Off the coast of Maine, southeast of Mt. Desert Island, lies a cluster of five unbridged islands known as Cranberry Isles. Between Memorial Day and Columbus Day, the islands can be reached via a 30-minute boat ride; in the cooler months, storms make access more difficult.
With a summer population of about 400 and a year-round population of less than 150 people, Cranberry Isles is a close-knit community.
Tom Powell knows the residents well. Cranberry Isles is his parish, and as its lone minister he has unique access to this tiny, remote community.
Powell pastors two churches: Congregational Church of Cranberry Island, located on Great Cranberry Island, and Islesford Congregational Church on Little Cranberry Island. Powell is a teaching elder in Northern New England Presbytery serving out of bounds.
Not only is Powell the only minister on Cranberry Isles, but he is the first resident minister ever in Islesford and the first in Great Cranberry in a half century.
One of Powell’s first pastoral acts was to institute weekly worship. Powell preaches at one church on Sunday morning, then takes a boat to the other church to preach on Sunday afternoon. In the summer, this schedule is easy; in other months, high winds and rough seas make it harder to maintain.
With only one church on each island, the Cranberry Isles churches attract a diverse group of worshippers. The inerrancy of Scripture and the historicity of Christ — bedrock tenets of the Christian faith in any PCA church — are not universally accepted. Yet the churches grant him absolute freedom in the pulpit.
“As a confessionally reformed minister, there are times when I wish I were in a more conservative congregation. Holding together a church this diverse — being sympathetic to a diverse population while speaking the truth in love — it’s challenging,” Powell said.
Cranberry Isles possesses the same post-Christian attitude that shapes most of northern New England. Powell must combat the islanders’ cynicism toward the church.
Rather than letting himself be tossed about by waves — physical or spiritual — Powell and his wife, Rebecca, have given themselves to the ministry. Even amid the skepticism of New England, Powell’s status as the community minister gives him unique access to hurting people.
“I get these opportunities to engage people from every background, from the very wealthy to the down-and-outs. They might not come to church,” Powell said, “but they will come to the minister.”