BANGOR, Maine — Shelly Snow’s pastor told her more than 20 years ago when she graduated from Foxcroft Academy that he had a letter of recommendation ready for her when she decided to attend seminary.
When Snow in 2009 called the Rev. Kenneth Dale, who now lives in Jefferson, to ask if he still had that letter, he said, “Yes. All I have to do is change the date.”
“Actually, he first choked up and had to call me back because it was such an emotional moment,” Snow, 40, said earlier this week. “Then, he said he’d mail the letter.”
Snow, who lives in Dover-Foxcroft with her husband, Michael Snow II, was one of seven people who received a Master of Divinity degree Friday from Bangor Theological Seminary. The graduation ceremony was held at the school’s Portland campus at the State Street Church, United Church of Christ. The seminary also awarded four master of arts degrees and three advanced certificates in spirituality and religious studies.
Even though Snow preached in the Dover-Foxcroft Congregational Church, UCC, while in high school, she set off to the University of Maine at Farmington to become a teacher. Snow taught for 11 years in Orono schools before going to work at the University of Maine as a literacy coach.
Snow had always felt the pull toward ministry, but it grew stronger as her mother was dying, she said.
“Things came to a head in 2000 when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer,” she said. “It was a very short life of cancer — from May to October — so I was able to move home and able to walk her journey with her.
“There were many times when I would be the one who was upset and she would be the one quoting from the Bible and she would be telling me how strong she felt in her faith and how to always have the strength [to face her death] because of the power of the Holy Spirit, because there’s something greater,” Snow continued. “So through our journey together, I felt the power and pull of the Holy Spirit.”
In the fall of 2009, Snow took two evening classes at the seminary. The next semester, she quit her job and began taking classes full time. Through her course work and the discernment process, Snow felt drawn to chaplaincy work.
“I felt called to chaplaincy because it is a more intimate ministry — like Jesus taught us to go to the people,” she said. “As a chaplain, I’m able to minister to and walk out to the people. People that aren’t able to come to corporate worship. People who find themselves dealing with medical concerns. At that time, people are more likely to reconnect with their faith and ask questions about it.”
Snow works three days a week as a chaplain at Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor. She also is the part-time pastor at Monson Congregational Church, UCC.
Dale could not be reached for comment.
She is one of the last graduates to earn a degree from Bangor Theological Seminary. Earlier this year, the seminary announced that it would suspend its master of divinity and master of arts programs at the end of the 2012-13 academic year. Snow said she was “disappointed and very shocked” when she first heard about the decision.
“But as time has unfolded, I feel that BTS will find a niche,” she said. “It won’t be gone forever.”
Recent statistics showing that fewer people in Maine are attending church did not deter Snow from going into ministry.
“The concept of church is changing and moving outside the four walls and the steeple,” she said. “Because of what I’m learning going to hospitals and nursing homes and officiating at weddings and funerals, I see there’s still a strong connection to God for people, but the concept of a formalized church is changing, just like the world is changing.”