MILLINOCKET, Maine — The Rev. Lyn Bradley believed the longest distance in the world is between the head and the heart.
The pastor of First Congregational Church and her flock spent the past three years working on a project that allowed them to feel as well as think about God. The culmination of their work was to have been celebrated next week when Bradley was to have been awarded her Doctor of Ministry degree by Bangor Theological Semi-nary at a commencement service in Portland.
Now she will receive the degree posthumously.
Bradley died unexpectedly of a heart attack Monday at age 63.
A celebration of her life will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 22, the day after graduation, at the church she pastored for nearly six years.
“She was a woman of passion and integrity and deep faith for whom being filled with the Holy Spirit was the center of her life,” the Rev. Sue Davies, dean of students for the seminary, said Thursday.
Bradley and her husband, Milton Bradley, who survives her, came to Millinocket to lead the church in August 2004. She said it felt like home and would be “where she would be at the end of her earthly spiritual journey,” according to her obituary, published in Thursday’s edition of the Bangor Daily News.
Despite the fact that Bradley came to Maine by way of upstate New York and Tennessee, her impact on the congregation and the community, then reeling from the closure of the mill in 2002, was immediate.
Wayne Kidney, a member of the board of trustees for the church, called her “very refreshing” from the start.
“She’s from away and we’re stuck way up here in the Northeast,” said Kidney, who has attended the church for 40 years. “She had a different outlook on things, and it was pleasing. She was a very caring persona and very good at what she did.”
Three years ago, the minister found a way to meet two important goals — one personal, the other professional — when she enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program at the seminary. The program is made up of pastors and, by extension, members of their congregations.
Bradley and 12 members of her church looked for a project that would allow members of the church and community to experience what she called “the third leg of the Trinity.” They accomplished that in December 2009 with the presentation of a special Christmas cantata that set the Nativity at the foot of Mount Katahdin. The spiritual impact of that event still ripples through the congregation, people who worked on the project said Sunday.
The minister’s reach extended beyond the church walls into the community, Chip Lamson, co-owner of Lamson Funeral Home in Millinocket, said Thursday. The firm is handling arrangements for Bradley’s service.
“My brother and I bought the funeral home in ’06, when she’d been here about two years,” Lamson said. “She was our first experience with any clergy in town, and she couldn’t have been more welcoming and more supportive. She gave us a feel for what people expected, and that was very helpful.”
Lamson, who is president of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, said Bradley was involved with the mock funeral that is part of the educational program about drunken driving done for high school students each year. The minister, he said, also had compelling experiences, such as having polio as a child, which she shared in a talk at the local Rotary Club.
“She was a big personality and a big supporter of the area,” he said. “She and Milton loved to promote it and help out. And she had a way of delivering a sermon that made you feel like you were just out back, talking with her over the fence post.”