Those were my very first words when God called me to New England to serve as a Missions Service Corps volunteer in 1984. My name is Mary Beth Caffey, and I’m the pastor of Pathway Community Church in Lewiston, Maine. My journey to Maine began in Waco, Texas in early 1984.
God clearly asked me to go to New England to serve as a missions volunteer. The reason it was as a volunteer was that the five Southern Baptist churches and 4 mission churches in Maine could not afford to pay me anything to serve. After visiting Maine in May, 1984, I came home and raised enough support for me to go to serve in Maine for one year. Gratefully, I am here to say that was 24 years ago. God had a much bigger picture than I was able to see at that time.
Early on I was serving as an Education Consultant for the Upper New England Baptist Association which served New Hampshire and Maine. Basically, I was a Minister of Education to these churches that ranged from southern New Hampshire to Caribou, ME. Then the two states grew to the point that they regrouped into two associations, and I continued on with the Maine Baptist Association. In addition to this role, I served as an Education Consultant for the Baptist Convention of New England and helped the Baptist Sunday School Board train workers across New England.
It was also my privilege to serve as a church starter. We started churches by starting home Bible studies until they grew to the point we could call a pastor and start the church. I did five church starts that way.
In addition to these responsibilities I was especially privileged to serve as an officer of the Baptist Convention of New England (which serves Southern Baptist churches in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island). I was the first woman to serve in each of these positions. There were two years as Second Vice-President, two years as First Vice-President, and then two years as the President. That was followed by one year as the Past President, six months off, and then was elected to serve as the President of the Woman’s Missionary Union for New England for two and a half years. Whew! That was a lot of 2 1/2 hour one way trips to Northborough, MA from Maine and a whole lot of meetings.
Then in February, 2002, God threw a mighty big curve ball at me. He called me to be a pastor. I couldn’t believe it at first. Then I just said no, but knew that wasn’t right. Accepting this call could endanger nearly every relationship I had in my life. As many of you know, Southern Baptists don’t do that sort of thing, and have very strong beliefs about it. My days as a Southern Baptist would be over. What would my parents say?
My parents were and are extremely supportive of my ministry, as are my siblings. Most of my friends were and are very, very supportive of my calling, but I did lose some very close friendships as well. My days with the Baptist Convention of New England ended immediately. I won’t go into detail, because it is a private matter between some friends of mine and me, but the conclusion of my membership of the church I was attending in Portland, ME and then the loss of my SBC support system led to a time of intense grief.
Where was I to go next? I felt like a spiritual orphan. But, as one would imagine, God had a plan. At first I looked into turning to the American Baptist Conference of Maine. I passed 3 out of 4 interviews, but the last one ended with them requiring me to go back to seminary and starting all over again to get my Masters of Divinity degree. Nope. Not happening. I had a Masters of Religious Education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX, and that was plenty to get the job done. There wasn’t time or money to go back to school.
Then my friend, Marsha, in Sabattus, ME asked me to come start a church in Sabattus. I asked if that was just because she lived there. She quickly said that the reason I should come there is that there were hundreds of people there going to hell without Jesus in their lives, and they needed someone to tell them about how to be saved. Mmmm…
We started a home Bible study in Marsha’s kitchen in Sabattus in May, 2002. In October, 2002, we started our first worship services at the Ramada Inn in Lewiston. Then we met in a conference room in St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston before going to our new home in a rented building in Sabattus. We met there until August, 2007.
As for my ordination, I couldn’t find a church facility in Lewiston that would let us use their place for the service, so we had my ordination service, sponsored by our own church, in the conference room at the St. Mary’s Hospital. My ordination council and guest speakers at this service were some of my closest friends in New England ministries that were also participating in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. (Believe me, that ordination council experience was one tough time. No easy rubber stamp process for me. Those guys were tough…)
We also decided to partner with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I, personally, had quite a few former SBC friends who were very pleased with the ministry direction of the CBF and suggested that I give them a try. It was a very comfortable match. The strong emphasis on ministry and partnering together to accomplish the call of Christ really did a lot to start the long healing process in my own life. It gave us something larger than ourselves to focus on as well.
During our stay in Sabattus, we had several mission groups from the South come and help us do ministry projects and concerts all over the area. We adopted the Sabattus Food Pantry as our number one ministry and all of the groups helped us with donations to help feed the hungry in our area.
From day one, literally in my first sermon with the folks, we made a commitment to be a giving church. These wonderful mission partners that came and worked with us gave us such strong role models. Their hugs and smiles, their financial gifts, and the many projects they did to help our communities were gifts of encouragement straight from the heart of God.
Our ministry shifted to Lewiston in 2007 and that began a whole new chapter in our development. Stay tuned for more…
Mary Beth Caffey, Pastor of Pathway Community Church in Lewiston, Maine