By Lorraine Glowczak
The Raymond Village Community Church – United Church of Christ (RVCC), 27 Main St. in Raymond, hired Pastor Petra Smyth of Falmouth to replace former Pastor Nancy Foran. She recently retired from her post as spiritual leader of the church after 14 years with RVCC, holding her last service on Easter Sunday, 2020. Pastor Smyth officiated her first religious service to her new congregation on June 7.
As any pastor who is called to serve a new congregation, there are many things to learn about the members as well as the culture created within that specific church. But what makes Smyth’s new post slightly different is she is welcomed to RVCC during unusual circumstances amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and required social distancing.
|Rev. Petra Smyth is the new pastor for|
Raymond Village Community Church and officiated
her first services at the church on June 7.
“I have never led a recorded worship before where there is not a group of people in front of me,” Smyth said. “But unusual times require unusual circumstances.”
Even the hiring process was not the typical interview method.
“My first interview was through Zoom, which is not so different than other initial interviews for pastors,” said Smyth. “However, what was unusual was the fact that I lead a worship via Zoom as part of the interview process.”
Rolf Olsen, RVCC Council Member and Chair of the Search Committee said the committee was tasked with reviewing and interviewing all candidates as well as the other functions associated with hiring a new individual but had to take into consideration current circumstances.
“Due to current restrictions on face-to-face meetings, [the interview process] did require a little different approach and put to use Zoom, You Tube and other electronic medium,” Olsen said.
Pastor Smyth recorded her sermon on Zoom which was then made available to the whole congregation to view.
“It was hard to look into a camera to address a group of individuals who are not there, and you have never met,” Smyth said. “The one way I got myself into a space of worship was by lighting a candle before I presented my sermon.”
That one small act worked well. The congregation enjoyed her sermon and the search committee recommended Smyth to the church council to be their pastor.
“The research committee reviewed and interviewed a number of highly qualified candidates,” Olsen said. “Pastor Petra radiated the feeling of joy and positive feelings that we felt will help our church move forward to our next level. Our overall recommendation to the council to issue a call to Pastor Petra was unanimously accepted.”
Smyth brings a lot of experience, culture, and spirit to the table. Formerly a teacher, Smyth taught kindergarten and elementary students in traditional education settings as well as German classes at a Waldorf School in Freeport. Although she loved her job as an educator, Smyth sensed a lacking in her chosen career.
“When I was teaching, I loved what I could offer to my young students, but something was missing – almost like a hole in my heart,” Smyth said. “I couldn’t pinpoint it, but I knew that there was something different for me to do.”
Admitting to a close friend about her feelings of disenchantment, it was suggested that Smyth consider pastoral care at Maine Medical Center.
“I took her advice and enrolled in a clinical pastoral education class offered at the time,” Smyth said. “Once I received my certificate and began my work in the hospital, I was hooked. I loved it and knew I had found my calling.”
Smyth eventually wanted to become a clinical chaplain but to do so, she needed to become an ordained pastor.
“I was required to obtain a Masters of Divinity, if I wanted to become a hospital Chaplain,” Smyth said. “I enrolled and took classes at the Bangor Theological Seminary which had a branch in Portland. I attended classes and graduated with my masters in 2011.”
Ironically, although a member of the United Church of Christ and a citizen of the United States, she grew up as a Lutheran in Germany.
“My father, who is German, came to the United States to attend college and it is where my dad met my mother, a U.S. citizen,” Smyth said.
The two fell in love, got married and the couple moved to Germany to live and raise their family – a daughter (Smyth) and a son. Because Smyth’s mother kept her US citizenship, Smyth and her brother have dual German/US citizenships.
“I loved my life growing up in Germany with my family as a Lutheran and I enjoyed visiting my mother’s family in the US during many summers,” Smyth said. “I grew up in a very supportive and encouraging environment. The one thing that didn’t work so well for me is my education in Germany. It was very challenging, and I made very low grades.”
Once Smyth graduated from high school, she traveled from Germany to Connecticut to stay with her Godmother to learn to speak English fluently. That move over 35 years ago, was meant to be only temporary.
“I was going to spend a year with my Godmother and then leave in the fall of the following year, returning to Germany with my family after our usual summer visit,” Smyth said. “But there was something my Godmother did that changed the course of my life. She secretly enrolled me in a GED class.”
Smyth thought it was just a fun course where she could learn to speak English better. However, when she received a note stating the time and date of the GED test, she questioned her Godmother.
“She explained to me what a GED meant – that it was the equivalent of a U.S. high school diploma,” said Smyth. “I told her there was no way I could pass a test – especially since English was a second language to me. She encouraged me to take the test anyway, telling me that only she and I would know I had taken it and if I failed, it wouldn’t matter.”
Smyth took the test and never put thought into it again.
“I met my family at our usual summer location on Cape Cod with every intention of returning to Germany with them once our summer vacation was over,” Smyth said. “But about six weeks or so after I took the GED test and had completely forgotten about it, I received a call from my Godmother. ‘You passed the test’, she told me.’ I couldn’t’ believe it. I immediately told my parents. We all were surprised and excited but that was the end of it in my mind. However, it all changed one day when my mom, dad and I went to the Cape Cod Mall.”
Smyth and her family want to the mall to purchase clothing and shoes. It just so happened a representative of Cape Cod Community College (Four-Cs) had a booth at the mall to market their classes to begin that fall.
“My father walked up to the booth and started asking the representative a few questions,” Smyth said. “And before I knew it, I was enrolled at Four-Cs and within two years received an associate degree.”
It was during this time that she met her husband, Scott.
She went on to get a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.
She eventually married Scott and, due to his job relocation, they moved to Yarmouth, ME eventually landing in Falmouth, remaining there for the past 25 years. They have two daughters. Smyth joined her husband’s chosen faith, United Church of Christ and upon receiving her Master’s in Divinity, she has been a pastor in a number of UCC congregations in the Southern Maine region, with RVCC her latest call.
“The research committee gives a warm welcome to Pastor Petra to our church and looks forward to the time that all can meet her in person,” Olsen said. <