1986
Portland Saints Are Beacons to Maine Neighbors
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“Portland Saints Are Beacons to Maine Neighbors,” Ensign, July 1986, 78

Portland Saints Are Beacons to Maine Neighbors

Say “Maine,” and many people think instantly of a rugged, rocky seacoast with a tall lighthouse in the distance—like the lighthouse at Portland Head, whose construction was authorized in the late 1700s by George Washington, first president of the United States.

Maine is far different now than it was then. Bustling Portland is a hub of shipping, fishing, and paper manufacturing. Lately, high tech industries and financial businesses have discovered the area.

Yet the Portland Head lighthouse still stands, a beacon to warn mariners away from danger.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints first touched Maine in an era that also seems long ago and far away—in 1832 when missionaries Samuel Smith and Orson Hyde crossed the Piscataqua River into the state. Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and Parley P. Pratt were among other early LDS visitors to the region.

Church growth was very slow in the Portland area for more than a century. Today there are approximately 1,500 Saints in the Portland Maine Stake.

Among their number is Annie Evelyn Marr of the Portland Ward—“everybody’s grandmother,” one member says, chuckling. At eighty-three, Sister Marr still works full time cleaning houses every day. While she reminisces about her years in the Church, she keeps a timer nearby so the cream puffs she is baking for Relief Society work meeting won’t burn. Her baked goods, like her love of service, are well-known.

When she joined the Church in 1919, there were only four or five members in the area. For some time after she and her husband, Walter, were married in 1921, he was often the only priesthood holder available in meetings to bless and pass the sacrament. She has held a variety of offices in almost all the Church’s auxiliaries. “I try to keep going. I just love the gospel,” she says.

It wasn’t until the branch got its own chapel, in the mid-1950s, that the Church really began to grow in the area, she recalls. Like her, most local members are natives of Maine and converts to the Church. And many of them stand out as examples in their communities. They feel a responsibility to serve.

The Windham Ward, near Portland, for instance, includes the state’s PTA president, one brother who is running for a seat on the town council, and a member of the local school committee—Rebecca Keary. People in the community, Sister Keary says, “know we’re Latter-day Saints. They know what we stand for,” and the Saints’ integrity and life-style are respected.

The Saints are also diligent in serving one another, she says. “We take care of each other.”

Youth of the stake stand out too, particularly in service to such programs as Special Olympics. Though they are a small minority in their schools, associates have learned to respect their standards.

Steve Shaw of the Sanford Branch says the area is a fine place to rear a family. He looks to the day when his children, still small, will not be alone as Latter-day Saints in their schools. In the meantime, he says, the Saints’ relative isolation helps them realize they must find individual strength in “living the gospel on a day-to-day basis.”

Local Church leaders use words like “stalwart,” “faithful,” and, repeatedly, “hard-working” in describing members in the area.

Del Joy, like many other members of the stake, holds multiple callings; the first bishop of the Windham Ward, he is now a stake high councilor and ward Sunday School president. When the ward raised a potato crop each year to help with finances, he recalls, “Entire families would show up for harvest, even the little children with their beach buckets.” Following the example of their parents, the children would load their buckets—usually they could carry only two potatoes—and unload them at the end of the row.

“I have a great respect for the members here,” he says. “It has strengthened my testimony over the years to watch their testimonies grow.”

Correspondent: Douglas Jacobsen, Augusta Maine Region Public Communications director.

Like the historic Portland Head Lighthouse, Saints of the Portland area stand out in service to their Maine communities. (Photo by Doug Jacobsen.)