This coming Sunday, May 24, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. Many churches see this as a sort of birthday of the church and a reminder of its core mission. The parish I now serve will have an unusual Pentecost this year.
St. Philip’s in Wiscasset is a small parish that has experienced decline in membership and resources over the past decade. We now number around thirty on a good Sunday, which includes a dozen children. We have been meeting as a vestry and parish to talk about our future viability.
One of the most significant aspects of St. Philip’s ministry is its outreach to the poor. Around 150 people receive food each week from our Help Yourself Shelf food pantry. We have a Bargain Basement where many items can be purchased for pennies on the dollar of their actual value when new. It is also our policy to provide items at no cost for any family which has experienced a disastrous loss such as a fire.
St. Philip’s was also instrumental in starting a ministry called Feed Our Scholars. This program collects funds which are used to purchase food from the food bank. This food is then sorted and delivered to the local schools, where it is used each Friday to fill the backpacks of students on the free or reduced school lunch program. For most of these students, this meal is their most significant one of the day. One in four children in Maine is food insecure. These are students whose families will need the food to make it through the weekend.
Now, back to Pentecost this year. A local organization is sponsoring a half marathon on Sunday morning. They have solicited volunteers and have promised St. Philip’s that if we can provide twelve volunteers, they will donate $1,000 to the Feed Our Scholars Program. The parish considers this ministry so important and the need for funds so great that we have people lined up for Sunday morning. With our Sunday attendance diminished by twelve or more, we decided that there would be too few in church to enable us to have a service for Pentecost. So the vestry decided to move our Pentecost service to Saturday at 5 pm.
With barely enough financial resources to keep our doors open, the parish has a heart that cares for others. When an opportunity arises for helping the poor, they choose that option over their own worship preferences. As we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church, this is a case study in a parish that is seeking to carry on its ministry even in the face of small numbers and profound financial challenges. I see the Holy Spirit at work among us.
Pentecost blessings on us all.