The unnoticed work of our community churches

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North Turner Union Presbyterian Church (NTUPC), a mile-and-a-half east of where I live at Camp Marlene, is set on a raised plot of land beside a two-lane country road. The 125-year-old white clapboard steepled church building looks similar to hundreds of white clapboard churches throughout Maine, especially rural Maine.

Eileen and I found this church three years ago. It was the only church within a reasonable distance offering a midnight Christmas service. The church pastor at the time was Reverend Lissa Bradford, a former Maine tv newswoman, who also worked as a full-time hospice chaplain. We liked Lissa and the Christmas service, and decided to go back the following Sunday morning.

The level of community involvement from NTUPC members is amazing. Except for people on the receiving end of NTUPC’s good works, I suspect this church’s positive impact goes unnoticed by most community members. And I suspect the same can be said about many, perhaps most, members of churches throughout Maine.

Last Sunday, one of the church elders stood at the podium just before Sunday service, and gave an update on NTUPC’s work in support of a local food pantry which serves 135 community people. This church, from what I understand, provides some food pantry financing, and a whole lot of volunteer grunt work such as soliciting donations, and operating food pickup and delivery services.

Former Pastor Lissa Bradford started an NTUPC appeal for basic hygiene products — shampoo, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, body wash — for a women’s shelter in Lewiston. That campaign’s success prompted the church to host a basic hygiene products campaign to benefit local people.

Eileen and I are not official NTUPC members. Our lives are more transient than most. That alone made us decide to not become official members.

Still, we have been quite active in the church — and enjoy all of our activities: Grounds cleaning, prepping and painting the church’s old wide pine floorboards, singing in the choir, keeping the church social media sites current, creating ads for NTUPC’s annual Ham Suppers, Mud Suppers, and Chicken BBQ.

Even less noticed — but so important — are those church members serving as volunteer caregivers for people who are unable to drive, homebound, or stuck in hospitals.

When Pastor Lissa stepped down to take a hospice job in another state, NTUPC was without a pastor for more than one year. A hallmark of a good leader — including church leaders — is making sure the entity they lead can survive and thrive in their absence.

Pastor Lissa — a tough act to follow — was exactly that kind of a leader.

Finding a pastor for a rural Maine church isn’t easy. From the moment Lissa parted, until NTUPC’s new Pastor Devin Dickinson came aboard just weeks ago, the church didn’t miss a beat. Sunday services, with the help of visiting pastors; and all the church upkeep, annual events, and community outreach happened without a hiccup.

Last Sunday a visiting pastor said NTUPC is “The Little Church that Could,” and he said of NTUPC’s year without a Pastor, that a church is “a congregation of Christians who want to gather and worship.”

Exactly right.

In our time at NTUPC we’ve met members old and young, lifelong and new residents; we’ve seen our church friends become new parents, attended baptisms. Friends have been absent through illness and returned to NTUPC well. A few members died, and new church members have joined.

Less than nine miles east and south of NTUPC are cemeteries where my 19th century Fish ancestors are buried. Sometimes, sitting in an old wooden pew, or eating homemade pulled pork, potato salad, and pie at a benefit supper, I think of the long history of NTUPC and other rural Maine churches; unnoticed, yet central, to the temporal and spiritual well-being of Maine communities.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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