PORTLAND, Maine — Ruth Ellen Guerette is looking forward to doing a lot of things after she graduates today from Bangor Theological Seminary.
She wants to participate in the Chaplaincy Intern Program at Eastern Maine Medical Center, seek ordination in her denomination, the Congregational Christian Council of Maine, and continue to serve as pastor of the Kenduskeag Union Church, the congregation she has served as a student. Guerette (pronounced JER-ett) is one of 17 students who will receive their Master of Divinity degrees from the seminary at its 191st commencement at 1 p.m. today at its campus on State Street in Portland.
The seminary also will award 23 other degrees including nine Doctor of Ministry degrees, one of which will be awarded posthumously to the Rev. Lyn Bradley. Bradley was Guerette’s mentor, assigned by the seminary to work with the student pastor.
Bradley died unexpectedly on May 10. Her funeral will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at the First Congregational Church in Millinocket, where she had served as pastor since August 2004.
“The biggest things she gave me was the assurance of my authority as a pastor,” Guerette, 56, of Carmel said Sunday after a service at the Kenduskeag church. “She helped me define my role and get back in touch with my own devotional life. She gave me her enthusiasm.”
Guerette worked as a teacher for many years before deciding to attend the seminary in 2005. She began serving the tiny church the next year.
Many seminary students serve small rural congregations throughout the state and then move on to full-time positions at larger churches after graduation. Guerette’s decision to remain at the church she served as a student is unusual.
“I just feel the spirit is leading me here,” she said. “Now that I don’t have classes to attend and papers to write, I can do more. I’d like to start a Bible study class and have a prayer group or some other kind of gathering midweek.”
She also does not want to leave the family homestead, where she lives with her husband, Bob Guerette. The minister’s roots in Maine go back to the 1700s. Her father’s family moved to the state in 1798.
“They were the first to settle in the western section of Carmel and remained on that property through today,” she said in an e-mail response to questions. “I live in the house they built there in the 1820s — [the] sixth generation to own the land.”
The Kenduskeag Union Church is about the same age. It was established in 1828 and the building was completed on Dec. 20, 1834, according to a church history written eight years ago. It is affiliated with the Congregational and American Baptist denominations.
Many of the 25 or so people who attended Sunday’s service said they were happy Guerette had decided to stay on. “She truly understands the needs and the personalities of the people here,” Wilma Johannesen, 68, of Carmel said Sunday. “She’s a Maine girl. She doesn’t elevate herself. She’s one of us.”