Mark Worth, minister for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Castine, stood for his last sermon on April 28. He had served the congregation since 1991, as part-time minister until 2006 when he became the first full-time minister since before 1967.
“A lot of wonderful people have passed on,” he said of his tenure. “A lot of terrific new people have come and joined us.”
Worth grew up in the parsonage of a Methodist church in Crystal Falls, Michigan, son of its minister. As a teenager, he wanted to also be a minister of that faith, but by the time he graduated high school, he said, “I realized I wasn’t a Methodist.”
This wasn’t just adolescent rebellion. “I believed Jesus was a great human teacher and not a divine being,” he said. “I really was a Unitarian. I just didn’t know that word yet.
“I also believed a loving God wouldn’t condemn people to hell. So I was also a Universalist, but I didn’t know that word either.”
After earning undergraduate history and political science degrees, Worth spent two years as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, serving in a Pittsfield, Mass. hospital. There, he discovered Unitarianism.
“[Unitarian Universalists] ran the draft counseling,” he said. “I wanted to know who were these people who care about people?”
Unitarian Universalists, Worth said, are humanists concerned with “how to live a moral life, how to be a good person in the world.”
But it wasn’t until 1987 that Worth began studying to become a minister. He was 39 years old, and had owned a natural food store and was teaching at a private high school in Massachusetts, a job he loved.
“But I always meant to go into the ministry,” he said.
His inspiration, he said, was Dr. Martin Luther King, whom he calls a prophet, not in that he told the future, but as “someone who speaks the truth to power.”
“Reverend King was someone I grew up with seeing on TV every night,” said Worth. “[He] was calling on us to be a better nation, a better people.”
That period of protests, clashes between police and marchers, assassinations and African-American church burnings had a lasting affect on Worth. “There was a very powerful narrative going on in the country,” he said. “It stayed with me that part of the job of the church was to change the world, make it a better place.”
In the Unitarian Universalist church, he saw “the possibility” of doing this.
He enrolled in the Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago and, after graduating, arrived in Maine, splitting his time between the Ellsworth and Castine Unitarian Universalist congregations.
The congregation in Castine said farewell to Worth on April 26, with an open party at the parish house, where he was presented with a painting of the 1820 meeting house, as it looks now, by Castine artist Dan Graziano.
The paradox of being a minister, Worth said, “is that you fall in love with a church and congregation, knowing someday you’ll have to leave.”
In his thanks for the gift, Worth quoted George Harrison: “All things must pass/All things must pass away.”
His final sermon was titled, “Letting Go.” Worth said he would adhere to the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association code of conduct and not enter the Castine church for two years.
“This is their future,” he said. “The minister is not the church.”
His plans for next Sunday? “I’ll probably take [wife] Mickey out to breakfast.”