“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last . . . The end of a beginning . . . A new beginning . . .” So began Bishop Chilton Knudsen’s sermon shared with over 170 parishioners and guests who attended the Dedication and Consecration of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Bridgton on Sunday, June 1, 2008.
Standing behind the pulpit in a site line between the entrance to the sanctuary, altar, cross and a circular pane that provided a window on God through the movement of the trees, wind and sun, Bishop Knudsen reminded us, as our rector, the Rt. Reverend John H. Smith, retired Bishop of West Virginia, had done previously, that the new building was just that — a building. She encouraged us not to get so caught up in the building that we lose sight of our mission of outreach to each other, our communities and the greater world.
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church began as a summer mission in 1962. On September 8, 1974, St. Peter’s-by-the-Lake held its first service of extended ministry. Though it did not have a home of its own, the church provided an Episcopal presence to summer and year-round residents of the Lakes Region by meeting in various locations including people’s homes, Bridgton Academy, and local churches of different denominations. In 2003, the parish voted to purchase a ten-acre lot at the junction of Routes 302 and 93, one mile west of downtown Bridgton.
After renting space for all those years, in 2007, church members enthusiastically supported a capital campaign; through gifts and pledges the full amount of the building cost was raised. Under the leadership of parishioner Beatrice White, a building committee was formed. The Vestry engaged the services of William Whited, Architect, to design a building that would be both beautiful and affordable.
On September 15, 2007, Bishop Knudsen, donning a hardhat decorated with the Episcopal shield, dodged raindrops as she helped break ground.
Following that initial groundbreaking, parishioners met at the site the first Sunday of each month for prayers and hymns. Rain . . . snow . . . mud . . . the weather presented a few obstacles, but the project proceeded in spite of it.
Over time, the building began to take shape.
With the advent of winter, it was wrapped in Typar . . and continued prayers.
Within, the altar found its formation.
As parishioners, we watched it grow into a structure for worship and fellowship. Upon entering the church for the first service on May 25, 2008, one word was expressed over and over again, “Wow!”
For St. Peter’s, the Dedication and Consecration of the building on June 1st was the culmination of years of discussions, planning, being amazed at fund raising miracles and working together to reach a goal. That grand and meaningful worship service is one that many people never experience unless they build a new church. Using the service of Dedication and Consecration as outlined in The Book of Common Prayer, Bishop Knudsen knocked her crosier and called for the doors to be opened. Gregg Seymour, General Contractor, opened the door and handed the Bishop a hammer as a symbol of his work. Beatrice White presented the building blueprints while Junior Warden Eric Wissmann gave the Bishop a set of purple building keys. A procession including the Bishops of Maine, our rector, a deacon, verger, wardens, crucifer, taperers, parishioners and guests flowed through the narthex into the simple, yet beautiful sanctuary. Following prayers for the building, the Bishop moved about the church and consecrated the baptismal table and bowl, cross above the altar, lectern/pulpit, hangings and parish banner, tapers, piano, kitchen, classrooms and offices, narthex table, credence table, altar shelf, fair linen, and other special gifts. She then celebrated the Holy Eucharist, assisted by the Reverend Christine Bennett, Deacon, and George Wright, Verger. The Eucharistic Bread was baked and offered by the “SPY” group, Saint Peter’s Youth. During Holy Communion, the choir sang “Jesu, Jesu,” accompanied by Evan Miller, Director of Music. Following the service, the parish continued the celebration indoors and out with a reception and pot-luck dinner.
Fast forward and the parishioners are now preparing for Bishop Steven Lane to visit next week and celebrate the tenth anniversary of St. Peter’s. In all that time, so much has changed . . . including the land. And so this afternoon I spent some time wandering around the grounds in quiet reflection of the people and the place. No, not the church building, though I continue to appreciate its simplicity and still love to gaze out the circular window above the altar.
Today, however, I wanted to note all the other species that have gathered here, including the ants seeking nectar. Have you ever gotten as close to a dandelion as an ant or bee might? Did you know that each ray has five “teeth” representing a petal and forms a single floret. Fully open, the bloom is a composite of numerous florets. And equally amazing is that each stigma splits in two and curls.
Of course, if you are going to admire a dandelion in flower, you should be equally wowed as it continues its journey. At the base of each floret grows a seed covered with tiny spikes that probably help it stick to the ground eventually. In time, the bloom closes up and turns into those fluffy balls waiting for us or the wind to disperse the seeds, rather like the work of the church. Until then, they look like a spray of fireworks at our feet.
My wandering led to the Memorial Garden where parishioners with greener thumbs than mine created a small sanctuary for one who wants to sit and contemplate.
The garden’s center offers a cross depicted in the Celtic tradition. I remember when it was installed as a “clean” piece of granite and realized today that I hadn’t been paying attention, for as is true on any of the surrounding benches, lichens had colonized it, enhancing the circle of life.
What I really wanted to look at though was the edge where various species spoke of forest succession. I found an abundance of gray birches, one of the first to take root after an area has been disturbed. It’s always easy to spy once you recognize its leaf’s triangular form, which reminded me of Father Dan Warren’s demonstration this morning about the Trinity.
Nearby grew an already established paper birch, its leaf more oval in shape.
Then I couldn’t help it and my tree fetish took over. Quaking or trembling aspen showed off its small toothed edges, while . . .
its young cousin displayed big teeth. Despite its fuzzy spring coating, insects had already started devouring the pubescent leaves. One of my favorite wonders about both big-tooth and quaking aspen leaves is that they dangle from flattened stems or petioles and ripple in a breeze as they send out messages of good tidings.
Also along the edge I found a beech tree donning huge leaves that looked like they were in great shape . . . momentarily.
For on the backside, a very hungry caterpillar had been dining on its own form of the Bread of Life.
I found two other young trees that I suspected were planted within the last ten years–the first: flowering dogwood. Growing up in Connecticut, we had a large one in the side yard and so memories of times long ago intermingled with those of the more recent past and my home church, Zion Episcopal, entered into my reflections.
Like the dogwood, we also had a mature locust looming tall near my mother’s garden. Spying this one, I gave thanks for the ability to span the years, travel many routes, and remain faithful to my beginnings.
Slowly my eyes shifted downward . . . and fell upon a most pleasing sight–sweet-fern. It’s one of those, like hobblebush, that wows the eye in any season.
And then I turned my focus to the ground where an incredible variety of flowers either in bloom or still to come, mosses and grasses all shared the common space in seeming harmony, though I suspected there were those that crowded out others. Patches of wild strawberries graced the carpet. Five petals surrounded about twenty stamens and soon a fruit may form–meant to sustain small mammals and birds.
Gay wings or fringed polygala surprised me with its presence. So delicate, so beautiful, so fleeting.
I stepped into the woods beyond the edge and was reminded that ten years ago I wanted to create a nature trail on this property–a place where anyone could partake of a short wander away from reality; a place where someone might be nurtured by nature.
A place where the stars above would be reflected in the flowers below.
A place where flowers like dwarfed ginseng would erase global issues–if only for a moment.
A place where everyone recognized the system and from such recognition began to work together toward common goals.
A place where interruptions occurred because life happens, but such were accepted as part of the norm.
A place where one could find a bench upon which to rest before beginning again.
Here’s to beginning again St. Peter’s.
Here’s to remembering all those who made this place a reality.
Here’s to maybe someday a nature trail.
Here’s to continuing to create a place where all are welcome whether they pass through the red doors, into the Memorial Garden, or choose to take in the offerings from the ground up.