ORONO, Maine — The Rev. Justin Howard stands before his congregation on Sunday afternoons dressed in liturgical garb unfamiliar to many in his flock at Imago Dei Anglican Church.
“A lot of people have questions about this,” he said, gesturing to the white alb, the long-sleeved, ankle-length vestment he wears over his clothes to conduct services. “It’s representative of our baptism. After all, Jesus wore a tunic. The cincture, this rope around my waist, signifies that we are bound in service to Christ.
“The stole that hangs around my neck represents servanthood,” he continued earlier this month. “I wear this Celtic cross because I believe the same spiritual DNA that was part of the early Celtic church is what we are planting here in Orono.”
Underneath his traditional church garments, the Anglican priest most often is clad in sneakers and blue jeans — the same kind of clothing worn by a most of the 40-60 people, a majority of whom are students at the University of Maine, who attend weekly worship services held at the Newman Center on College Avenue.
“It’s really full of the Holy Spirit and happiness,” Bill Jenkins of Kenduskeag said earlier this month after a Sunday service. “I find it very alive here and it’s good to see so many young people in church.
Bill and, his wife, Ann Jenkins of Kenduskeag, met the Howards through Amy Howard’s father, Bill Rogers. The couple, who are are old enough to be the parents of the students with whom they worship, decided to try out the Anglican church last fall and have been attending regularly ever since.
Imago Dei, which is Latin for in the image of God, is the only church in Maine associated with the Anglican Church of North America, based in Pittsburgh, Penn. It was formed several years ago after breaking with the Episcopal Church of the United States and the Worldwide Anglican Communion over the ordination of noncelebate gay and lesbian priests and the blessing of same-sex unions.
The Orono church began meeting October 2010 at Howard’s home in Old Town. The congregation began holding services at the Newman Center, owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, in November. It plans an official launch at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 18.
Services at Imago Dei combine many of the traditional elements of the Anglican church, such as the reciting the Nicene Creed, the passing of the peace, making the sign of the cross and receiving Communion every Sunday, with modern praise and worship music, a time of one-on-one healing prayer and a casual but intimate feel to the two-hour service.
“We are Anglicans, so we’re liturgical but also charismatic,” Howard said in a recent interview. “We believe in the ministry of inner healing. We believe the Holy Spirit is present to make us whole people and to make us live lives that enjoy God.”
Howard was born in New York City and raised in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York attending a Wesleyan church. He met his wife, Amy Howard, at Houghton College in western New York. She grew up in the Bangor area and attended Columbia Street Baptist Church and Harvest Chapel in Levant.
His journey toward the Anglican Church began in college.
“I was a religion major and studying church history really was turning point for me,” he said. “I learned the church is more than 100 or 200 years old and uncovered and discovered a treasure trove of disciplined practice and belief I’d never been exposed to growing up. As an evangelical, I had a good solid upbringing in Scripture. [Anglicanism] offered me mystery and a relationship with 2,000 years of Christian history.”
He first was ordained a Wesleyan pastor in 2006 after attending Astbury and Gordon-Conwell theological seminaries, located in Wilmore, Ken., and South Hamilton, Mass., respectively.
He was ordained an Anglican priest in 2010.
“I’ve come full circle because John Weley was an Anglican,” he said. “Becoming an Anglican was part of my desire to be yoked to the church through history. But, I really began to encounter God through the liturgy and there was a draw on my heart to be part of a confluence of the evangelical, the charismatic and the catholic. These are the major streams in orthodox Christian worship today.”
Planting a church in a university community was the vision of Howard’s superior, Bishop William Murdock, head of the Anglican Diocese in New England, the priest said. The long-term plan calls for a parish with six churches in Greater Bangor.
Most of the people who attend services at Imago Dei have attended evangelical or mainline Protestant churches, according to Howard. As he did, they have encountered something new in the Anglican liturgy.
“What they’re finding is a God who is very near and intimate and a God who desires their wholeness and wants to be closer than they could ever imagine,” the priest said. “They are sort of shocked to find that God is as present and his power to heal is as accessible as it is. And, that God has emotions — he passionately desires them and longs for them. I think that’s a picture of God many people have a hard time believing.”
Katie Burt of Brewer began worshipping at Imago Dei in mid-January after friends encouraged her to attend.
“It’s intriguing and spirit-filled,” she said of the services. “Justin and Amy are so passionate about seeing a change in Orono.”
Scott DeLong grew up in a nondenominational evangelical church. The UMaine senior majoring in secondary education said that he found the liturgy “strange” at first.
“Now, I really appreciate the beauty of it,” she said. “The prayers are so much more beautiful and articulate than what we could come up with on our own.”
DeLong also said that attending services on Sunday afternoons focused him for his studies and work during the week.
“It just strengthens me inside and gives me hope,” he said.
Imago Dei Anglican Church worships at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Newman Center, 83 College Ave. For information, visit http://idachurch.com.