After six years at the First Baptist Church of Belfast, the Rev. Ken Parker is losing his marbles — literally. He has a jar of the colorful glass balls and throws one away each day to mark his progress toward retirement at the end of August. His wife, Pat, who had shared the ministry with him, retired a few years ago.
The pair came to Belfast hoping that sharing a single full-time position would allow them "time to breathe," he said, but things didn't work out quite as they'd planned. Between taking care of Pat's mother, who died earlier this year, and the unrelenting demands of church life, things were busy more often than not. "When you're in the ministry," he said, "you have no life."
Nonetheless, Ken Parker said, "everything's great at the church," with membership holding steady. He added that he will be sorry to leave his congregation behind. "I really love these people," he said.
Parker, a native of the Boston area, began his ministry in Liberty, his wife's hometown, at Liberty Baptist Church. The couple have pastored several churches in Maine, and he said his wife's grasp of rural Maine culture was invaluable. "I wouldn't have made it without her," he said. He also taught for a time in a seminary in Philadelphia.
Parker said he initially went to seminary because "I wanted to take my faith seriously." Over time, being in the seminary milieu drew him into the ministry, he said. The fact that his mother was a Baptist minister may have been influential as well.
When he retires and moves to Brunswick — in accordance with the American Baptist Church's requirement that a retired pastor sever all pastoral ties with his or her former congregation — he will relinquish his involvement in Habitat for Humanity of Waldo County, which First Baptist was instrumental in starting. He will also leave the Greater Belfast Area Ministerium, of which he said, "I value my colleagues in that ministerium as much as any people I've known."
One activity he will maintain is leading pilgrimages to Israel, which he has done since 1997. He's also working on a book, which he called "a narrative portrayal of the spiritual life."
Parker finds spiritual nourishment outside his own denomination as well as within it. He prays the Episcopal daily office, does centering prayer twice a day and keeps a spiritual journal. He said he's filled 500 journals since 1984. He receives spiritual direction from another American Baptist pastor and is a spiritual director himself for people from various denominations.
In retirement, he said, he hopes to organize his life on the Benedictine model of daily work, prayer and rest. Another of his personal guides is Henry David Thoreau, whose dictum "simplify, simplify" he tries to follow. In September, he plans to visit Walden Pond, where Thoreau wrote his classic of the same name.
"My goal," Parker said, "is to die with nothing in my hands but faith, hope and love."