We're Just Glad You Joined Us: St. Ann's Episcopal Church, Windham, Maine
St. Ann’s Episcopal Church is not the typical historic New England Episcopal parish; it is relatively young, having been founded in 1973 amid the rolling hills, forests and small communities around Portland, Maine. Situated above a busy two‐lane road, the church sits alone, looking somewhat like a large, converted bi‐level farm house, albeit with the suggestion of a ship’s prow on one end where the glasssided entrance comes to a point. A large paved parking lot surrounds the church on three sides and includes a playground near the entrance, full of swings, picnic tables and a brightly painted apparatus for climbing. The overall physical effect is surprisingly inviting, drawing the visitor in, and saying that this is a welcoming place where children are valued. And the impression is a true one. Everyone is welcomed at St. Ann’s. The sense of community is real, as is the sense of play.
Membership at St. Ann’s stood at just under 400 at the end of 2013, and average worship attendance was 182. It is larger than most Episcopal congregations, but it is still not a large church. Not so many years ago, St. Ann’s was considerably smaller. During the past seven years growth has been consistent and the church has experienced growing pains within its somewhat cramped facility. More space is needed for worship and Sunday school, and the church is considering adding a third morning worship service.
For many years issues related to growth and space were not problems at St. Ann’s. Worship consistently averaged around 100 and finances had become marginal. The last full‐time rector left after her salary was cut and the position subsequently became part‐time. Before the turnaround, the most recent rector was a college professor who served St. Ann’s at 7/12 time. Having had a full‐time priest for many years, the cut‐back to a part‐time rector created a sense of loss among members, and there also was a perception that part‐time leadership was not adequate for a 250‐member parish. The consternation over the situation was shared by the professor/priest as well, who could not devote more time to the congregation because of his teaching position. Thanks to population growth in the area, the church remained on a relatively stable plateau, growing a bit one year, declining the next, but remaining near the 100 mark in attendance and unable to afford a full‐time priest. The church added members almost every year, but increases to the rolls did not translate into increases in participation.
The situation changed in 2007 when the congregation raised enough funds to pay a full‐time priest and Tim Higgins was called to be the rector at St. Ann’s. No longer was St. Ann’s a struggling semi‐rural parish, led by dedicated laypeople and a part‐time priest. Now it had dedicated laypeople and an energetic, full‐time leader. Growth ensued and the congregation became much more than what it had been. How it got there and continues to grow is a story unique to St. Ann’s, but the situation the church was in prior to the beginning of the story is not unusual among small churches in America.