BAR HARBOR, Maine — Clad in a red T-shirt that promoted a 2008 performance of Johannes Braham’s “Requiem,” Geoffrey Schuller of Mount Desert thrust his arms into the air and shouted, “Hallelujah!”
A few minutes later he joined other worshippers in crying out, “Praise Jesus!” followed by a few “Amens” in quick succession.
Schuller’s spirited responses Sunday night would have been typical had he been worshipping at any of the state’s evangelical or Pentecostal churches. Schuller, however, was sitting in St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church in a worship service for seasonal workers from Jamaica who work on Mount Desert Island.
The congregation was founded in 1870 by an early group of summer people. It was named St. Saviour’s for the French Jesuit Mission, St. Sauveur, established on the island in 1613. The words translate as holy savior or holy redeemer, which is the name of Bar Harbor’s Roman Catholic church located across the street and a block west of the Episcopal church.
Originally built in 1878, then expanded seven years later, the names of its founders and early members read like the New York Social Register. St. Saviour’s Tiffany stained-glass windows are some of the finest in the nation.
St. Saviour’s is the oldest, largest and tallest public building on Mount Desert Island and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With its 90-foot bell tower, shingled wall and roof, at the turn of the 19th century, it resembled Trinity Church in Boston’s Copley Square.
It looks like a place where the spirit politely whispers rather than shouts. That was before Delbert Davis of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, and Jacqueline Forsythe of Manchester, Jamaica, and about a dozen of their fellow workers conducted a service like the ones they attend at home.
“For years we’ve been talking about how to reach out to seasonal workers with no real plan of how to do that,” Gail Leiser, senior warden at the church, said before Sunday’s service. “Most folks work during the day so Sunday night seemed like the best time.”
Last month, the church held a traditional Episcopal service — the same worship service conducted at 10 a.m. each Sunday. It was not the spirited and spontaneous service the Jamaicans were used to, Leister said.
So, she and the Rev. Timothy Fleck, the priest-in-charge at St. Saviour’s, turned the planning over to Davis and Forsythe, who work for Leister and her husband, Rick Leister, at Galyn’s Restaurant. It was very different than the services outlined in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer.
“Our usual worship is very tightly planned and rehearsed and everyone knows what’s going to happen next,” Fleck said after the Jamaican-style service. “So, I think it’s absolutely wonderful to have worship here where nobody knows what’s going to happen next and there’s room for the spirit and things just come together. Everybody praises and expresses their love for God and it just happens. I think this is a great place for that to happen.”
In Jamaica, the worship services Davis, Forsythe and other workers attend last about half an hour but are followed by about an hour of hymn singing called a gospel concert. That is how Sunday night’s service was structured, with Davis delivering a sermon.
“To be a true Christian, you have to have a clean heart,” he said. “You cannot meet God without a clean heart.”
Each time Davis began quoting a Psalm, his fellow Jamaicans jumped in and finished it with him. They also knew many of the hymns by heart and did not hesitate to clap and sway as they sang.
“It’s a blessing,” Forsythe said of the service. “It feels like a little bit of home.”
The next service for seasonal workers has not been scheduled.