Pittsfield Historical Society’s
History of Pittsfield
First Congregational Church
P.O. Box 423, 132 Somerset AvenuePittsfield, Maine 04967
Church Phone and Fax: (207) 487-6947
Email at email@example.com
Church services: Sunday, 10:00 a.m.
Sunday School: 10:00 a.m.
Childcare: 10:00 a.m. September 1st through May 31st.
Church Service 9:00 a.m. from June 1st to August 31st. No Sunday School.
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First Congregational Church was founded in 1960 and soon thereafter joined the United Church of Christ. The Church was founded by fifty-one Christians who wanted to maintain their faith in Jesus Christ in the Congregational Way. The Church first met in living rooms and VFW halls before finally purchasing the former Donald H. Shorey Funeral Home and offices on Park Street. After a spirited remodeling effort, our church services were first held in our present sanctuary in the Fall of 1961.
Our church has traditionally been a training church for students at the Bangor Theological Seminary. In our forty-year history, we have had six ordinations here, and have seen many pastors go on to serve Christ in many capacities. Presently, we have a full-time permanent pastor who has been here since 2003. Over the years, we have increased the size of our church buildings and have increased the size of our church membership. We are a medium-sized, still growing, church dedicated to the work of Jesus Christ as guided by the Holy Spirit. Our friendliness is shown not only in our warm church services but also in our coffee fellowships and suppers that we offer throughout the year. Our church was nicknamed “The Church that Love Built” by its founders, and we treasure and maintain that tradition to this day.
In September of 1960, a group of approximately thirty-five people considered forming a new church. After several meetings, financial support was pledged, a new minister was hired, and fifty-one charter members joined. In October of 1960, corporation papers were completed, and the First Congregational Church of Pittsfield was underway. Soon thereafter, the congregation elected to join with the Maine Conference, United Church of Christ. One of the first acts, as well, was to form a Women’s Fellowship, with twenty-two ladies as charter members.
The first pastor was the Reverend Scott Kittredge, and the first service was held October 2, 1960. Early services were held in living rooms and in the then-VFW Hall. In August of 1961, the membership voted unanimously to purchase the former Donald H. Shorey Funeral Home and property, which included three buildings on Park Street. A mortgage was secured with the Maine Conference United Church of Christ, the first but not the last time that the Conference has aided the life of our local church. Over the next several months, it was converted into our present sanctuary, parsonage, and what was then our Fellowship Hall and Sunday School rooms. An organ was purchased at this time which would fill our sanctuary with music for the next forty years.
The Women’s Fellowship organized and began operating the Pennywise Shop on Hathorn Street. The Pennywise has had several “homes,” but is now located in Lane Hall (what was once our Fellowship Hall and Sunday School rooms). Membership nearly doubled in the ensuing years, as people found “the Church that Love built” to be a place of warmth and Christian growth. Our Sunday School was ever-expanding, and by the end of the 1960’s, it was seen that we needed more room for classrooms. In 1968, it was voted to purchase the Severance home on the comer of Park and Middle Streets, and convert its many rooms into a Sunday School.
The 1960’s saw us grow into a thriving church as well as a teaching church. We had four pastors in the 1960’s, and two of these were ordained in our sanctuary. George Dillon followed after Scott Kittredge, and then Robert Saunders became the first man ordained at our church, beginning a line of seven pastors (not including interim pastors) who were ordained at our sanctuary. Robert Saunders was followed by Gene Laramy, who ushered us into the 1970’s.
The seventies were quite interesting in times of disruption and yet pacification. At the beginning of the seventies, we thought we might lose our physical presence on Park Street, in that the Town of Pittsfield was hoping to convert central Pittsfield into a shopping mall. The people of the town, however, voted down this urban renewal project, and our church remained exactly where it was.
Gene Laramy left our church upon his graduation from Bangor Theological Seminary in 1972, and it was then that we hired Harlan Corell, who had the longest tenure in the history of our church, until the present pastor. Social Action and Outreach were the hallmarks of the 1970’s, and our church was at the forefront.
During the 1970’s, the Severance home was renamed Bennett Hall, in honor of Blanche Bennett, our church’s- first Sunday School Director. Later, in 1977, our final payment on the Conference mortgage was made; so now we had clear title to all four buildings (the parsonage, Lane Hall, the sanctuary, and Bennett Hall). Our church had long wished for a spire to call attention not only to the heavens, but also to the people who pass by, and so it was that we began fund-raising efforts to purchase and install a spire at the front of our sanctuary. This was completed in 1979, and it stands there to this day. In 1978, Harlan Corell left our pulpit and it was subsequently filled by George Fowler on an interim basis. It was the Reverend Fowler who brought us into the eighties.
The eighties saw our greatest turnover in the rate of pastors. No less than six pastors served our pulpit in that time. The Reverend Fowler was followed by the Reverend John Clarke, who in turn was followed by Dr. Walter Cook from Bangor Theological Seminary, who served us on an interim basis. There are many stories of how people would see Dr. Cook walking from house to house, visiting his congregants, and anyone who would stop and talk. He served as a portion of oil upon unsettled waters, and brought much joy and peace to many here. Our library is dedicated to his service in the Lord. After Dr. Cook, William Jordan served here, and it was during his tenure that we embarked on yet another building project. Citing the need for better equipped Sunday School rooms as well as a more efficient kitchen, the church members decided to tear down Bennett Hall and replace it with a more modem facility. In 1985, ground was broken and a new building was planned. Several members of the church donated their time and financial resources in order to complete Memorial Hall in time for our 25th Anniversary Celebration. It was now, with the movement of our Fellowship Hall into Memorial Hall, that Lane Hall became the Pennywise Shop.
Our Memorial Hall has been used by many organizations in and around town: the Boys and Girls Club, TOPS, Weight Watchers, Sebasticook Valley Hospital, the Cub Scouts, Al-a-non, and the Family Violence Project, just to name a few. We also, in our own opinion, put on the best public suppers in the county!
The end of the 1980’s saw the Reverend Jordan passing the mantle onto Fred Gagnon, and he in turn entrusted the pulpit to the Reverend Ellis Carr. Ellis Carr oversaw our transition into the 1990’s.
As of the 1990’s, our church had been served by student pastors (with the exception of interim pastors) for over twenty years. We therefore learned to adapt to many different styles and to change itself. There was a brief resurgence of attendance under Ellis Carr, but as he passed the mantle on to Jim Behrendt (also a student), our numbers began to trail off. When Pastor Behrendt left after a year, the church was at a turning point. So it was that six months after Pastor Behrendt left, our church voted unanimously to move from a part-time pastorate and church, to a full-time church, and hired Andrew Gibson, a graduate of Bangor Theological Seminary, to be the Pastor.
Since 1992, we have seen the addition of a beautiful stained-glass window which adorns the front of our sanctuary, which was installed in the memory of Ralph and Muriel Gould, both charter members of the church. The fifty-year-old Lane Hall/Pennywise building, which was in desperate need of repair, was renovated. A re-dedication of that building was held in 1996. Our church again faced a crisis in 1997, when our pastor, Andrew Gibson, was called into active military service in Bosnia. We called the Reverend Henry Wyman, who was serving part-time at a neighboring church, to be our interim minister while Pastor Gibson was away. Soon after Pastor Gibson returned, in the fall of 1998, we called our first Assistant Pastor, a student at Bangor Theological Seminary, and a member of our church, Ernie Campbell. Ernie served for one school year as our Assistant Pastor, and has gone on to be the interim pastor of the Madison Congregational Church.
Most recently, we have purchased a new organ, to replace the aging Conn organ in our sanctuary, and we are looking forward to creative ways of meeting the needs of our growing congregation.
Into the New Millennium
We know it isn’t the building that makes the church, but this one does mean a great deal to many of us. God is, and always has been, very much with this church, and with His continued help and spiritual guidance, we will look forward to the future.
Text by Novella Rogers and Andrew Gibson
Original Version: 27-Nov-05.