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First Universalist Church of Turner Center

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The Turner Center Universalist Church has a long and proud history. This page will grow into a section. For now, though, here is an article from the Lewiston Evening Journal, written in 1964 by Betty H. Libby. It is one of a series of local church histories.

Turner Center - "on December, 1803, 52 men, citizens of Turner, met and organized themselves into a parish by the name of the First Universalist Parish in Turner and made petition to the general court". This was the first of several petitions which led to the present Universalist parish and its house of worship in Turner Center.

Much of the history of the parish is recorded in an historic paper read at the Centennial of Universalist parish on October 19, 1904. That history is so interlaced with that of the town that it is difficult to separate them. The Township of Sylvester Canada (later renamed Turner) was granted in 1765 and among the conditions to be met within six years were the establishment of a house and the settling for public worship and the settling of a Protestant minister. The conditions were not met in the allotted time and an extension was granted. In a complaint, the town was called a "spiritual wilderness". It was not until 1782 that the first church building was erected and in 1784 a John Strickland was called to serve the parish, which was the whole town. Strickland, who served for several years was eventually to become the center of controversy which led to the breaking up of the parish.

When the church in the town could not agree on the settlement of a pastor, groups began to break away, joining and forming other parishes. It was during this period that the Universalist parish came into being. The first meeting house was built on Lower Street and it is described thus by Miss Chloe Turner, a regular attendant in those days: ". . . In exterior it was a plain edifice with many windows, severe in architecture and surrounded on its front by a Christopher Wren belfry and a tall steeple, bearing on its topmost height, an angel carrying a trumpet and scroll, announcing the glad tidings of 'Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.'

"The interior was guiltless of carpets or upholstery, but there was a flood of God's glorious sunshine in place of the dim, religious lights of our modern sanctuaries. Instead of the silent tread on soft carpets in our church today, we heard the ringing echo of our footsteps from those lofty walls. The old high pulpit (I have little idea how high) was a marvel to me. How distinctly I remember high up on its rounded front in large gilt letters, the words 'God is Love". The pews faced the entrance of the laggard who was late at church had to run the gauntlet of the eyes of the whole congregation. It had galleries on three sides and a double row of windows all around. In the building, our forefathers worshiped until 1850, when it was taken down and out of its timbers this building was made and dedicated on January 1, 1851 ...".

Miss Turner here referred to the present building which sits in serenity and dignity across from Leavitt Institute in Turner Center. Since the worship place seemed somehow to fit in with the Leavitt campus, it is interesting to note that the daughter of an early pastor became the wife of James Madison Leavitt, the founder of the Institute. Brief worshiped are held in the sanctuary for Leavitt students during holy week and attendance runs nearly 100% of the student body.

The present church was organized in 1849. The first baptism was conducted at the river near the Humphrey blacksmith shop. Records show that Universalists had held services on Torrey Hill in North Turner and at Howe's Corner church over the years.

In 1847 the Sunday school was organized. Lessons were taught through the use of question books edited by W. R. French, DD, who for 21 years was settled over the Turner society and ministered to the wants of the people. He wrote many religious works one of them, "The Little Moralist, a catechism for Sabbath schools". The present [1964] Sunday school has an enrollment of 90 children and young people. There is also an active Liberal Religious Youth group of 35 members.

The interior has been renovated since it was built in the lower part of the building has a kitchen, large dining room, stage, and two small rooms. A Pastor's room features portraits of former pastors and will soon be brought up to date with the addition of those not already hanging there. All of these rooms are used for the nine Sunday school classes. Presently the steeple is undergoing repairs and will be completed shortly.

The Ladies' Union Sewing Circle was organized in August 1847, and a constitution and bylaws adopted. The name was later changed to that of Universalist Ladies' Circle. This organization is today a large and vigorous group dedicated to this port of the church. The ladies meet once a month for an all day work meeting and one evening a month is devoted to a business session. Project meetings are held several times a month.

In November, the Christmas sale, the largest of many fundraising projects, is held. The second largest is the annual spring sale. The vestry is decorated in a central theme, the handwork and culinary efforts of the ladies displayed for sale, and a bountiful public supper served. One of the ardently supported missionary projects is the Clara Barton Camp for Diabetics, as the ladies furnish many articles for the camp gift shop.

The present [1964] pastor is Joseph Perham, a native of West Paris. Perham is the head of the English department at Leavitt Institute and lives in the parsonage with his wife, Peggy and their four children. A graduate of Colby College in 1935, Perham is well-known in the area as a lay preacher and public speaker. Aside from his duties at school, he carries on a full schedule of pastoral service.

But the history of the Universalist Church in Turner as it is recorded through the many pages of a parish scrapbook, is an exciting and vivid account of the courageous struggles of strong-willed men, helping to build the foundations of a new town! It is colorful, sometimes humorous, sometimes pathetic, but always inspiring. And so after over a century and a half, here stands the house of worship, its back to the Nezinscot River, its face to the Leavitt Institute, flanked on the left by the cemetery which cradles its ancestors, on the right by the town house. What more appropriate setting for a church carved out of the "spiritual wilderness" of a fledgling town.

Source: Lewiston Evening Journal, July 18, 1964; p. 8

Chloe Turner, quoted extensively above, is probably Chloe Bradford Turner, born December 30, 1833 in Turner to William Turner and his wife, Elvira Bradford. Chloe died September 12, 1919 and is buried in the Turner Village Cemetery. She contributed an article to William Riley French's 1887 book, A History of Turner, Maine, from Its Settlement to 1886.

First Universalist Church of Turner Center
450 Turner Center Road (Rt. 117), Turner Center, ME 04282
(207) 524-7741

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