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Spiritual Sustenance

The Rev. John Nieman: 'An invitation to pay attention'

By Sarah E. Reynolds | May 28, 2020
Courtesy of: John Nieman The Rev. John Nieman is interim priest-in-charge at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, Belfast.

Belfast — Our series of interviews with Waldo County clergy explores how their congregations are finding new ways to worship, to connect with each other and the wider community, and to find hope and encouragement in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Clergy interested in participating in the series may contact the editor at sreynolds@villagesoup.com or 338-3334, ext. 110.

Holding weekly worship via Zoom has become "kind of a new status quo for us ... it's going pretty well," according to the Rev. John Nieman, interim priest-in-charge at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church. And it has brought in some new people, he said.

Each week a couple of new people sign into the service, having heard about the church by word of mouth, Nieman said. In addition, seasonal church members who have not been able to come to Maine because of the COVID-19 pandemic are joining their fellow parishioners remotely and finding meaning in being able to do that, he said.

Besides the Sunday service of morning prayer, there is a Wednesday morning service and a night prayer service — known as "compline" — every evening except Sunday. Nieman said the church plans to keep some form of live online worship even after members return to gathering in the church because of the importance it has assumed for members who are not always able to be in Belfast. He thinks people find it more meaningful to take part in a live service, even remotely, than to watch a recorded one.

"It's amazing some of the gifts that have been coming out of this," he said, referring to the state shutdown because of the pandemic. Among those gifts has been a weekly e-newsletter put together by a church member titled Connections, which includes reflections from members, personal news, recipes, whatever someone has found interesting or enjoyable. It is an "invitation to people to pay attention to what's going on in their own lives," Nieman said.

Another gift has been a willingness on the part of many in the congregation to accept the uncertainty of the situation and show sensitivity to each other in the midst of a stressful time. "I'm seeing people really go with the flow," he said.

Church members take care of each other through Neighborhood Care Groups. As the name suggests, the groups are organized geographically, with a coordinator who calls each member of the group at least weekly. In some cases, the calling is shared by other members of the group as well. The groups are another innovation Nieman expects to stick around after the pandemic is over.

Reaching out to the community remains important to church members, several of whom prepare meals for Tall Pines staff that they can easily heat up at home. Other members have been helping out at Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn, he said.

Nieman said he has been encouraged by the way city officials and other members of the community have come together to respond to the needs of businesses and individuals who are suffering economic harm from the pandemic and the resultant shutdown.

On a personal level, he finds the nightly compline service sustaining, he said, as it provides an opportunity to reflect with others at the end of the day.

To receive the link for any of the services, visit stmargaretsbelfast.org and sign up for the church's online newsletter, which will contain the necessary information to sign in to the services.

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