Monday, July 27, 2015

Maine: Rockland, Maranatha Choir (2/4)

     Welcome back to Rockland Maine.  If you did not read the 1st article in this series, please Click Here.

     Yesterday we met Dick McKucic, who was busily preparing for the arrival of a choir from Virginia.  We are sitting at a picnic table outside the soup kitchen where they are supposed to eat lunch and sing for the people who come to eat.  They are running late - Dick looks at his watch and it is 11:11.  The group arrives.

     This is the Maranatha Choir, a singing group made up of many faiths that is celebrating its 44th consecutive year of performances.

     They arrive and are hustled right in to the soup kitchen so they can be fed and then sing during lunch for those come here to eat.

     The group itself is made up of singers ranging from the 8th grade up to seniors in college.  A number of adult groups have spun off of this group over the years.

     Lunch completed, the group gets up and performs.  The group holds auditions every January, and then adheres to a strict practice schedule.  Starting in January they meet once a week for three hours, and when May rolls around they are meeting three times a week for three hours.  It is quite a commitment for these young people.

    The practice shows - this is no "show tunes" group.  They sing very complex acapella pieces.  

     You have to sit in amazement of how big of a voice can come out of petite people.

     Dick then shares a brief message of hope with all those attending the lunch and lets them know where the choir will be performing.

     After lunch, the group prepares for a walk around downtown, but before they go they all sing "happy birthday" for one of their companions who couldn't make the trip.

     After a walk about town, they head to a Congregational Church to practice.

     Many of these churches were built in the 1800's - I love the old stained glass work.  

     Bleachers have to be unloaded and set up on stage.

     All of the outfits for the performance are stored in garment bags.  These are laid out by size.

     Setting up and practicing consumes a couple of hours.

     Meanwhile, a group from still another church has been downstairs making supper for everyone.  But, alas, shortly before it is time to serve the meal a drinking glass shatters and they can't find all the pieces.  All the food is thrown out and 40 pizzas are ordered.  And with kids, they are just as happy with pizza.

     The choir's manager is Rodney Womack, who works in the IT field.  He feigns disgust as his daughters try to "kiss on him."  He along with wife Allison have been touring with the band for seven years.  His children, running from left to right below are Tyler, Sydney, Meghan and Justin.

     Meghan and Justin have both graduated college, but have stayed on as directors.  Tyler and Sydney are still in college and thus eligible to participate as singers.  The family seems to do two things well - encourage others and get people laughing.  There are not many dull moments around them, and the kids are always looking to better their pa in verbal sparring.

     Showtime arrives quickly.  They line up and two ministers give introductions - both ministers from churches other than the one they are performing in.  The message from both is about sharing love and hope.

     Mayor Frank gives the third introduction, and talks again about what a difference it makes when people get engaged in the community.

    Its a full house - over twenty churches are represented here.  The kids feed on the spirit of love in the audience and really get into the performance.  The spirit is definitely in the house - anyone who came with an open mind at all leaves enriched.

     And it isn't just the singing that moves people - it is this occassion where people from over twenty different churches of all manner of brand name get together - and for many it is in "someone else's" church.

     I remember as a young boy all the talk about Catholics that I heard.  They were spoken of so poorly that the first time - with a friend at about age ten - that I was in a Catholic Church I was half afraid that "God" was going to strike me dead.  There is a Jewish friend of mine who grew up with his parents telling him that Christians "burned Jewish boys in ovens" if they didn't finish their plate at dinner.  And still another friend who was warned not to talk to the folks next door because they "kidnapped Catholic children."  These are true stories - and have been the norm more than we would like to think.

     What is not the norm is what they are doing here in Rockland - all of the faiths finding opportunities and occasions to reach out to the community as one body.  I have been in many towns now and this is the first time I have seen anything like this level of cooperation.  What a great thing, and hopefully something that will spread.

     Families from all different churches have volunteered to host the visitors in their homes, so after the performance the hosts and the visitors are matched together and head home.  It is nine o'clock and everyone is meeting to take the ferry out to one of the local islands.

     Originally, on the second day it was planned for the choir to go into the local prison.

     But the prison changed their tune and said the choir "couldn't visit on a weekday - only on a weekend."  They knew full well that the choir was only here for two weekdays - a typical bureaucratic lie.

     But Dick is unfazed.  God has a plan is what he always says - and indeed it turns out that a local couple have made arrangements for all the children to take the ferry out to the island.  So we can look forward to meeting them and seeing an island rather than a jail.  Sounds to me like everyone is better off but the inmates who undoubtedly would have deeply appreciated having a break in the routine in the form of a message of hope.

     Eight o'clock comes around soon, and we are at the ferry terminal.  I always wondered why people use the word "terminal" when I am about to get on a boat or plane.  It seems a bit morbid.

     Anyway, soon all the guests are loaded up and we are heading out to Fox Island.

     The jetty and the lighthouses slide by quickly, and we are out on the waters of Penobscot Bay.

      It is better than an hour's ride out, and we are lucky with a fog-free day.  This is island country - we see North Haven slide by in the distance as we move further from land.

     Soon the mountain's profile provides a beautiful backdrop as schooners slide by.

     These are the big Windjammers that this area is famous for.  I understand they regularly take folks on extended live-aboard excursions.  That would have to be a blast.

     Before long we start coming across small granite atolls.  

     Here the granite has a "pillowed" look - appearing that in this area the volcanic rock emerged and cooled under water.  The shapes are quite compelling to the eye, but hard to photograph well.

     And so we meet Tanja.  Tanja and her husband Jake arranged this trip for us.  Once they got a head count, Tanja just disappeared into the terminal and emerged handing everyone tickets.  It was an very nice gesture on their part.  Tanja was trying to keep the wind from blowing her hat off, and when I showed this photo to a couple of the kids standing there they started joking her about being a "Vogue" model.  Whatever that is.

     I take a quick liking to Tanja and Jake - whom I meet later on.  They have a powerful story to tell - and gave me permission to tell a bit of it.

     Tanja has a degree in Social Sciences with an emphasis on addiction counseling.  Jake has an excavation firm.  Tanja says she struggle raising children and indulged in every imaginable addiction besides booze or dope.  Jake loved to party - at his construction office booze and dope were the norm.

     Five years ago, after a prodigious drunk, Jake woke up with a strong message on his heart that it was time to stop drinking and using.  And meanwhile, Tanja was trying to overcome her own depression and had found some peace in a local church.

     They met at the post office - and when the ran into each-other the third time in a week, they started talking.  Jake was pretty miserable, and she suggested he try church with her.

     Well, 5 short years later they have a put together a program where they house prisoners and help them get back on their feet.  They have also formed a drug and alcohol outreach, and although neither one of them have ever been to twelve-step meetings, they speak highly of and cooperate with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.  

     It seems to me that since the flow of heroin from our involvement in Afghanistan and the introduction of Oxycontin - which in reality is just a fancy name to rebrand and "legitimize" heroin - by the medical industry the area has been hit hard.  Many youths here have overdosed, and what crime there is can mostly be traced to the scourge of legal and illegal heroin.  Tanja and Jake want to stop the flow of people into the prisons - and morgues - as well as help those who get entangled in a penal system designed so that once sucked in, one becomes dependant upon the system. 

     Interestingly, after Jake got sober several of the key people in his business couldn't deal with losing their "party job."  So about five of them quit.  But Jake says that since he has been "turning his business decisions over to God" everything has improved - from the quality of work they are doing to the quality of jobs they are getting to the quality of people who work in the company.

     Jake and Tanja are currently providing space for a church that is just getting started to meet, to bible study groups  - well, the list goes on and on.  They, like Dick, are quiet and resourceful people who lift your spirits just with their presence.  So, thanks to them we are heading to Fox Island.

     Fox Island residents found a way to install three wind turbines - at an expense of six million dollars.  There is a long electric cable connecting them with the mainland, and although I don't have any way of getting the details of the cost-benefit, they are certainly impressive machines.

     Tomorrow we will pick back up with the choir and explore what we can of Fox Island.  Meanwhile, here is something I have never seen.  A beauty salon that has a side-business selling gasoline.

     There has to be a good joke here.  If you can think of it, email it to me and I will insert it here and credit it to you.

     That brings us to today's "Faces in the Crowd" - a young lady I saw walking by one of the church parking lots.

     And today's parting shot.  Among the dozens of rules the ferry service has posted (some ominously blacked out,) it says that "Tickets That Have Been Held In A Person's Mouth WILL NOT Be Accepted."

      Does that qualify as an "oral fixation?"  And when you capitalize every word, underlining just doesn't seem to be as menacing. 

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  1. Is "Fox Island" that you write about actually Vinalhaven? I think so. Vinalhaven and North Haven make up the "Fox Islands".

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