Linda Howe in the church sanctuary at The Methodist Church in Bethel. Susan Young photo

BETHEL — In his nomination of Linda Howe, of Bethel, for the Hastings Award, Jonathan Goldberg writes, “I do not know much about Linda Howe. What I do know that as you look across the street from the post office at the Methodist church there is often some sort of activity. A bevy of cars parked out front, an array of tables covered with crafts and food items for sale or a multi-generational collection of yoga mat toting citizens.

“Linda has visioned the church beyond its traditional theological purposes to create a community engagement center…Linda has opened her doors to community concerts, the winter farmers market and other local events. Linda is an unsung hero who has worked to create a forum and a physical environment where all members of our community are able to meet, mingle, and learn from each other.”

“The award carries ‘extra gravitas’ in part because it has been awarded for over 50 years” said Jessie Perkins, director of The Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce. It is given to a person who has sustained wide interest in serving the community.

Also awarded by the chamber are: The Business of the Year Award, won by River Lanes; Educational Professional of the Year Award, won by Dr. David Murphy; Employee of the Year Award, won by Penny Brown-Blake; and the Special Recognition Award, won by The RePant Project.

At the Methodist Church in Bethel, Howe is the financial secretary, a trustee, a certified lay minister and a volunteer janitor. “The work I do for the church is something that I just should do. God is guiding me in this direction…it’s just natural and organic and feels right,” she said.

Howe explained a shift in the culture, away from churches. “Maine is third from the bottom out of the fifty states for church attendance. We are trying to find use for the building We have this beautiful building in the center of Main Street. It’s the ideal location…what does the community need?”

Howe says her outreach began with the yoga community, who paid to replace a floor in the back of the church to hold classes. From that interaction she met other people, like Bonnie Pooley, who hosts yoga classes.

“Soups On,” another group, teaches cooking classes, and the Senior Club plans to meet at the church starting in November. Finally, Howe began the Saturday Market on Main Street, where nonprofits and community artists set up each Saturday through October. Howe says, “Just to watch people from the front lawn, all the people connecting and visiting…the hubbub of energy, it’s really cool.”

Howe says it would be nice to bring people to God, but they have to find that on their own. Instead she wants to see how the building can help bring all people of different denominations together.  She’d like to grow the Saturday Market by inviting other nonprofits and would like to invite different disciplines to teach in the yoga room.  “I get excited about what the future can bring,” said Howe.

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