One on One with…Rev. Joyce Long, 15 year bond with Casco church

Rev. Joyce Long

Rev. Joyce Long

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO – Rev. Joyce Long had reason to ponder the season-to-season occurrences of the past decade and a half at the Casco Village United Church of Christ.

After all, the congregation had a special worship planned – a celebration of Joyce’s 15 years as pastor of the church. She stepped into that role in July 2001. Coincidentally, this year marks the 175th year that the Casco Village Church has been in existence.

The 15-year anniversary on Sunday included some fun activities like Pastor Joyce Jeopardy and a delightful brunch during fellowship time. Earlier, in the sanctuary, some of the celebration came in the form of songs. Additionally, a slideshow brought to life the years’ past and brought back memories for many.

“Three of the things that were triggered this Sunday: The people I have buried, the people I have married and the people I have baptized,” Joyce said.

“I have buried a lot of people. It is hard because they become part of you. Doing services for people you love and who are like your own family – it’s hard. And, you miss them,” she said.

“That is the best part of being a woman minister – you can cry in public,” she half-joked, wiping away the genuine tears but not the memories.

In the coming week, Joyce will lead the Celebration of Life services for a woman who died last year. That woman had dedicated a stained glass window to her husband in 1999. In the coming week, Joyce will baptize a child with proud parents participating in that milestone of Christianity.

On Tuesday afternoon, Joyce had just finished meeting with a weekly Bible study group when she sat down to answer some questions for The Bridgton News.

BN: What church were you affiliated with while you were growing up?

Joyce: The First Congregational Church in South Portland United Church of Christ. The church on top of the hill. Meetinghouse Hill – that is where the church is located. I grew up in Cape Elizabeth. My parents sang in the choir. As a family, we were very faithful church-goers. In fact, my parents met each other at Woodford’s Congregational Church.

BN: Was there a defining moment in your life that made you decide to pursue theology as a career?

Joyce: Oh yeah, definitely. It is called ordained ministry. I was 100 percent called by God to be an ordained minister. I had no intention of becoming a minister. God really came and got me. I had three little boys and I was going through a divorce. I thought, “Oh my gosh, now I have to apply to seminary.” At the time, I was working as the Christian education director in Irvine, Calif.

BN: Where did you go to seminary?

Joyce: The seminary was called the Claremont School of Theology, CST, in Claremont, Calif.

BN: Were there any challenges to overcome while entering a job field typically held by men? Or, is that just not true?

Joyce: Oh, yeah, there was. It might have changed since 1999 when I was ordained. But, when I attended seminary, it was very much more strictly a man’s profession. It was harder when my sister was in seminary two decades earlier. For some reason, men are still given authority whereas women still have to earn authority. That is hard. There are pluses and minuses. Men and women do ministry very differently.

It used to be that churches did not call women. Mostly, churches just called men, and it took a long time for women to break into the ministry. There are still some denominations that don’t allow women to be pastors: Southern Baptist, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Independent Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Germany and the Catholic Church.

That was not the case of this church. Out in the rural country, there have been women ministers. Other churches thought we were evil for having female pastors throughout the history of this church.

BN: What jobs did you have before coming to Casco Village Church 15 years ago?

Joyce: I was the associate minister at the Community Congregational, United Church of Christ in Los Alamitos, Calif. That church ordained me. A pastor is ordained by the body of Christ, which is the congregation in the church.

BN: Someone at a past Casco Town Meeting commented that after 35 years of living in Casco, he had finally been accepted as a resident by community members. Was there any period of time that you had to earn the congregation’s trust or was it just a matter of getting to know you?

Joyce: You know what? Them as a congregation, me as a pastor – we were so meant to be. I don’t remember it taking any time at all for me to become one of them. Part of that is the United Church of Christ’s process for finding a minister. I didn’t get placed here. The prospective pastor sends their profile to the church; and they respond if they like it. It is kind of like a cross interview.

The Casco Village Church had a search committee made up of nine people. Rich Merk, who worked for Hancock Lumber, was chair of the committee. It became a passionate exchange of information between me and the search committee. Another part of the process is the Neutral Pulpit, in which you preach at another church and the search committee sits in the pews and listens. Then, the Service of Call is doing a week’s worth of activities with the church members. What was really different about my appointment is that I had my Neutral Pulpit and Service of Call within a week. So, I spent a week doing church activities with people in the congregation. The very next Sunday, the whole congregation heard me and then they voted. I had a week to find a house, and then I moved from California to Casco in July 2001.

It was a whirlwind, which is my favorite word. It was a whirlwind of spiritual energy. I don’t remember it taking any time for them to accept me. But, in our hearts we were so sure and had already invested ourselves in one another.

BN: How would you describe the congregation in Casco?

Joyce: This congregation: it is such an active church. We are not a big church, but the output and activity is big. Some church congregations slow down during the summer, but not us. We just come alive because we are in the Lakes Region. We had our annual flea market on Saturday, and on Sunday, we celebrated my 15 years as pastor. We have Casco Days at the end of the month, and our church is really involved in Casco Days. We helped pay to send all these kids and adults to camp, the Pilgrim Lodge in West Gardiner. Also, during the week, we operate the Casco Food Pantry and the Clothes Closet. To add to that, we have 8:30 a.m. services at the Raymond Chapel. Then, I drive really fast to get to the 10 o’clock service in Casco.

This church never stops; we are a constant ball of energy.

BN: Tell me a little bit about this past Sunday, when tribute was paid to your 15 years as the church’s reverend? What happened and did it trigger any fond memories?

Joyce: One of the parts of the celebration I liked best was being part of the choir. We sung five pieces. When I am in the choir, I am part of them, not the pastor. I sing soprano. For that moment in time, I am part of the choir. The music in the church is a huge part of our worship. Another thing on Sunday was a slideshow of my 15 years and all the confirmation classes since I’ve been here. I’ve had seven confirmation classes, and 41 high school kids have gone through confirmation classes since I have been here. Beforehand, I sent personal invitations to all those kids, and a lot of them came here on Sunday. In the slideshow, there were lots of playful pictures of me with the kids during Bible Camp: some years with umbrellas and rubber boots, other years wearing silly hats on our heads. Vacation Bible Camp is the time I get to play with the kids and invite God along.

BN: What role does the church and its congregation play in the town?

Joyce: One important thing about the community is that the sconce lights stay on in the sanctuary so that the church is a beacon of light for the community. The other thing is that we set a good example. We are an open and affirming church meaning that we accept and love all people. We are unique in that way. Each church decides to be that. I always preach open and affirming, especially gay, lesbian, and transgender.

BN: The church has a motto of “open and affirming.” How did people respond to the shooting at the night club in Florida?

Joyce: We prayed. We certainly do not go to a place of judging who is doing what. We are not against Islam (the people) or Muslim (the religion). Absolutely not. It is one of the world religions. We pray. It is a blessing that we are able to put it in God’s hands, and not be judgmental.

BN: How about the police versus public clashes that have resulted in deaths in the U.S.?

Joyce: Oh, that is hard. I think that our church would not be in a position of judging the police. These incidences are small compared to the number of police who protect us.

It certainly seems that things are out of hand. What we prayed is that people need to stop shooting people. Loving each other – that can start with us. We can be out in the community, and be the peacemakers. We believe that we can make a difference even in small Casco Village.

BN: Do these or other national happenings surface during your sermon or doing prayer concerns?

Joyce: Yes.

BN: What are the church’s concerns going forward the next 15 years?

Joyce: It is the same as most Christian churches: That families and children come to church. That families invest their Sunday mornings as a time to go to church. As a teenager, we always went to youth group. On Sundays, we didn’t sleep in or skip it. Going to church was part of life.

We hope that people will make church the center of their lives instead of a side order.

BN: It must be really exciting to take part in the 125-year celebration of the Raymond Chapel in 2015, and the 175-year celebration of the Casco Village Church this year. Please tell me about that.

Joyce: It is absolutely wonderful to be part of 175-year celebration of the church. My life energies are right here in this church and in these people and in this community. The generations before are in these walls. We prayed for 175 years more that this church will be a place for people to worship, belong, and be loved.


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