MOUNT DESERT — Brady Lewis ran across the parking lot of the Somesville Union Meeting House on Wednesday, July 3 to get to the pie sale. He had been eagerly awaiting the moment since he arrived with family on Mount Desert Island from Burnsville, W.Va.
Among the pies, Lewis found a strawberry rhubarb and held fast until others in his party had looked over the pies that remained, which were mostly blueberry. The group grabbed one of those to take also.
“This is our sixth time coming here and we always come by to check out the pies,” said Elliot Ricci of Tiverton, R.I. “We’ll enjoy this at the campsite.”
Ricci and his wife, Myra Edelstein, stumbled upon the sale about seven years ago when they came on vacation but the pies were sold out for the day.
“Most of the pies are sold within a half hour,” said the Rev. Victor Stanley, pastor of the Somesville United Church of Christ. “[Actually], most are sold within 15 minutes.”
“Our pie sales are a fundraiser for the church,” a flyer explains to customers. “The church, in turn, supports many local, national and international causes.”
Stanley, who has been at the church for 18 years, initiated the pie sale somewhere between 10 or 15 years ago. It started out with members of the church and community making pies and bringing them to sell.
“He’s a cooking minister,” parishioner Kate St. Denis, who volunteers in the kitchen, said of Stanley. “He loves to cook and part of his ministry is through cooking together and eating together … He’s known for his macaroni and cheese and his baked beans.”
Signs around Mount Desert Island reminding folks of the pie sale are a testament to just how popular it has become.
“It just started growing,” said St. Denis. “It grew and grew and grew into making quiches and turkey pies.”
Now, with the endeavor being the church’s largest seasonal fundraiser, pie making is a two-day production that takes place in the Somesville Union Meeting House.
“It’s really about having fun together and making the community fat,” joked Stanley, who is set to retire from the church Oct. 1. “I expect these hikers to go home and say, ‘I’ve been hiking in Acadia and I haven’t lost any weight.’”
Edelstein has the event logged in the calendar on her phone and plans her vacation to include a stop at the church.
“Last year the pies were fabulous,” she said. “We bought two, one for us and one for a friend … It’s a wonderful fundraiser for these folks and the pies are fabulous.”
When the season really gets cooking, there are about 200 pies laid out for sale, including quiches, turkey pot pie and key lime. In the last five years the kitchen of the meeting house underwent renovations to accommodate a donated commercial convection oven that can bake 25 pies in an hour.
“Today was a light day,” said Dorothy Hartson who helps organize pie production. “We had 87 [pies] today [July 3] … On a good day it’s closer to 200.”
And competition can get fierce when the doors open at noon.
Last year, extra police detail was necessary to manage traffic and parking.
“A lot of people will buy two or three or four,” said Stanley, who told the Islander on a different day about a group that walked out with a dozen pies. “We try always to have some cream pies, like banana cream, coconut and chocolate cream because the kids really like that.”
Making such a volume of pies can mean as much as 100 pounds of flour, 10 cans of Crisco and 10 pounds of butter in a day of production. Volunteers make up the bulk of the work crew and the group can change from week to week.
“Yesterday we had 14 volunteers at different times,” said Hartson about the Tuesday before the first day of pie sales. “Today we had 21 … We have people come to help us who come and vacation up here.”
This being Stanley’s last summer with the church, volunteers are taking on more tasks to learn the ropes.
“Everybody’s all eyes on this year,” said Hartson. “We have a big group of volunteers … Victor’s always in charge of the buzzers — timers. Somebody’s got to learn that.
“It’s a team effort,” she added. “So any one person can step in and do anything.”
While Stanley has certainly seen changes during his time at Somesville United Church of Christ, the pie sale has grown the most.
“We usually have more volunteers on the pies than we do at church on Sunday morning,” he said. “Some people come to see what they can learn.”
Stanley is not only a teacher in the kitchen but in the church. St. Denis has been a parishioner for about 10 years and notes Stanley’s attention to detail is part of his instruction.
“I think Victor is a very gentle leader,” she said. “I feel like he opens my mind to think about things in different ways.”
Everything, from the flowers at services to the art on the walls of the church and the well-crafted sermons, plays a part in expanding the experience of those who share their Sundays with Stanley in Somesville.
“He does everything with love,” said St. Denis. “He is continually providing leadership in teaching … about what it means to be a peace and justice church and an open and affirming church.”
Guest speakers and preachers this summer will honor three of the areas of focus of Stanley’s ministry: peace and justice, spirituality and music. A party to honor him is planned for Sept. 29, his last Sunday at the church.
As retirement approaches Stanley be focused not only on what words of wisdom to impart, but also on making sure each pie made is sold.
“I haven’t dropped a tray yet,” he said on July 3, “but the season’s just begun. That’s always been my fear is that I’ll drop a whole tray. That’s five pies.”