Linda Howe receives the Hastings Award

Linda Howe in the Church Shrine of the Methodist Church in Bethel. Susan Young’s photo

BETHEL – In his Hastings Award nomination for Linda Howe of Bethel, Jonathan Goldberg writes, “I don’t know much about Linda Howe. What I do know is that if you look across the street from the post office at the Methodist Church, there is often some kind of activity. A bevy of cars parked out front, a row of tables set with crafts and food for sale, or an intergenerational collection of yoga mats carried by commoners.

“Linda’s vision is for the church to go beyond its traditional theological purposes to create a center for community engagement… Linda has opened her doors to congregational concerts, the winter farmers’ market and other local events. Linda is an unsung hero who has worked to create a forum and physical environment for all members of our community to meet, share, and learn from one another.”

“The award is special in part because it has been around for over 50 years,” said Jessie Perkins, director of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce. It is awarded to a person who has an ongoing keen interest in serving the community.

Also presented 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, trustee, certified lay minister and volunteer caretaker. “The work I do for the church is something I should just do. God is leading me in that direction… it’s just natural and organic and feels right,” she said.

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

Howe says her outreach began with the yoga community paying to replace a floor in the back of the church to hold classes. Through this interaction, she met other people, like Bonnie Pooley, who runs yoga classes.

Soups On, another group, is giving cooking classes, and the seniors’ club plans to meet at church beginning in November. Eventually, Howe opened the Saturday Market on Main Street, which hosted nonprofits and community artists every Saturday through October. Howe says, “Just watching people from the front lawn, all the people connecting and visiting…the rush of energy, that’s really cool.”

Howe says it would be nice to bring people to God, but they have to find it themselves. Instead, she wants to see how the building can help bring people from different denominations together. She wants to expand the Saturday market by inviting other non-profit organizations and would like to invite different disciplines to teach in the yoga room. “I’m excited to see what the future may bring,” Howe said.

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