The weekend of October 15, 16 and 17, Gretchen and I had the great pleasure of joining the people of Aroostook County for the 20th Anniversary celebration of their life as a Cluster. Not even a driving rain, the remnants of a late Fall hurricane could dampen the spirits of those who gathered for the party.
It was a full weekend that included a meeting with the Cluster Council, a celebratory dinner with many members of the cluster, and a joint Sunday service of all five congregations at St. Paul’s, Fort Fairfield.
At the meeting of the Cluster Council, we talked in depth about the ordained leadership currently provided by Bob Smith and about planning for future leadership in the Cluster. The Cluster has developed a unique shared ministry with a single priest, five deacons, and numerous lay leaders. All hope to continue that pattern in the future.
At dinner, we got a flavor of the history of the Cluster by means of a wonderful review of pictures through the years. Then we heard from a number of those who were directly involved in creating the Cluster. The process of founding of the Cluster was not an easy one. Despite the obvious benefits of joining forces, it was hard to let go of long standing habits of independence. It took great deal of conversation and negotiation, some of it difficult, and a real desire to look to the common good. Things started slowly, according to a number of speakers at the dinner, but picked up when folks began talking about “us and ours” rather than “me and mine.”
A number of the clergy who have served in the Cluster returned for the celebration, including the Rev. Perry Kingman, Deacon Donna Kingman, the Rev. Susan Murphy and Deacon Wanda Thompson. They spoke movingly of their time in the Cluster and how that experience had shaped their ministries ever since.
The Cluster has worked ecumenically with its neighbors over the years. St. Luke’s, Caribou, shares its space with Faith Lutheran Church. And there are close relationships with other Lutheran Clergy and with neighboring Canadian parishes. Representatives of these friends and partners were present for the dinner.
The declining economy and diminishing population that led to the formation of the Aroostook Cluster 20 years ago continue to impact the life of the County. Once there were two full time priests in the Cluster. Now there is only one. And the congregations are smaller as well. But each of the five churches continues to minister energetically in its community. That vitality was on display on Sunday at the joint service at St. Paul’s. With special music and the renewal of vows, the members of the Cluster proclaimed their intention to minister faithfully for many years to come.
It was a terrific weekend, and one that offered hope for all of us faced with doing church in new ways.