Maine parishes dig deep to ease suffering in Haiti

Posted Jan. 17, 2010, at 8:41 p.m.

Brenda Pelkey expects she probably will donate some money through her church, the United Church of Christ of East Millinocket, to help Haitians overcome the devastating earthquake that ravaged their homeland.

“For one thing, it would help them and it’s a good Christian thing to do,” Pelkey said Sunday. “Don’t you think so?”

Many parishioners statewide began digging into their pockets and pocketbooks this weekend to help, while other churches said they would begin holding special collections within the next three weeks.

The Rev. Jack Stewart of the Full Gospel Tabernacle of Lincoln said he will hold a collection in three weeks to benefit Haiti. The collection — usually $300 to $500 — will be funneled through a United Pentecostal Church in Port-au-Prince, he said.

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“We have a special missionary offering due this coming Sunday so we have to really center on that next,” said Stewart, whose church has 75 to 125 members.

From his conversations with other clerics, Stewart said he believes that many state churches are, like many other forms of international relief efforts, still struggling with the suddenness of the earthquake and trying to establish reliable lines of relief to Haiti.

“I think there is a lot of confusion, with regard to the aid. People don’t really seem to know,” Stewart said. “Our particular church is zeroed in on how we will funnel our funds, but I don’t really know that everybody else is.”

Other churches, he said, are locked into ongoing fundraisers and will break off from or finish them as soon as possible.

John Arrison, a parishioner at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Belfast and the coordinator of the Haiti-Maine partnership, said his church raised funds Sunday for Episcopal Relief and Development, which has a lot of experience aiding Haiti.

He also has been receiving news of the church’s partner parishes in Haiti, which so far has been relatively positive. Most of those parishes are located in northern parts of the country that were less affected by the quake.

“Our partner priest is fine,” Arrison said. “The seminary in Port-au-Prince was destroyed by the earthquake, but they all got out. They’re living in a soccer field by the school.”

Interim minister Mary Wellemeyer of the Belfast Unitarian Universalist Church said a special collection would be taken up during the service.

“I think we will have some words and some silence about Haiti,” she said Saturday. “People can come to church and have a chance to not see those images, but just take a moment to integrate the information and send thoughts, prayers and energy. I’m sure we will all attend to this in our different ways. Everybody is just heart-broken.”

The Rev. James Haddix of All Souls Church in Bangor said there will be a public prayer vigil for victims of the earthquake at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bangor. The Rev. Renee Garrett, also of All Souls, offered a prayer for earthquake victims Sunday during a service commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“Our hearts are broken over the devastation in Haiti,” she said. “Images of the ruin of a capital city are haunting, and yet they are nothing as compared to the images of mothers without children, and children without parents … patients in desperate need of physicians who are no longer there, students and teachers lost to the world. Such images move us to silence in the face of such overwhelming grief and loss.”

Haddix said the church is accepting donations for earthquake victims and donations will be delivered through churches in Haiti.

“We know the people who receive the money; we know the people who disburse the money,” he said. “These are the people that know the people firsthand. They, in fact, are the people.”

BDN writers Abigail Curtis in Belfast and Jessica Bloch in Bangor contributed to this report.

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