Rob Benson, pastor of the Bar Harbor Congregational Church, talks about the “army of quilters” who have begun making fabric masks during the pandemic. YOUTUBE SCREEN GRAB

Churches adapt to crisis, cultivate hope and comfort

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — “They didn’t teach us this in seminary” is a common refrain for clergy facing the challenges that arise in leading a congregation. 

And celebrating Easter during a current global health emergency is one heck of an unexpected challenge. 

Churches are closed, following bans on gatherings of more than ten people, and some denominations are requiring that only one person at a time be in the church building. 

“The church isn’t empty,” memes on some church Facebook pages state, “the church has been deployed.” 

Congregations and clergy are on a steep learning curve, testing out different ways of connecting with one another while stuck at home. Some are on the phone a lot; some are recording sermons and music to share online and some are creating guides for families to use to worship at home. 

If Easter is a story that’s still being written, that’s what I think we’re about this Easter,” Rob Benson, pastor of the Bar Harbor Congregational Church, told the Islander. 

Part of the observance of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Good Friday when commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus, to Easter Sunday, is about “acknowledging the emptiness and going forth seeking the light,” he said. 

Clergy and church musicians are getting creative about how to lead worship on Zoom or Facebook Live. 

“Our music director, Daniel Pyle, is playing music from the church, recording hymns for the broadcasts,” said Jim Vallette, the senior warden or head lay leader at St. Saviour’s in Bar Harbor. 

We have readers recording from scenic spots of the island to give viewers stuck inside some fresh air. Preachers are leading the services from their homes. It’s all very experimental and non-professional  we are just people trying to do what we can. 

John Lennon, Bar Harbor’s health officer, has convened meetings with Mount Desert Island clergy to help coordinate ways to get resources and information to vulnerable residents. 

He got the idea after members of the Town Council asked about how the town can help be sure no one is left behind during all the changes the pandemic has brought. 

The meetings are not only for Lennon to ask from a town perspective what support the clergy members need, they also provide “a common forum for them to talk between themselves,” he said. 

Clergy say the various volunteer networks on the island, including the grassroots ones that have sprung up in recent weeks, have been doing a great job of meeting people’s basic needs. 

Cassandra Crabtree, pastor of the Tremont Congregational Church, said she’ll often call an elderly parishioner and learn they’ve had groceries delivered by a business or a helpful neighbor. 

It’s heartening to her that, “even with so many people getting their felt needs met, they’re still tuning in to the worship videos she has created. 

Even with an ample supply of physical necessities, she said, people are looking for hope amid the anxiety and stress the pandemic has brought. 

“The point of the cross is the hope that Christ gives us in his sacrifice,” she said. 

Justin Benson at the First Baptist Church in Bar Harbor also said his congregants have been great about checking in with each other, and even with him, to make sure he’s doing okay. 

“The good news with our congregation is we’re a really loving and caring group of people anyways,” he said, and they were already in the habit of being in close contact over phone, email and text messages. 

Even though most churches will have a way to mark Easter on the actual day, April 12 this year, a few are also looking ahead to a big celebration later in the year when they can gather in person again. 

“There’s been huge interest in what I’m gonna call a Jubilee,” Benson said. “I hope it’s freakin’ shindig” with live bands, piles of food and lots of hugs. 

“I hope we can just rock that.” 



Easter week online worship 


Bar Harbor Congregational Church 


Sunday, April 12 

10 a.m. Zoom worship 

Morning prayer Tuesdays 8:30 a.m. 

Evening prayer Thursdays 7 p.m. 


First Baptist Church, Bar Harbor 


Orders of service for home worship on Facebook 


Islesford Congregational Church 

Worship resources on church Facebook page and YouTube channel 


Parish of St. Mary and St. Jude (Episcopal) 


Call to be added to list for virtual worship 


Seaside UCC 


Friday, April 10 

5:30 p.m. Streaming Good Friday service with other MDI UCC churches 

Sunday, April 12 

10 a.m. Facebook Live streaming service 


Somesville Union Meeting House 


Sunday, April 12 

10:30 a.m. Zoom worship 


Swan’s Island Church of God 


Sunday, April 12 

Facebook Live streaming service 


Southwest Harbor Congregational Church 


Audio services posted at 


St. John’s Episcopal Church 


Friday, April 10 

Order of service for home worship; contact church to be added to email list. 


St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church 


Sunday, April 12 

10 a.m. YouTube streaming service 

MDI Episcopal YouTube channel 


Tremont Congregational Church 


Sunday, April 12 

10 a.m. Facebook Live streaming service 

Evening prayer daily at 7 p.m. 


The River Church 


Sunday, April 12 

10:30 a.m. Facebook Live streaming service 


Parish of the Transfiguration of the Lord (Roman Catholic) 

Streaming worship combined with St. Joseph’s, Ellsworth 


Saturday, April 11 

Easter vigil service video will be posted on Facebook 

Sunday, April 12 

8 a.m. Facebook Live streaming service 





Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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