We are fortunate and blessed here in York to worship in an historic treasure as the First Parish Church is the oldest religious society in Maine in continuous existence. Our current church, a classic, New England Congregational meetinghouse, was raised in 1747. It originally faced the Parish House but was turned in 1882 to face the road. Think about all the history that has occurred since this church was built. George Washington was just 15 years old when this beautiful church was constructed. In Samuel "Father" Moody's day a revival known as the "Great Awakening" was sweeping the colonies. Historians note that this revival helped unite the colonies. As itinerant preachers went from town to town preaching the Gospel, they also shared what they had heard from other towns concerning the growing desire to break away from England and form a new nation. Undoubtedly, prayers were offered here as the Revolutionary War and the Civil War were fought. And throughout the Twentieth Century, First Parish Church has stood as an inspiring landmark and a gathering place for a vital community of faith.
A church building has a history that can be written and recorded. It includes such things as additions and renovations, furnishings and noted features of the building. But a church also has a history that cannot be fully recorded. This history is found in the thousands of services that have been held here, in the great hymns of the Christian faith that have been sung here, in the countless prayers that have been prayed here, and in the lives that have been shaped and changed by worshiping here. This is a house of faith, a house of God. And only God knows how many people have been encouraged, inspired and touched by God's love by being in this church.
In 1636, an oratory (as a meetinghouse was then known) was erected on land granted to Sir Ferdinando Gorges for the purpose of worship according to the Church of England, as required by Charles I, in a Royal Charter to Gorges in this place then called Agamenticus. It was located in York Harbor, near the site of St. George's Episcopal Church today. The size, material, and design of this building are not known.
Completed in August of 1667, the second meetinghouse measured 40 feet by 28 feet with a turret on top. All new materials were used in construction, with the exception of the seats from the previous meetinghouse. The price of this building was 120 English pounds. It was built on "land given to the use of the ministry", part of it a glebe granted by Governor Edward Godfrey as early as 1641, a trust, he said in 1657 in a paper to the Council of State, London, for the maintenance of a "house for the worship of God and endowment of minister." It was along what is now Lindsay Road. In 1673 the Church was organized after the Congregational tradition and remains in that tradition in affiliation with the United Church of Christ.
By 1710, the second meetinghouse was deemed unsafe and out of repair. A special town meeting was held where it was decided to build a new meetinghouse. It was to be 50 square feet and sit on the north side of the (old) burying ground. It was also voted to raise the funds through a free will offering and if there was not sufficient money raised that way then the funds were to be raised by a town tax. It is not know if the town tax was needed, but it is a pleasant thought! It was completed in 1712.
In Colonial times the church, or meetinghouse, as it was known, was used for civic as well as ecclesiastical purposes. Public meetings were held there. It also served as the courthouse for the county, and the meeting place for the provincial government.
On April 19, 1744, it was voted, "that there be a meetinghouse built in this Parish, by subscription, of 70 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 25 feet stud, and sett in the same place where the old meetinghouse now stands." Plans for this meetinghouse lagged as Rev. Samuel "Father" Moody was absent from York, serving as chaplain with the troops on the Louisburg Expedition. On March 25, 1747, the Parish voted again to build a new meetinghouse adding to the former vote, "that there shall be a steeple built at one end." The steeple was most probably designed by Samuel Sewall, Esq., of York. The Parish voted to tear down the third meetinghouse, and, "to use such stuff and materials as will answer." The project was overseen by Rev. Moody, who laid its cornerstone and who lived to see its completion just prior to his death in November, 1747.
When the church was constructed it faced west where the Parish House now sits. In 1882 it was decided that it would look better facing the road, which was not there when the church was originally built. So, the church was lifted up, turned, and set back 20 feet to its present location, where it stands today as a glorious house of God. The Church was restored to the simplicity and beauty of the late Colonial period of church architecture in 1951.
You enter this church not as a stranger but as a guest of God. offering God your love and service. Be grateful to the strong and loyal men and women and children who in the name of God built this place of worship, and to all who have beautified it and hallowed it with their prayers and praises.
May all who love this house of faith find the inspiration of their labor and rejoice in the power and love of God, that His blessing may rest on you both in your going out and on your coming in.
- From a Twelfth Century English Church
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