Damariscotta Baptist Church
Friday, July 20, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

A Brief Historical Sketch

This historical sketch was assembled in 1969 from newspaper articles and records of the church clerks...
 
The Damariscotta Baptist Church, founded in 1819, came into being under the name of the Second Baptist Church of Nobleborough while Damariscotta, the town, was still an unchronicled part.  Even before the church was founded, the records state that a Sunday School had been organized by "a Mr. Reed."  It does not take too much imagination to learn why a second Baptist church was needed in this considerable area.  The community was growing: that section known as "the Bridge" - the business street of today - was several miles from the Nobleborough church and the Baptists living in "the Bridge" area apparently found it more and more difficult to travel the distance involved.  Consequently, we find twelve members of the Nobleborough church requesting dismission from that church and gathering at the home of William Hopkins, on Hopkins Hill, now a part of Newcastle, to form their own church.  Their first act was to invite Reverend Adoniram Judson of Plymouth, Massachusetts, to come and serve as their pastor.  He came, and was ordained September 30, 1819.  This Judson was the father of the missionary to Burma whose ministry eventually led to the formation of the American Baptist Missionary Union.
 
As to where the first meeting house for this new little flock was located, this is still a matter of conjecture.  For a time the members met in each others' homes.  It was not until 1824, during the ministry of Reverend Duncan Dunbar - who came as the second pastor for the church after the Elder Judson had returned to Plymouth - that there is mention of a church building..."more like a chapel"...which is thought to have been located where the present church stands.
 
Of this early church, dark days seem to have followed Reverend Judson's departure.  As recorded: "Visiting ministers did what they could for the good of the church but other leaders caused division.  In 1823, when the church numbered little more than a score, seven members presented themselves and assumed the name of "Theoretical Independent Baptist Church ... "an organization, happily, too independent to live", concludes the chronicler.
 
As the community prospered, so, it appears, did the church.  During the first winter of Reverend Dunbar's pastorate, we read, there were conversions and baptisms in every month and on nearly every Sabbath - in Damariscotta Lake and River.
 
Then came a period when the church applied itself with evangelical zeal largely to the disciplining of its members.  Mention is made of the restoration of friendships after alienations; stern scrutiny of the church rolls for discovery of infractions and subsequent dismissals because of these; the rebuking and dismissal of a member for having shod his horse on the Sabbath, etc.
 
But in the year 1833, following "the low estate of the church" a "Protracted Meeting" of several weeks was organized by the newly ordained Evangelist pastor, Reverend Luther Stevens.  "At that time", it is written, "there were several vessels on the stock here, and rough, violent men were in the crews, who, as a matter of jest sent in requests for prayers.  They were taken at their word, were convicted, dropped axe and augur and ran to the house of God.  Every day there were converts - five, ten, twenty - businessmen, shipmasters, seamen - and the result of the work was not only the strengthening of the Baptist church but the great building up of the Congregational and Methodist churches."
 
Around this time, too, the prosperous Baptists of the community began to feel the need of a church structure more suited to their improved station in life, it would appear, and shortly mounted a building program to achieve that end.  By 1838, the vestry of the church had been completed "at a cost of $450.80", and by 1843, the main church structure as it exists today, was finished.
 
Much inner organization ensued as the church grew under seemingly two bodies - the Church proper, which dealt with matters of religion, membership and discipline, and the Society, which handled secular affairs largely.
 
In 1848, Damariscotta was incorporated as a town - no longer a part of Nobleboro and Bristol - and the members of the church petitioned the Legislature for a change of name, accordingly.  This granted, the Damariscotta Baptist Church came into being.  That same year, the church voted to adopt the Confession of Faith and Covenant recommended by the Baptist State Convention meeting at Brunswick in 1846.  By 1850, states the record, members connected with the church since its organization numbered 496, thus attesting to its remarkable growth over the years.
 
As one reads into the rich collection of facts, fortunately preserved for us by the "saving" characteristics of the church officials and others throughout the years of church history, one is tempted to delineate in some detail the pastorates of all who have ministered here.  This is not, however, possible in so brief a sketch albeit much valuable history is involved.  We believe we may well sum up the ministries of the thirty pastors who have served the church in its 160 years of existence (including recognition therein of those pastors who are living today) with this statement taken from the Re-Dedication Address by Reverend E. C. Whittemore, 1891: "As we look back over the list of ministers who have served the church, we find that the church here and elsewhere has already placed them in its record for the good and true.  Eminent names are these, but which stands highest in the book of God, we cannot, and need not, know."
 
How firm a foundation had been laid is demonstrated by the fact that up to and during the Civil War there were conversions and baptisms and "a system of beneficence adopted which has done such good work up to the present time" states our chronicler, the Reverend Whittemore.  It is this system of beneficence to which he points again as he speaks of the generous contributions of foreign missions and other related evidences of the church's generosity, and somewhat mischievously sates in the same regard: "To compare ourselves as churches among ourselves may not always be unwise.  I have examined the minutes of the convention for a period of the 20 years just closed (1870 to 1890).  For five of these years there were but two church in the entire State that surpassed Damariscotta in contributions to the convention...for seven more of these years there was but one church in the State that could keep ahead of this sleepy old village society; and one year (tell it not in Portland!) even Free Street herself was left in the rear."  "Such treatment as this has had a very pernicious effect upon the convention secretaries", concludes Reverend Whittemore, "and instead of coming forward and offering us generous aid in our great work, Dr. Dunn (the then secretary) actually sent to us for a contribution...and I suppose he will get it."
 
Other evidences of the steady growth of the church are apparent in the establishment of "a beautiful parsonage", completed in 1885, for which the Ladies Social Circle was given much credit; the extensive renovation of the church interior just prior to its re-dedication in 1891; the holding of the Annual Meeting of the Maine Baptist Convention in the church on October 5, 1896, "the largest in the history of the church."
 
On January 16, 1911, the church was incorporated "that it may hold its property and manage its affairs without interference or control from others."
 
We have spoken earlier of the first Sunday School.  By the last of the century it was reported that the School had been through all the years of its history, the strong helper of the church.  "It has seen large numbers gathered from its ranks into church fellowship, and it has sent out many efficient teachers and superintendents for other schools..."  Indeed, so greatly had the School developed over the years and so sorely were the pupils pressed for space that by 1967 the church voted to launch a building program of considerable size to erect a Christian Education Wing.  This was completed in 1968 and was first used by the Sunday School on September 29 of that year.
 
Along the way, we have opened the records to several outstanding events of the church as it celebrated its many achievements, including its 100th and 150th anniversaries, both of which drew to its programs persons of eminence from this State and abroad.  One such record has caught and held our eye, a statement taken from the centennial exercises of the church in 1919 when the then pastor stated: "The church has been too individualistic in its appeal...it has been more concerned with the saving of souls that the saving of society...the church of the future will make a careful study of the social conditions of the community in which it is located and will organize to combat social evils..."
 
We could offer a salute to this remark, now saying to the Reverend C. V. Hanson, author of the above prophesy, "Sir! We believe we are on our way.  Witness the community outreach of the modern church as it seeks to identify and build programs to correct - within its capabilities - many of these social evils.