With all the public discussion of what could and should be done to help the depressed economy in the Millinocket-East Millinocket area, especially when it comes to employment, it is all too easy to put in the back of our minds what is happening to some of the most depended-upon and beloved community institutions: local churches.
That point was brought to my attention recently when Barbara Waters of Millinocket emailed to ask for help in getting the word out about some fundraisers that mean a great deal to her.
“I am sure you are well aware of the financial situation in the Katahdin area,” she wrote, “especially with the closing of the East Millinocket paper mill in April. I believe the unemployment rate for Maine is slightly more than seven percent, yet I recently read somewhere the unemployment rate for the Katahdin area is in excess of 14 percent.”
Barbara noted that unemployment in the region brings with it anticipated results, some of which are not readily apparent.
“I am speaking of the impact the economic downturn has had on most of the local churches.”
She pointed out that most of the churches in the Katahdin area are hurting financially, specifically mentioning St. Martin’s Church of Millinocket and St. Peter’s in East Millinocket.
Barbara reminds readers that when the Millinocket paper mill closed in 2008, the community “suffered the results, with many businesses closing as well as an out-migration of the employable, who needed to seek work.”
She sees Millinocket today as having become an aging community of people living on fixed incomes, and that the same appears likely to happen in East Millinocket as most people there do not believe their paper mill will reopen and, if it does, it will not employ enough people to make an economic difference.”
Because of the economic situation in both communities, Barbara wrote that the two churches “are literally fighting to keep their doors open.”
“Sunday collections are not keeping pace with church expenses,” Barbara said, because more people are dying and moving out of town than are joining the churches.
But she also wants readers to know that Katahdin area church members are not about to give up.
“Neither church is sitting back on their hands, but rather working to prevent the closing,” she wrote.
Which brings us to the real point of Barbara’s email: the fact that fundraisers — such as St. Peter’s Church annual lawn party from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, at the church parish center at 58 Cedar St. in East Millinocket — are playing more significant roles in church funding this year.
“All the money raised will go directly to St. Peter’s Church to help the church pay its bills,” Barbara said.
In neighboring Millinocket, other church fundraising efforts are under way, Barbara wrote, including St. Martin’s Harvest Tea which will be held in October.
One bit of good news Barbara shared is that the nondenominational, nonprofit St. Martin’s Thrift Store at 112 Maine Ave. in Millinocket recently presented the church with a donation of $12,000 from store proceeds, and also gave the church an additional $600 from its newly begun recycling program.
I thank Barbara for sharing her thoughts with us and reminding us that every aspect of community life is affected when there is a downturn in the economy.
Fortunately, for the residents of these communities, members of its churches are determined to keep their doors open, reflecting their hopeful spirit that times will get better.