On a blustery day in late January 2020, I drove into a town I’d never heard of, in a state I knew little about, on a coast I’d not lived by for 40 years.
For the past twenty months I’ve had the privilege of anchoring here in Boothbay Harbor to serve as the Interim Pastor at the Congregational Church. I moved here from Seattle where I’d spent nearly half my life and yes, most everything here a shock and surprise from front doors that never opened to snow storms that would have shut down the city for a week that locals here didn’t even notice. I’d never lived in a small town before where people I’d never met called me by name and news of the new pastor in town would warrant an article in the local paper.
And then, five weeks after I arrived, COVID found its way to Maine, and all of us were thrown off from the patterns and assumptions that had been our lives. All of us tossed into a communal interim of anxiety as we wondered on what had become of our lives and if we would ever get them back.
As perhaps its been with you, these past 20 months for me have been both a challenge and an opportunity.
With all my familiar “plans” shut down and with nowhere to go, I stayed put on the peninsula. I ran the roads and land trust trails, skied miles on moonlit nights around the empty cottages surrounding my home. Ate lots of take-out haddock dinners.
As the congregation disappeared from the pews for 14 months, I became the “TV Preacher” I never aspired to be. As I channelled Mr. Rogers, I learned to talk passionately each Sunday morning across an empty sanctuary into the crack at the top of the sanctuary door beyond which the congregation I had barely met sat sipping coffee and making breakfast. I still meet people who have never seen me outside of their TV or computer screen.
It’s not all been easy.
The first weekend I arrived, I attended the memorial for fisherman Chris Pinkham. The Opera House packed that snowy Sunday afternoon with young friends and family. I witnessed your community showing up for each other again and again after housefires and accidents, the death of others who died far too young including beloved UPS driver Jeremy Smit and childcare provider extraordinaire, Kim Crocker. Knelt with you on the Common after George Floyd’s murder, vowed with you to work to leave a country better than the one we had been left.
At church, the deaths of Jim, John, Dee, Priscilla, Barbara and Roger. So many losses, so much grief, so many who died without the familiar gatherings and rituals we would have had in more ordinary times.
School just open and so quickly so many kids in quarantine. More stress for already stress-filled families, teachers, staff. Church school closed before it could begin.
So fall comes again to Boothbay Harbor, and with the turn of seasons, questions, as the boats are pulled in and preparations made for the water to be turned off to the summer house.
Is it time to sell the boat?
Will it be different next year?
Can we still keep up the place?
Will we ever be done with COVID?
Fall comes and I too full of memory and wonder. Miss seeing Dan and Rob lifeguarding at the pool, Sonja at the front desk, Charlene at the West Boothbay Post Office, as I am missing already my Saturday morning bantering with Larry in the locker room and with Harolyn at the library as she passes my books through the window. Already miss stopping along the road on the way home to chat with neighbors Mary and Wendy out for their morning walk. Miss sharing haddock chowder dinners with Rue during a summer none of the usual family or visitors came, the late afternoon draft of beer and philosophy with Horst on the porch. Ordinary, everyday, little things that this season have felt extraordinary.
The past months, I’ve had the privilege of being invited to offer blessings for the Fishing Fleet and Burnt Island Light, for Christmas Boats and Veterans at the Memorial Day Parade. But more than any blessings I have left, are all that I have received. Here at the edge of the sea, on the tip of a peninsula so far from all I’d called home, you emptied me out of all my tired assumptions and worn-out stories. Opened me to the wonder of a new shore that wasn’t just to the East as I’d expected it to be but wound its way every which way – North, South, West as well.
Like the summer visitors and seasonal workers, like the osprey and hummingbird, it is time for me to say goodbye. On Sunday afternoon, October 3, after the congregation welcomes its new settled pastor, Todd Weir, I’ll drive down Route 27 one last time, this interim work and time, complete. The satisfaction of having done good work, together.
Head up North, East and South for a season to take in all this time with you has taught me. And yes, in time, harbor once more with another community in an interim time. Set sail with them in the wonder of how to get from where we once were to the possibility of all we might yet be.
But before I go, turn back one more time with a heart-full of thanks,
To Arlene and Logan for their early morning greetings at the front desk at the Y,
To Andy and Meagan and our 5:30 gym class – Steve, Jen, Jamie, Bill, Matthew, Denise…
Goodbye to Jen, Rick and Hannah who outran me all over town.
To Harolyn and a library staff who helped me find so many books.
Blessings to an amazing congregation that learned with me to adapt, grow and surprise ourselves in a time of such challenge and change.
Goodbye wonderful neigbors,
Goodbye to the insistent whistling osprey,
The hum of the Southport Bridge,
The clang of the gate at the Coast Guard.
Goodbye to the moan of the Burnt Island fog horn,
The roaring wind and wave that shake the house in winter.
Goodbye faithful woodstove and splitting axe,
The orange and pink sunset over the Sheepscot,
The smiling fox who wanders the yard and scares the chipmunks away.
The chestnuts pounding off the roof of the shed and knocking across the yard.
Yes, Boothbay Harbor, as you fed the Pilgrims centuries ago,
these past twenty months, you fed this Pilgrim’s soul.