Mill closure has Easter faithful praying for paperworkers

Posted April 23, 2011, at 6:22 p.m.
Last modified April 24, 2011, at 4:39 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — A Roman Catholic, Glorianne Burke prayed on Easter Sunday for her family and loved ones, for herself and for the restart of the Katahdin region’s two paper mills.

“I lived in Millinocket for 12 years, until about six months ago, and I have a lot of loved ones up there that I worry about,” the U.S. postmaster and Lowell resident said Sunday. “They are nervous. They [unemployed workers] are wondering about whether they are going to have to leave there and go somewhere else for work and those that have jobs are seeing their hours cut, which makes it hard.”

The closure of the East Millinocket paper mill and the connected failure to revitalize its sister mill in Millinocket, which left about 450 mill workers seeking work and town and state officials scrambling for a new mill buyer, had Katahdin and Lincoln Lakes region clerics expecting greater attendance at Sunday’s services.

With the fallout from this massive loss of work uncertain but expected to be far-reaching, many parishioners already have started looking to God for answers, if not help, said Robert Landry, a deacon at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Millinocket.

Landry, whose church usually sees about 50 worshipers on a typical Sunday and had about 70 this Easter, had hoped that Sunday’s services would have drawn as many as 125 people. He hopes that more people will turn to the church as the region’s economic crisis deepens.

“The aspect of community and support for one another, fellowship, is very strong,” Landry said. “For us at St. Andrews, we are a very close family. People who come and worship with us feel like family when they come. It’s a very family feeling and atmosphere.

“There have already been some increases [in attendance]. People are looking,” Landry said. “They have come and tried us out.”

Though the region’s economic crisis in some ways has yet to arrive, as unionized mill workers were paid almost to the end of April and their severance packages are still being negotiated, some signs of it are becoming apparent. Burke said she knows of a house on New Hampshire Street in Millinocket that just went on sale for $25,000 — an amazingly low price.

Pastor Bruce Michaud of Lincoln’s New Vision Church of the Nazarene said he hoped that those who have work would use churches to help those who don’t, with monetary contributions to church programs and other aid.

“I am hoping that the people [who attended Sunday services] are aware of the situation in the area and of the need and focused on the risen Christ and how He would reach out into the community,” Michaud said Saturday.

“It’s not so much about the money; it’s about an awareness of the need of the area. If there is a specific need in the area, we can focus on that and help people,” Michaud added.

Mattawamkeag Baptist Church Pastor Steve McNally said he hasn’t yet seen much of an impact caused by the mill shutdown.

“I am sure that in the near future, if things don’t happen over there to get those mills going, the churches will be asked for help — for food or other necessities — or we will expect less offerings [charitable contributions during church services] as a result,” McNally said.

Just the specter of layoffs, even if they occur in another region, has people fearful for their own futures and more likely to make smaller church contributions, said Pastor Roy Richardson of Lincoln’s United Methodist Church.

“People don’t have a lot of money to spend on suppers and yard sales and things like that,” Richardson said. “Most people are being conservative on how they spend money. They don’t know how long they will have their jobs.”

Though many fear the mill closure will spark an exodus from the area, Burke said she is looking to buy a house in Millinocket to be closer to her friends and family.

“It used to be that everybody was so jealous of people in Millinocket because they were doing so well for so long,” Burke said. “I would love to see that area come back.”

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