Pulling the boat, shutting off the water: goodbye to the community of Boothbay Harbor


One windy day in late January 2020, I walked into a city I had never heard of, in a state I knew little about, on a coast where I hadn’t lived for 40 years.

For the past 20 months, I have had the privilege of anchoring here at Boothbay Harbor to serve as an interim pastor at the Congregational Church. I moved here from Seattle where I had spent almost half of my life and yes almost everything here a shock and surprise from the front doors that never opened to snowstorms that would have shut the city down for a week that the people here didn’t even notice. I had never lived in a small town before where people I had never met called me by name and news of the new pastor in town would warrant an article in the local newspaper.

And then, five weeks after I arrived, COVID found its way into Maine, and we were all dismissed from the patterns and assumptions that had been our lives. We were all plunged into a common interval of anxiety as we wondered what had become of our lives and if we would ever get them back.

As with you perhaps, the past 20 months have been both a challenge and an opportunity for me.

With all of my familiar “plans” closed and nowhere to go, I stayed on the peninsula. I hiked the roads and trails of the land trust, skied miles on full moon nights around the empty cottages surrounding my house. I have eaten a lot of haddock takeout dinners.

As the congregation disappeared from the pews for 14 months, I became the “TV Preacher” that I never aspired to be. Channeling Mr. Rogers, I learned to speak passionately every Sunday morning through an empty shrine in the slit atop the shrine door beyond which the congregation I had barely met sat sipping. having coffee and making breakfast. I still meet people who have never seen me outside of their TV or computer screen.

It was not all easy.

The first weekend I arrived I attended the fisherman Chris Pinkham memorial. The Opera filled this snowy Sunday afternoon with young friends and family. I’ve seen your community come forward again and again after house fires and accidents, the deaths of other people who have passed away far too young, including beloved UPS driver Jeremy Smit and the amazing childminder Kim Crocker. Kneeling with you on the Common after the murder of George Floyd, sworn with you to work to leave a better country than we were left with.

At church, the deaths of Jim, John, Dee, Priscilla, Barbara and Roger. So much loss, so much grief, so many people who have passed away without the familiar gatherings and rituals we would have had in more ordinary times.

The school has just opened and so quickly so many children in quarantine. No more stress for already stressed families, teachers and staff. The church school closed before it could start.

So fall returns to Boothbay Harbor, and with the changing of the seasons, questions, as the boats are drawn and preparations are 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 the place?

Will we ever be done with COVID?

Autumn is coming and I am also full of memory and wonder. Miss seeing Dan and Rob lifeguards at the pool, Sonja at the front desk, Charlene at the West Boothbay post office, as I already miss my Saturday morning jokes with Larry in the locker room and with Harolyn at the library as she walks by. books through the window. You already miss stopping along the road on the way back to chat with neighbors Mary and Wendy for their morning stroll. Miss sharing haddock chowder dinners with Rue during a summer none of the family or regular visitors have come, late afternoon draft beer and philosophy with Horst on the porch. Small, ordinary, everyday things that this season have seemed extraordinary.

Over the past few months, I have had the privilege of being invited to offer blessings for the Burnt Island Fishing Fleet and Lighthouse, Christmas Boats and Veterans in the Memorial Day Parade. But more than all the blessings I have left, that’s all I got. Here by the sea, at the tip of a peninsula so far from everything I had called home, you emptied me of all my tired assumptions and worn out stories. Opened me to the wonder of a new shore that was not just east as I expected, but meandering all over the place – north, south, west as well.

Like the summer visitors and the seasonal ones, like the osprey and the hummingbird, it is time for me to say goodbye to you. On Sunday afternoon, October 3, after the congregation has welcomed its new established pastor, Todd Weir, I will be driving down Route 27 one last time, this interim work and time, over. The satisfaction of having done a good job together.

Head north, east and south for a season to enjoy all this time with you taught me. And yes, in time, once again take shelter with another community in the interim. Embark with them in the wonder of knowing how to move from where we once were to the possibility of all we might still be.

But before you go, come back once again with a heart full of thanks,

To Arlene and Logan for their morning greetings at the Y reception,

To Andy and Meagan and our 5:30 am gym class – Steve, Jen, Jamie, Bill, Matthew, Denise…

Goodbye to Jen, Rick and Hannah who passed me around town.

To Harolyn and the library staff who helped me find so many books.

Blessings to an amazing congregation who have learned with me to adapt, grow and surprise themselves in a time of such challenges and changes.

Goodbye to the insistent piping osprey,

The hum of Southport Bridge,

The jingling of the coast guard door.

Goodbye the whine of the foghorn of Burnt Island,

The roaring wind and the wave that shakes the house in winter.

Farewell faithful wood stove and splitting ax,

The orange and pink sunset over the Sheepscot,

The smiling fox that wanders the yard and scares away chipmunks.

Chestnuts pounded on the roof of the shed and banged in the yard.

Yes, Boothbay Harbor, as you fed the pilgrims centuries ago,

these last twenty months, you have nourished the soul of this pilgrim.

About Elizabeth Smith

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