PALMYRA, Maine — The Rev. Laura Peckham is a hugger.
And the people of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church need a lot of hugs these days, Senior Warden Beverly Breau of Palmyra said Thursday.
“We’ve been through quite a lot over the past few years,” said Breau, who has attended St. Martin’s for 50 years.
The steeple atop the church at the corner of Route 2 and Golf Course Road was struck by lightning in 1992 and rebuilt the next year, she said. Then, on April, 19, 2006, the 170-year-old landmark was destroyed by a wind-fed blaze. It took three years for the insurance claim to be settled and a new church constructed.
“We’re coming back from that now with some forward movement and she’s a person who looks to the future,” Breau said.
That future was celebrated Sept. 13 when Bishop Stephen Lane presided over a service to mark the new ministry between worshippers and the woman they call “Mother Laura.”
Peckham of West Gardiner was raised in Chelsea. She described her church attendance growing up as sporadic, but decided to study theology at Bangor Theological Seminary about 12 years ago.
“It was not long before I realized that I was feeling an urging toward the priesthood,” she said. “After a long discernment process and attending seminary part time, I was ordained a transitional deacon in June 2011 and priest in June 2012.”
Peckham became the part-time priest at St. Martin’s this spring. She said that she and the small congregation — average Sunday worship attendance is 35 — are a good fit.
“Two things which immediately impressed me about the people of St. Martin’s — their strong prayer practices and their desire to study the Bible,” she said. “They are a congregation who really believes in and practices taking their thanksgivings and their difficulties to God. Prayer has been a powerful force in my life and it is a great comfort and and source of strength to be surrounded by people who I know are praying for one another, for me, for their immediate community, and the world.
“The people of St. Martin’s have a strong, ongoing desire to study Holy Scripture,” she continued. “This is very exciting for me because I find reading, studying and discussing the Bible to be a source of great delight.”
Peckham also said that over the past few months, she’s been moved by the congregation’s “devotion to the Eucharist.”
Breau described Peckham as a “very enthusiastic, very loving” leader. The senior warden said the congregation very much appreciates Peckham’s home visits to elderly members of the congregation.
St. Martin’s is discerning how the congregation can best help those in the local community who are in need, Peckham said. The church has run a literacy program for many years, but the need for the program appears to be decreasing.
“It is too soon to say where this may lead us, but in the meantime, along with our assistance to our three area food banks, we recently collected school supplies for children in our school district and we will mark the Feast of St. Francis in October with a special collection to be distributed to nearby animal shelters,” the priest said.
“We also hold a free lunch once per month and, starting this fall, we will be having a free supper once per month,” she said. “We hope these meals are a time not only where people’s bodies are nourished, but also that the fellowship of having time with others in the community will feed their spirits as well.”