This is the first in a series of monthly columns in which participants of the Greater Bay Area Ministerium will offer up articles related to their work, their mission and ministry. The series grew from the Rev. Dr. Kate Winters’ article on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the response to that. We hope that this column may allow those of us who lead the faith communities to connect and be more available to the people of the Waldo County region.

The purpose of this first column is to provide some information on the origins and purpose of the Greater Bay Area Ministerium and draw interest in our individual faith communities.

GBAM, as we call it, is really not a mystery but is perhaps one of our best-kept secrets. It is a gathering of clergy and representatives of faith communities in Waldo County. At present we include 27 members, both active and retired, of 16 different organizations, among them members of the various Christian churches (Baptist, Catholic, Congregational, Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints, Episcopal, Quakers, United Church of Christ and United Methodist), Buddhists, Unitarian Universalists, Volunteers of America, a hospital chaplain and independent non-denominational churches. We are open to all who are open to all.

The group’s founding goes back into the 1970s. Actually, various ecumenical Christian clergy groups or associations have sprung up here since the 19th century. But the origins of GBAM can be traced back to 1974. According to “The History of Belfast in the 20th Century” by Jay Davis and Tim Hughes, “In 1974 a breakfast meeting at the Church of God led to the creation of the Greater Belfast Area Ministerium (later the Greater Bay Area Ministerium), a group of ministers and pastors joined to accomplish a three-fold mission: to provide pastoral support for each other, to unify the church’s presence in the community through ecumenical services at several holidays, and to help the needy through operation of a food cupboard and a soup kitchen.” (p. 343).

The group was quite active, involving many clergy from Belfast and Searsport. Though periodic disputes would break out, programs continued and their collegial work went on. Then in 1998 there was a split. One of the main concerns was whether the group should be exclusively Christian or open to other faith traditions. Some of the more evangelical pastors broke off from the ministerium and formed the Coastal Christian Minister’s Fellowship.

Over the years the ministerium has become a more diverse and inclusive group, providing many services and programs, both to support the clergy and their faith communities and for the general populace of Waldo County.

The GBAM Food Cupboard was one of the first of such programs. After years of not having a dedicated place, the United Methodists designed their new building on Mill Lane with space specifically for the Food Cupboard. Members of GBAM’s congregations continue to support and keep that ministry going to this day, serving over 200 families.

The Belfast Soup Kitchen also got its start as a GBAM program, housed initially in St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. And in the early years they established a teen center in downtown Belfast. There are other programs, such as the GBAM Interfaith Fuel Fund and the GBAM General Assistance program that coordinates funding to address the needs of our most vulnerable.

Waldo County General Hospital has been served by the ministerium clergy who provided chaplaincy services over the years until a decision was made to hire a dedicated person for that job. Today that role is filled by a member of GBAM.

The ministerium has worked with other area organizations addressing justice issues and social concerns, partnering with groups like New Hope for Women, Broadreach Family Services, Restorative Justice Project, Reentry Center, Waldo County Recovery Committee, Waldo County Homeless Coalition and Habitat for Humanity.

We’ve sponsored programs like the Lenten Luncheon series, the Day of Prayer for Religious Unity, the Organ Education Program, Season of Gratitude Community potluck supper and the Belfast Peace Festival; participated in the First Church Live Nativity, and supported the Belfast Has Pride parade.

We have provided special community services, including the Belfast Area High School baccalaureate services, ecumenical Good Friday and Easter Sunrise services, Interfaith Thanksgiving services, and the Service of Lament and Hope. We have supported the Martin Luther King Jr. Day events and provided regular worship services for our nursing home residents.

The Greater Bay Area Ministerium is clearly an integral part of our community. We are thankful for the many clergy and others who over the years have participated in it and for all who have supported our work and our ministries. We hope and pray that our work continues to be a blessing of the love that unites us all.

The Rev. Joel Krueger is co-pastor of The First Church in Belfast, UCC. Journey of the Spirit is a monthly column written by members of the Greater Bay Area Ministerium.