Along with back-to-school comes the beginning of the program year for most churches, bringing the return of Sunday School and the church choir season. There’s a bit of extra excitement at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church this fall, because the church is welcoming a new Sunday School director and a new choir director, both women with considerable experience in their fields.

Tajma Evans has moved to Belfast recently from California, where she had lived for 13 years. She isn’t completely new to the area, though, because she has visited her mother here a number of times; for now, she is living with her mom. Evans grew up in South Africa, attending both Methodist and Lutheran churches. She has taught in Catholic schools and also in secular private schools at the elementary and junior high levels. She also taught Sunday School for a several years.

At one of the schools where she taught, Evans started an after-school ballroom and Latin dance club, which she said became quite popular with students, even the boys.

New this year will be a division of Sunday School students into two groups: those up to and including fifth grade, and those in sixth grade and up; Evans will teach the older group and longtime Sunday School coordinator Sue Garrett will work with the younger children. The church uses the Godly Play curriculum, which encourages students to wonder about Bible stories, asking questions and putting themselves in the characters’ place.

Evans said she wants to have the older students prepare a lesson for the younger group, and Godly Play lends itself to that type of approach.

Another Sunday School innovation this year will be a new, earlier starting time of 9:15 a.m., placing it between the 8 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. services, and allowing children to attend Sunday School and go to church with their parents. Evans said there will also be a monthly family night with supper provided and time for families to socialize.

She said a successful Sunday School program is one where children attend regularly and want to be there, where they want to do more and are eager to share what they are learning with others. She hopes that the Sunday School will plan and lead a worship service sometime during the year.

She added that while it’s easy for young children to be motivated to go to church, older ones need some encouragement. It’s important,she said, to help middle-schoolers find a way to make a difference, a purpose she hopes preparing a lesson for the younger students will serve.

All in all, Evans said she is excited about the upcoming year. “I’m really happy to be here.”

Unlike Evans, incoming choir director Mel Regnell is a Mainer born and bred. She grew up in Gorham and now lives in Searsport, though she has spent most of her adult life in New Hampshire.

Music has been a large part of her life since childhood, when, she said, her family, “couldn’t go anywhere in the car without singing in four-part harmony.” She took classical piano lessons for 11 years, and plays guitar, recorder and electric bass — “I can play almost anything with strings on it.”

However, voice is her first love, and performance and arranging are her passions. She was in church choirs and school choruses for eight years growing up,and also sang professionally with a folk group called The Windbuyers for three years during high school. She said the group still sings together, but no longer performs professionally.

Regnell said she likes to sing folk music, “country that’s not too country,” and “anything you can hum a tune to.”

A computer science instructor at Colby College, she has run two church choirs: one at a Catholic church while she was in college, and another that she started and built at a Unitarian Universalist church in New Hampshire. She has also been the music director for a community theater group and a high school drama club.

A “recovering Catholic,” she said she wants to familiarize herself with the different hymnals used in the Episcopal Church. Noting that many church choirs have just a few members, she said there are several ways to make the most of a small choir.

First, she would use some a capella, or unaccompanied, music, to highlight the voices and keep them from being overshadowed by the organ. She would also select music with fewer voice parts. “There’s nothing wrong with a unison piece, if it’s glorious,” she said.

She hopes to use a blend of traditional religious music, contemporary church music and contemporary music that, while not specifically written for worship, has a spiritual feel to it, such as folk songs or ballads. The key to including more contemporary music, she said, is to be selective and use not only good music, but pieces that reflect what is going on in the service.

As far as her own preferences, she said, “I try not to have favorites, because it blinds you to opportunities.” She added that she tries to use music that’s appropriate for the occasion and right for the group that’s signing it.

Regnell is looking forward to starting a youth choir at St. Margaret’s, something she did at the UU church she worked at. She enjoys working with youngsters because, “No one has yet convinced them that they can’t sing.”

Her criteria for a successful choir are: everyone must have fun and the choir should feel that they have accomplished something when they perform. “I’m only successful if the choir’s successful,” she said.

In her free time, she likes to go sailing with her husband, who is a retired Royal Navy captain, and she publishes family oral histories.

The couple also have a 13-year-old Great Dane named Tasha and five cats. Regnell made a point of saying, “Tasha adopted the cats,” which sleep on top of the big dog’s body.

About the upcoming year of singing at St. Margaret’s, she said, “I hope to have a lot of fun.”