REV. GWYNETH ARRISON is the new pastor at Bath United Methodist Church.

REV. GWYNETH ARRISON is the new pastor at Bath United Methodist Church.

BATH

The Bath United Methodist Church at 340 Oak Grove Ave. celebrated the first service of the Rev. Gwyneth Arrison as its new pastor on Sept. 4.

Arrison arrived at the ministry, and Maine, from an unlikely beginning. She grew up near Philadelphia, and although baptized Presbyterian, the family did not attend church. It wasn’t until studying engineering at Lehigh University where she met another student, Jamie Arrison, that she began attending church with him. “It intrigued me that he loved science and also had an authentic relationship with God,” Arrison said.

After their marriage, she accepted a job at FMC in Rockland as a mechanical engineer, and they moved to Maine. Although the couple continued attending church together in Maine, Arrison still considered herself a “stubborn atheist.”

“But thankfully God’s love was more stubborn,” Arrison said. It happened through a Bible study she signed up for at the church called Disciple. “I realized I needed to know one way or the other if God existed. So I asked God to speak to me as I read through the Bible with the group, and he did.”

Within a few years she had not only become a Christian but was delving into leadership opportunities at the John Street United Methodist Church (UMC) in Camden.

Her passionate spirituality continued to grow as she became a safe home provider for women experiencing domestic violence, went on her first mission trip to Cuba, and started a webpage to share her faith and have discussions with people from all over the world.

As she became more and more active in her faith, Arrison began to think and pray about pastoral ministry. “I was hesitant because some of my Christian friends said women could not be pastors.” Arrison studied the Scriptures on the issue of women in ministry, but even after coming to the conclusion that God does call women to be pastors, she still had reservations.

After reading a quote from an interview with the famous preacher and evangelist, Billy Graham who called his own daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, “The best preacher in the family,” Arrison uttered a prayerful challenge: “God, if I can see Anne’s gifts of preaching in person then I’ll know you give these gifts to women too, and I’ll know you are calling me to be a pastor.” Arrison thought this was a “safe prayer,” as she thought to herself, “Where am I possibly going to run into Anne Graham Lotz?”

However, she was heading on a vacation to London the next day. In London while visiting the Methodist Central Hall to check on worship times for the next day, Arrison saw that Graham Lotz was scheduled to preach there starting in ten minutes. “There was no way I could deny this answer to my impossible prayer.”

Soon after this, Arrison informed her husband that she needed to leave engineering to go to seminary. His response? “Me too!”

They needed to sell their home in Rockport to afford seminary, which opened up possibilities anywhere in the country. They decided on Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, for its serious academic reputation, renowned faculty and deeply spiritual environment. The Arrison couple graduated from Asbury in four years, and had their first two children there, but did their semester internship back in Maine at the Dresden Richmond UMC.

After graduation they were appointed by the UMC New England Conference as co-pastors of the Peoples UMC in South Portland where they served for six years and had their third child. The couple was then appointed separately in Massachusetts where Arrison served the Merrimacport UMC.

After four years in Merrimac, Massachusetts, the Arrison family decided to take a leave of absence for a time of rest from ministry, and to be in an area where their children would have more continuity in their education. They moved to Freeport in 2015. “After serving for ten years right out of seminary I needed some renewal time. But I made sure that the Conference knew I’d be ready for an appointment within a year if one came available,” Arrison said.

When Arrison got the call for a possible appointment to Bath UMC, she was elated. “I knew the retiring pastor, Neil Gastonguay pretty well through a Midcoast clergy group we attended together a few years ago, and the church seemed like a really great fit.”

She will continue living in Freeport, but Arrison has already made connections in the Bath community including joining the Bath Sunrise Rotary Club this summer. She served recently at the Bath Food Pantry with her new Rotary friends.

Arrison enjoys painting and playing bassoon in the Coastal Winds, as well as kayaking, sailing and skiing. She has helped lead several UMC kids camps this summer, including one at Mechuwana in Winthrop.

The Arrison family is hosting their first exchange student through AFS for the year. “That’s one way to grow the church,” Arrison laughed, “We’ll be a family of six!”

Visit www.bathumc.org for more information on the church.


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