Ministering to Maine's Islands

History, Hometown Heroes, People, Traditions
on April 8, 2001

When Rev. Ted Hoskins prepares for work, he has several considerations no other minister in New England must ponder.

The wind is always a determining factor, says the big preacher from Blue Hill, Maine. On Easter Sunday, I try to do five services on five islands, but thats only if the weather cooperates.

Indeed, with a ministry focused on Maines most remote communities, Hoskins must be able to read a tide table as well as the Bible and know federal fishing regulations as well as the tune of an old hymn. Thats because the 68-year-old clerics rectory is a specially designed 74-foot-boat, Sunbeam. And for more than 75 years, the fishermen and their families on those often-inaccessible islands have looked upon the chief occupant of what they call Gods Tugboat for more than just ecclesiastical diversion.

What were doing now is very exciting, says Hoskins, whose ready smile is a charming counterpoint to his 19th-century, Lincolnesque beard. Beginning work for the nondenominational Sea Coast Missionary Society aboard Sunbeam in 1995, Hoskins is excited about the 21st-century approach hes using. The whole idea now is making sure they [the islanders] have the tools to meet the challenges in their lives.

For instance, Hoskins also serves on a government fishing regulation advisory committee, which he admits is a far cry from his pastoral duties. But these are things that affect their lives, Hoskins says. We just cant ignore something so crucial.

Hoskins and the three permanent crewmembers aboard Sunbeam also are preparing the boat for tele-medicinea program through which islanders will be linked via Internet to shoreside consulting doctors.

Because of the weather, its not always practical to go visit a doctor, Hoskins notes, so many consultations will be conducted via Sunbeams online connections. Future connections may include financial advice and other professional services non-islanders take for granted.

Still, even with technology at his fingertips, Hoskins concedes his job is much the same as when he was a minister in suburban Connecticut in the 70s and 80s. People are people, he says, a note of sadness in his voice. A divorce or business failure in Connecticut hurts just as much as it does on a Maine island.

And Hoskins can offer more than detached sympathy. Before taking the job on Sunbeam, he was a summertime resident and later a preacher on Isle Au Haut in Penobscot Bay for nearly 50 years. As a youngster, he learned firsthand the backbreaking life of fishing for a living. Later, his first wife died in her late 40s after a battle with breast cancer. His son died in his mid-20s in a boating accident. The big man speaks quietly and reluctantly about these tragedies, but on the islands where people from away may be viewed with extra skepticism, Hoskins fits in easily.

His congeniality is especially evident when Sunbeam ties up at a pier such as the aging wooden structure on Maines Monhegan Island. After lunch aboard with some enthusiastic islanders, the socializing continues as Hoskins goes ashore. Like a consummate minister, he addresses everyone by first name and adds a personal note: Hows the new baby? or Are those new traps fishing yet? or That cold doesnt seem to want to go away, does it? Hoskins knows his flock.

Each island is a little different though, Hoskins cautions. For instance, on Isle Au Haut (a popular summer tourist destination), we use two different hymnals, one for summer service and one for winter. The winter hymnal is more old-fashioned and the summer one has more modern, more suburban or city-type hymns in it.

When not aboard Sunbeam, Hoskins lives ashore with his wife, Linda, in the coastal village of Blue Hill. During the winter, he visits five major islands, plus several other coastal communities. His schedule aboard Sunbeam slows down in the summer when most of the big offshore islands house a resident minister for three or four months.

On Easter Sunday, however, Hoskins will still try to visit those five different islands along a 75-mile stretch of coast, conducting services from just before sunrise to 10 p.m. Im looking forward to it, he says, noting he never refers to the islanders as his parishioners.

Theyre not mine at all, he says. Im theirs. I belong to them, they dont belong to me.