WATERFORD — The Rev. Petra Smyth, Pastor of the Waterford Congregational Church (WCC), has submitted her resignation after almost six years of ministry, effective Oct. 28. Smyth primarily cited a need to spend more time with family. She said her parents, who still live in Germany, are aging and not particularly well, and she needs to be able to spend more time with them. She and her husband, Scott, also have recently learned that they are to become grandparents in January.

She said that because the church seems to be in such a strong position right now, it was a good time to go. “Our church is doing so well,” she said, “it is stable, creative and energized.” During her tenure much has been accomplished. A new and revitalized mission committee, a music committee which is bringing in outside performers for a new series that began in June called “Sharps on the Flat,” an annual Lenten booklet of reflections written by members of the congregation, field trips, and a live nativity scene at Christmas are all just a part of the legacy she leaves behind.

When the Rev. Petra Smyth answered the call to become pastor at the tiny Waterford Congregational Church, armed with a recently earned Masters of Divinity degree from Bangor Theological Seminary, she was responding to a call that began at the age of 14. Born and raised in Germany to a German father and an American mother, Smyth felt the tug of ministry in confirmation class but didn’t act on it for many years.

She became a teacher of German and special education in several American schools. Then came a course in pastoral ministry at Maine Medical Center, and she was hooked. The mother of two young children, Smyth also had to work part-time during her studies at Bangor Theological Seminary, which began in 2007. It was a long slog, but after two short stints in other Maine churches, she was called to Waterford in January 2013.

Joy Plate was a member of that search committee, and she remembers taking the potential new pastor down to see the church that night after the interview at her home. Smyth had her sights set on a small, traditional New England Church, and on Plummer Hill Road, she found it. It was a match and she answered the call. Plate describes Smyth as “bubbly, outgoing, always positive. I have always loved the way she just exudes joy.”

Smyth’s enthusiasm literally lit up the sanctuary. From the first interviews with the search committee, she impressed members with her energy, her positivity, her active sense of humor, her willingness to “color outside the lines” in worship. Moderator Al Struck says “she changed us. She loosened us up and opened our minds to new ways to doing things.”

Among the new ways of doing things, a live nativity scene with live farm animals and singing at the end of the Christmas Eve Worship Service, which Smyth says will always be one of her favorite memories. She brought vestiges of her German upbringing to the services, as well — live candles on the sanctuary Christmas Tree, the annual singing to “O Tannenbaum,” German chocolates at Easter. She also loved the different denominations that were attracted to the church — Greek Orthodox, former Catholics and practitioners of Buddhism. She was an eager participant in the trips members took to see lighthouses by boat, the Victorian Mansion in Portland at Christmas, among others.

Joan Fillebrown has been through 24 pastors since 1957 at the Waterford church, where she serves as organist. She says Smyth is “the tops.” Fillebrown worries about how the church will replace her. “I hope we can find someone we like even half so much,” she says. She says Smyth “has broadened our beliefs and brought a lot of sunshine to the church.”

Longtime summer resident, Bobbi Whichard, echoed that sentiment. She said Smyth brought so much love and kindness, and friendliness. She said she now knows everyone in the congregation by name, which she attributes to Smyth’s influence. And, she adds, “she always brought a good message, making us go home and think.”

Smyth is a roll-up-your-sleeves and pitch in kind of pastor. Head Deacon Myra Maltby loved that she was so pleasant and unpretentious, even getting down on her hands and knees to scrub floors during the church’s annual spring cleaning day. And Music Director Jane Morse was impressed by how much Petra incorporated music into her worship, despite the fact that she always said she “doesn’t do music.” Smyth was particularly known for her love of the little choir, tambourines and balloons in the service.

Trustee and Stewardship Committee Chair Kerry Johnson said he believes Smyth “has the gift of a child’s joyous heart. She is always able to bring wonder to her services, primarily through her use of the ‘children’s moment’ when she brought children of all ages to the front of the church for a special message, often involving puzzles, gags, riddles, games and interactions that brought so much fun to the worship service” engaging young and old alike.

Moderator Struck said that the search for an interim minister has begun, and that finding a new “settled” pastor likely will be a long and complicated process. The United Church of Christ has instituted a new process that involves a great deal of introspection on the part of the congregation in order to find a minister who is a “good fit” for the church.

Smyth will preach her last sermon at the Waterford Congregational Church on Oct. 28. A reception hosted by the WCC Deacons and members of the North Waterford and East Stoneham Congregational Churches will follow next door at the Wilkins House.

The Reverend Petra Smyth is saying goodbye after six years serving as pastor at the Waterford Congregational Church.


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