[p. 44]SUMNER AND HARTFORD BAPTIST CHURCH.
THE Town of Sumner, formerly called West Butterfield, began to be settled in 1782, but there were no professed Baptists in town until December, 1801, when John Briggs was baptized and joined the Baptist church in Buckfield, he being the first person baptized in this town.
From this time the religious interest increased and the people enjoyed Baptist preaching, a part of the time, by Rev. Nathaniel Chase; Rev. Sylvanus Boardman, the father of George Dana Boardman, the missionary; and Rev. John Tripp. Quite a number experienced religion and united with the Baptist church in Buckfield.
In December, 1803, Rev. Thomas Macomber and wife moved into town from Jay, and he began to preach to the people. There now being quite a number of people of Baptist faith here, it was believed that there ought to be a Baptist church in town, and a meeting was called March 15, 1804, at the home of Sylvanus Stephens to consider the matter. "After solemn prayer to Almighty God for direction in this important undertaking" it was voted to organize a church, and a council was called for that purpose June 14, 1804.
June 2, 1804, eight brothers and eleven sisters were dismissed from the First Baptist church in Buckfield to help form a new church.
June 14th, "the Elders and chosen brethren" from the Hebron church and the First and Second Baptist churches in Buckfield, met at the barn of John Briggs and organized this church with twenty-one members, as follows: John Briggs, Isaac Sturtevant, Sylvanus Stephens, Enoch Hall, Mishach Keen, [p. 45] John Bartlett, Thomas Macomber, Bethiah Hall, Olive Churchill, Hannah Stephens, Molly Bartlett, Abigail Sturtevant, Margaret Robinson, Polly Churchill, Phebe Macomber, Phebe Cummings and Betsey Hayford.
The church, in the presence of the council, made a choice of Rev. Thomas Macomber as its first clerk, and John Briggs as deacon. They also extended to Rev. Thomas Macomber a call to become their pastor. He accepted their invitation in the following letter:
"To the Baptist Church of Christ in Sumner:
"DEARLY BELOVED BRETHREN:—Having just now received your loving invitation to receive the charge of this church, and as we have previously talked the matter over, I am ready to answer in the affirmative, and consent to become your pastor, if the council present on the occasion think advisable. But brethren, alas! I feel my uniitness for such an undertaking, but as you have had an opportunity to hear my improvement and at present express satisfaction, I desire to trust in the Lord and hope and pray that He will make me useful among you. You will not understand that I engage absolutely to continue with you as long as I live, if my life should be continued, but as long as we are mutually useful one to the other, or as long as duty shall appear. Dear brethren, would you wish for a blessing under my improvement, pray to God to keep me humble. With respect to occasional visits, expect to take no more liberty than with submission to the church and according to the Gospel rule.(Signed), "THOMAS MACOMBER."
"June 14, 1804."
Although Mr. Macomber had once been ordained the council thought it expedient that he be ordained on this occasion and proceded with the following program: Sermon by Elder Tripp, I Cor., 4:12; prayer by Elder Ricker; charge to church and candidate, by Elder Chase; and right hand of fellowship, by Elder Tripp. Mr. Macomber in becoming pastor was the first settled minister in town. He remained as pastor until January 20, 1816, or nearly twelve years.
September 22, 1804, the church asked admission to the Bowdoinham Association. For a number of years the meetings were held in John Briggs' house or barn and in school houses in different parts of the town. As early as August 31, 1811, we find these minutes on the record book: "Held a church meeting- [p. 46] After looking to the Lord for direction, attended to the business respecting the building of a meeting-house. After considerable conversation on the subject, voted unanimously to attempt to build a house of worship, and chose brethren John Briggs, Isaac Sturtevant and Sylvanus Stephens a committee to see what could be done." But no definite action was taken until 1834, when the present house was built.
May 31, 1810, five members were dismissed to help organize a church in Hartford. The church in its early history had no special revivals, yet it moved along harmoniously, with good interest and occasional additions. About the time that Elder Macomber closed his pastorate Elder Joseph Palmer moved into town and began preaching for the people. He became pastor April 5, 1817.
During, the Fall of 1816, Elder Palmer and Elder Daniel Hutchinson of the Hartford church labored with the people and the Lord wonderfully blessed their labors. Thirty-three were baptized and united with the church. In 1823, the Lord again poured out his spirit upon them and fifteen were baptized and four joined the church. Elder Palmer was dismissed as pastor June 15, 1830, but did not leave the church until April 30, 1831, having been with the church over fifteen years and pastor over thirteen years. Forty-eight were added to the church during his stay.
In March, 1833, Elder Manassah Lawrence became pastor, and for nearly 25 years he led the church and was highly esteemed for his work's sake. During Brother Lawrence's pastorate there were three especial seasons of the manifestations of God's presence among them, when numbers were added to the church. In 1839, thirty-two were baptized and united with the church; in 1843, nineteen; and in 1856, thirty-seven. In October, before this last revival, a few of the church members decided to have a season of special prayer, and in January the quarterly meeting met with the church, and interest already awakened was strengthened and increased. Many backsliders were brought to realize their condition, and many new voices were heard praising their Saviour.
In the records of August 4, 1860, we find these resolutions:
"WHEREAS, we have heard with regret of the sudden death of our late pastor, Rev. Manassah Lawrence, who spent with [p. 47] us almost twenty-five of the twenty-seven years of his pastoral life, therefore,
Resolved, That we hereby express our affection and esteem for him as a Christian minister, and our grateful remembrance of his useful labors among us.
Resolved, That as an expression of our esteem for Brother Lawrence, we will suspend our usual services tomorrow, (Sunday) and as many of us as possible attend his funeral."
It was about the close of Elder Lawrence's pastorate that the church had its largest membership, having one hundred and thirty-three members on the roll. In January, 1858, thirty-two members were dismissed to help organize the West Sumner church, and the name of this church was changed from the Sumner Baptist church to that of the First Baptist church. It was changed again August 6, 1864, to the Sumner and Hartford Baptist church.
The next pastor called by the church was Rev. William Hurlin, who took charge of the church June 5, 1868, and remained nearly three years. During Brother Hurlin's stay the church building was remodeled, and the old-fashioned high pulpit between the doors was removed, and the seats changed to face the other way as at present. Ten were baptized and joined the church during his stay.
Rev. J. A. Baskwell was pastor two years in 1862 and 1863. In the Fall of 1863 occurred one of the largest revivals in the history of the church. Thirty-three were added to it at this time.
June 4, 1864, Rev. Allen Barrows became its pastor. He was the father of Miss Sarah B. Barrows, who was for so long a time a missionary in Burmah. Miss Barrows and her father are both buried in the old cemetery at East Sumner. Mr. Barrows closed his pastorate November 11, 1867, but afterward returned and supplied the church when it was without a pastor.
Rev. A. F. Benson was pastor of the church from June 6, 1868, to November 27, 1870. After Mr. Benson left, Rev. Allen Barrows, having moved back into town from Woodstock, supplied the church a part of the time until January, 1875, when Rev. Henry A. Stetson became pastor. He was ordained June 29, 1875, and remained three years. Nine were received by baptism while he was with the church. He closed his labors here May 31, 1878. [p. 48] The next three years the church had no settled minister but was supplied a part of the time by Rev. A. H. Spaulding; and Rev. A. A. Smith became pastor and continued as such for about two years. Three were added to the church during his ministry here.
Rev. Robert Scott was called to the pastorate June 2, 1883, and five were added in the three years he had the oversight of the church.
Again for nearly four years the church had no regular pastor. Rev. William Beavins supplied for a while, and through the summer of 1887, Rev. J. M. Waldron, now of the Bethel Home church, Jacksonville, Fla., who was attending Newton Theological Institution, supplied the church and three were baptized by Rev. Orrin Richardson and received into the church by Brother Waldron.
Rev. A. P. Wedge, who was attending school at Hebron Academy, also supplied the church very acceptably in 1888.
June 1, 1889, Rev. S. D. Richardson became pastor. No word of commendation are needed as he was known to all in this vicinity as a man who practiced what he preached. He closed his pastorate September 1, 1894. After Mr. Richardson moved away, Rev. B. F. Lawrence of Buckfield, supplied a short time. Rev. J. E. Berry of West Sumner also supplied for a short time. In the Fall of 1894, the church decided to have some special meetings and Miss Carrie Ourrant, (afterward Mrs. Murray) and Miss Fiel, two evangelists, were secured to help in these meetings. Union services were held with the Congregationalist church in this place and the Lord most wonderfully blessed us. Over thirty made a stand for Ohrist, twenty of whom, later, were baptized and joined the church. While the meetings were in progress Rev. A. G. Murray came to us, and so well was he liked that the church called him to the pastorate February 1, 1895. He was ordained to the ministry May 7, 1895, and May 27, he baptized and received into the church eighteen, most of whom were young people. In July following, two more were received. Mr. Murray closed his labors with the church, February 1, 1900, having had care of the church five years.
After Mr. Murray left, the church was supplied for a short time by Rev. J. H. Whitson also by Rev. S. D. Richardson. November 1, 1900, Rev. B. F. Turner accepted a call of this [p. 49] church in connection with the churches at West Sumner and Buckfield, preaching once in two weeks. He remained with us three years and left November 1, 1903, having accepted a call to the pastorate of the Rumford Falls church.
In the latter part of November, 1903, the present pastor, Rev. W. D. Athearn, accepted our call in connection with the Buckfield church and we are blessed with good preaching each Sabbath and are hoping and praying for a quickening of the church and the salvation of the unsaved among us.
While there has been so many seasons in the history of the church when numbers have been added to it, the hand of death has been steadily at work; also many have been dismissed to go elsewhere, so that the present membership is small, numbering but fifty-two, with a resident membership of forty-four.
The church, like most country churches, has had its times of trouble when things looked discouraging, but God, we believe, still has, and will have, a people here. Of the fifty-two members of the church all but three were received by baptism; some have taken letters of dismission from us and united elsewhere, but later have returned to us by letter.
The following have served the church as deacons: John Briggs, Stephen Ellis, Samuel. Palmer, Cyrus Ricker, Paschal Barrell, B. F. Robinson, Ira Palmer, Charles B. Bonney, Frank E. Foster, Elmer A. Frazier and Thomas J. Stephens. The following have served the church as clerks: Rev. Thomas Macomber, Stephen Ellis, Dr. Bethuel Cary, E. A. Tucker, Ira Palmer, Jr., and A. L. Palmer. Dr. Bethuel Cary served as clerk twenty-five years.
Stephen Ellis served the church as deacon thirty-nine years.