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Reflections on the recent Sr. YES pilgrimage to Taize, France taken from a sermon preached on April 29th:

Looking out the window of the bus, the skies were blue. The sun was shining. And the fields stretched out before us, one after another. Quaint villages appeared and disappeared only to be followed by more fields, until our bus made its way up a final hill and we were finally at the monastic community of Taize. Taize is located in South Eastern France, in the general Burgundy region, near the city of Macon. The area is known for many things, including the ancient monastery of Cluny that once sent monks and established monasteries all across Europe - and wine. Vineyards cover thousands of acres across the area. The chardonnay grape is especially cultivated there. In Taize, Jesus' image of the vine -that we hear in today's Gospel-makes sense.
Jesus tells his disciples to abide in him, and promises that he will abide in them. He will dwell
 in them, make his home with them, if they will dwell in him, rest in him. He says this is the only way that they will be fruitful, the way that they too will have life. He says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing."
At Taize, we saw the brothers abiding in God. For them it was a life-style, a habit, a practice and discipline lived so fully that it seemed natural. We were immediately invited to take part. We got off the bus and were welcomed as pilgrims. We were given beds in cabins and sleeping bags and time to settle in. The evening began with the invitation to join the nearly 100 brothers and nearly 200 pilgrims in church for 30 minutes of silent prayer for peace, which the brothers observe every Sunday before dinner. After dinner we joined them again in the church - this time for song, and prayer, scripture and silence. Taize worship generally follows the pattern of a prayer office, like our evening prayer or compline. But it is simplified, using only one reading and giving more time for silence. And it is filled with song - simple chants in many different languages that repeat many times. Br. Roger, the founder of Taize, advised people to sing until they felt happy. And so we sang. And we let ourselves be surrounded and carried by the singing of others.
At Taize, the community gathers three times a day for these simple prayer offices. It's during these services that the brothers look most like Jesus' vine and branches. If abiding is resting and dwelling in God, they do this through their trust. Trust in God is a central tenant of the community and it creates an openness and a spaciousness that you can feel when you enter into the church. It is like an oasis, where you can put down your burdens and rest. Our youth, like so many others responded to it right away. They immediately sensed a peace. And they were surprised by how quickly stress and pressures seemed to melt away for them. In that spaciousness one could simply be, without pretension, or striving, or needing to impress. There was room for everyone just as they were.
If trust is a key to abiding in God, then its fruits are tangible peace and joy. The brothers' peace was a fruit we could taste and enjoy, in our worship, in our conversations, in the simplicity and pace of our days. It was what impressed us and fed us most in our time at Taize.
If the other fruit of an abiding trust is joy, this was offered to us as well. The brothers had chosen joy as the theme of their year. Upon our arrival we were given several written reflections on joy prepared for conversations through out the year at Taize. We were asked to consider joy in our conversation groups, the daily small groups of young people close in age but coming from different parts of the world. While some came from as far as Japan and Mali, most came from across Europe. The group I joined had 16 year olds from Maine and others of the same age from various parts of France and also from Switzerland. Figuring out how to communicate was our first challenge, but that was easier than thinking and talking about joy in our own lives, where it is found, and how we respond to it in others. Together we looked at scripture, the beatitudes specifically, to consider joy in God's presence even in the midst of difficult times and sorrow.
That night, praying and singing with the brothers, after hearing so many teens speak of the stress they feel in their daily lives, and considering our conversations about sorrow and joy, and the difference that the presence of God can make in how we experience a moment, it struck me that the opposite of joy is not sadness so much as it is anxiety.
Anxiety worries about the future and cuts us off from the present moment, the only place and time we can experience God and his loving presence. Without an awareness of God's presence, anxiety distorts our relationship with God and robs us of our assurance that we are loved and cared for as the beloved children of God. It undermines our security in knowing that we are held safely by God for all eternity, even in times of difficulty, even in the face of death. Anxiety first takes away our trust and then robs us of both peace and joy.
Suddenly, there in Taize, anxiety seemed like a much more serious spiritual foe to be engaged - and not just an unfortunate, if unavoidable, bi-product of modern life to be managed or tolerated. Anxiety could rob us of joy and peace, and make life flat and meaningless with no sense of God's presence or delight. This seemed especially true to me on our final day, when in our group the teens were talking about their experience at Taize and their anticipated return to their homes. When they considered their awareness of God's presence in their life, most of them said that on a scale of 0 to 10, it felt like an 8 at Taize but only about a 3 at home. That is a big difference. They attributed the difference mostly to the stress of their lives, from the pace of their lives and from the demands upon them. They said that having time to relax and think about things made the biggest difference for them at Taize, and their time in worship. And going home they wondered what changes they could make to feel some of the peace they'd experienced at Taize. One person said she wanted to spend less time watching TV. Another said she'd like to not use her phone as much. Another young woman said she wanted to try and spend 5 minutes in silence each night. Another said attending church more often would probably help her most. I wondered, what changes will I make? And what changes might you here make? How will we learn to trust in God and to resist the infection of anxiety that covers our society like fungus? How will we make room and time to rest in God's presence, to abide in him?
These young people left Taize wanting to abide in God. Through its fruits of peace and joy, they had witnessed abiding and now they knew it was possible. It is possible. And it is what Jesus wants for us.
Jesus says that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. He says, Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give to you. He says that he wants his joy to be in us so that our joy may be complete. This is abiding in Jesus. It is the life that we are made for - life that is green and fruitful, just like the branches of a vine. AMEN.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Marguerite Steadman, Rector
Mo. Rita+
Senior YES Pilgrimage: 
Diana Meakem

The SR YES pilgrimage to Taize was a great success: we are grateful that our travel was smooth and that we brought home with us a renewed perspective on ourselves and our daily lives. We began and ended the trip in Paris - the City of Lights - where we explored art museums, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower. We also ate delicious croissants! 
Our week in Taize was simple, communal, and meaningful. In addition to three daily worship services, we all participated in small groups with peers our own age from all over the world. We also each helped with a work project like gardening, preparing dinner, or deep cleaning the church. Both the small groups and the work time allowed us to make international friends and participate in an exchange of ideas about faith and life. 
Towards the end of our time, we reflected especially on the peacefulness and joy we all felt in Taize, which seemed to be supported both by the relaxed rhythm of monastic life as well as the deep wellspring of Christian spirituality Taize is so famous for. Please feel free to ask any of us about the trip - we'd love to share more. Thank you so much for your support.

Exploring the Creeds
An invitation from April O'Grady, Scott Burgess, and Bruce Mallonee
A few months ago, the vestry solicited survey information from parishioners as part of the Renewal Works program.  Many responded.  From your responses, the Renewal Works committee and the vestry learned a great deal about our life together at St. John's and where we find our strengths to lie. One response came through forcefully: many of us have trouble with the creeds.  For some, they seem to be authoritative demands for assent without questioning.  For others, they may appear outdated statements of what people used to think but cannot, realistically, still believe. This is not surprising. We say the Nicene Creed every Sunday and the Apostles' Creed during Daily Offices, but we don't study them as we study the Bible. They are recited without elaboration and without an invitation to further examination. Our sense that the creeds demand our unquestioning assent is confirmed by many of our fellow Christians, who see them as lists  of propositions that test whether our faith is real. Our fear that these statements of faith are archaic is reinforced by our doubting friends, who can't imagine such ancient, nonscientific notions can have any currency.

On June 10 at 4:00 p.m., as St. John's slows into summer mode, we three members of the Renewal Works team will convene a meeting with Father Lev Sherman and Mother Rita to work through the challenges posed by the creeds.  We hope many will join us for a frank discussion followed by a short service and a simple meal. Here are a few thoughts to start our thinking for that meeting.
One topic of discussion will be the sense that the creeds are commands we are to believe unthinkingly. Our natural response to such a command is to resist it. But we are  joined in a loving community where we don't issue orders to one another; seeing the creeds from that perspective, we may recognize them as gifts of understanding and accumulated wisdom --as poems that  invite our engagement and guide our inquiries.

In that sense of engagement, we will ask:  what does it mean to say we believe in One God?  One God above all--above money, status, patriotism, family, clan, nature, time and space?  What does it mean to say we believe in Jesus Christ, the only son of God?  What do the Gospel stories tell us about him?  What do our deepest longings and fears show him to be, require him to be?  And the Holy Spirit (or the Holy Ghost, a lovely and evocative term) --what does it mean to believe in God as circulating among us, knowing our thoughts, guiding our actions, and always, always loving us?  And more:  what does it mean to say that Jesus was born of a virgin?  Is it literally true?  Even if it is, why does that matter?  If it isn't literally true, what does it mean when we say it in the creeds?  What does the resurrection mean?  Was it a supernatural trick, or the triumph of the love that made us over all the forces that make us suffer?  Is it a metaphor?  Or something concrete--a demonstration of the ascendance of the maker of time, eternity, nature, and biology over all the limitations of created reality?  What can the resurrection mean for us as we face death?  As we get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other?

These questions, and the answers we find for them, will help us find contemporary wisdom in the creeds. We will see they are not strings of prescientific, fabulist propositions, but attemps to articulate the deepest eternal mysteries of who made us, why are we made, and how we want to respond at the deepest eternal level of existence. Our process of engagement with the creeds may lead us in more than one direction: we may find symbolic or metaphorical truth in creedal statements that trouble us; at the same time, ideas that at first seemed too fanciful to be true may become literally plausible  because, well, we're talking about God. 

Please come join us. We will find answers there, in the creeds, withing the mystery of the faith.
Afterwards, we will find further answers in our prayers, in our relationships, in our thoughts, and in our lives. The more we explore the answers, try them out, talk with them, argue with them, the better we will be able to embrace them and, at the same time, embrace with both love and integrity those whose live with different understandings.
Choral Evensong on the Day of Pentecost

The Choir of St. John's Episcopal Church, Bangor, will offer Choral Evensong on The Day of Pentecost, May 20, at 4 pm. The Evening Canticles will be sung to a setting written by British composer Herbert Howells for the Choir of St. Paul's Cathedral, London. The Preces and Responses will be a newly published setting composed by St. John's retiring Organist/Choirmaster, Robert Ludwig. The anthem will be Welsh composer William Mathias' exuberant setting of Psalm 67, originally written for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. 

In celebration of the upcoming retirement of Robert and Nancy Ludwig, the St. John's Choir will be joined by alumni of their choirs from Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City (LI, NY) and Christ Church Cathedral, Lexington (KY), as well as St. John's, Bangor choir alumni. The Ludwig's will be enjoying their retirement at their home in Rangeley, where Robert will serve as Director of Music at Church of the Good Shepherd.
Announcements & Looking Ahead
The Spring Rummage Sale was a blessing to many and a big success.   Lots of shoppers came, despite the road construction, from the neighborhood/area community/as far away as Ellsworth & Greenville, and of course our parish.  Some shoppers gave us extra money when cashing up, one gentleman handed me a cross he made from scrap paper, and children were so happy with the toys they could get from a big box of figurines etc. that we sold for 10 to 25 cents.   A car load o f blankets, towels, sheets went to the animal shelter at the end.  A big bag of men's underwear went to the Bangor Homeless Shelter, and the rest went to the Salvation Army.  The grand total for our parish was $1550.00.  Thanks especially to the workers/fellowship, great donations, people who provided donuts/snacks to workers, and even the road crew who helped carry in items for some people dropping off contributions.
We will celebrate the Feast of the Ascension on Thursday May 10th at 7:30 am in the Chapel. Come give praise and thanks, and be on the road by 8 am.
Extra help is needed for our monthly serving at  Second Saturday, hosted here in the Undercroft. We are scheduled to serve next on May 12th from 11:30 am-1:30 pm. You don't need to sign up in advance, or even commit to coming monthly, just stop in to help out when you can. For more information, please see Nancy Henry or Phil Ulrich.

Pilgrimage to Taize - Our pilgrims are returned and will present descriptions and reflections on their time in Taize at a pancake breakfast for the feast of Pentecost on May 20th after the 10 am service.  Please come for fellowship and to welcome our youth home.

Extra help is needed for our monthly serving at the  Soup Kitchen. We are scheduled to serve the fourth Tuesday of the month at the Salvation Army, from 10 am to 1:30 pm. Our next scheduled date is Tuesday May 22nd. For more information, please see Nancy Henry or Phil Ulrich.
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