CEUMC’s co-pastor is retiring (again)
When Pastor Priscilla Dreyman came to the Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church as its co-pastor with Mary Jane O’Connor-Ropp in 2019, it largely was the result of a dream she had in 2018; a dream in which she had a vision of our church establishing an environmental ministry. Three years later, that out-of-the-blue “dream” has become a thriving reality with an Eco Ministry that has soared above and beyond everyone’s expectations.
As it is with these types of success stories, however, there often is an inner voice that whispers, “it’s time to move on”.
And so it is.
On June 30, Pastor Priscilla will step away as the CEUMC co-pastor and retire — for a second time. Her first attempt at retirement came at the end of 2014 with the closing of Portland’s Spiral Arts. She founded Spiral Arts in 1992, a “spiritual-inspirational organization to make art available and accessible to people of all ages and walks of life”. She was its executive director for 22 years.
“When I learned Priscilla was retiring, for a second time, my first reaction was of extreme gratitude for what she has done for our church in a fairly short time,” said Steve Hill, lay leader and chairperson of the Administrative Council. “Priscilla’s legacy here will be long lasting. She has inspired an entirely new ministry guided by the Eco Team, she has invited and encouraged more people to follow their calling and become involved in ministry, she has served with love, kindness, thoughtfulness and compassion through an extremely challenging pandemic, and she has asked us to prayerfully look to the future and imagine what our church can be going forward.”
In February 0f 2019, Priscilla addressed our church’s Administrative Council, bringing to light a path the church should consider following. “I had this vivid, strong dream,” she explained. “I saw a comprehensive environmental ministry being established in this space. There’s so much frightening, bad news about climate change and how people are abusing the earth and its creatures. It’s heart-breaking . . . Our calling is when our deepest passion meets the world’s greatest needs.”
She went on to explain that the foundation of her vision would be to establish a ministry in the church that would focus on experiencing the wonder, joy, and awe of God’s creation while continuing to learn about our relationship with nature.
“We would give thanks as a faith community and then act, “she said, “not act out of guilt, but act out of profound gratitude.”
After Priscilla began her CEUMC co-ministry in July of 2019, the Dream Team began its evolution a few months later, discussing team members’ environmental passions and their concerns about climate change. The mission was slow coming into focus, but the more team members studied environmental concerns and discussed initiatives, momentum began building and the Dream Team was renamed the Eco Team.
Those goals and initiatives accelerated when Pastor Priscilla and Steve Hill applied for and received a Congregational Development for Tomorrow grant. The $5,000 grant would be used to lead seven nature walks through Robinson Woods behind the church and plan for related art projects connected to nature. The plan was named “Extending God’s Table of Love into the Woods — and Beyond”.
“The church bravely embraced the vision and flew with it these two-plus years in ways we never dreamed of at the outset,” Pastor Priscilla wrote in a Sunday bulletin when she first announced her plan to retire in February of this year. “The Eco Team is strong and courageous and overflowing with ideas for the future . . . we are more aware of and in awe of what nature is ‘up to’ in the woods God has entrusted us with. And we have learned so much along the way!”
In 2020, as an extension of the Eco Ministry, Pastor Priscilla joined church members Steve Hill and Bob and Linda Webster in an extensive training program to become United Methodist Earthkeepers, a training program of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Committee on Relief to lead local communities in environmental stewardship.
For her work in establishing the Eco Ministry, Pastor Priscilla in June 2021 was one of eight recipients to receive a 2021 eco-Excellence Award from ecomaine, a non-profit recycling and waste-to-energy organization. The award recognized Pastor Priscilla’s dream to create the environmental ministry and Eco Team within the CEUMC congregation that would focus on recycling and establish a greater awareness of the wonders of nature in Robinson Woods.
One of the Eco Team’s most successful components in fulfilling the Congregational Development for Tomorrow grant was its seven walks through Robinson Woods, using master naturalists, college professors and environmental experts. The walks twice were led by the Rev. Grace Bartlett, a Maine master naturalist, St. Joseph’s College Associate Biology Professor Dr. James Paruk, Southern Maine Community College Botany Professor Andrea Southworth, Maine Master Naturalist Susan Hayward and husband Tom, a renowned Maine birder, and Maine Master Naturalist Jack Flanagan. Church member Linda Greer also led a Gratitude Walk in silence to honor the foundations of Thanksgiving, and Dr. Paruk led a Zoom session about loons, “Maine’s favorite bird”.
Throughout the three years Priscilla’s dream continued to flourish, and her guidance and inspired thinking led the Eco Team to branch out and consider ways in which to more fully address the growing threats of climate change. But it wasn’t easy for her to do so.
“I had no background in any of this,” she said recently. “I had no training — I was going at this with one wing and a prayer.”
Those wings, however, soon took flight as Priscilla immersed herself with volumes of research, hours of taking part in webinars on a wide range of environmental subjects, and working with the Eco Team on discussions of books from national environmental leaders. While the COVID pandemic prevented many of the Eco Team’s plans from moving forward, it gave team members more time for individual research and subsequent learning.
“We all came together to make it happen,” she said. “It’s not like I was a superstar leader — we all worked together and learned along the way. The pandemic kept us apart, but it actually helped us to be more focused and to be patient to do our homework.”
From her background with Spiral Arts, Pastor Priscilla had many ideas of how to introduce spiritual art projects to the congregation after she began as its co-pastor, but the pandemic erased almost all of those opportunities. Being outdoors with the nature walks, however, rekindled those plans and with the development grant, art elements were added to some of the walks. Participants were encouraged to express through art what they had seen and experienced and the results were impressive.
Pastor’s creativity and love of art actually came from another dream.
“When I was attending Union (Theological) Seminary in 1971,” she recalled recently, “I had a strong dream of starting a center for spiritual expression. The timing and finances were not realistic at the time, living in Brooklyn. It took almost 20 years to make it happen.”
Fourteen years later, she enrolled in the Portland School of Art and after four years, Spiral Arts came into being.
“It was all about seeing the joy art brings to people,” she said. “And more than art, it was about building community — everyone has different skills that can make magic happen. It’s the profound learning of sitting alone and finding the incredible joy of creating — digging into your own imagination. I saw that through the years at Spiral Arts, but I also saw the same thing at CEUMC.”
After Spiral Arts closed in 2014, former Board President Kimberly Curry wrote on Facebook, “Priscilla had discovered that no matter what faith people believed — if any — art could take on transformative properties. Thank you for your dream, vision, and belief in the power of art. We are enriched because of what you gave us. You are loved and adored by us all.”
Our church experienced a taste of what Priscilla had developed within the Spiral Arts community in 2009 when she worked with a three-night intergenerational group at Vacation Bible School to create mosaics, using objects found along area beaches. Some of those mosaics are still on display in the Sunshine Room and along the back hallway near the Chapel.
Pastor Priscilla’s gift of establishing a timely and energetic Eco Ministry in our church is just the latest in her distinguished career of ministering to and helping others. She has served as a United Methodist minister in Washington County, Portland, Long Island, and West Scarborough, Maine. He was the hospital chaplain at Symmes Hospital in Arlington, Massachusetts for six years, and a religious educator in Arlington and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“We didn’t know that Priscilla would inspire us in so many ways,” said Mark Braun, chairperson of our church’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee. “She would always remind us that, ‘All we need is here’ .”
“I have seen her fall in love with CEUMC and us with her. I have seen the blessing that she is to us and we to her. I have seen her almost unbridled energy and ideas. I have seen her as she tries to fit more things into a day than . . . almost anyone I know. I have seen the tasks she set before us and how she has seen them mostly accomplished. Now we have to maintain the momentum.”
“Priscilla came to Cape Elizabeth with a dream, a vision of what God might do with us and among us,” Bob and Linda Webster wrote together. “With her leadership and guidance, the congregation has been able to give life and substance to that dream.
“For us personally, it has helped us to see beyond the walks in the woods and our lifelong love of the wonders of God’s Creation. Trying to live out the dream has opened our eyes in new ways to the perils of climate change and the ways that we as humans have speeded the process, sometimes unknowingly. We have begun to understand that the climate crisis is the overriding cause of systemic poverty, homelessness, racism, white privilege and supremacy, and refugee migration.
“Participating in the dream has transformed us, and the way we approach our everyday living. In the past several years we became certified as Earthkeepers by the Board of Global Ministries; have been actively involved on the Eco Team; have begun eating less meat; gave up our Prius hybrid and purchased a Prius hybrid/plug in; purchased an eco-friendly clothes washer; use clothes drying racks instead of the electric dryer; have switched banks to a local bank that does not invest in fossil fuels, and we have purchased shares in a solar farm that “went on line” in November.
“Thank you Priscilla for sharing the dream and allowing us to become a part of it.”
Almost at the end of her ministry, Pastor Priscilla and Steve Hill signed an agreement with the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust that would keep church property in Robinson Woods natural and free of development in perpetuity. After the agreement was signed and the that section of the woods was officially dedicated, it was renamed Chapel Woods.
“Priscilla’s legacy here will be long lasting,” Steve said. “I will miss working with Priscilla not just on the day-to-day matters concerning the running of a church but also on conversations that focused on just what it means to be in ministry and to serve in the world. Rev. Priscila Dreyman has served us well and now deserves a restful second retirement with opportunities to relax, read, travel and be creative. We and the world are a better place because of her ministry.”
God Bless, Priscilla, and move forward into retirement with the same spirit you brought to CEUMC three years ago!
PIX OF PRISCILLA AND KATHLEEN
“(Priscilla’s) is a legacy that isn’t fading,” said Pastor Kathleen Decker-Szakas, who will move to halftime following Pastor Priscilla’s retirement. “Priscilla’s love for God, love for the world, the earth, the creatures, and creation, her love of creativity, has sparked that in all of us. Thank you to Priscilla for her great experiment and vision. I’m eager to see how this congregation lives into that in the coming months and years.”