OUR HISTORY 1852-2020
OVER 150 YEARS OF MINISTRY
Since the Abraham Somes and James Richardson families settled in Somesville, its people have sought a religious presence in their lives. In the early years, itinerant ministers and ministers from the Massachusetts Missionary Society regularly visited the area and provided leadership for the worship services.
Although the first Congregational Church was officially formed on Mount Desert Island in 1792 at Southwest Harbor, by 1840 the residents of ‘Twix-the-Hills, now called Somesville, decided to form their own church and started making plans to erect a building to house it – their stated purpose was “to support the gospel and its ordinances.” Financial support came form twenty men who agreed to be taxed at $5 each for the support of the gospel, and twenty-three others who chose to “subscribe” from $1 to $15 each. Among them were Athertons, Kittredges, Freemans, Gotts, Newmans, Someses, Prays, Richardsons and Babsons—names still familiar today. The new church was to contain “from forty to fifty-five pews as subscribed for, with a singer’s gallery at the rear, the total cost to be held within the limits of $1500 and $2500.”
In 1852 land was given by John Somes and the church was built at its present location at a cost of about $2,500. The Sewing Circle, organized at this time, raised $300 and sent Rebecca Somes to Boston to buy the steeple bell, which pealed its first summons in 1858, and the “voice of the Meeting House” still rings each Sunday morning. Several communicants were baptized by immersion in the Millpond.
It was not until 1876, however, that a covenant was signed for the new church in Somesville separating it from the early Southwest Harbor Church. Dr. Robert Grindle and Cyrus Hall were two of the men who were instrumental in this move. Mr. Hall, from whom the Quarry on Somes Sound takes it name and who for years employed hundreds of men, took the lead in securing a resident minister and agreed to be responsible for the minister’s salary.
The Mount Desert Larger Parish was organized in 1930 and served and sustained five area churches, the Somesville Union Meeting House being one of them. It employed two full-time ministers. The organization enabled the three smallest churches to keep their doors open and the two small (but a little larger) to keep a less-than-full-time minister. Due to changing needs the Larger Parish was dissolved in 1989 and the Somesville Church was once again “on its own.”
In 1945 the Somesville Parsonage was acquired and in 1960 the Parish House was constructed. One of the former pastors, David Stillman and his wife Dotty Kay, are now members, and the most recent settled pastor, Victory Stanley, retired Sept. 30, 2019 after 17 years of ministry. The Intentional Interim Pastor, Janet Adair Hansen, began Nov. 1, 2019, serving until a new permanent pastor is found.
Although the church membership is relatively small (less than 100) our witness is impressive. Somesville Union Meeting House reaches out in a budgeted mission to almost thirty agencies and organizations as well as respond to community emergencies and needs. We tithe to Our Church’s Wider Mission through the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ. Many members of this small church serve on and/or lead commissions and committees of the State Conference, at Pilgrim Lodge (the Maine Conference summer Church Camp) and in our Hancock-Waldo Association. In 1996 we declared ourselves to be an Open and Affirming Congregation, the first United Church of Christ church in the State of Maine to do so. In 2008 we became a Just Peace Church. We partnered to support the Alcyon Retreat Center in Seal Cove. We strive to support environmental justice as well as social justice.
As this church goes from strength to strength, we end with a quote from Dr. Leavitt’s paper "One Hundred (now 150) Years of Life":
One hundred years of ups and downs but always caring, always finding loyal believers to keep the torch burning. And our church story is but a fragment of the greater story of God’s Church which has been pronounced passé time and again but remains the oldest and most significant of man’s institutions.
— Barbara Ninfi, Gail Reiber, Dotty Kay Stillman, edit. in 2019 by Rev. Hansen