READFIELD — The Rev. Karen Munson is leaving in July after 12 years as pastor of Readfield United Methodist Church and chaplain at Kents Hill School.
She is moving to a larger church in Brunswick, but departs with many warm memories of her career in Readfield.
“These are the most open-hearted people that I’ve ever worked with, both at the school and at the church,” said Munson, 51. “They don’t just talk. They live what they believe. I will miss each person. Both places share a heartfelt feeling for making the world a better place. I don’t think there’s anything they think they can’t do. You can’t tell them they have a small church or a small school; they don’t see themselves that way.”
The Rev. Desi Larson will be coming to Readfield from Brackett Memorial United Methodist Church on Peaks Island to replace Munson.
In the United Methodist Church, many pastors are re-appointed or asked to move to a new church on July 1 as members of the intinerant system. But some pastors, such as Munson, are re-appointed for several years because of the nature of the work — in this case what’s shared between the church and the school.
Her husband, Jeff, will continue working at Kents Hill School as a physics teacher and director of student activities. The couple will move to Brunswick and Jeff Munson will commute to Kents Hill.
They’re accustomed to moving — when he was a nuclear engineer in the Navy they moved 18 times in 20 years.
The 12 years spent at Kents Hill is the longest period Munson has lived anywhere in her entire life.
A community celebration is planned for the couple with festivities from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at the Kents Hill ski lodge.
George Smith, of Mount Vernon, finance director of the church, said there will be no admission fee, but the church is hoping for donations. He said Munson has asked that there be no gifts for her and that all the donations go into the church’s capital fund.
At the celebration will be food, music, children’s activities and a 3:30 p.m. ceremony to honor the Munsons. Smith said he expects to see people from all over the state at the party.
“I was on the committee that originally interviewed her,” Smith said. “We heard we were getting a lady who was getting her first church and she was coming from Japan (Jeff Munson’s last post in the Navy). When she got here, she was amazing. We kept her at least five years longer than could be expected. Her departure is a huge disappointment, but not unexpected.”
Smith said Jeff Munson became choir director at the church.
“It’s been a remarkable awakening for our congregation,” Smith said. “We’ve done far, far more than a church our size would be expected to do.”
The church has 200 members, with attendance at services varying from 50 to 80 parishioners.
Under Karen Munson’s leadership, the United Methodist Church and Kents Hill School have sent United Methodist Committee on Relief teams eight years in a row to help rebuild Louisiana homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The church also has sent mission teams to Haiti, after it was ravaged by the 2010 earthquake, and for 10 years to Zambia.
Munson said she started the mission trips, and her one regret was she didn’t get to go on any of the trips to Zambia.
Both Readfield United Methodist Church and Kents Hill School have long, rich histories. The church, located next to the school campus, was founded in 1797 and is now a product of the merger of five area churches. Munson is the church’s 169th pastor.
Kents Hill School was founded in 1824, originally to develop an educated clergy. Its mission has evolved to that of a college preparatory school with about 240 students from 20 different countries in grades 9–12, and some postgraduate students. Munson has taught courses at Kents Hill in world religions, applied ethics and fiber arts, and she is an artist and a writer as well as a pastor.
At Kents Hill School, Munson said one of her primary goals has been to try to keep students connected with their religion of origin.
She said there are more Jewish students than in the past, so she makes sure they can attend services at Temple Beth El in Augusta. Catholic students are transported to St. Mary’s Church in Augusta for services.
Another part of her work at the school has been in values education, developing programs for the school’s core values such as tolerance and compassion.
The Deering Chapel, renovated in the past year, is the nondenominational center of spiritual life at Kents Hill School, she said. Munson said she gets involved in a campus response if there is a death of a student or faculty member. She said the school has two professional counselors, but she is available for the spiritual needs of both students and faculty members.
Munson said she got the calling to become a minister when she was just 18, but first she earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities and social welfare from the University of Minnesota in 1981 and gained life experience.
She married Jeff, whom she’d known for years, later that year. The couple had three children. She earned a master of divinity degree and later a doctor of divinity degree from Washington Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.
“I’ll miss the musicians at my church,” Munson said. “I’ll also miss the collegial network of pastors in this area, both in the Methodist community and the ecumenical community.
“I’m ready for new challenges. I’m excited about the work we did here and excited about the relationship they’re going to have with their new pastor.”