Lincoln County News | Newcastle, ME
Tuesday, November 24, 2015 Serving Maine and Lincoln County for over a century. Volume 140 Issue 48


home : current news : news November 24, 2015

3/19/2014 2:00:00 PM
Damariscotta Church Votes in First Female Pastor

Marilee Harris, pastor of the Damariscotta Baptist Church, stands at the pulpit March 17. Church members selected Harris as the first female pastor in the church's 195-year history in a unanimous vote Feb. 23. (J.W. Oliver photo)
Marilee Harris, pastor of the Damariscotta Baptist Church, stands at the pulpit March 17. Church members selected Harris as the first female pastor in the church's 195-year history in a unanimous vote Feb. 23. (J.W. Oliver photo)
Buy this photo
By J.W. Oliver

Damariscotta Baptist Church selected a woman as pastor for the first time in 195 years in a unanimous vote of the church membership Feb. 23.

Marilee Harris, a former educator, chaplain, missionary and youth pastor, started work Monday, March 10. The church will formally install Harris during a ceremony at 3 p.m., Sunday, June 8.

Harris, 53, of Edgecomb, has had a long career in education as a preschool teacher, a middle-school and high-school science teacher, and a principal at two Christian schools.

She has been an educational technician at Great Salt Bay Community School in Damariscotta since 2011.

As a clergy member, she has been a missionary in Bolivia and Thailand, a chaplain at various hospitals, including a Los Angeles children's hospital; and a youth pastor. Most recently, she was the children's director at the First Congregational Church of Wiscasset.

She has a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in teaching from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., as well as a Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.

A native of Woolwich, Harris lives in Edgecomb with her husband, Val Harris. The couple has two children. Lydia Harris, 15, is a sophomore at Lincoln Academy. Emily Harris, 12, is a seventh-grader at Great Salt Bay Community School.

The family plans to sell their Edgecomb home and move into the church parsonage, across Main Street from the church, April 1.

Harris recently began to attend Damariscotta Baptist Church with her family, and learned of the need for a new pastor. She submitted her résumé about six months ago.

"I saw a need and I could fill it," she said.

Harris delivered the Sunday sermon a couple of times, and was popular with the congregation.

Damariscotta Baptist Church Council Chairman Dan Hupp said the church membership appreciates Harris' practical approach, strong theological background and knowledge of the community.

"She's very pragmatic," Hupp said. "She's not a pie-in-the-sky type of preacher. She has both feet right on the ground."

Following an abbreviated search process, the church leadership brought the nomination before the annual meeting. Church bylaws require a two-thirds majority, but the vote was unanimous.

Despite the break from history, Harris did not encounter opposition to the idea of a female pastor. "I did have one woman say to me, 'I thought I'd never come to a church with a woman pastor, but you've changed my mind,'" Harris said.

Harris has come across this resistance elsewhere, beginning in graduate school.

"Women weren't supposed to get a master's in divinity; that was the male thing," Harris said. "It's a very male-centered, male-dominated, power-driven occupation and has been since the beginning - since Jesus was born, and even before that."

This patriarchy, still strong in some churches and denominations, does not have a basis in the Bible, which is full of strong, female leaders, Harris said.

The sisters Martha and Mary were followers of Jesus Christ and active in his ministry. The merchant Lydia was an early convert to Christianity, "a woman of power and money who had a church in her house," Harris said.

Priscilla was another important figure in early Christianity, a brave church leader and companion of Paul the Apostle. "When the first church was established, there were lots of women," Harris said.

Christians who oppose female leadership interpret some of Paul's writings to mean women should "stay quiet and not teach or be in leadership over men," Harris said, "but that's not what Jesus did."

Thus, if Jesus Christ "had women involved and leading in his ministry, then why wouldn't we do it here and now?" Harris said.

"Personally, I think the spirit can move anybody," she said. "God is greater than our genders."

Harris believes the trend toward acceptance of female pastors and leaders stems as much from logistics as theology.

Major denominations have experienced a decline in new membership and a rise in the average age of congregations, especially in New England, Harris said.

A decline in membership can make it difficult for a small congregation to support a full-time pastor and his or her family. Harris can accept a part-time salary because she comes from a two-income family.

"A lot of women are getting the jobs because they'll take the lower salary," Harris said.

Different Baptist denominations continue to have different beliefs about female leaders. Damariscotta Baptist Church is affiliated with the American Baptist organization.

The relatively progressive American or "northern" Baptists have been open to female clergy for a long time, whereas the more conservative Southern Baptists are not, Harris said.

Hupp, the council chairman, is glad to have Harris on board.

"I think Marilee is going to do a fabulous job for us," Hupp said.

The selection of Harris follows significant renovations to the church offices due to water damage this winter. "I think it's an exciting new beginning, in a lot of ways, for our church," Hupp said.

As pastor, Harris will deliver the Sunday sermon, but the job entails many other duties.

Harris will visit the very elderly and the ill who cannot attend church and will reach out to youth in the community. She will bring experience to that facet of the job from her work in education and youth ministry.

Harris will participate in community outreach efforts and will be the spiritual leader of the congregation, encouraging the people of the church to grow spiritually and "walk with God," she said.

Harris encourages people in the community to consider attending a service.

"Anybody and everybody is welcome," Harris said, especially children. "Give it a try. It might be different than what you expect."

"I think everybody has a preconceived notion of what church is," she said. "Try to let go of that. Just come."

Damariscotta Baptist Church is at 4 Bristol Rd. in Damariscotta. Harris has office hours from 9 to 11 a.m. Monday through Thursday or by appointment. For more information, call 563-3587, email or visit

Advanced Search

Contact Us
Email Subscription
Local Online


Lincoln County News
PH: 207-563-3171 | Fax: 207-563-3127
Mailing Address: PO Box 36, Damariscotta, ME 04543 | Plant Location: 116 Mills Rd., Newcastle, ME
copyright 2015 The Lincoln County News

Software © 1998-2015 1up! Software, All Rights Reserved