BUCKS HARBOR, Maine — When it comes to spirituality, Jim Harnedy considers the current generation of aging baby-boomers to be a rudderless ship.
“Boomers are a spiritual group, but they’ve thought that they could do it all on their own, without regard to their heritage and roots,” said Harnedy, who researched and wrote “Historic Churches, Synagogues & Spiritual Places of Eastern Maine” with the help of his wife, Jane Diggins Harnedy. “Most have spirituality, but no religious affiliation or the religious traditions that comes with having a community to share their spirituality with. That’s the glue, and that’s what they’ve been missing.”
Harnedy says his “guidebook for boomers” captures the story of how spiritual and religious traditions have emerged and evolved in Maine over centuries.
“Most of the baby-boom generation reached adulthood and went off and did their own thing, losing the religious traditions they were born into along the way,” he said. “As they started to gray, they began to look back at where they had come from and began wondering what drew their parents to a spiritual tradition. This is a guidebook that will help them to do that, to launch a personal search into their own spiritual heritages, which I think is important, especially at this spiritual time of year.”
The 160-page, softcover book was published this year by The History Press, which is based in South Carolina. The book is the couple’s eighth, the others showcasing the history and scenic surroundings of Down East areas, including Machias Bay and Campobello Island, and Maine’s central coast, including Boothbay Harbor and Wiscasset. Collectively, the new book focuses on the religious histories of 27 communities.
The book also explores Passamaquoddy and Penobscot spiritual traditions and how Native American religious practices were affected by the arrival in 1604 of Catholic and Huguenot priests associated with the Saint Croix Island settlement, which was located near the present-day Washington County community of Calais.
“Before these Native American people embraced Christianity, their whole spiritual life was grounded in nature, with their connections with the ocean, the mountains and the animals,” Harnedy said. “The early Jesuits didn’t throw that way; they incorporated them into new spiritual traditions.”
The section that focuses on Bangor describes the fire that gutted much of the city on April 30, 1911. That blaze destroyed many places of worship, including the Congregational Beth Israel synagogue, home to Maine’s first Jewish religious community. Harnedy also tells the story of John Bapst, the namesake of the present-day private high school in Bangor. A Swiss-born Jesuit priest, Bapst was beaten, robbed and tarred and feathered in October 1854 by an angry mob in the Hancock County community of Ellsworth due to his objection to local school children being forced to read from the Protestant King James version of the Bible. He later served as Boston College’s first president.
The book is organized into four chapters by region: Greater Bangor; Acadia; Down East; and the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes. Each chapter is divided by town and information on the historically significant houses of worship in those communities is provided. Contact information also is listed.
Information on some churches, such as St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bangor is plentiful, while others, such as Cutler United Methodist Church, is less detailed. Not all the buildings included in the book still are used as churches. The former Channing Chapel in Winter Harbor now is the town’s library.
The new book is richly illustrated with both rare historical photos and contemporary photos of dozens of Down East Maine’s array of churches and synagogues. The back cover also features a painting by Jane Diggins Harnedy. Priced at $19.95, it is available at bookstores and gift shops throughout the region, or it can be ordered online through www.historypress.net.
BDN reporter Judy Harrison contributed to this story.