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Pastor Maggie McCarey: mercy in the Adirondacks

March 2, 2011
By YVONA FAST, Special to the Enterprise

Pastor Maggie McCarey came to Saranac Lake in 2007. She had already been a Methodist pastor for 25 years, serving parishes in New York, Alaska and Vermont.

Before becoming a Methodist minister, Maggie was a college English professor. It was her husband, Bob McCarey-Laird, an attorney, who wanted to go to seminary. He felt he was not serving God by being a lawyer. Maggie reluctantly agreed to go with him.

"At the time, my son was 15 and my daughter 13," Maggie said. "I was concerned for our future. While sitting outside waiting for a taxi to take me from the University where I was teaching to seminary, I asked God to show me that this call was from him, and that our family's financial needs would be met. Just then, a sparrow flew down from the sky with a hamburger bun in his beak that was bigger than he was. Then other birds came to share in the feast. I was reminded of the passage in Chapter 6 of Matthew, when Jesus exhorts us not to worry:

Article Photos

Pastor Maggie McCarey
(Photo — Yvona Fast)

'Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Mt. 6:26 NIV).' Since then, I've never looked back. That was 25 years ago."

Compassion and mercy have been central to Maggie's ministry.

"Today, many parishioners don't read the Bible," Maggie said. "Few live the scripture. Scripture is meant to be lived - to come alive in your life. During my first year as a missionary to the Inuit, I learned and practiced this verse from Matthew: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.' (Mt. 9:13, NIV). Later, in Matthew 12, Jesus tells the Pharisees that if they had understood this concept, they would not have condemned the innocent. God has mercy on us. He has no need for sacrifice of anything else from us. That's why I can sit with people, knowing they have 'cultural' sin in their lives, and give them what they need, while others can't do that because they're busy remembering where that person came from, or his or her place in town.

"Because all I have to do is receive God's mercy, I'm able to pass that merciful non-judgment onto people who are marginalized, including the middle-class poor Many women in Saranac Lake would have better career opportunities if they lived somewhere else A lot of my parishioners here are not in church on Sunday. Church is wherever people are in need."

Maggie was instrumental in starting the Wednesday night community supper. Many times, there are more people at the community supper than in the Sunday service.

"I learned the importance of community while serving as a missionary in Alaska," Maggie said. "Each village is allowed one whale to share. They packed their houses in 10 to 15 people at a time - anyone coming from the village to Nome is welcomed in any Inuit household. Here I learned what loving your neighbor means. In contrast, we Americans often love our gadgets as ourselves and don't know or speak to our neighbors.

"Our Wednesday night community dinner is a real community event - neighbors, friends, families come together for a meal and conversation. There are many who would never have known each other if they hadn't gotten out of their homes for Wednesday night dinner. The truly impoverished people in our community are the ones who won't get out of their comfort zone to find pleasure in being with others long enough to let them become real people rather than strangers living in the same town. When I drive down the street, I now know lots of people walking by. Often I'll hear a child call my name through a downtown apartment window because that child is part of my Wednesday night community."

The daffodils Maggie planted with Sunday school children at the Children's Park are another example of community.

"When Betsy Pond planted daffodils by the church, one little girl decided to call me Pastor Daffodil instead of Pastor Maggie," she said. "In Sunday school, we were discussing what to give Jesus for his birthday. One little boy mentioned some gadgets. Then a girl said it should be something we could share, like flowers. After that, in 2007, we planted a whole row of daffodils at the children's park. Now, Saranac Lake is becoming the town of daffodils. Those children know it began with our birthday gift to Jesus."

Maggie has just released a new book, "Wise Woman's Children: Dancing Barefoot in the Church" (Rowan and Woodruff Publishing Co.), which is a blend of church history and feminist theology.

"The work grew out of my concern for dying churches, my interest in miracles, spirituality and the New Age movement in relation to Christianity," she said. "I see the New Age as simply translating Christ's Scripture. When I hear a supposedly revelatory New Age concept, I often say, 'Jesus said that 2,000 years ago.'"

She's also the author of "Godfire Goes to School" and CDs about the awakening of the soul within each person.

Maggie is planning to retire from the ministry during the coming year, partly due to her problems with lipedema. This hereditary lymphatic disease affects between six to 12 million women.

"Even though I'll retire, my ministry is not over," Maggie said. "It's simply changing. These women are suffering. Many of them are unaware of the condition. Doctors also lack knowledge. They can't see this disease because of prejudice against obesity. But my disease is not obesity, though it looks like obesity. Hormones cause buildup of adipose tissue, creating a genetic fat suit. In my retirement, I plan to work to bring awareness to the medical community about this serious condition. I've already created a website,, with lots of information about lipedema. It's a challenge, but I believe I will succeed.

"The Scripture that I'm living and learning today is from the Gospel of John: 'Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.' (John 14:12 NIV). This is a verse that will take a lifetime to learn and understand. Every act Jesus performed, we have permission to perform. I cling to that now. Jesus is with me in every act. The world tries to stop our power but we have power from Jesus to be like him, do what he did, and be his true disciples. That is how we succeed in the challenges God puts before us."


Based on an interview with Maggie McCarey.

Yvona Fast can be reached at



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