Free Baptist Church of Limerick
New England experienced a great religious revival during the latter part of the 18th century. George Whitefield, who died at Newburyport in 1770, had much to do with this revival. After his death Benjamin Randall carried on his evangelistic form of preaching. This man was the founder of the Freewill Baptist Denomination. He was baptized into membership of the Baptist Church in Berwick, and began preaching in many communities. Thus the groundwork was laid for the Freewill Baptist movement. By 1781 there were 9 such churches established in the area.
The Freewill Baptists believe in the free will of man. He must make the choice, and then God’s salvation is for all. Every man has the right to accept or reject. This is the general view of Maine Baptists today.
The Freewill Baptist Church in Limerick had its origin in 1822 when the Rev. Elias Libby of Limington, Maine, began to organize a church here. It is the general belief that the first church included about 30 members.
The Rev. Libby with the help of four others promoted the Morning Star newspaper. It was first published in Limerick in 1826. For many years this paper was the official organ of the Freewill Baptists. The paper frequently ran into trouble because of its antislavery stand, and caused controversy with the church members.
According to some historians the church adopted a New Covenant around 1836 with only six members. It can therefore be assumed that slavery was having its effect even on the Freewill Baptist Church of Limerick.
The following quote from the history of Limerick by Louise Lamprey illustrates the antislavery stand of the newspaper:
“The four-page Morning Star was one of the papers the mere possession of which, used to press botanical specimens in a traveler’s trunk would cause a man to be sent to jail, as in Washington, or dragged from his hotel and beaten, as happened in Nashville.”
The Rev. A. Bradbury was the next pastor, and again the church grew enough to warrant building a meetinghouse in 1837.
The next pastors in order were the Rev. William Chase in 1841 and the Rev. Benjamin Manson, who held a joint pastorate with Limington. The Rev. Mr. Keene and the Rev. David Lord followed this pastor.
In 1848 the Rev. James Rand, a native of Parsonsfield, began a successful term as pastor. It is interesting to note here that the Rev. Rand was educated at Parsonsfield Seminary. This building is still in use in the educational system of the district. His ministry in Limerick was a successful one and a period of growth for the church.
The next three pastors all stayed short periods and in order of succession were the Rev Horace Wellington, the Rev. Theodore Stevens, and the Rev. Almond Libby.
The most interesting aspect of the pastorate of the Rev. John Chaney was his strong stand on abolition. He is credited with the first antislavery resolution in the state of Maine. Thus one can see how the Freewill Baptist Church was influenced, and how controversy was ever present, caused by the great moral questions of the day.
The Rev Porter S. Burbank was the next pastor and carried on in much the same manner as his predecessor. He took a strong stand on temperance and antislavery. He was a correspondent for the Morning Star from 1833 to 1866. (The Morning Star moved to Dover, N. H. in 1833.) From the time of the Rev. Burbank until the church began the process of incorporation around 1911 many pastors served the church. The pastorate of the Rev. S. N. Tufts lasted approximately four years. During this time the meetinghouse was rebuilt. Then followed several men who served short periods. M. H. Quinby, the Rev. E. P. Ladd, the Rev. W. S. Packard, the Rev. Robert Frost, John Willis and C. Smith. It is interesting to note that the next pastor, the Rev. William Smith, Studied at Limerick Academy. The Rev. C. E. Tedford followed him. This man was also superintendent of schools in Limerick for a time. The next three pastors were the Rev. Mr. Hurd, the Rev. Mr. Haynes and the Rev. Mr. Howard. It was during the latter’s pastorate that the church purchased a parsonage. During this period it can be noticed that most of the ministers remained in Limerick only a short time. This seems to be an interesting fact in the history of the church. The next three pastors were the Rev. M. Holman, the Rev. A. Cox and the Rev. Schsermerhorn. It was during the latter pastor’s stay in Limerick that many repairs were made to the church. Perhaps the most interesting to present-day readers was the installation of gas lights.
The Rev. Sidney Wakely next served a short term and was followed by the Rev. Rogers Churchill: The pastorate of the Rev. Churchill lasted until 1912. During this period the church endeavored to incorporate.
There can be no doubt that the church followed the necessary steps for the incorporation and believed that it was accomplished in 1911. However, there seems to be some doubt that the incorporation was ever recorded in the office of the secretary of state, and therefore the issue remains in doubt. From the so-called incorporation until the federation with the Congregational Church the following ministers served the Rev Fredrick Bamford, the Rev. J. Monroe, and the Rev. Oscar Stuart, who served until 1917.
The Federation of the Congregational Church and the Freewill Baptist Church took place in 1917. This was brought about largely through the efforts of the Rev. Oscar Stuart and retired pastor George A. Mills. The most compelling reason for the federation was a financial one. Neither church could afford to go it alone as many members realized.
The federation was successful at first under the pastorates of the Rev. Mr. Wyman, the Rev. H. L. Packard and the Rev. Harry Chamberlain. But during the Rev. Austin Davis’ pastorate arguments developed and in 1930 the federation was terminated.
In any organization progress is always preceded by a desire on the part of members. Church records show that around 1920 a desire existed in the church group to create a better building. For several years committees were formed to study this problem and to raise money to bring the project to a successful conclusion.
The building fund grew slowly, but a very generous offer of financial assistance was made by Charles G. Moulton in 1924 to pay for a substantial part of the construction cost. Many in Limerick today remember Moulton as the owner of the Limerick Yarn Mills.
Extensive repairs were also made during this period on the church parsonage.
The total cost of the renovations on the church was nearly $40,000. The building was raised so that a basement could be completed with kitchen, dining room and modern plumbing facilities.
Many generous contributions were received, but to complete the project a loan was granted by the United Baptist Convention. This did not completely pay the debt, and the church was in financial trouble for a long time. It was many years before the loan was repaid the Convention.
Perhaps the most credit for the successful completion of the renovation project should be given to the building committee of this period. Serving on the committee were: John W. Brooke, Mildred Johnston, Allie J. Libby, Charles E. Boynton, Leon E. Kendall, Ralph L. Weston, Lure King, Charles G. Moulton, Cecil Sadler, Henry H. Eastman.
Dedication for the new church building was held on December 9,1928. Harry Stott, who presided at the organ during the evening service on that day, wrote a wonderful article in the early 1930’s recounting some of the church’s history, architecture, pipe organ and current pastor.
At long last, after nearly a decade of struggle, a new and beautiful sanctuary was, in fact, a reality. This is the Freewill Baptist Church that the people of Limerick know today. Located at the junction of Routes 5 and 160, it is indeed a tribute to the members who labored so long and hard to reach their goal.
In 1930 the Rev. Lewis Jones became the pastor of the church. The first minister soon after the federation was bound to face many problems. The Rev. Jones is remembered by many today as one who had a great relationship with the young people. Perhaps one would say today, he was one who could really communicate.
This writer recalls with pleasure, Sunday night meetings of the youth group, with sometimes as many as 40 or 50 young people present.
But dissension was ever present, and financial difficulties became critical. In 1934 the Rev. Jones’ pastorate came to an end. It is notable
In the autumn of 1949 the Congregational Church and Freewill Baptist Church called the Rev. John B. S. Fitzpatrick as a joint pastor for the two churches. This was only a union whereby the two churches hired the same minister, The Rev. Fitzpatrick resigned after two and one half years, and the Rev. Joseph Deane became the next pastor in 1953. Church membership increased under his ministry, and an effort was made to have the two churches work out an effective program
The pastorate of the Rev. Deane was a short one and he left in the autumn of 1954 to serve as director of the Emmanuel Christian Center in Brooklyn, New York.
The Rev. Norman Peacock began his term as minister in 1955. He was the last pastor to serve both the Congregational and Freewill Baptist Church under the so-called union. This arrangement was terminated at the end of his ministry.
The years the Rev. Peacock spent in Limerick could in some ways called stormy ones. There were always financial problems, and his salary was never adequate to support a family. It seems a fact of life that most small Protestant churches are ever facing some kind of financial crisis, and the Freewill Baptist Church of Limerick was certainly in the category of the financially distressed. Under the Rev. Peacock’s ministry the debt to the Baptist Convention was finally repaid. The church was at last free of indebtedness. The Rev. Peacock resigned in 1958 to accept a call at Vinalhaven Baptist Church.
On Nov. 1, 1958, at a meeting of the church it was announced that the Rev. Gordon DeHaas had accepted the call to become pastor. One of the first projects under his ministry was an all-member financial canvass. This proved to be successful; because of it the church was able to remain open.
The Ladies Aid, was active during the Rev. DeHaas’ pastorate. This was a transition period following the termination of the union with the Congregational Church. It was necessary to hold meetings in the church during the winter months. This created problems with the plumbing and heating systems, and to remedy the situation was expensive. The Ladies Aid was always willing to go to work and help raise the necessary money for repairs through church auctions, sales and slippers. Without the loyal support of the Ladies Aid at this time, the church would have been hard put to survive. The organization of the Ladies Aid is such that each month a different working committee is appointed, and this makes for efficiency for the various fund raising projects.
The ministry of the Rev. DeHaas was a successful one. He was an energetic and conscientious man, and in spite of serving several churches, in addition to the one in Limerick, he always seemed to have time to give to every worthwhile project. No amount of church problems could dull his enthusiasm for church work. His home was open night or day to anyone wishing to see him.
At the annual meeting of 1959 it was reported that 9 new members had been received into the church. The Sunday school and youth group was well organized, and attendance was holding up well.
The 1960 annual meeting reported several projects had been completed on church property. These included the roof on the parsonage, constructing a blacktop walk to the church, steps built at the side entrance and plumbing and furnace systems remodeled. That year a new constitution was adopted to guide the church in conducting business matters. This constitution is still in effect today.
During his stay here the Rev. DeHaas was pastor in four churches in different towns. This could only become a burden to any man, and in 1961 the Rev. DeHaas resigned. The members of the church accepted his resignation with deep regret.
The Rev. Philip Gage became the next minister in a joint pastorate with the North Waterboro Church. The Rev. Gage was a completely dedicated man, and with his wife Nancy, spent long hours working on church problems of the day. He was ordained in the church March 12, 1963.
The church established the Alton Johnson Scholarship in 1965. This was to be an annual scholarship in honor of the memory of Alton Johnston, who had given so much of his time and worldly goods to the church.
During the Rev. Gage’s’ ministry an attempt was made to repair and modernize both the church and parsonage. A new furnace in the parsonage and a new hot air heating system in the church were installed. Changes in the insurance were made to conform to the liability laws.
The Rev. Gage was accepted into the missionary field in 1967 and eventually became located in Thailand. He serves there to the present day.
Then came two more pastors, they were the Rev. Richard Hallett and the Rev. A. M. Rogerson. These two ministers have endeavored to meet the many church problems and challenges to the church today and to administer to the spiritual needs of the people.
Lastly, on November 2, 1975 the newest pastor came with his wife, the Rev. and Mrs. John “Jack” Daniels. They have been at the church over 38 years now, and diligent in the business of the Lord and faithful to the people of Limerick and the parish. Unlike the “Free Will” history of the church, and not by design, Pastor Daniels has led the congregation into the “reformed,” Calvinistic Faith.