Heading North: Engaging in conversation with the Aroostook Cluster

Having traveled to the County for Holy Week and Easter, a different sort of visit, Gretchen and I returned to the County the weekend of October 10 – 11 for an official visit. We left Portland on Friday and drove north through lowering fall skies. We made very good time and arrived at the home of Bob and Thelma Smith in time for me to meet with Bob and prepare for the weekend. Then we joined all the clergy and some spouses for dinner at the Presque Isle Inn and Convention Center.

One of my objectives was to have private time with each of the clergy, so much of the weekend was given over to those conversations. I deeply appreciate the willingness of the clergy to make time in their schedules and to bring me up to speed on their lives and ministries. It was truly sacred time.

Saturday afternoon, I met with the Cluster Council – consisting of members of the five parishes of the Aroostook Episcopal Cluster – and we had some of the frankest conversation I’ve yet had with congregational leadership. The declining economy of Maine is deeply felt in Aroostook County, and several of the congregations are feeling small and old. One, at least, is worried about closing, and we had good conversation about worship, ministry and buildings. These conversations will need to continue, but I think we made important first steps.

It’s hard in the midst of all the challenges are churches are facing not to think that we are doing something wrong, that we’ve failed. But the fact is that the world has changed, and our expectations about how to be church must change as well. We’ve not done a bad job. Rather, we must find new ways to meet the challenges of our time. It’s hard to let go of the way we’ve done things for so long and to consider new ways of being church. I suspect this is the particular task of our day.

On Sunday, all of the congregations of the County met at St. John’s, Presque Isle, for worship. With so many folks in one place, we had a glorious service with special music and a grand lunch. After time for a few bites, we joined in conversation about youth ministry, about concerns in the cluster, and about General Convention. A good morning.

We stayed another night in the County to have opportunity for further conversation with clergy and families. On Monday (Columbus Day) we were up early to get home, but the traffic was so heavy that it took most of the day to return. And we dawdled a bit on the way. The skies had a winterish look… but it didn’t snow.


One thought on “Heading North: Engaging in conversation with the Aroostook Cluster”

  1. Bishop Steve,
    Thanks for these updates. The more we can learn and understand from others the better.

    As a member of the lay leadership at a church (Trinity Portland) down in the supposedly healthier part of Maine, we too are facing fears about being “too small and old.” I believe it’s endemic to a lot of parishes who built 1950’s (or 1960’s/70’s) style infrastructure that now must be supported by a church community who use our facilities less than we did in the past.

    Our congregations often have healthy spirits, but unhealthy finances and much of that challenge seems to stem from having to maintain and invest in our buildings and infrastructure; while neglecting the lifeblood of our parishes — clergy, support staff, and mission (e.g., christian education, music, spirituality, outreach, etc.).
    When you visited Trinity last winter, we talked with you about “Welcome, Serve, Worship, and Grow” (and Communicate). We still hope that by focusing on the health of those five key elements we can renew our parish and stop feeling old and small.

    One way the Diocese can help (and is helping in Portland) is to encourage these collaborative efforts and help all our churches talk, learn, and think anew on how to live differently. Please look for ways that you can support us and direct us to new, fresh ideas.

    Thanks for your continued leadership and for all you do. We also want to thank the entire diocesean staff.

    Regards, —Bruce Dalbeck (Junior Warden, Trinity Church, Portland, Maine)

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