BANGOR — The Rev. James Haddix knelt down on one knee Sunday in the middle of the vestry at All Souls Congregational Church.
Members of the congregation surrounded him. Dozens of hands, some tiny and broad, others gnarled and smooth, all of them tender, reached out to touch their minister. Those who could not reach him, laid a hand on the person closest to them.
“One of the things that happens in an ordination is that all of the ministers and the people there gather around the candidate and lay hands upon him or her so they were all connected,” the Rev. Renee Garrett, minister of Christian Nurture at All Souls, said as she directed people to encircle her colleague.”
Haddix, 65, of Holden felt that connection Sunday as he marked 40 years of ministry. He was ordained on Oct. 2, 1971. He served the Congregational Church of Temple, N.H., for more than two decades, first as a seminary student and then as its minister, before being called to All Souls in 1990.
His roots, however, are in the Midwest and Methodism. Haddix was raised in Shell City, Mo., located 160 miles south of Columbia, Mo. His gifts for ministry were identified early and by age 16, he was a lay minister and taking on adult leadership roles.
“I have one recording on a reel-to-reel tape of one of those sermons,” Haddix said Friday. “It’s pretty bad and very long, but he was an earnest young man.”
He wanted to be a doctor not a minister, but God’s call and the urgings of his pastor were strong. Haddix left small town Missouri to attend the seminary at Boston University, where the cost of living stunned him.
A fellow student who was ministering at a small church in southern New Hampshire heard of an opening at the nearby community of Temple. Haddix went to speak with the coordinator for ministry placement at the seminary.
“‘Son, you don’t want to go there,’ he told me. ‘They eat ministers alive,’” Haddix said. “I stayed more than 20 years.”
He was not looking to move when a member of the search committee asked him to consider applying to be the minister at All Souls in 1990.
“It was a hard call,” he said. “We were very settled in Temple and had a house and lovely property we had improved. My study was in my home and I spent a lot of time reading and writing, which I love.”
He knew the president at the Bangor Theological Seminary and had attended the school’s annual convocation. Haddix was told if he came to Bangor, he could teach at BTS.
“I still don’t know who gave the search committee my name,” he said. “They won’t tell me.”
Garrett had been working at All Souls for three years when Haddix was offered the job of minister. He refused to take the job unless it was offered to her first, Haddix said Friday. She wasn’t interested, but sent her new boss a letter of resignation when he took the job. He rejected her offer and the two began a partnership that many believe has benefited the congregation and the community.
“He and Renee as a team have been very stabilizing for the church,” Catherine Byther Eames, director of music and organist, said Sunday.
Garrett said her personality and style and Haddix’s are very different, but they complement each other.
“He and I really blend well on what we think is important about the life of the church and what needs to be taught,” she said.
“He has taught people how to love one another,” Garrett said of Haddix’s tenure at All Souls. “This church has people on all sides of political and social issues but can sit together in the pews, worship together and serve God together.”
Robert Sherman, professor of Christian Theology at Bangor Theological Seminary, has attended All Souls since 1994.
“[Haddix] embodies the learned ministry of the congregational tradition to a T.”
Haddix spoke of that history and tradition in his sermon Sunday and over the previous two Sundays. He mined the sermons of his predecessors for wisdom, including one delivered to the All Souls congregation in 1939 by the Rev. Frederick Meek, in which that minister imagined All Souls in 1950.
“One telling sentence for me, and for us,” Haddix said, “was, ‘We should never forget that it is no temporary or transient thing with which we are associated, as we labor together in the enterprise of this church. It is of long standing, and the central matters with which it deals are everlasting.’
“The church matters,” Haddix continued. So does our place in it. It has a goal and purpose. It bestows meaning to our lives. It is an ancient and continuing story with both immediate and everlasting consequence.”
All Souls, founded in 1912 when First Church of Christ and Third or Central Congregational Church merged after the fire of 1911. First Church was founded in 1811 and was the church listed on the town’s incorporation papers.
The members of All Souls for decades have been and continue to be leaders in Greater Bangor.
“I discovered early on that almost any community meeting I went to I could find a quorum for a [church] board meeting,” Haddix said. “The thing I liked about the church is there were people working in the community, who did not wear their faith on their sleeves, but who were devoted to the church and who brought the influence of the Gospel into the daily life of the community, but did it in a way that was a kind of quiet and persistent witness.”
Haddix said he has no plans to retire and as his congregants encircled him, it seemed clear that they value his guidance and leadership.
“You have been a sign of hope and a blessing in our midst for many years,” Garrett said Sunday of Haddix’s influence on the church.
“We’ll shoot for 50 and then some,” he said.