Lisa Swett led the congregation of First United Methodist Church in a song Sunday to welcome the Essex Street church’s new minister, Steven Smith.
“The bishop announced we were getting a new pastor, new pastor,” she sang. “Little did we know, he was a forecaster, a forecaster.”
The lyrics were appropriate because until three years ago, Smith, 59, of Orono was Channel 2 meteorologist Steve McKay. He also was pastor of the United Methodist churches in Orono and Alton for the past decade. It is not unusual for ministers to serve two congregations that aren’t large enough to support a full-time pastor.
Earlier this year, Smith was reassigned by the bishop of the New England Conference of his denomination to the Bangor congregation. His appointment, along with many other United Methodist ministers in Maine and across the country, was effective July 1.
Catholic, United Methodist and Eastern Orthodox clergy are assigned to congregations by their bishops. In other denominations, including Episcopal, Baptist, Lutheran and Congregational, churches hire ministers directly.
In his sermon Sunday, Smith told worshippers that George Hale, his boss at a radio station in Maine where he had his first on-air job, thought Smith was too boring for the radio. Smith tried out Lincoln, his favorite president, and Waterhouse, his mother’s maiden name, but Hale rejected those.
When Smith tried out McKay, his grandmother’s maiden name, Hale, who now hosts a talk radio show with Ric Tyler, liked it and gave Smith a morning show that advertised: “Start your day with Steve McKay.”
Smith said Sunday that he was drawn to the ministry after working in radio and television for decades. He was on the deacon board of Stillwater Federated Church about 20 years ago when he first was “called” to preach because the minister there was going on vacation.
“The head deacon said, ‘Is there anybody here on the deacon board who doesn’t mind speaking in front of people?’” Smith said Sunday as worshippers burst out laughing. “I noticed they were looking at me and I said, ‘Wait a minute, I’m not doing that.’”
But he was persuaded to give it a try.
“So, I filled in for the pastor and I thought, ‘Well, that wasn’t too painful. That was okay,’” Smith said. “And I thought, ‘Maybe I can use my background in this way.’”
He filled in for other pastors and felt called to attend Bangor Theological Seminary to pursue the ministry more formally. He graduated from the former seminary in 2006, the same year he was assigned to the Orono church, which he attended growing up.
“You also have a call story, something has brought you here to this sanctuary,” he told his new congregation. “Something has brought you to where you are in life and, while you may not recognize it, I have to think that you have been called to be here and you have been called to do what you are doing in your life. And, if we take our call stories and put them together what a noise we could make.”
The pastor demonstrated by clapping his hands together. He then asked members of the choir to clap with him, and, finally, had worshippers clap, too. Smith said that when the congregation members shared their collective call stories, the noise of their clapping “could be heard outside the church.”
Lay leader Jim Burkhart said after the service that the transition to a new pastor can be stressful. Because people were familiar with Smith from television and his temporary service at the church five years ago, he expected it would be easier than when the new minister is totally unfamiliar.
“When Pastor Arlene told us Steve was replacing her, the congregation cheered,” Burkhart said. “She said later that she’d never heard of a congregation cheering when a new minister was announced.”
Smith replaced the Rev. Arlene M. Tully, who was reassigned to Arnold Mills UMC in Cumberland, Rhode Island. Tully was one of the few pastors in New England of any denomination to have a service dog. Kirby, a golden retriever and Labrador retriever mix, rarely left the minister’s side.
As celebrations to welcome new pastors were being planned, 160-year-old Grace United Methodist Church on Union Street held its last service June 30. The building is expected to be put up for sale later this year. Its thrift shop and food pantry were taken over by the Biker Church at the Union Street Brick Church, located about a block away, according to Beth DiCocco, director of communications for the New England Conference.
Those who worshipped at Grace have been invited to join the Essex Street church and its new pastor on Sundays.
One of Smith’s upcoming assignments as pastor at First United Methodist Church may take him back to his days as northern Maine’s most recognized weatherman. The church’s Vacation Bible School program this summer is titled “Polar Blast.” It invites children to “see how cool God’s love can be” from 9 a.m. to noon, July 29 to 31.
Related: Weatherman Steve McKay has ‘1 foot in media, 1 foot in ministry’