PERRY, Maine – Two churches – one in Bangor and the other in this small community – may be miles apart geographically, but are close in Christian spirit.
At a recent meeting at the Perry Congregational Church on Shore Road, church members agreed to allocate their mission giving and become a part of the ASSIST JC Missions program at the All Souls Congregational Church in Bangor.
ASSIST JC means “All Souls Students In Service To Jesus Christ,” the Rev. Colin Windhorst said Saturday. Windhorst is assistant pastor at the Perry Congregational Church.
“It’s a very successful young people’s program they’ve been running since the year 2000,” he said of the Bangor program. “It is for teenagers – high school students – and is very well-coordinated not only with All Souls Congregational Church but also with St. John’s Episcopal and some of the people from St. John’s Catholic [in Bangor] as well,” he said.
The ASSIST JC program is a two-year project that starts next year in the Eastport area and ends in Honduras the year after that.
It is not unusual to see members of All Souls in Eastport. Last year, church members young and old were in this seaside community to help build the Labor of Love Food Pantry on Route 190. Among those who participated in the food pantry-raising project were folks from the Perry church.
“The whole [ ASSIST JC] program is designed to create teams and to encourage teamwork so that these young people will learn to work together and to invest their energy for the sake of the kingdom in very practical ways, and it is a way of directing the great energies young people have into Christian service,” the Perry pastor said.
Outreach programs are not new to the Bangor church. “It’s part of our mission outreach that we do with our young people and we have a lot of adults jump in as well,” the Rev. Renee Garrett, minister of Christian nurture at All Souls, said last year during the building of the food pantry. Garrett could not be reached immediately for comment.
Among those from Washington County who are involved in the ASSIST JC program are Madison Barker, 14, of Whiting, Ben Morrison, 15, Kyle Dore, 14, and Brad Barstow, 14, all of Perry, among others.
Barker’s mother, Brenda Gay-Barker, who is superintendent of the Perry church’s Sunday school program, explained how her daughter became involved.
“The [Bangor church] did a vacation Bible school two years prior to coming to do the food pantry,” Gay-Barker said. “I was very much involved with the beginning of the food pantry and the building of it, and I took Maddy along with me and she enjoyed it so much she ended up spending the week with the kids and really, really got a lot from it. And now she is going to be going to Honduras, hopefully, in two years.”
Maddy Barker said that as a result of her work at the food pantry she acquired some carpentry skills. “Last year we had to nail up a wall and put on shingles,” she said.
Gay-Barker said fundraising was an integral part of the program. “All of these kids have to take part in this two-year process. They come to Eastport to make sure they know how to work with a team member, and then the following year they go to Honduras. So she has to raise just under $800 for her passage to Honduras.”
The ASSIST JC program is two-pronged. The first: Find projects in the area. “All Souls church specifically said they are looking for people in need in the Eastport area, particularly older people who need repairs such as new steps, ramps – those sorts of things for their home,” Gay-Barker said. “There are many small crews of kids who do many projects.” The Perry church will set up a project schedule beginning in January.
The second prong is the work the young people do to raise money to help finance their trips to Eastport and Honduras. That program is called “Workers in the Vineyard.”
“The first year they come to Eastport and we work on community service projects. In order to do that they have to raise money to provide their own living expenses. … It costs money to be able to bring that many people up here to live for a week and provide their own materials,” Windhorst said of the Bangor folks. “All of that is offered gratis, but part of the work young people do in preparing for that is to raise money they need to do that. So the ‘Workers in the Vineyard Program’ is hire a teenager, essentially. That is part of the fundraising part.”
So if someone needs snow shoveled or firewood stacked, the young people are eager to work. “Brenda [Gay-Barker] will arrange it and we will provide these young people to come and do the work, and the payment for it goes to their credit at the church,” Windhorst said. “So everybody works together to raise the money they need.”
Garrett agreed. In a recent letter to church members in Bangor, she said fundraising was an integral part of the ASSIST JC program. “We are training your teen and you in the ancient Christian virtues of perseverance, gentleness, kindness, patience, generosity and self-control,” the letter said. “Each participant in the fundraising is also gaining valuable knowledge on team-building, community and communication skills.”
Anyone who would like to be part of the Eastport project or hire a teenager should contact Gay-Barker at 733-2402.