Thomaston pastor celebrates 30 years of ministry
Thomaston — The Rev. Wayne Sawyer of Thomaston Baptist Church said the ministry has changed completely since he began as pastor at the church 30 years ago.
Sawyer and his congregation celebrated his 30 years at the church Sunday, June 1. The pastor gives much of the credit for his long tenure to the acceptance and love of his congregation and the help he receives from his life partner, his wife Meg Sawyer.
"My responsibilities as your pastor have evolved into places that I could not have imagined 30 years ago," he said last week in a preview of his sermon on Sunday. "We live in a very different world now."
"When I first came here what pastors did for a living was write sermons, and wander around the parish in the afternoons, popping in on people and visiting," he said. "Nowadays we deal with homelessness. We had a person, who was homeless, spend the night here last night."
He said the church is used by the community more and more as a social service agency, taking calls dealing with child abuse, domestic abuse and drug problems, often working with those who are not members of the congregation.
"The community uses us more," he said.
"Not a lot of people have a church connection anymore," he said. "The world has moved on, and in the process of moving on, the world has moved away from churches, but there are times when you just need pastoral help, particularly for the difficult transitions in life."
Those transitions include divorce, death, illness and mental illness.
People in need end up bouncing back and forth between the church and social service agencies like the ball in a basketball game, he said. Somebody will call the church and say, "I need help with my rent, and I need help with my electric bill," and the churches are flat broke now, he said. "So we call the social service agency, and they say, 'they told me to call the church.'"
He said he hears many tales of woe. "You want to help these people, but you can't. It's frustrating and it's emotionally draining."
He said one thing that has kept him alive has been his wonderful wife.
"She's been my confider, my shoulder to cry on, soother of frustrations and dispenser of wisdom," he said, adding with a laugh, "And my lover!"
The ministry has been a job for Meg too. She runs women's group and heads the Sunday school.
He freely acknowledges that church attendance in the area is in decline, but said Thomaston Baptist Church has held its own in a period of decline.
"I deal with a lot of young people who are trying to get off drugs," he said. "Most of the new people that come to this church have spent time in jail for drugs."
He adds that Thomaston Baptist Church used to be the church that "everybody who was somebody" came to. It is the biggest whitest building in town and has an air of prosperity.
"That's not who we are at all anymore as a congregation," he said.
Everyone remembers the '50s, churches expanding, putting on education wings, he said. However, there doesn't seem to have been a second generation of Christians, who came out of the '50s, he said.
"I'm not sure that in those days when anybody who was somebody came to church that there was a whole lot of church going on anyway," he said. Instead, it might have been a lot of showing off and presentation.
Sawyer, who laughs often and easily, has a joke he likes to tell to explain how he got into the ministry.
He grew up in Bar Harbor, raised in the church by Christian parents. He said he felt the call to be a pastor at a very early age.
"Growing up in church, I learned very early on that if I was going to spend the rest of my life in church, the only person in church who didn't have to sit still and be quiet was the minister, and I had a hard time sitting still and being quiet," he said.
Although his job calls on him to help people through their darkest times, and he has suffered personal losses, seeing both of his parents struggle with Alzheimer's, he feels it is important to share his joy.
"People need to be in the presence of people who are joyful," he said. "Even people who are miserable, especially, need to be in the presence of people who are joyful. Because there is another way to live. You don't need to be miserable all the time."
Courier Publications News Director Daniel Dunkle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 594-4401 ext. 122.
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Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.
Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast since 1998.