The Rev. Shay MacKay will be installed as the minister of the Unitarian Universalist churches in both Saco and Sanford on Oct. 6. COURTESY PHOTO

SACO — The Rev. Shay MacKay is shaking up convention by leading not one, but two Unitarian Universalist congregations in York County to a better understanding of their faith and spirituality.

Splitting her time between Unitarian Universalist churches in Sanford and Saco, MacKay may be the right person at the right time to take on the challenge of bringing new worshippers to the churches while still tending to the spiritual needs of aging current worshippers.

“The fine line is adapting to attract new people and yet keeping things traditional for our current community,” MacKay said. “How do we serve our mission of spreading the faith and the world we want to create while serving the immediate needs of our community?”

MacKay, who will be officially installed Oct. 6 as the minister for both the Saco and and Sanford congregations in a ceremony midway between the two congregations at the Alfred Parish Church on Kennebunk Road, did not follow the traditional path to the ministry, but it has not affected her abilities to lead the churches.

She’s originally from Mandan, North Dakota and was raised as a Catholic, eventually living in Tacoma, Washington; Atlanta, Georgia; up and down the coast of California; and in Minnesota before landing in Maine.

It was while studying at the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota that MacKay said she gave up practicing her Catholic faith.


“I left the Catholic church because I was unable to find myself there,” she said. “Being female and gay, I spent most of my youth searching for myself. There was no path for me in Catholicism.”

She turned to the UU church nine years ago and completed divinity studies at UU’s Starr King Seminary in Berkley, California.

The challenge of guiding two congregations at the same time appealed to her and she moved to Maine a year ago to lead the UU churches in Saco and Sanford.

“The world is  very different place right now than it was 20 or 30 years ago,” MacKay said. “For the church to survive we have to adapt and thrive. These churches were willing to step outside the box to try something different. A church needs to evolve to continue to be relevant.”

And as a visible link between the two churches, MacKay said she hopes to find common ground and the way forward.

“What I’m hoping to do here is companion these churches on this journey rather than sitting still and slowly dying,” she said.


Allen Casad, president of the Board of Trustees for the Saco UU Church, said it is evident why MacKay was chosen by a search committee to lead the two congregations.

“I think that of all the applicants, Shay’s creativity and energy excited them,” he said. “Shay is a creative minister who engages the congregants well in the process of worship.”

Casad said MacKay is unusual in her approach to connecting with worshippers.

“She doesn’t stay in the pulpit. She engages people in the pews and it changes the whole dynamic of church,” he said. “She brings personal engagement to the process and she also writes a good sermon.”

As part of her unconventional approach, MacKay, who is also a musician and a composer, also has explored ways to modify some more traditional church aspects to be more inclusive.

“This year we’re focusing on space and worship experiences for people of all ages,” she said. “We now offer a Monday evening vesper service for those who may not able to make the Sunday service. We’re focusing on how to make what already exists more accessible to more people. It’s the realization and acceptance that the church needs to change.”


She also is looking at connecting with more people by streaming Sunday services on Facebook Live and more topical and relevant church websites.

In her role as minister for both congregations, she still provides pastoral care duties, such as presiding at baptisms, funerals and weddings, counseling those in crisis and she also serves on the board of directors for Age Friendly Saco and for Project Community in Sanford.

“I love being invited to people’s lives in a deep and meaningful way,” MacKay said. “And I love being creative and creating spiritually moving and inspired worship.”

The Unitarian Universalist Church is at 60 School St. in Saco and at 5 Lebanon St. in Sanford.

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 or by email at [email protected] 

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