A pastor who mingles Orthodox influences with 'sloppy Agape'
The Rev. Matt McDonald seems excited, almost bubbly, as he shows a visitor around the converted poultry warehouse on Patterson Hill in Belfast that houses his church, Midcoast Christian Fellowship. He comes across like a man just getting his hands on a big job he's eager to delve into.
Which is what he is: McDonald became the pastor of MCF last August, when he and his wife, Linnea, both of whom grew up in Maine, returned to the state after pastoring a church in Vermont.
He explained that the church was begun in 1996; he is its second pastor. The first, he said, engaged in behaviors that caused some congregants to leave and the rest to feel hurt and betrayed when the pastor left two years ago. Among McDonald's tasks since his arrival have been helping the church heal from that experience, and renewing its reputation, both of which he said have begun to happen.
For example, although he would have been within his rights to control the church's money himself, in order to set church members' minds at ease about MCF's finances, he set up a finance committee made up of church members to oversee the budget and expenses.
One of MCF's main ministries is its food distribution center. Each Saturday morning, people from the church go to Hannaford to pick up baked goods and produce that are near their sell-by dates. Starting at 7:30 a.m. groceries are distributed out of the facility at the rear of the church to individual families, as well as area food cupboards and church feeding programs. Directly or indirectly, McDonald said, MCF feeds 1,000 families a month, making it the county's top distributor of free food.
In addition, MCF collects clothing to distribute to those who need it, and it also has durable medical supplies — crutches, commodes and the like — to lend.
Though his church holds conservative beliefs, McDonald said, "I'm not a Bible-thumper." He serves on the Greater Belfast Area Ministerium and said he was excited to find churches of different denominations working together. He added that he believes in "sloppy Agape," that is, meeting everyone with love and warmth, regardless of their personal background or beliefs.
He grew up in Millinocket in a family that was not religious, but he somehow felt a call to the ministry early in life nonetheless. "Since I was 12 years old, this [being a pastor] is all I've wanted to do," he said. He sees his work as "one of the best ways to help people." One of his favorite parts of his present job is passing out food on Saturday mornings.
He also enjoys the breakfast held on the second Saturday of each month for anyone who wants to come. It is followed by Bible study.
McDonald said he had been spiritually influenced by a number of writers, including Kenneth Hagin, the founder of the Word of Faith movement, C.S. Lewis, Alistair Begg and G.K. Chesterton. Closer to home, he has been shaped by other clergy he has known, including the Rev. Robert Emerick of Plymouth, the Rev. Kevin Holsap, former rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Bangor, and the Rev. Adam Metropolis, priest of St. George's Orthodox church in Bangor, who, coincidentally, was also McDonald's high school chemistry teacher. He said he enjoys going on retreat to an Orthodox monastery in Arizona.
McDonald's wife grew up in Castine in a Greek Orthodox family; the two met doing theater at the Union Street Brick Church (United Church of Christ) in Bangor and married in 2006. She is now pregnant with their first child, a son.
The Rev. Lee Whitting of the Brick Church is another friend of McDonald's who has influenced his ministry. Since coming to Belfast, McDonald has served on the board of The Belfast Maskers and has been in a couple of productions. "That's been a really wonderful experience," he said.
He said he wants everyone to be comfortable at worship, which has led him to cut the length of the service by half an hour and incorporate contemporary music into the 10 a.m. Sunday service. Most of all, though, he wants to reach out to as many people as he can. "I just want to love everyone," he said.