The ordination of Dr. Robert H. Ross will mark a significant milestone in the history of the West Parish Congregational Church.
The church, founded in 1796, has served Bethel as a central institution for more than two centuries, but Sunday’s ordination will be the first such ceremony ever held there.
Members of the church, together with their friends and neighbors throughout the community and beyond, will celebrate Ross’s ordination as a minister in the Oxford Union Association of the Maine Conference, United Church of Christ.
Ross will work as an outreach minister with Grace-Street Ministry, a Portland-based street ministry that serves the city’s homeless population.
Grace-Street Ministry was founded in 2006 with a mission of “offering a consistent, compassionate, pastoral presence to the homeless and marginalized in downtown Portland,” according to the organization’s website, gracestreetministry.blogspot.com.
Its ministers provide a regular presence at several Portland homeless shelters and on the streets throughout the downtown area, as well as an outdoor service of prayer and communion near the Preble Street Resource Center on Sunday mornings.
Rev. Richard Bennett, interim minister at WPCC and co-chair of the Oxford Union Association’s Church and Ministry Committee, explained that ordination as a fully certified Congregational minister requires than the ordinant have a call, or formal affiliation with a church.
“This church has called Bob to be the Associate Minister for Outreach and Mission at Grace-Street Ministry,” he said.
Raised in the Presbyterian faith in Ohio, Ross enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program at Union Theological Seminary in 1968, but left the program in 1970. Over the next three decades, he earned several graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in sociology from Yale University, and worked in the field of patient- and population-oriented health sciences.
“Throughout his lifetime he has sensed a call to serve,” said Bennett.
In 2007, Ross began working at the Maine Center for Public Health in Augusta. He entered Bangor Theological Seminary a year later and became one of the last to receive a Master of Divinity degree before the institution closed in 2013.
“It was at BTS that I came clear about my calling to ordained ministry in an outreach-oriented church setting,” he said.
Last fall, Rev. Richard Cowles, interim conference minister of the Maine Conference UCC, heard Ross speak about his calling to outreach ministry.
Cowles had recently been contacted by Grace-Street Ministry founder Rev. Mair Honan for help in finding a qualified candidate to join her ministry, and he put Ross in touch with her.
After meeting Honan and joining her on her regular ministry to the homeless on Portland’s downtown streets, Ross knew he had found the place where he was needed.
“No matter what the circumstance or the person, [we] seek to pastor consistently and compassionately, as we do what we can to bring the sacred in to relieve suffering,” he said of Grace-Street Ministry in a recent sermon at Popham Chapel in Phippsburg.
“Our people are no different from you or me. They only face more extreme, and sometimes way more extreme, life circumstances.”
Ross resides in Waterford with his wife, Patti, and is the father of two sons, Kayvon and Eli. He became a part of the Bethel community when he completed a Mentored Practice at West Parish Congregational Church in 2011-12 under the guidance of its former pastor, Rev. Virginia Rickeman.
Rickeman will participate in Sunday’s service of ordination, as will Cowles, Honan, and several leaders of the Oxford Union Association.
In addition to marking a significant moment in WPCC’s own history, the ordination of Ross to serve with Grace-Street heralds a commitment to the important work of outreach ministry.
“I like celebrating great stuff,” said Bennett. “So often, good works go unnoticed and unappreciated, especially these days when there is so much confusion in the world. Here is a small New England church, reaching out and doing good work.”
The Service of Ordination to Ministry will be held at 4 p.m. on Sunday, October 26 at the West Parish Congregational Church. All are welcome.