoga practice one morning and my yoga teacher began the class with this saying from the Buddha: “Suffering is caused by desire.” My heart skipped a beat. I knew that message was for me. I had been causing my own suffering by staying in the whirlwind. She played my favorite meditative CD. I hadn’t played it myself in months because I had misplaced my copy. I had just found it a few days previous, so when I got home, I decided to sit in meditation with this CD and slowly I began to feel at peace, to remember who I really was and that I was not alone. I had forgotten that it was only in deep surrender and letting go that I had ever moved forward freely. I believe we all have spirit guides, or angels who surround us on this earth journey and are supporting us whether or not we are aware of it. I allowed myself to be surrounded by the love of these beings of light and I returned to my deep belief that the Universe does provide for all my needs. So what was there to do at the end but surrender?

“Suffering is caused by desire,” the Buddha said, and I was reminded again of my vows to be mindful and present, staying in the “fertile void” until the answers come. Surrendering to what is, is not giving up. It’s a relief and a release. It frees us to move forward and it brings us back to our true home.

Rev. Helen Rousseau is an ordained Interfaith Minister and trained Spiritual Director. She can be reached at or visit for more information.

]]> 0 Fri, 15 Apr 2016 21:30:18 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 16 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Singer-songwriter Dean Richardson and Eric Bro. Free. Church of the Holy Spirit, 1047 Congress St., Portland,, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Rejoicing Spirits, a special worship service for persons with cognitive or developmental disabilities, followed by fellowship and supper. Free. Trinity Lutheran Church, 612 Main St., Westbrook. 4 p.m. Sunday.

The Wisdom in Brokeness: An Interfaith Worship Service. ChIME student Joyce Fraganeno explores the wisdom in vulnerability. Free. Portland New Church, 302 Stevens Ave., Portland,, 10:30-11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Christians and Muslims discuss life for Muslims in Portland. Seeley Hall, Woodfords Church, 202 Woodfords St., Portland, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday.

Community Seder-Passover Across America. Celebrate Passover with new and old friends at a community Seder, $15 per person or $40 per family, Temple Beth El, 400 Deering Ave., Portland,, 6-8:30 p.m. Friday, April 22.

To submit an item for the religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Sat, 16 Apr 2016 18:17:04 +0000
Family battles Scientology to see their kids Fri, 15 Apr 2016 23:04:23 +0000 There’s a billboard in Los Angeles dotted with dozens of faces representing Scientologists who have separated from their families. It reads: “To my loved one in Scientology . . . call me.”

The massive message was placed in Echo Park this month by Phil and Willie Jones, former Scientologists who say they have lost their two adult children, Mike and Emily Jones, to a practice known as “disconnection,” which believers describe as a last resort – ending communication with people who are “antagonistic to Scientology” to protect themselves from being torn from the religion.

Phil Jones told NBC’s “Today” that his son has told him he never wants to speak to him again.

“That’s what they do,” Jones said, sobbing. “It’s a cruel and vindictive organization to do something like that.”

The Joneses, from Las Vegas, were in the church for 40 years and have now begun a campaign called Stop Scientology Disconnection to raise awareness about the religious practice that they say separated them from their children.

The purpose, according to their website, is to “make people more aware of Scientology Disconnection, as well as hopefully entice those in Scientology to take that step of calling their loved ones, family, friends, or whoever they have disconnected from due to pressure from the Church of Scientology.”

The couple launched a GoFundMe page to help raise the more than $8,000 needed to pay for printing and installation costs. They had raised about $16,500 and secured the billboard for a second month.

The Church of Scientology was founded by former science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1952 and the religion has become popular in recent years, in part because of celebrity members such as Tom Cruise.

But the church has generated considerable controversy.

Since the 1970s, Scientology has taken heat from academics, journalists and ex-members who describe near- slavery conditions they say they lived through.

The church denies more recent allegations of physical abuse by some top ex-officials.and says the former members are liars.

Lawrence Wright’s book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,” and an HBO documentary, also called “Going Clear,” exposed such alleged abuses.

The Joneses told the Hollywood Reporter that they began to have questions about the religion about five years ago and that Phil Jones’s sister, who is also a Scientologist, went straight to church leaders to tell them that her brother and sister-in-law were having doubts.

The couple said they were excommunicated and have not heard from their children the past few years.

“Once you’re in it, there is a process that has a creep factor, there’s a degree of hypnotism, of mental conditioning,” he said. “Once you get in too deep, it’s tough to break out. My wife and I met in Scientology when she was 17 and I was 18. We’ve been together ever since.

“We raised our children in it.”

The problem, Jones told the Hollywood Reporter, is trying to get someone out of the church.

“Every single person will say, ‘No, I want to be here. I’m here of my own choice.’ Because there is a brainwashing to it, a hypnosis,” he said. “If I’d try to take my kids out, they will not want to go.”

Jones said their children joined the Church of Scientology’s Sea Organization, which is described as “a religious order for the Scientology religion and is composed of the singularly most dedicated Scientologists.”

“That’s where you sign a billion-year contract,” Jones said. “You work there, eat the food there, you work 100 hours a week for 10 cents an hour. It’s just brutal.”

“In 20 years, our kids were never allowed to leave for Christmas or visit us,” he added. “We could visit them and maybe get an hour with them. What usually happens is, something triggers them to want to leave. Sometimes something changes in their life, or they get beat up badly. The other thing is, the majority who get out say, ‘I read something on the Internet’ or ‘I saw something on the news.’

“That’s why we’re doing the billboard.”

The Church of Scientology dismissed the billboard in a statement to The Washington Post.

“The billboard in Echo Park is simply the latest in a series of publicity stunts by Phil and Willie Jones to stalk and harass their adult offspring…,” the statement said. “For the past several weeks Phil and Willie Jones have been working with a reality TV producer staging stunts intended to harass their adult children, despite their children telling them directly to back off and stop.

“It is shameful that two people … would hook up with a reality TV producer to shamelessly exploit and harass their two adult children for money. It is equally despicable that these individuals would use a private family matter to promote anti-religious hate and bigotry and harm their kids.”

Jones confirmed to the Hollywood Reporter that the couple is “documenting our journey.”

Willie Jones told the “Today” show that the church has torn their family apart.

Then, she addressed her children.

“We love you guys so much and miss you so much,” she said.

]]> 5, 16 Apr 2016 20:17:25 +0000
Reflections: God must have a sense of humor Sat, 09 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Does God have a sense of humor? Growing up in the Bible belt of Indiana, religion was a serious affair. I remember swinging my patent-leather-clad feet from the edge of the pew and making little hammocks out of my mom’s handkerchief while the minister seemed to drone on and on for hours. Apparently, there was the obligatory joke because every once in a great while the adults would politely chuckle.

I moved away from traditional religion in my 20s while still searching for answers about God. When I first started to attend classes with my spiritual teacher, there was plenty of talking and meditation and prayer, but there was also a great deal of laughter. In fact, I remember my teacher saying once that God has a sense of humor. I nearly fell over, I was so stunned by that idea.

This was not the God I grew up with. You know, the white man with the flowing beard sitting in the clouds, the one who could turn people into salt, or rain pestilence down on entire populations because of something their leader did or didn’t do, or ask a father to sacrifice his son to prove his devotion.

Who was this God with a sense of humor? It was the beginning of my journey of the stripping away of what I consider now to be false notions of God.

I suppose many people would think that if there is a God and she or he has a sense of humor, it would be some kind of cruel joke because just look at the state the world is in. On the other hand, to find a reason to laugh and be joyful even in the midst of great suffering is a gift that humans have been given. If one believes in a higher power, it is logical that we are simply tapping into something we share with that mysterious presence.

Of course, there are people who use a perhaps more sarcastic sense of humor to belittle others, to exclude others (as in the inside joke), to avoid responsibility, to interrupt sacred moments, etc. This is not the kind of humor I envision as “godly.” Like any great gift, it depends on how it is used.

To me a sense of humor can be one of the greatest tools for cultivating humility. Like my perception of the religion I grew up with, the ego tends to take itself very seriously. To be able to see our own foibles and transgressions and laugh at them is to loosen up that very serious hold the ego wants to have on our own perceptions of ourselves. Laughter lightens the load of being who we are, of being disappointed in ourselves and others, of living in a world that sometimes makes no sense at all to us.

I can’t claim that my conversations with God or prayers or meditations bring me to laughing out loud, though I often feel a deep sense of quiet joy. I did once have a moment of solitude in which I did laugh out loud and which somehow seemed divinely inspired. I was standing looking out at my deck and the gushing brook that is the boundary of my backyard when simultaneously the song “The Typewriter” came on NPR and a squirrel leaped up on the snowy railing of my deck and proceeded to do what I can only describe as a dance to the exact rhythm of the song on the radio. The squirrel seemed to be looking at me the entire time and the moment the song was over he leaped into the trees and was gone. I did laugh out loud and thanked the squirrel and divine nature for showing me once again that surprises and connections are everywhere when we take the time to see them.

Though I don’t often laugh out loud when I feel the most deeply spiritually connected, I do associate a great sense of humor with people I’ve met who exude a spiritual presence. The hours and years of spiritual practice and meditation seem to unlock a special kind of sense of humor. I am thinking of the Dali Lama, who seems to laugh a lot whenever I hear him speak. I once took a class from his brother, who laughed more than any adult I have ever known, and mostly he was laughing at himself. I am also thinking of my interfaith friends, and some of the Catholic monks and nuns I have met who seem to share a wild kind of sense of humor grounded in the spirit. It is as if the commitment to silence, solitude, prayer and a deep inner connection to the divine can unlock a way of being with people that is ripe with humor and the sheer joy of being alive.

One of my favorite spiritual giants, who I am quite certain was intimately familiar with the divine sense of humor was Hafiz, a 14th century Sufi poet. This is one of my favorite poems of his:

Ten Thousand Idiots

It is always a danger

to aspirants

On the


When they begin

To believe and


As if the ten thousand idiots

Who so long ruled

And lived


Have all packed their bags

And skipped town



The story is told about my great grandfather, who left the strict Apostolic church of his family. When told he was going to hell, he replied that it was fine with him because he would rather be in hell with all his friends than in heaven with the members of the church.

I feel the same way about God. Though there are certainly many things in this world that must be taken very seriously, to imagine a creator of this world who has no sense of humor is, to me, a God I cannot live with.

The Rev. Cathy Grigsby is an Interfaith minister who teaches at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine and is the co-founder and coordinator of the Interfaith Ministers of New England. She can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Fri, 08 Apr 2016 21:33:00 +0000
Indiana state trooper fired for preaching while on duty Fri, 08 Apr 2016 23:57:37 +0000 INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana State Police fired a trooper who is facing a second lawsuit accusing him of preaching to citizens while on duty, saying Thursday he disobeyed a written order to stop the practice.

Superintendent Doug Carter fired Senior Trooper Brian Hamilton of Connersville for insubordination, the agency announced. Hamilton admitted the violations, it said.

Wendy Pyle of Connersville had filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis claiming Hamilton violated her civil rights by asking her what church she attended and whether she was saved during a January traffic stop. She is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

“While all of us – citizen and police officer – enjoy the right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech, there are appropriate and proper restrictions placed on agents of the state related to their actions while engaged in their official duties,” Carter said in a news release.

Pyle, whom Hamilton gave a warning for speeding, filed a formal complaint with state police on Jan. 14, and on the following day an internal investigation began and Hamilton was assigned administrative duties, the ISP said. The drafting of formal internal charges against the 14-year veteran began on March 9, and his hearing was scheduled for Thursday.

Pyle’s lawsuit did not name the state police as a defendant.

In 2014, Hamilton was sued following a similar traffic stop in which driver Ellen Bogan of Huntington accused him of violating her constitutional rights. He was given a written order on Aug. 29, 2014, saying that “in the course of his official duties, S/Trp Hamilton will not question others regarding their religious beliefs nor provide religious pamphlets or similar advertisements.”

Hamilton also was suspended without pay for 15 days in 2012 when he refused an order to investigate a rape complaint, saying he was off-duty when he was not.

A telephone message seeking comment was left at Hamilton’s home.

In her lawsuit, Pyle said Hamilton’s preaching was upsetting and unreasonably prolonged the traffic stop. She is seeking punitive damages and attorney fees. She also wants a jury trial.

Pyle does not have a published telephone number and she could not be reached for comment. A message seeking comment was left for an ACLU attorney.

]]> 0 Sat, 09 Apr 2016 18:43:04 +0000
Bernie Sanders to speak at conference hosted by Vatican Fri, 08 Apr 2016 22:47:56 +0000 NEW YORK — Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, an enthusiastic fan of Pope Francis’ work, plans to speak next week at a conference hosted by the Vatican on social, economic and environmental issues.

The Vermont senator plans to head to Rome immediately after a high-profile debate scheduled here with Hillary Clinton on Thursday.

Sanders will speak at the gathering hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, he said.

“I am grateful to the Vatican for inviting me to talk about an issue that is very dear to my heart, which is how we create a moral economy that works for all of the people rather than just the top 1 percent,” Sanders said in an interview.

“I will also in my remarks be addressing the planetary crisis of climate change and the moral imperative to make sure we leave this planet in a way that is healthy and habitable for future generations,” he said.

Sanders, who would be the nation’s first Jewish president, often refers to Francis on the campaign trail, praising his leadership on economic and environmental issues.

Sanders said he believes he will be the only U.S. public official speaking at the gathering.

“I think the Vatican has been aware of the fact that, in many respects, the pope’s views and my views are very much related,” Sanders said.

“He has talked in an almost unprecedented way about the need to address income and wealth inequality, poverty and to combat the greed that we’re seeing all over this world, which is doing so much harm to so many people. . . . For me, it is an extraordinary honor to receive this invitation.”

The planned visit has also prompted a dispute among Vatican officials, Bloomberg Politics reported Friday.

Margaret Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which is hosting the event, said that Sanders didn’t follow proper protocol by failing to contact her office – which she termed a “monumental discourtesy” – and that his presence threatens to make the event political.

However, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the academy’s chancellor, said he had arranged the invitation and that Sanders’s presence is welcome.

]]> 6, 09 Apr 2016 18:44:25 +0000
Mormon conference urges common ground, tolerance at all levels Sat, 02 Apr 2016 23:20:49 +0000 SALT LAKE CITY — Mormon leaders called on members to practice tolerance despite political differences, providing the faith’s U.S. members guidance at a church conference Saturday amid a presidential campaign marked by harsh rhetoric.

The faith’s leaders also reiterated the belief that the religion is the only true church, and that its leaders are prophets speaking for the Lord. They implored members to be more thoughtful and sensitive toward children from all backgrounds, many of whom don’t come from “picture-perfect” families.

In a nod to the faith’s global footprint, five of 11 men announced as new members of a second-tier leadership council are from Guatemala, Argentina, Italy, Australia and New Zealand.

Church President Thomas S. Monson, 88, was in attendance, but he did not give any speeches.

The comments on politics came from Kevin R. Duncan, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy. He said people should be wary of resenting others because they belong to another religion, hold opposing political views or even root for a different sports team.

“Let us all remember that God looketh not upon the color of the jersey or the political party,” Duncan said. “In the competitions of life, if we win, let us win with grace. If we lose, let us lose with grace.”

Mormon leaders don’t endorse candidates or parties, but they may weigh in on what they consider crucial moral issues.

This presidential cycle, the church has defended religious liberty after Donald Trump suggested banning Muslims from entering the U.S. It also renewed calls for an end to culture wars.

Neil L. Anderson of the Quorum of the Twelve urged members to embrace all the children of the faith – no matter their family situation.

“While a child’s earthly situation may not be ideal, a child’s spiritual DNA is prefect because one’s true identity is as a son or daughter of God,” Anderson said.

Anderson didn’t mention children of gay parents. The church came under fire last year when it announced new rules banning baptisms for children living with a gay or lesbian parent.

Those children are still welcome at church services. Church leaders have said the rules were intended to prevent children from being caught in a tug-of-war between teachings at home and church.

]]> 0, 02 Apr 2016 19:38:47 +0000
Religiosity of women remains a mystery Sat, 02 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 What do Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Siddhartha Gautama and Moses all have in common? Besides being religious figures, they are all men. Yet looking around the world, the majority of their followers are women.

Globally, more women than men identify with a religion, pray daily and say that religion is “very important” to them, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Around the world, 83.4 percent of women say they identify with a religion, compared with 79.9 percent of men, Pew says, meaning there are about 100 million more religiously affiliated women on the planet than men. But why?

This is an old question, one that experts have dubbed a “scientific puzzle.” Some researchers have argued that the difference is because of biology, some say that it’s a product of social and cultural factors, and some maintain that it’s both. But Pew’s data suggests that, at the very least, biology isn’t the only factor. Men and women’s religious behaviors and beliefs vary significantly by religious group and country, suggesting that the way men and women are raised and socialized does play a role.

The Pew study surveys six religious groups – Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and the religiously unaffiliated – across 192 countries. It finds that, globally, women are more religious than men, while men make up 55 percent of the world’s religiously unaffiliated people.

This religious gender gap is even more pronounced in the United States, which is much more religious in general than other advanced economies. According to Pew, 64 percent of American women but only 47 percent of American men say they pray daily – compared with 30 percent of women and 28 percent of men in Canada and 15 percent of women and 9 percent of men in France. In the United States, 68 percent of atheists are men.

In the past, some researchers have argued that biology plays the most important role in this religious gender gap. One theory has been that higher levels of testosterone in men, which leads to more risk-taking behavior, also lead to a greater willingness to gamble on missing out on the afterlife. Other researchers have argued for biological explanations after observing that women with more “feminine” traits – like being affectionate, sympathetic, compassionate, tender and loving to children – are more likely to be religious.

But others insist that nurture – the way women and men are taught to behave and the values that they are taught to hold – is a more important influence on the religious differences between men and women than nature is.

Pew’s data may support this theory in two ways. First, it observes some big differences in the religious gender gap across different cultures – trends that suggest that men and women’s religious differences stem not just from biology but from culture.

Among Christians, women are more likely than men to attend services, pray daily, say religion is important, and believe in heaven, hell and angels. But among Muslims, the gender gaps are less consistent. Muslim men are a lot more likely to attend weekly religious services because of religious guidelines that encourage men to pray at mosques but allow women to pray at home. And while Muslim women are more likely than men to pray and believe in angels, other behaviors and beliefs are relatively the same between Muslim men and women.

Secondly, Pew finds that women’s religiosity varies somewhat depending on whether they work or stay home – a sign that religious beliefs might be affected by the environment men and women are exposed to. Women who work outside the home hold beliefs that are more similar to those of men, reporting lower levels of religious commitment than women who are not in the labor force, according to the survey. Or the causality could be the other way around – religious women could be more likely to stay home because of a belief in more traditional gender roles.

In addition, Pew finds that Christian countries in which more women work tend to have smaller religious gender gaps between men and women, though the trend doesn’t hold for other religious groups.

Researchers have floated numerous theories for how culture and social norms might create a religious gender gap. Some argue that, for women who didn’t traditionally work outside the home, the church offered the kind of social and psychological benefits that jobs offered to men, such as a personal identity and a social community.

Not having a job could also mean that women had more time for religious activities, or that women had less exposure than men did to the secularizing forces that have gradually come to predominate in public life.

Other theories include that women have been particularly pressured to be religious as a way to control their sexuality or that the Christian church has been less supportive of the identities of working women than of homemakers.

]]> 0, 01 Apr 2016 21:58:48 +0000
Reflections: Practice leads us to self-realization, not perfection Sat, 02 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A number of years ago, I practiced tae kwon do, a Korean martial art with an emphasis on kicks.

Tae means foot or to strike with the foot. Kwon means hand or to strike with the hand. Do means discipline, art, or way.

This art of the foot-hand-way taught me about practice. My instructor, Master Choi, often voiced: “Teresa, practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes practice. It’s not about perfection, it’s about being in the practice.”

These words resonated as I listened to my grandson Jack express frustration while trying to dunk a basketball. I heard myself say: “It takes practice. All great athletes practice.”

My daughter chimed in: “You’ll get better with practice.”

Jack continued to aim for the hoop. While his frustration lessened, it didn’t immediately go away. He was not buying into our collective wisdom.

Many of us want to achieve instant results; we want to dunk the ball the first time. We want perfection and we want it without practice.

And yet, what does it really mean to practice? What is the art of practice all about?

In general terms, practice is defined as habitual or customary performance; repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring a skill or proficiency or a condition arrived at by experience or exercise.

We all know that practicing anything can be a humbling experience. Even though we enter into practice with enthusiasm and expectation, we learn that practice can be more challenging and frustrating than we anticipated. It doesn’t always come naturally or easily.

We often enter into practice intending to improve or to change something. We believe, if we meditate daily, we will calm down and become a better person. If we practice making the shot, we will dunk the ball and become a better athlete.

While some of our beliefs may be true, do we really practice to get better or to change something?

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, provides insight into the art of practice. She shares that people often enter into a spiritual practice with the intent to improve or transform themselves.

Yet a spiritual practice such as meditation is really about befriending who we already are. Right here, right now. This practice of self-realization allows us to get to know ourselves with interest and curiosity.

Practice doesn’t necessarily mean we need to change anything or become better at something. In fact, if we become so intent on changing or improving something, we may miss what is right in front of us.

One of the Buddhist teachings on self-realization is revealed in a story about four types of horses: the excellent horse, the good horse,the poor horse and the really bad horse.

The excellent horse is highly aware of the driver and the slightest sounds; this horse moves before the whip touches its back. The good horse moves at the lightest touch of the whip. The poor horse waits to feel the pain before moving, and the very bad horse doesn’t move until the pain intensifies and reaches its core.

Most of us want to be the excellent horse or at least second best. Yet the intent of our practice is not to become the best horse.

In fact, Buddhist teachings reveal that the very bad horse is most likely the best practitioner and the most valuable. It is often in our imperfections that we find our true selves. Those who have difficulty practicing will ultimately find more meaning.

This is a wonderful reminder that practice isn’t about being the best or the worst, it’s about finding our own true nature and voice so we can speak and act from this place. The practice of finding our own true nature is a continuous journey.

The art of practice is about trusting the basic goodness of who we already are, what we already have, and the wisdom that exists in all of it.

Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes practice, and it’s still wonderful when we dunk the ball the first time.

Teresa Schulz is a spiritual director, author, retreat facilitator and health care chaplain. She can be reached at

]]> 0 Fri, 01 Apr 2016 21:50:02 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 02 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Dances of Universal Peace: chants from a variety of world spiritual traditions paired with simple circle dance movements. Suggested donation $5-$15. 2-4 p.m. Sunday. Creating Space Yoga Studio, 1717 Congress St., Portland. www.dancesof

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Fri, 01 Apr 2016 21:53:13 +0000
Street pastors practice caring, not conversion, on streets of Portland Thu, 31 Mar 2016 08:00:19 +0000 The six street pastors joined hands and prayed before heading out from the Salvation Army on Cumberland Avenue just after 9 p.m. Friday, armed with Tootsie pops to hand out to whomever they encountered in downtown Portland over the next five hours.

What’s a street pastor? That’s what most of the people wondered when they were greeted by a group of strangers dressed in matching coats and ball caps bearing the title.

Some whispered to their friends after passing by the troupe: Were they police? Preachers?

Others who were curious enough to ask them to their faces were surprised by their answer.

“We’re just here to spread love,” said Scott Loeffel of South Portland, leader of the team that was out Friday night.

In total, 38 members of five churches have volunteered to spend one Friday night a month patrolling the streets of Portland for people who could use their help, whether that’s lending an ear or calling a cab.

In their walking tour of the heart of Portland – from Oxford Street, over to Congress Square Plaza, through the Old Port and down Commercial Street – they said hello to everyone they passed, while looking out for anyone in need, from the homeless to bar hoppers.

Police officers have a nightly presence outside the bars in the Old Port, but their purpose is to prevent revelers from getting out of control, not to offer them a hand. Although street pastors in other communities have reported that their work has resulted in a reduction in crime, Portland police are unsure whether the addition to the downtown will be an asset or a nuisance to officers.

After attending an eight-hour training course at the beginning of March, the first team hit the streets two weeks ago.

Portland is the third U.S. city to have street pastors. The first group formed in 2013 in Chico, California, a college town with an active bar scene. The next year, another one came together in Bangor.


The organization got its start in London in 2003 as an initiative of Ascension Trust, an interdenominational Christian nonprofit. Street pastors are now at work in about 270 communities in the United Kingdom and 11 cities and towns in seven other countries, from Jamaica to Gibraltar.

Kurt Holmgren, the outreach pastor at Eastpoint Christian Church in Portland, first heard about the program while listening to a podcast a couple of years ago, then read a book written by the founder of the street pastor program.

When he found out that a group existed in Bangor, he and a half-dozen people from his church went up to tag along for a night.

Since then, Holmgren has been working with the parent organization to get a group started in Portland, culminating with a launch event in January to recruit volunteers.

Every street pastor has to get a referral from his or her church and shell out $95 for a uniform and a background check.

A stipulation of the program is that the volunteers come from several churches, but, for now, most in Portland are members of Eastpoint, a congregation that’s rapidly growing and looking to relocate from a former warehouse by the Portland International Jetport into large, vacant store buildings near the Maine Mall.

Eastpoint paid to fly two trainers over from England and, so far, has covered the costs of supplies to hand out to people on the street, including water bottles, hand warmers, fleece jackets and flip-flops for women who want out of their heels.

Holmgren hopes donations will cover future expenses.

Members of the team walking its first shift Friday described their decision to volunteer as a calling.

Angela Story, Loeffel’s wife, said she felt a tug at her heart when she first heard about the mission, even though it was out of her comfort zone.

Not long after, she was talking to a childhood friend who is now a minister in London and the street pastors program came up without her mentioning it.

“I was like, OK, I get it, I’m supposed to be a part of it,” she said.

Jeff Verrill, a general contractor from North Yarmouth, said he sits in the back of the church during services and generally likes to stay behind the scenes. But when he heard about street pastors, something inside him told him to step up.

“I couldn’t explain it,” he said about the feeling he got.

Verrill believes it could be an unintrusive way to bring Christianity into the community.

“Knowing the spiritual deadness of New England, I felt that this was a good start,” he said. “We’re not judge. We’re not jury. We’re just out here showing people we care.”


Eustace Constance, operations director for Ascension Trust and one of the trainers who visited Portland from England, said churches often are accused of not being involved in their communities.

Having church members, many of them senior citizens, outside at night catering to the bar crowd is a way to help change that.

“They kind of think we should be in bed,” Constance said about the reaction from the public.

And they’re doing more than making sure people get home safely, he said.

“Wherever our street pastors operate, there’s a reduction in crime and social disorder,” Constance said.

Police in Bangor and Chico, however, couldn’t vouch for that in their cities. They said they’re aware the street pastors are out there, but don’t have much contact with them.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck applauds the group’s intent, but is skeptical about what impact it can have.

“I think that all remains to be seen,” he said. “They seem like nice folks trying to do the right thing.”

However, he worries that they could elicit a reaction they aren’t expecting or find themselves caught in the middle of a fight.

“I always have concerns for people’s safety when they’re out in certain settings at certain times,” Sauschuck said.

Sure enough, not long after bar closing time on Friday night, the street pastors were talking to a bar patron on Wharf Street when shoving within a group nearby turned to fisticuffs, just out of sight of the line of police officers squared off along Fore Street.

The street pastors’ training taught them not to get involved and they retreated from the scene.

For most of the night, their work consisted of conversations.

They talked to people outside the Oxford Street Shelter, a young man in a wheelchair and a woman who told the volunteers how she had lost custody of her son. In the Old Port, there were people happy to have someone to chat with while standing outside to smoke a cigarette, and bar doormen who were curious about their cause.

Conversation topics ranged from March Madness basketball to poverty in Mexico. For some who told of the difficulties they were facing in life, the street pastors asked if they could say a prayer and found that their words were welcome.

Although some people they encountered mocked their religious beliefs and questioned their motives, most changed their tune when they found out they weren’t trying to convert anyone.

Alyssa Russell, 27, of Portland assumed they were Jehovah’s Witnesses when they approached her and her friends outside Binga’s Stadium on Free Street, and was pleasantly surprised to learn their purpose – and to get a Tootsie pop.

“If they’re just out here talking and looking around to see if people need help, that’s great,” she said. “We need more people like that in our community.”


Near the end of the night, the street pastors were taking one last stroll down Fore Street when they saw a young woman by herself, without a coat, leaning against a fence, her head bent over her cellphone.

The two women on the team asked if she was all right, and soon found out she was having trouble standing, as she lost her balance while they spoke. She thought her friends had gone into the nearby Five Guys restaurant, but she couldn’t find them there or connect with them on the phone.

The street pastors gave her a bottle of water and helped her call her friends back, then waited with her, holding her steady, until someone came to pick her up.

Constance, the trainer from England, said it’s often not until after the fact that street pastors find out how much their help meant.

“People, their lives have been saved,” he said, noting instances where people have told street pastors they had been contemplating suicide on the nights they spoke with them. “You never know what you’ve averted until a person later comes up to you.”

And through those stories, their reputation has spread.

Much like the street pastors themselves, the organization doesn’t force itself on anyone, but provides support where it’s needed as new communities form their own teams.

“We don’t go knocking on doors and say do you want it,” Constance said about how cities end up with street pastors. “They get in contact with us and we take it from there.”


]]> 26, 31 Mar 2016 08:03:13 +0000
Fast-growing Portland church finds a big-box answer to its space crunch Wed, 30 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — The fast-growing Eastpoint Christian Church in Portland plans to move into two vacant big-box stores in a shopping plaza near the Maine Mall.

The unexpected location – in the former Bob’s Discount Furniture and HomeGoods building on Clark’s Pond Parkway – is one of many surprising aspects of the planned church.

The 92,000-square-foot building near a Home Depot and a Cinemagic movie theater would be six times larger than its current location, a 15,000-square-foot former DHL warehouse at 58 City Line Drive in Portland, near the Portland International Jetport.

The church plans to spend $7 million to buy the building and nearly six acres of land, and even more to convert the former big-box stores into a “community center with a church inside,” including a 1,500-seat auditorium, an indoor soccer field, an indoor basketball court and a 40-seat cafe.

Eastpoint’s pastors say they’re designing a newer style of church that’s meant to be totally engaged with the wider community and active seven days a week, not just on weekends. They were inspired when they recently visited the 242 Community Church in Brighton, Michigan. They walked in and saw sports news on big-screen TVs, a soccer field, a cross-fit center, a children’s play space and activity everywhere.

“They were offering the building as a gift to the community and that’s what we want to do,” said Kurt Holmgren, Eastpoint’s outreach pastor. “We could probably satisfy the needs of our church with 50,000 square feet, but we want to be more for the community.”

Eastpoint, a non-denominational, Bible-based church, has a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy the property. The project is allowed under city zoning and is on track for minor subdivision and site plan review by the Planning Board on May 10. Renovations would start in June and the church would move into the new space as early as February 2017, Holmgren said.

Eastpoint’s growth is unusual in Maine, which consistently ranks among the least religious states in America, along with the rest of New England. According to the Pew Research Center, only 34 percent of Mainers say religion is important in their lives and 22 percent say they attend worship services at least weekly.

The proposed Eastpoint Christian Church on Clark’s Pond Parkway in South Portland will create “a community center with a church inside” that is active seven days a week. Courtesy Dwight M. Herdrich Architecture + Design

The proposed Eastpoint Christian Church on Clark’s Pond Parkway in South Portland will create “a community center with a church inside” that is active seven days a week. Courtesy Dwight M. Herdrich Architecture + Design


Founded in 2004, Eastpoint’s following has tripled over the last five years, growing from 300 to 1,200 weekly attendants at its current address, including 120 middle and high school students, Holmgren said. It gradually outgrew three previous leased locations in South Portland and Scarborough. About 2,200 people attended Easter services last weekend and the church is adding a fourth service to its regular schedule this Sunday.

“We’re sort of bulging out of this space,” Holmgren said.

Lead Pastor Scott Taube credits the church’s growth to building relationships.

“It’s providing a place for people to come and be part of the community,” Taube said. “It’s based on our faith. Jesus is at the center of our community. The key for us is to help people know Jesus.”

Eastpoint considered moving to other locations in Portland, South Portland and Westbrook before settling on the former Bob’s and HomeGoods building, which is empty because the stores recently moved to new buildings at 700 Gallery Boulevard in Scarborough.

As communities across the United States increasingly deal with vacant big-box stores, it’s not uncommon to see them converted into churches, said Sarah Schindler, a land use and real estate law professor at the University of Maine School of Law. She wrote an article, “The Future of Abandoned Big Box Stores: Legal Solutions to the Legacies of Poor Planning,” which was published in the University of Colorado Law Review in 2012.

“Churches are definitely some of the uses we see going in, along with bowling alleys, libraries, municipal offices and schools,” Schindler said. “There aren’t many uses that can fill a space that big. It can be very expensive to redevelop these spaces and they really weren’t built to last.”


The land and building at 333 Clark’s Pond Parkway are owned by CPSP LLC, a company held by Joseph Soley of Portland, according to the church’s proposal. Part of a larger shopping plaza, the property has an assessed value of about $5.4 million and a yearly tax bill of about $93,960, according to the city assessor’s records. As a church, the property would no longer be subject to taxes.

Currently, 10 of the 13 storefronts in the shopping plaza appear to be empty.

The church project is being financed through The Solomon Foundation, a nonprofit investment group in Parker, Colorado, that helps to establish Christian churches and ministries.

Exactly how much the church would borrow depends on the extent of renovations necessary and how much can be raised in donations, including corporate contributions, Holmgren said. Creating indoor soccer and basketball spaces would require costly removal of interior pillars.

Plans for the new church also show a large student ministry room, 11 classrooms, five event rooms, two conference rooms, a 40-seat café, a scene-building shop and offices. The 1,500-seat auditorium, where church services would be held, would accommodate nearly four times as many people as the current worship space. It would feature a stage equipped with the latest performance-level lighting and sound equipment.

The church set up an email address – – to seek input from the wider community.

“This is a step of faith for us,” Holmgren said. “But we really believe this is the direction God wants us to go.”


]]> 55, 30 Mar 2016 13:08:10 +0000
Pope re-emphasizes the Easter message of hope Sat, 26 Mar 2016 23:19:05 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said Saturday that darkness and fear must not prevail as he concluded a bleak week in Europe with a message of hope during an Easter vigil service in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Francis entered the silent and darkened basilica with just a single candle guiding him at the start of the vigil. As he reached the altar, the basilica’s floodlights flipped on in a symbolic show of light after the darkness of Jesus’ crucifixion.

In his homily, Francis said the hope that Easter brings is a lesson for the Christian faithful to cast aside the hopelessness that can “imprison” people inside of themselves.

“We see and will continue to see problems both inside and out. They will always be there,” he said. But he insisted: “Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and control our hearts.”

The lengthy vigil service was to include a papal baptism for 12 adults hailing from around the world. A few hours later Francis was to preside over Easter Sunday Mass and offer his annual Easter blessing.

Francis’ message of hope followed his bleak condemnations on Good Friday and earlier in the week of the attacks by Islamic extremists in Brussels and elsewhere.

During remarks Friday at the Colosseum capping the “Way of the Cross” procession re-enacting Jesus’ crucifixion, Francis denounced the “terrorist acts committed by followers of some religions which profane the name of God and which use the holy name to justify their unprecedented violence.”

While the pope was at the Colosseum, his chief alms-giver was out on the streets of Rome giving out sleeping bags to the homeless Friday night in a show of papal support for the city’s least fortunate.

The services took place as Italy increased security at “sensitive sites.”

According to Reuters, police were checking people as they headed for the Basilica. People with tickets were subject to body and bag searches. Security was augmented with reinforcements from other Italian cities.

]]> 0, 26 Mar 2016 19:32:00 +0000
Reflections: Easter offers God’s presence in the midst of suffering Sat, 26 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The morning dawned gray and hard. Freezing rain fell the night before and the branches of the trees and shrubs were encased in an icy sheath. Had the morning been sunny, those same branches would have sparkled in the sun’s rays, shafts of light igniting the rainbow flames locked in the ice … but not today. In the gray morning, the ice on the long needles of the white pine and the delicate, peeling branches of the Seven Sons’ Tree held invisible rainbows in the shadowed crystals, but I was content, mindful of the possibility of beauty hidden within, waiting only for a shaft of light to release it.

Over that past six months I have been staring into the hard gray of illness, wondering what, if anything to do with life, waited within. Since last October, I have been fighting a rare cancer that has required surgery and extensive chemo. In the weeks ahead, I will undergo a stem cell transplant. Along the way I have been graced with many moments of kindness and compassion. I felt the love of family and friends sustaining me through it all, each expression an embodiment of God’s presence in a scary and unholy time, each expression making a small crack in the hard reality of cancer, revealing a small flash of a rainbow of hope

Along the way, however, there have been searing moments when the only light visible was the iridescent glow of the chemo bag hanging in the darkness of my hospital room. Dark nights that were more than chronological but spiritual and emotional. Being mindful of the presence of God becomes a challenge in such times – in the dark times we have all had – but a challenge that pushes us to a wider understanding of what it means to be mindful of the Divine in those moments.

Mindfulness is a practice that is encouraged by all those seeking to deepen their spiritual life. Those of us seeking God, or an experience or the numinous, the holy, the sacred are advised to behold the world around us, to look for the face of the divine and hints of heaven in the moment. As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil,” thus people speak about spectacular sunrises, mountaintop vistas, soaring music, and the newborn’s face. These moments, as glorious as they are, are not the whole story. It is true creation can bring us to our knees, overwhelming us with such awe and grandeur, but the world can also push us down, overwhelming us with feelings despair and helplessness. Our practice of mindfulness falls short if we don’t include the latter as a place to experience God.

The world can be a place of terror, tragedy and personal trial. No wonder we rightfully grasp at moments of beauty and peace to reassure us of the presence of the Holy … of the Good. Such moments provide respite from the onslaught, but we need more in the midst of the onslaught. I need more, and the story of Easter offers it to me, it gives me a glimpse of the presence of God in the midst of suffering.

Whether you take the story literally or understand it as an archetypal metaphor, or somewhere in between, it tells a wider truth about life. You don’t have to be a believer. We have all had moments of crucifixion, times of entombment with no way out, times of sorrow and hopelessness. And we have also experienced our own resurrections, when against all odds we have been raised up and made whole. Some light has broken through and transformed the darkness into something hopeful, something promising. To me, that is the light of Easter morning, the light that shattered the stone and transformed death.

I am mindful that the gray ice on the trees needs only a ray of sunlight to release the beauty within. I am mindful that the darkness I experience through this disease needs only the light of Easter, which is not limited to one Sunday a year but is there all the time, to release the beauty of hope. And God is, indeed, present in it all.

Janet Dorman is the pastor at Foreside Community Church. She can be reached at

]]> 0 Fri, 25 Mar 2016 21:07:06 +0000
Reflections: Meditation lends calm for many of life’s stresses – at home and work Sat, 26 Mar 2016 00:36:29 +0000 More than 92 percent of small businesses fail in the first three years. Lately, even some large established companies are disappearing in a short period of time. Stock market fluctuations are creating panic. Some people are working multiple jobs to make a living and have a limited time to rest. These situations and others are creating stress in our lives.

Meditation is a tool that can help us manage stress. My teacher, Lama Willa Miller says, “Meditation helps us by changing our relationship with our thoughts.” Meditation is a mind turning on to mind itself.

At our company iCST, an Information Technology staffing and software testing company, we meditate as a team before every weekly staff meeting and before important meetings. This helps us to work from a place of calm mind. We respect each other by listening and not interrupting even when we disagree. We discuss rather than arguing. We come up with solutions and ideas.

My colleague, Julie Tanner says, “I have never used meditation in my home or work life prior to joining iCST. The practice of meditation at work on Monday mornings allows me to clear my mind and then come in to focus for the meeting. I now think of these minutes spent as a calm way to start my week which is both busy at home and here at iCST.”

Meditation helps us to manage anger. At work, we face daily challenges and difficult situations. Instead of reacting to these situations, we pause, think and respond. Meditation helps us to be peaceful. It makes us be more empathetic to others and to ourselves. It helps us not to make decisions from jealousy. It helps us to cope with adversities.

Meditation can be done by anyone. It does not have to be based in religion. If you are a beginner, you could explore with just two minutes at a time for a few times daily. Ideally, dawn and dusk are good times due to the changes in our body and mindset. We can meditate anywhere. Sitting at the same location daily will create peaceful vibrations at that place. Group sitting will help to leverage group energy.

There are many techniques of meditation. One could sit in a chair or on the floor. Keep the spine straight so that energy flows freely. Clasp hands or keep your palms on your thighs. Close or slightly open your eyes. A simple way to start is to take deep breaths initially and then go back to natural breath. Relax the body. Eventually, meditations may become effortless. Thoughts can be your friends. Do not attempt to avoid or reject them. Just observe them.

Meditation can help us be more productive, give us better well-being, and allow us to enjoy our work and improve our relationship with people and our own thoughts.

Ashok Nalamalapu is the president of iCST and founder of Sadhana, a spiritual center. He offers meditation workshops. He can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Fri, 25 Mar 2016 21:20:53 +0000
Portland Catholics mark Stations of the Cross on Good Friday: Photos Fri, 25 Mar 2016 22:35:58 +0000 3, 25 Mar 2016 22:39:24 +0000 Reflections: Recognition of each other lets us experience the jewel of connection Sat, 19 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I was sitting near the South Portland Mall’s interior entrance to Sears a few days ago. Approaching was a woman pushing a wheelchair in which sat an elderly woman, perhaps her mother or an aged friend.

Heartwarmingly, my eyes rested on that tiny parade of humanity, while my thoughts strayed toward a mindfulness of the charity we owe one another.

As this small pageant drew abreast of where I was sitting, the younger woman turned toward me, gifting me with an unguarded smile.

Taken in by this woman’s recognition of me, I nodded while my lips formed a silent greeting.

Such exchanges of intimacy are not uncommon.

Life is a relational bazaar. Our encounters when uncorrupted by self-concern or unworthy motive sometimes bring us into a land of mutual giving where we are known as fellow travelers.

I am not persuaded that every attentive act should engender weighty reflections on our part.

Nevertheless, faced with another being thoughtfully attentive to us as a person may effect in us a feeling of belonging, bringing catharsis.

A stranger gives us an unguarded smile and we know that we are known as a separate being in all our fullness. It is a pleasing thing to be the recipient of another’s act of recognition.

Recognition! Perhaps it is what all of us want, though we have been unable to say it.

There is an inner level of self that wishes to be seen and known, desiring to be the subject of the innocent attention of another.

We seek fulfillment through recognition. Perhaps it is the deepest of all human longing. Soon or late what we realize is that each is a divine manuscript upon which God messages his love for the other.

Jesus taught that we are to commit ourselves to the fiction of “Neighbor = Me.”

Imaginatively, we are to practice seeing ourselves as the other every time we look at another, to see the other as a person and not a thing – a you and not an it.

As we can be encumbered with too much self, it may require practicing an emerging from the self if the body is to become the holy homeland of God’s love.

Annie Dillard in her book “For the Time Being” remembers words spoken by French paleontologist, priest and mystic Teilhard de Chardin: “By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.”

On every side we are assailed by God’s infinite speech, whether it resounds from the fiery layers upon layers of swirling galaxies at the borders of the universe, or comes to us from the heart of our neighbor. Without our say-so, we are being steeped in the wonder and absurdity of creation.

Our anonymity and our loneliness are banished when we are recognized, remembered and acknowledged by the friendly presence of another.

Apart from the gifts others bring to us – their smiles and hugs, their assurances and affirmations, their wish-you-well words – we are incomplete beings.

Dostoyevsky long ago wrote of “the plague of self-sufficiency.” It’s not possible to live off the spare nutrients of our self-satisfactions. We are enriched and fortified by the attentiveness of others.

The best thing we can offer another is a humble, waiting patience coupled with a certain passivity that allows the other to be present as a vital and separate human being.

Recognition reveals itself sometimes in a look, a smile, an intonation or a handshake.

Being the recipient of an unguarded smile in a public place was to know myself as known apart from my reputation.

Recognition of another is among the greatest and most charitable of gifts!

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is Minister of Visitation Emeritus at First Parish Church, Saco, Maine.

He may be contacted at

]]> 0 Fri, 18 Mar 2016 18:50:41 +0000
Pope Francis to visit Armenia in June Fri, 18 Mar 2016 21:11:58 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is planning to visit Armenia in June, a year after he termed the Ottoman-era slaughter of Armenians a genocide.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, stressed Friday that the trip was still in its planning stages and that no itinerary had been set. But he said that the dates under study were for the second half of June.

Francis sparked a diplomatic incident with Turkey last year when he marked the 100th anniversary of the slaughter with an Armenian-rite Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and termed the massacre the “first genocide of the 20th Century.”

Turkey immediately recalled its ambassador in protest and accused the pope of spreading hatred.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I. Turkey denies a genocide took place and insists those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Francis’ proposed trip would come 15 years after St. John Paul II visited Armenia, a mostly Oriental Orthodox former Soviet state with a small Catholic minority.

It was during that 2001 trip that John Paul inked a joint declaration with the Armenian church leader Karenkin II calling the slaughter a genocide.

The plight of Armenians has long been close to the Vatican’s heart given that Armenia is held up as the first Christian nation, dating from 301.

The Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches split in a theological dispute over the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ, arising from the fifth-century Council of Chalcedon. But the Armenian church has established friendly relations with both the Vatican and with Orthodox churches.

]]> 0 Fri, 18 Mar 2016 21:54:22 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 12 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Lecture: “Why World Peace Is Possible,” Paul K. Chappell, West Point graduate, Iraq War veteran and international peace leader, Unity of Greater Portland, 54 River Road, Windham, 10 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Sunday.

Lenten Series III. This week’s hourlong forum: “Thoreau’s Social Protests,” will be led by Ed Mooney, Ph.D., Free, State Street Church, 159 State St., Portland, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

“The Art of Icon Painting” with Russian icon maker, teacher and lecturer Marina Forbes. Open house Sunday at Grace Christian Academy, 187 Lewiston Road, West Gardiner, 6 to 8 p.m.

Coffee House featuring Chris Kemp White, Falmouth Congregational Church, 267 Falmouth Road, 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday.

To submit an item for the religion Calendar, go to here and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Fri, 11 Mar 2016 20:59:03 +0000
After abuses, pope reforms saint-making operations Sat, 12 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis imposed new financial accountability regulations on the Vatican’s multimillion-dollar saint-making machine Thursday after uncovering gross abuses that were subsequently revealed in two books.

The rules require external vigilance over individual Vatican bank accounts created for beatification and canonization causes, as well as regular budgeting and accounting to make sure the donations from the faithful are being used as intended.

The reforms were imposed after Francis tasked a fact-finding commission to investigate Vatican finances, including at the Vatican’s saints office. Two books by Italian journalists, based on the commission’s confidential findings, revealed that the Vatican’s secretive saint-making process brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for each saintly candidate but had virtually no financial oversight as to how the money was spent.

The books estimated the average cost for each beatification at around $550,000, with much of it going to a few people with contracts to do time-consuming investigations into the candidates’ lives. The family of one investigator also had the Vatican monopoly on printing the documentation for each cause.

While candidates who inspire wealthy donors would sprint ahead, those with less wealthy fans would languish. American saints often cost the most precisely because the most money was donated, and the postulator could spend it on the best researchers, according to the book “Avarice.”

The new rules name an administrator for each saintly cause that will keep tabs on expenditures and donations.

]]> 0 Fri, 11 Mar 2016 20:51:54 +0000
Missouri Senate moves to guard ‘sincere religious belief’ Sat, 12 Mar 2016 00:23:02 +0000 JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — After a failed 37-hour filibuster by Democrats, the Missouri Senate on Thursday passed a proposal to add greater religious protections to the state constitution for some business owners and individuals opposed to gay marriage.

Senators voted 23-7 along party lines to give the measure final approval following the Democratic filibuster, which ground work in the chamber to a halt.

Division over the measure highlights a national debate over how to balance the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and religious liberties following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer that legalized same-sex marriages in all states.

At issue is legislation to amend the Missouri Constitution to prohibit government penalties against those who cite a “sincere religious belief” while declining to provide goods and services for same-sex marriage ceremonies or ensuing celebrations taking place around the same time as a wedding ceremony. The measure cites photographers and florists as examples of those who could be covered. It would also shield clergy and worship places that decline to participate in such weddings.

“This amendment will protect those individuals from being commandeered into a wedding ceremony in violation of their religious conscious,” said Republican sponsor Sen. Bob Onder, of Lake St. Louis.

Democrats, who argued it would allow discrimination against LGBT people, stalled an initial vote on the measure from Monday afternoon to early Wednesday, when Republicans used a rare procedural move to end what was the longest continuous filibuster in recent state history.

On Thursday, action by frustrated Democrats continued to delay work in the Senate. Their pushback included nearly six hours spent reviewing and debating what’s in the official state record of Senate action this week before the measure came up for a final vote.

Democratic Sen. Scott Sifton said if senators and voters met his father and uncle, who are gay, and their partners, the proposal would fail and “Missouri voters would reject it unanimously.”

Some Democratic lawmakers invoked images of an era when businesses refused to serve people because of the color of their skin. Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said the proposal could allow businesses to hang signs banning LGBT people.

“It’s wrong, and we shouldn’t do it,” he said. “Generations from now, people will look back on what we’ve done, and they’ll be ashamed of us.”

The proposal, which could go before voters as a ballot measure this year, is among the latest efforts by Republican lawmakers in some states in reaction to the high court’s ruling.

Missouri is among more than 20 states that have Religious Freedom Restoration Acts on the books, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nine states are considering legislation on the topic this year.

Missouri’s existing law bans state and local government agencies from substantially limiting people’s right to follow their religious beliefs unless there is a compelling reason to do so, but the measure passed by the Senate would go further by specifically addressing religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Onder said ordinances barring discrimination against gays and lesbians have been used against people of religious faith. He said his bill is “a shield, not a sword.”

The proposal now heads to the House, where it has support from the Republican speaker and appears likely to pass. House Democrats don’t have the same filibuster powers as senators.

If passed by the Legislature, it would be on the ballot for Missouri voters to decide either in the August primary or November general election. It does not require the approval of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who opposes it.

]]> 1, 11 Mar 2016 20:50:55 +0000
Evangelical leaders dismayed at Trump support Sat, 12 Mar 2016 00:04:37 +0000 NEW YORK — The list of prominent evangelicals denouncing Donald Trump is growing, but is anyone in the flock listening? The bloc of voters powering the real estate mogul through the Republican primaries is significantly weighted with white born-again Christians.

As Trump’s ascendancy forces the GOP establishment to confront how it lost touch with so many conservative voters, top evangelicals are facing their own dark night, wondering what has drawn so many Christians to a twice-divorced, profane casino magnate with a muddled record on abortion and gay marriage.

John Stemberger, a Trump critic and head of the Florida Family Policy Council, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, said many evangelicals have changed. Litmus tests that for so long defined the boundaries for morally acceptable candidates seem to have been abandoned by many Christians this year, he said, no matter how much evangelical leaders try to uphold those standards.

“Evangelicals are looking at those issues less and less. They’ve just become too worldly, letting anger and frustration control them, as opposed to trusting in God,” Stemberger said.

Trump has won the support of one-third of self-identified born-again Christians across the dozen or so states that have held GOP contests and where exit polls were conducted. In eight of the presidential primaries, he won more evangelicals than Ted Cruz, a Southern Baptist who has made appeals to conservative Christians the core of his campaign, according to polling.

“We’re leading with evangelicals all over the country,” Trump said Saturday at a rally in Wichita, Kansas. “Leading big, because they don’t want to vote for a liar. You have lying Ted Cruz. … He holds up the Bible and then he tells you exactly what I didn’t say.”


Trump is a Presbyterian who has said he has never sought God’s forgiveness for his sins, botches Bible references and, on a recent campaign visit to a church, mistook a communion plate for a donation plate.

Critics insist exit polls have overstated Trump’s share of evangelical support, arguing that many voters identifying themselves as “born again” in primaries are only nominally Christian.

An October survey from the Public Religion Research Institute backs this view. In the poll, white evangelical Republicans and those leaning toward the GOP who attended religious services weekly were far less likely to support Trump than those who attended infrequently.

“There’s a form of cultural Christianity that causes people to respond with ‘evangelical’ and ‘born-again’ as long as they’re not Catholic, even though they haven’t been in a church since Vacation Bible School as a kid,” said the Rev. Russell Moore, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Moore was an early and vocal opponent of Trump.

Trump’s biggest evangelical endorsement of the race – from Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, who said the billionaire businessman “lives a life of loving and helping others” – reflected the rift among Christians and even within the university itself. Trump only got 90 of nearly 1,200 votes cast in the university’s precinct in the Virginia GOP primary last Tuesday.

In remarkably public criticism, Mark DeMoss, a Liberty board member and longtime adviser to the school’s founder, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., called the endorsement a mistake.

“My concern, thinking about evangelicalism and Liberty University, is more about a style and a behavior and a demeanor and a vocabulary that you can’t find any support for in Scripture,” said DeMoss, who had advised Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns. “I think the potential damage – and time will tell if there was real damage – was an erosion of trust in the school.”


Yet it’s not clear whether conservative Christian voters are paying attention. Trump’s candidacy has revealed a distance between evangelical leaders and rank-and-file Christians similar to the one coming to light in the GOP. “The laity has its own attitudes and impulses,” Anderson wrote.

While Moore and others are urging Christians to evaluate candidates using the Bible, many evangelicals are using other criteria, such as seeking a candidate to protect them from the Islamic State group, liberalism, growing secularism among Americans and economic insecurity for the country and their families. The Public Religion Research Institute found that white, working-class evangelicals are more than twice as likely to support Trump than evangelicals with a college degree.

The Rev. Carl Gallups, a Southern Baptist pastor from Milton, Florida, who gave the invocation at Trump’s Pensacola rally last January, said he has had many conversations with fellow conservative Christians about making a pragmatic choice in favor of Trump.

“I tell them, if you are not thoroughly satisfied with what you might interpret the depth of his faith might be, then the next thing we must look at is the candidate who will best preserve your First Amendment rights and allow you to express your Christian faith,” Gallups said. “We’re not electing a priest, a pope or a pastor. We’re electing a president, a CEO, a commander in chief. I’m not perfectly happy with Donald Trump either, but I’m a realist.”

]]> 3, 11 Mar 2016 20:45:58 +0000
Reflections: Live each day as if it were your last? How exhausting! Sat, 05 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Danny was totally blown away! He had seen his family physician presumably for a routine physical and cholesterol check, but his doctor found a “lump” when examining Danny’s abdomen. “How could there be anything growing in my belly? I feel fine,” Danny exclaimed. On the day of his physical, Danny exercised before 6, rode his bike, showered and dressed, ate breakfast with his wife and boys, drove to his office in Portland, sat checking his emails waiting for the office to open, saw a couple of clients, then drove to his doctor. All before 10!

Instead of receiving a card for a return visit in six months, Danny was handed a requisition for a CT scan at Maine Medical Center. The indication for the exam was “large mass in the abdomen.” When Danny arrived home after his CT, he discovered an email with an appointment for a needle biopsy of the “large mass.” A few days later, Danny found himself in my office, referred after the biopsy revealed a high-grade lymphoma. “How scary that my insides have been betraying me and I didn’t know it,” Danny shared with me at the consultation. “I was a little tired, but who wouldn’t be from a job with long hours, a new home to fix up, and a wife and two active young boys?”

As Danny sat holding the results of the CT scan and the biopsy in the waiting room and looking at the office sign over the secretary’s window, he knew his life was now radically changed. He would never be the same. How should he live from now on? Several acquaintances told Danny, “Live each day as if it were your last.” Danny recalled that the original phrase “carpe diem” in Latin was coined by the Roman poet Horace, who lived during the reign of Caesar Augustus (1st Century B.C.). Many other sages, ancient and modern, have espoused that same mantra, including Sir Thomas More, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jean-Paul Sartre, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa. Even Elvis. Danny told me he tried it for a week: “It was exhausting – trying to live each day as if it were my last, along with my full schedule and chemo added in. And feeling guilty when I couldn’t do it!”

While Danny started to doze off from weariness in my office during the first visits waiting for more blood tests and X-rays, he became skeptical that carpe diem related to his own life. During a lengthy session in the treatment room receiving chemotherapy, Danny had his eureka moment. On days when he could hardly keep on his feet from the treatment, he realized he had to prioritize what he could do and think. On other days that he was confined to bed and could only think, he had to narrow his focus even further – to the essentials of life from which he could get help. On these “rotten” days, Danny discovered the essentials in his life were someone to get him through the cancer and the chemo and someone to be with him. For Danny, the only ones that could satisfy these needs were God and his wife.

With the help of his rabbi, Danny found Scripture passages that codified what Danny was trying to understand. God fulfilled the need for someone to get him through the chemotherapy: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my deliverer in whom I take refuge. He is my shield, and the horn of my Salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:2-3). Danny’s wife fulfilled his need to have someone to be with him: “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:11-12).

Danny discovered for him that carpe diem did not always apply to his life in all its situations. When Danny was very sick, he realized he could not live like today was the last day of his life with an exhausting number of actions and activities. Rather than struggling with what he could not do, he had to find rest in what was essential to him. “It must be about resting,” Danny quipped. “That’s in an old Talmudic prayer.”

Dr. Delvyn C. Case Jr. is a hematologist/oncologist, playwright and director, columnist, and consultant to the Department of Spiritual Care at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

]]> 0 Sat, 05 Mar 2016 20:41:57 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 05 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Lenten Series II, Ed Mooney, Ph.D., to speak, free, State Street Church, 159 State St., Portland, www.statestreet, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Sunday.

Dances of Universal Peace, featuring chants from a variety of world spiritual traditions paired with simple circle dance movements. www.dancesof Suggested donation $5-$15, Creating Space Yoga Studio, 1717 Congress St., Stroudwater, Portland,, 2-4 p.m. Sunday.

To submit an item for the religion Calendar, go here and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Sat, 05 Mar 2016 20:19:52 +0000
Papal adviser vows to help after suicides of victims Sat, 05 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 ROME — A top Vatican official vowed Thursday to work to put an end to the rash of suicides in his Australian hometown over the church sex abuse scandal after meeting with victims and admitting that he failed to act on an allegation decades ago.

Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ top financial adviser, met Thursday with some of the Australian abuse victims who traveled to Rome to witness his four days of remote, video-link testimony to Australia’s Royal Commission. The commission is investigating how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to the sexual abuse of children over decades.

Emerging from the meeting with survivors at a Rome hotel, Pell read a statement pledging to help his hometown of Ballarat recover from scores of suicides of abuse victims. He said he hoped the city of 100,000 might one day become “an example for practical help for all those wounded by the scourge of sexual abuse.”


“One suicide is too many. And there have been many such tragic suicides,” Pell said. “I commit myself to work with the group to try to stop this so that suicide is not seen as an option for those who are suffering.”

Ballarat, a heavily Catholic city in Australia’s Victoria state, has had a devastating experience with the abuse scandal. Testimony to the Royal Commission revealed how the Christian Brothers religious order, in particular, preyed on dozens of children in the schools it ran from the 1960s to 1980s.

Pell was called to answer questions about his time as a priest in Ballarat, and as an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne. The four days of testimony saw the 74-year-old cardinal answer questions from the commission and a succession of lawyers.

Pell said he was also providing a daily summary of his testimony to Francis.


During the final round, Pell acknowledged that he didn’t immediately act when a schoolboy brought an abuse allegation to him in 1974 against a cleric. Pell told the inquiry he was a junior priest when the unnamed student at St. Patrick’s College in Ballarat told him that Christian Brothers teacher Edward Dowlan “is misbehaving with boys.”

Pell said he eventually raised concerns about Dowlan with the school chaplain. The chaplain replied that the Christian Brothers order was “dealing with” the allegations.

Dowlan was later removed from the school but he continued to abuse children as a teacher at other schools until 1985.

“With the experience of 40 years later, certainly I would agree that I should have done more,” Pell said.

]]> 0 Sat, 05 Mar 2016 20:16:16 +0000
Father, son on mission to Philippines Sat, 05 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 CAMP POINT, Ill. — Steve Keppner and his son, Jake, are taking father-and-son bonding to a new level – and distance.

The Keppners will be part of a 10-person mission trip this month, a two-week sojourn of more than 8,000 miles that will take them to the Philippines.

Steve and Jake, along with their pastor, the Rev. Cecilia Granadosin, a native of the Philippines, will be representing the Columbus and Mount Sterling United Methodist churches.

Jake, a 16-year-old high school junior, first became interested in the trip last year when he heard about it at a church function. His father soon knew his son was determined to make the pilgrimage, which will see the Methodist group help build a community center on Palawan, which lies between the South China and the Sulu seas.

“I couldn’t let him go alone,” Steve said.

Jake, although eager to be part of such an adventure, also knows that the time with his father will be extremely special.

“I really appreciate my dad for doing this with me,” he said. “I’m looking forward to meeting people from a different country and seeing how they live. I hope I can appreciate what we have (in this country).”

Palawan is in the southeast part of the islands and is known for its striking landscapes.

“This is considered one of the most beautiful areas of the world,” Granadosin said. “Much of it is untouched.”

Steve said he and Jake are the first members from the tiny rural west-central Illinois church to be part of such a mission trip.

“We’re very excited,” he said. “I’m sure this experience will change our perspectives.”

Steve also is looking forward to sharing the venture with his son.

“Jake likes adventure, but he is a very quiet and respectful kid,” Steve said.

Granadosin, who pastors at both the Columbus and Mount Sterling churches, has nothing but praise for Jake.

“He assists with the children’s ministries and helps take care of the parsonage,” she said.

The Keppners, who live in Coatsburg, have been longtime members of the Columbus church and appreciate the family atmosphere found there, Steve said.

“A lot of Sundays, we might only have about 12 people in attendance,” he said.

The rest of the mission trip participants will come from a United Methodist Church in the Rushville-Industry area, which is pastored by the Rev. Steve Granadosin, Cecilia’s husband. The Columbus, Mount Sterling and Rushville-Industry churches are all part of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, which is providing financial assistance for the trip through a $10,000 grant. A $5,000 grant from the Fellheimer Foundation in Macomb also is helping.

There have been few problems working out the details of the mammoth journey.

“We started planning about six months ago, and things have just worked out,” Cecilia Granadosin said.

Especially for a father and his son.

]]> 0, 05 Mar 2016 20:17:23 +0000
Athiest’s opening prayer falls short in Arizona House Sat, 05 Mar 2016 00:48:11 +0000 PHOENIX — An atheist member of the Arizona House denied the chance to deliver the chamber’s opening prayer by majority Republican leaders last month got the opportunity Thursday, only to see leaders rule his prayer didn’t pass muster and call up a Christian pastor.

The opening prayer by Democrat Juan Mendez included a call to work to help the state and its residents flourish and to “honor the Constitution and the secular equality it brings.” But he didn’t pray to any deity, which infuriated some Republicans who are Christians.

Mendez said before the session that he had been invited to deliver the opening prayer by majority Republican leaders and that he didn’t plan to invoke God.

After his prayer, House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro said Mendez’s decision not to pray to God didn’t meet House rules he issued earlier this year for the opening prayer. Speaker David Gowan then said “point of order well taken” and called on a Baptist minister on hand in an apparently planned response.

“At least let one voice today say thank you, God bless you,” the Rev. Mark Mucklow said.

The minister’s invocation was followed by sharp comments from several Republicans who took issue with Mendez’s prayer.

Rep. Warren Peterson, R-Gilbert, said prayers have been part of legislative meetings “since the founding of this great country.”

“You know what it looks like, you know what it is, it has a long-standing tradition,” Peterson said. “We also know what it looks like when somebody is desecrating and mocking someone else’s beliefs.”

Several other Republicans also stood up object to the atheist prayer, including Oro Valley Rep. Mark Finchem.

“I’m saddened and offended that a member of this body would knowingly disregard our call for prayer and our House rules,” Finchem said.

Mendez didn’t respond to the comments, but Democratic Whip Bruce Wheeler did.

“Rep. Mendez was respectful – some people didn’t happen to like what he said, and so be it,” Wheeler said. “As a representative of his constituents he has a right to speak. And with that I just hope we can calm down a little bit and not make this into a bigger deal that is really is.”

The dust-up is the latest in Arizona regarding prayer in public meetings.

The Phoenix City Council voted Wednesday to restore a tradition of spoken prayer before meetings after cancelling them last month because a group with the word “Satan” signed up to present the invocation. The opening prayers will now only be given by police or fire department chaplains.

]]> 2, 05 Mar 2016 20:40:48 +0000
Reflections: God provided for dying mother in many unexpected ways Sat, 27 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 My mother’s probing fingers discovered the soft mound protruding beneath the hard lines of her ribs in the summer of 2014. It was probably nothing, a doctor assured her, but scheduled a biopsy to be sure.

Living in Maine, three states away, I couldn’t be there. But the week my 64-year-old, single mom expected the results, I sped down long miles of wooded highways in our family minivan, children crammed inside, to the small Connecticut community where she’d recently bought a cottage.

The Willimantic Camp Meeting Association, established by Methodists more than 150 years before, happened to be in the very town where my mother’s grandparents had run a furniture store and raised her father nearly a century before. After two decades of living out of boxes while traveling through Central Asia as a full-time missionary and linguist, translating the Bible into an endangered language, my mom finally had a home, which she renovated with the generous help of friends.

A few days after I arrived, Mom’s cell phone rang. She was on her way to a conference to talk about her work. She arrived home near midnight. Asleep on the living room futon, I awoke briefly as she brewed tea before sitting at her desk to work. It wasn’t until late the next morning that Mom mentioned the phone call.

“I have cancer,” she said softly. As her graying eyes filled with tears, I saw the disbelief written across the downward lines of her mouth. “But I know God can heal me.”

“Oh, Mom.” We hugged in her cramped kitchen as I grasped for words. Having grown up in church, I knew that God could heal too. If anyone deserved a miracle, it was my mom, who’d sold our family home to earn a divinity degree and pursue a life of serving others. But I also knew that, at some time or other, everyone dies.

Looking for comfort, I searched for scriptures on healing. Instead, God led me to the quiet reassurance of Psalm 27:13-14, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. … Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”

And so I waited, praying – begging – to see God’s goodness. In the hard months that followed, Mom began chemotherapy and radiation. I visited as often as I could. When I couldn’t be there, new friends from her church and community filled in.

Even after the cancer spread to her bones, Mom cut her pain pills in half so she could stay up late, pouring over ancient Greek and Hebrew lexicons late into the night as she continued to work. We never talked about what stage the cancer was or how long she had. Instead, we enjoyed the time we had together as I clung to God’s mercy, seeking his grace and searching for his goodness.

I saw it in the neighbors who drove her to doctor’s appointments and picked up her groceries and medications. I saw it in my friends and family and neighbors who picked up my children after school and stayed with them so I could be with my mom. I saw it in my mom’s neighbors who opened their house to me while they were away so I could help care for my mom without disturbing her work or rest. I saw it in how God had provided for my mom in advance by leading her to this refuge of faith and love.

And that harsh December, six months after my mom’s diagnosis, as she lay dying in a Connecticut care facility, I saw it in the face of the wizened nun who prayed the Eucharist over her and blessed her and assured me that I would see my mom again.

Why didn’t God heal my mom? I don’t know. But rather than prescribing how he should act, I have learned to trust that – even in life’s deepest darkness and disappointment – God is still good. More than the assurance of divine healing, this is the certainty I cling to: that no matter what hardship we face, by the grace of God, we do not have to face it alone.

Meadow Rue Merrill is a midcoast writer, editor, inspirational speaker and mom of six who writes a weekly column Faith Notes. She can be found at

]]> 0 Fri, 26 Feb 2016 20:53:01 +0000
Reflections: Teary ride home is inspired by profound gratitude Sat, 20 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 My wife, Nancy, and I were driving home from a spectacular morning in our Yarmouth church last Sunday and basking in the experience and the beauty of a spectacular winter’s day in Maine.

I had been moved to tears on a number of occasions that morning. It had been Music Sunday and children, youth and adults had shared and led us in music – hymns, choir anthems, various musical selections accompanied by and featuring hand-bells, organ, piano, bassoon, flute, trumpet. A children’s choir enchanted us. Little sisters who weren’t old enough to sing stood, dressed in their Sunday best, with their older sisters, a bit self-conscious but delighted at the same time to be a part of it all.

After the service, a good number of us met over a soup lunch to hear from members of families in our congregation and community who are multi-racial by virtue of marriage or adoption. The gathering was part of a series we’ve undertaken to learn about our conscious and unconscious racism. The series began with an all-church read of Debby Irving’s book “Waking Up White.” The stories told brought me to tears for the hurt experienced and the profound trust and bonding generated by their being shared and respected. Love happened.

My tears often surprise me but are always welcomed. They are expressions of my heart, my soul, of my being alive. Prompted by deep sorrow or joy, they come from a place within where what I love and dream of, love and work for, love and know as sacred are either desecrated by cruelty and blindness or profoundly affirmed by sacred moments of courage, compassion and beauty experiencing with others.

Gratitude prompted tears of heartfelt joy on the way home. Back in our 20s, decades ago, Nancy and I redirected our lives, inspired and guided by the values and teachings of Jesus, to spend the bulk of our lives’ labor on Love’s purposes as we understood them in our liberal Christian tradition. We were college graduates on the secular cultural career escalator to security and success, which meant a business career for me. I wasn’t excited about being a businessman, but it was what my father had done. In my mid-20s I began to realize that it might be others’ calling but it wasn’t mine.

The little Congregational church we were attending wasn’t too exciting, but I heard things there that I didn’t hear elsewhere, things about justice and compassion, moral courage and personal meaning. The decision to pursue Christian ministry was life-affirming for me, not so much for Nancy. We challenged and grew one another. That we shared and share the same values and sense of humor gave us enough leverage to save the marriage and set out with our three children on a journey to wherever it led.

My teary ride home last Sunday was inspired by the profound gratitude that what we gave our lives to those many years ago, God is one name for it, the way of Jesus another, gave us what it promised. It has brought us to love, love of one another, love of our children and theirs, love for each and every person, whether we like them or not, love of our church, love of the Earth, love of justice and compassion and kindness and beauty, of life itself, in other words, love of God. We are blessed and so glad that we were led to the road we have taken. And, as you might suspect, I am a bit teary as I write this.

Bill Gregory is a writer, spiritual teacher, retired minister in the United Church of Christ. He can be reached at

]]> 0 Fri, 19 Feb 2016 21:10:31 +0000
Religion calendar Sat, 20 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Silent Saturday: Time to come away from the noises and demands of life and listen to the inner voice of your own authentic self, the inner voice of God, however experienced. You may choose to attend sessions of group meditation. Lunch is provided and a love offering is suggested, donation, Unity Church of Greater Portland, 54 River Road, Windham,, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

Holy Grounds Coffee House Presents EXIT 244. Church of the Holy Spirit, 1047 Congress St., Portland,, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday.

A Spark of Kindness: The Simple Beauty of a Benevolent Heart, Inspirational meet-up with music, readings, and meditations from various faith traditions. Free, Portland New Church, 302 Stevens Ave., Portland,, 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

The Art of Icon Painting, Russian icon maker, teacher and lecturer Marina Forbes will offer four-week “The Art of Icon Painting” workshop,, 12:30-5 p.m. Sunday.

The Mystic Heart of All Religion and Spirituality, the transcendent unity of all religion and spirituality is at the root of Aldous Huxley’s “Perennial Philosophy.” MECA Professor Dana Sawyer unpacks this idea in an informal way. Free, the Center for Grieving Children, 555 Forest Ave., Portland,, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

To submit an item for the religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Fri, 19 Feb 2016 21:32:37 +0000