First Congregational Church - Bingham, Me

Continuing the Saga; 1955-1980

by Douglas Warren Drown
  Much has happened since Elizabeth Goodrich Jordan wrote her historical narrative in 1955. The ministry of the First Congregational Church has remained strong and active. Many of the members of the church who were active a quarter century ago are still active today; some individuals and families have come and gone, making lasting impressions during their years in the church; still others, some of whom had dedicated long years of service to the church, have passed on to the Larger Life.
  The one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the church was celebrated on the exact date of the anniversary, July 24, 1955. On that Sunday morning, the Reverend Dr. Arthur Macdougall presided at a special commemorative worship service, preaching on the theme "Faith of our Fathers." That evening, a production was held of a tableau/pageant written by Mrs. Grace Smith, depicting various events in the church's history. The pageant closed with a brief word from Dr. Macdougall and an address by the Reverend George A. Humphries, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Metuchen, New Jersey , and a long-time summer resident of Bingham.
  The 1950's were turbulent years in American Congregationalism. A proposal came about to merge the Congregational denomination with a Midwestern body of German background known as the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The resulting merged denomination, to be known as the United Church of Christ, was to have a semi-presbyterial (representative), rather than fully congregational, form of government. Some two-thirds of the Congregational churches in America voted to enter the new United Church; the First Congregational Church of Bingham, fearing the loss of its historic and cherished autonomy, was one of the remaining one-third that did not. Along with dozens of other "continuing" Congregational churches across the land, the Bingham church joined in the formation of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. The First Congregational Church is a full and active member of the Association, and lends substantial support to its various forms of ministry.
  The year 1959 saw the resignation of the Reverend Dr. Arthur Macdougall after thirty-six years as pastor of the church. Dr. Macdougall's ministerial career had been long and distinguished. His "Anglers' Services," held each year for fishermen vacationing in the Upper Kennebec region, gained national attention and attracted congregants from far and wide. In addition to his ministry, Dr. Macdougall became widely known as an author. The popular "Dud Dean" tales came from his pen, as well as a large variety of other books and magazine articles. Dr. Macdougall remains a part of the Bingham community today, maintaining a home of Goodrich Street. His beloved wife Leah, long active in the church as organist and choir director, passed away in 1978.
  The years 1960 to 1970 constituted a period of considerable growth for the church. Church School enrollment reached an all-time peak of 173 in 1965-66; church membership reached 288 in 1968. During the ministry of Pastor Lowell Kjenstad, in 1965, a spacious and attractive Christian Education wing was added to the church building. This included four classrooms, an office, and the Crombie-Matheson Memorial church library, the latter established through the generosity of Miss Marcia Crombie and Mrs. Elva Matheson in memory of Miss Crombie's parents, Deacon and Deaconess Reuben and Lucy Crombie, and Mrs. Matheson's husband Deacon Hugh Matheson. A new heating plant was also added, with zones encompassing the entire church facility. The total cost for the whole project was $19,350.00.
  The structure of the church organization was notably altered in the early 1960's with the creation of the Church Committee, an "umbrella" board consisting of the diaconate, pastor and certain officers of the church, as well as several elected members. The Church Committee acts in an advisory capacity in church affairs and is also responsible for the disbursement of mission funds as well as the admission of new church members.
  Six pastors have served the First Congregational Church since Dr. Macdougall's retirement: Lowell G. Kjenstad, 1959-1967; Bernard Ridder, 1967-1968; the Rev. Kenneth H. Squires, 1968-1972; the Rev. Dr. Robert A. Wilkins and the Rev. Jillian I. Wilkins, 1972-1976; and the Rev. Douglas W. Drown, 1977 to [2008 ed.]. Mr. Squires, Mrs. Wilkins and Mr. Drown were ordained to the Christian ministry during their respective pastorates in Bingham. Dr. and Mrs. Wilkins, who served the church as a team, came to Maine from Australia. While serving in Bingham Dr. Wilkins pursued graduate studies at the University of Maine, he and his wife sharing the pastorial responsibilities.
  1976 marked our Nation's Bicentennial year. As was true of most communities, the town of Bingham marked the occasion with a special parade in which the church entered a beautiful float. A particularly memorable occurrence during the year was the re-enactment of the Arnold Expedition that took 1,100 Revolutionary War soldiers through the wilderness of northern Maine for the purpose of capturing the British stronghold of Quebec City. Some six hundred people participated in the re-enactment of the "Arnold march," and these camped out one evening on the grounds of the elementary school in Moscow. The Congregational Church, in conjunction with other churches and organizations in town, provided a complete dinner one evening for all six hundred marchers. Ken Weber, one of the participants in the march, later wrote in the Providence (R.I.) Journal-Bulletin," ...Nowhere along our route has the response from the local inhabitants been more friendly. I hate to leave...Bingham will not be forgotten." Here we must say a reciprocal word: the "Arnold marchers" will not be forgotten. The memory of their historic visit will long be etched in the minds of the people of this area.
  No history of the First Congregational Church would be complete without a word regarding the contribution of the Congregational Church Circle to the work and welfare of the church. Organized in 1893, the Circle has long played a significant role in undergirding the financial well-being of the church and contributing toward its missionary activity. Even today it remains an active body, meeting on a monthly basis for business, devotions and edification.
  A word must also be said about the role of music in the church. Protestants in general are known as a singing people, and our Congregational worship services would be barren indeed were it not for the contributions of organists and choristers who have dedicated their time and talents to aid us in our Sunday devotions. The Bingham Congregational Church has long recognized the importance of music in worship. For many years, pump organs provided accompaniment for congregational singing in both the Old Meeting House and in our present building. In 1938 Messrs. Allan and Colby Robinson purchased a magnificent Wurlitzer organ - one of few church organs that company manufactured - for the use of the church as a memorial to their mother, long-time church member, Mrs. Nellie Robinson. This fine instrument, with its clear tones, continues to be in regular use today. Among the organists who have served the church since 1938 have been Mr. Alden Goodrich, Mrs. Leah Macdougall, Mrs. Elizabeth P. Quimby, Mrs. Florence Woodard, Mrs. Julie Sturgis, Mrs. Irene Harwood, Mrs. Dorothy Squires, Mrs. Frances Sterling, Mrs. Cheryl Gillam, and Miss Susan Melcher. A girls' choir, under the direction of Mrs. Macdougall, sang regularly for many years in addition to the Chancel Choir, which continues to provide special music on alternate Sundays and festival days.
  The First Congregational Church has a proud history. After one hundred seventy-five years the church is still a vital part of the community and area, faithfully proclaiming that Faith "which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Services are held every Sunday morning and evening. Church School classes are held for those of nursery age through adulthood. Mission support has increased twofold during the past several years. We are seeking new ways to minister more meaningfully and concretely to the community and the world. The door is always open to those Christian disciples who wish to join us in the fellowship of worship and service.
  "Now to him, who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever." Amen, and amen!
  The author wishes to thank Mrs. Irene Foster for her many hours of research in seeking to update the history of the church, and to all who through conversation have provided important insights for him regarding the church's past.

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