The following Church history was supplied by Emily K. Felker, a member of OOB UMC, for a booklet printed in the early 90′s. It is used here to give you some idea of the history behind the Church.
I see the history of this church building and the congregation over the years as being a story of God’s people in Old Orchard Beach and how the Methodist Church has grown and served the town and its inhabitants. Most of my notes are taken from a history published for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the building published at the end of 1974. The information for the next twenty-one years after that come from various sources. The display of snapshots on the table will bring to mind some activities and involvements in recent years. Please look at the photos and remember. Perhaps inspiration will spring from them for future events. Please take the photos with you to keep history alive in your homes and in your hearts.
I’m going to do a great deal of name-dropping from here on. Many of you will recall these folks. There is no way I can mention all of those people instrumental in working in this church but Fm sure everyone of us can recall others that I miss.
The 1974 history publication was edited by our-then pastor Rev. Robert Plaisted and typed by his wife, Joyce. The research was done by our long-time treasurer, Lillian Cleaves, Orely Gifford and John Tibbetts for whom the small room off the vestry is named. The plaque on the wall indicates some of John Tibbetts* many services to this congregation.
I’m going to quote some passages from the publication. These were the very early days that even I don’t remember. “The history of Old Orchard Methodism is as old as Methodism in the State of Maine itself. In the year 1793, the Rev. Jesse Lee was appointed to the Lynn District and the Province of Maine. A huge man weighing over 250 pounds, Rev. Lee required two horses, riding one for a while, then shifting the burden of his great weight to the other. He soon introduced Methodism to the entire “Province of Maine”. One of his first preaching stops was Saco, where a woman, Phebe Stackpole, was converted, thus becoming the first Methodist in Old Orchard, her actual residence.
Old Orchard does not appear to have grown rapidly, however. In 1873, eighty years after its first Methodist adherent, there were still only 35 families in the town, legally still a part of Saco. In 1872, or thereabouts, the Old Orchard Beach Camp-Meeting Association was formed, under Methodist auspices. Many families were attracted to Old Orchard because of the Camp-Meeting activities, and became permanent residents.”
Over the next decade prayer meetings and Sunday Schools were organized. These groups were made up of Congregationalists, Advents, Baptists and Free Baptists, hence these groups could not be considered as Methodists. These meetings were held in an old school-house which grew too small in time. Various halls and homes in town were used as the groups enlarged. Soon an invitation was given by Mrs. Lovey Pillsbury, who owned the Revere House for the meetings to be held in the hotel dining-room. The Advents continued to meet in the hall and soon built their chapel at Washington and Saco Avenues which is now the dance studio of Jane Patton, one-time Superintendent of the Methodist church school.
The time came when the question of a meeting place arose. The Trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Society purchased from the Camp Ground Association land and the building thereon for $2,000 in 1883. Leading names associated with the very early church here were: Banks, Bachelder, Foss, Staples, Googins, Osborne, Ordway, Caine, Baxter, Rolfe, Manson, Harley, Hill, Tarbox, Chapman, Snow and others.
The first resident pastor was Rev. Hezekiah Chase, serving from 1885 to 1886. I have the list of pastors if you would like to see it.
These early days were marked by large congregations, and they were times of salvation, not by notable revivals, but by the one-by-one ingathering. The pastors had without exception the evangelistic spirit. One of the most generous donors to the new church building was Mrs. Nancy Plummer. The pipe organ still in use today and skillfully played each week by Sherwin Day was donated at a cost of $1,200 by Mrs. Plummer. Her total contribution to the church was between six and seven thousand dollars. She also bought and gave to the church the original parsonage on the comer of Saco and School Streets. A memorial window to Mrs. Plummer can be seen in the sanctuary. Also a list of names of early donors to the new church can be seen on a plate on die pulpit.
The first service was held in the new church building on Thanksgiving Day in 1899. About fifty people stood throughout the service as the pews were not then installed and the ceiling was still under construction. The great day was on December 29, 1899, when appropriate dedicatory services were held.
Fred I. Luce was made Superintendent of the Sunday School when the new building was opened and continued in that capacity until his death in 1958, certainty one of the longest records of continuous service known. Various women’s groups over the years, Ladies’ Aids, W. S.C.S., Faith Circle and Hope Circle contributed much to improvements to the building and grounds. Men’s groups flourished and waned as time passed with the names of John Connor, Sam Browne and Tom Cockerille prominently mentioned.
The adjoining lot of land cm Washington Avenue was acquired during the pastorate of Rev. Charles Brooks, who personally collected nearly all the money needed for the purchase.
The early 50′s recorded church membership at over 300 with church school reporting an average attendance of 114. The new parsonage on Cedar Avenue was purchased in 1958 at a cost of $10,000. Rev. John Stahl was appointed in 1959 and on July 10,1959 Christine Stahl was bom and a new baby joined the parsonage family.
The present educational building was acquired in the 1960′s at a cost of $7,000. AH the renovation work was done by the pastor and the men and women of the church. Various donors are indicated by the memorial plaques on the doors to the church school rooms.
Several pastors served the church during the 1960′s including Rev. Gilbert Sirotti, Rev. John Dame, his wife, Rev. Elsie Dame, Rev. Norman Catir and Rev. Robert Blake and Rev. William Malpass. All contributed their talents and experiences toward enrichment of congregational life in the church.
Rev. Robert Plaisted was appointed in June of 1972. In the 24 months between November of 1972 and November of 1974, the church added 48 new members. The average Sunday worship attendance rose from 35 to 80. Church School attendance rose from 25 to 65. In 1973, the Old Orchard Church led all United Methodist Churches in Maine in net growth.
A month-long anniversary celebration was climaxed on December 29, 1974 with presiding Bishop Carroll preaching the dedication anniversary service.
From here on Fm relying on my memory and the recollections of Tom Cockerille, our Church Historian, and others for I find no written chronology of the final twenty-five years of this century.
Back to name-dropping. The choir has always played an important part in the worship services with the names of families recurring often over several generations. Do you remember:
Bradeen, Cleveland, Souza, Andrews, Dickson, Gilbert, Davis, Knight, Presby and, oh, so many others. The talented organists over the years have been Jennie Hill, Emily Cram, Gertrude Thompson, Annie Lord, Rufus Perkins, Merrill Thompson, Florence Benson, Eva Alien, Robert Johnson, David Plummer and Sherwin Day.
In 1983 the church underwent an complete new experience with the appointment of two women to the pastorate in Old Orchard. Mary Miller and Linda Shevlin were sent to Old Orchard as joint ministers. This event was quite unique for us up to this point and brought much energy and growth and revitalization to Washington Avenue. The photos show many of the events in which we took part. Mary Miller then served as pastor alone until 1990 when Grace was appointed and still serves.
This church has always been a mission minded church and the Church School has supported an African child for many years. The buildings have been open to many groups at various times including AA, Little Horizons, the Parents of Murdered Children support group. Al-Anon, Boy Scouts, Old Orchard Recreation Department are those I can think of off-hand. The Clothes Closet and Food Shelf are missions to the needy of our town.
It appears I could go on for the rest of the afternoon but I will stop now with a bit of personal recollection. It has been a joy to remember the happy times, the inspiring times and the opportunities for service that I have received here with my church family.
Since the writing of this article, we have been served by four subsequent pastors: Rev. Theodore Poland (1996-2003), Pastor Sara Ewing-Merrill (2003-2005), and Pastor Michael Gray (2005-2018). Currently, we are served by Rev. Gary Nettleton (2018-?).