In the Beginning
The church now known as the First Congregational of Gray was established over two hundred years ago.
* 1736: The township of New Boston (later Gray) is authorized. Settlement occurs slowly over the next decades due to war and hardship.
* 1774: The first Parish Church is established in the center of the settlement.
* 1812-1816: The War of 1812 and the “Year of No Summer” cause difficult conditions to all in the region.
* 1829: The Portland Road as planned will pass through the initial church building. A new building is erected at the current location a short distance from the town center.
* 1901: The church is successful at raising the funds necessary to construct a third (and current) church building. Soon after, a reed organ is also purchased and installed.
* 1912: The church becomes officially incorporated as the First Congregational Church of Gray.
* 1935: Only $381 is collected in offerings for the year. The church survives the Great Depression through careful investment by the Trustees of its endowment fund.
* 1957: The United Church of Christ is formed from a combination of Congregational and other churches.
* 1958: A church Book of Remembrance is begun, containing history, photographs and newspaper clippings.
* 1973: The Parish House (fellowship hall) opposite the church is dedicated after four years of construction.
* 1998: A new parsonage is purchased and refurbished, directly across from church.
* 2000: The church web site is established.
* 2001: In January of 2001, the church celebrated the centennial of the construction of the church building. Church history was reviewed, and greeting and visits were received from former pastors.
In order to fully appreciate the conditions under which the people of the early church labored, it is necessary that we review as briefly as possible the early history of the town. The Town, Parish, and church were very closely linked. The Law required that each grant or township should build a church and that the first religious society should be called the First Parish. Every resident on becoming 21 years of age became a member of that parish and be required to pay his proportional share of its support.
Prior to the first French and Indian war, this section of Maine was claimed by both France and England. At the close of conflicts in the 1720’s, France gave up all claims to the Main Land as far up as the Penobscot River. The English government and the Massachusetts Bay Colony were very desirous to settle this newly acquired land as soon as possible, and at once set about to grant townships, first to men who had taken part in the different Indian wars, and then to any group of sixty or more men who would agree to settle in such a place.
In 1735 a group of men in Boston made such a petition. On March 27th, 1736 they were granted a township six to seven miles square just back of North Yarmouth, by the General Court of the Province of Massachusetts. The proprietors met, organized, raised money and prepared regulations. A copy of these regulations is on record in the Massachusetts Archives and reads as follows. “Ordered that the said town be laid out into 63 equal shares. One of which is to be for the first settled minister, one for the ministry, and one for the school that on each of the other sixty shares the petitioners do within three years from the conformation of the plan have settled One Good Family, who shall have a house built on his home lot of eighteen feet square and seven feet stud at least, and finished that each right or grant have six acres of land brought to and plowed or brought to English grass and fitted for mowing and that they settle a learned orthodox minister and build and finish a convenient meeting house for the public worship of God and the said committee are hereby directed to take a bond of each settler of forty pounds for this faithful performing the conditions of the settlement, and in case any of the settlers fail of performing the conditions, then his or their right, share or interest, in the said town to revert to and be at the disposition of the province.”
The following spring, 1737, a group of the proprietors came to Yarmouth by boat, came up the Royal River and established a camp by a spring in what is now a field. They surveyed the town lines, laid out the first and second division of land and cleared some roads. They returned to Boston that fall. About the following spring they returned with their families and the first settlement was made. A block house was built surrounded by a stockade and a church was built nearby. They had just got well organized when the second French and Indian war broke out and in the spring of 1745 the settlement was attacked, the colonists driven out and the building and bridges burned. In 1751 after the close of this war they returned, rebuilt their homes, a church and block house. But this settlement was of short duration. The third French and Indian war broke out and in May 1755 the settlement was again wiped out. Although this war was not settled until 1762 this section of the country had been cleared of the enemy and by 1780 settlers had begun to establish homes. Unlike earlier there was no really organized settlement. John and Jabez Mathews came as representatives of the proprietors, rebuilt the saw mill and built a grist mill at North Gray. Later they surveyed and laid out the third and fourth divisions of the town. Moses Twitchell with his family, a crew of men and several yoke of oxen came in 1762 and established a King’s Mast Yard. A number of men who had been pressed into service by England who, when they got over here had escaped, came here and built their cabins. A small church was built where the main entrance to the town cemetery now stands. The First Parish of the Congregational Church was organized in 1774, and during June the Rev. Samuel Nash was ordained as the first minister.
The lot of land which was reserved for the first minister was given to him and he built a house thereon near the Center (Old Portland) Road. Mr. Nash was born in Abington, Massachusetts, August 4, 1744; educated in the schools of that town, graduated from Brown University in 1770, married Frances Esterbrook of Warren, Rhode Island where he probably preached before coming to Gray, Maine.
Conditions were very bad in the colonies at this time. The Revolutionary War had begun and most of the able bodied men served one enlistment, some two or three, and some died in service. The parish was unable to pay the ministers’ salary although wood, meat and produce were accepted. Keeping the church together until the close of the war (1782). Mr. Nash resigned but continued to live on in town the rest of his life farming and educating his seven children.
The church was without a pastor for nearly two years until September 1784 when the Rev. Samuel Perley was installed. Mr. Perley was a Presbyterian and the parish became Presbyterian and remained so during his pastorate. Mr. Perley was born in Ipswich, Mass. In 1748. His guardianship of an uncle who sent him to a private school, the George Leslie School , and then to Harvard college where he graduated in the class of 1763. A classmate, later President John Adams, was a particular friend and with whom he corresponded the rest of his life. He preached first in Hampton Falls, Seabrook, Groton, and Moultonborough, New Hampshire before coming to Gray. He married Hephzibah Fowler of Ipswich, Massachusetts on May 21, 1765. Mr. Perley was quite successful in his pastorate here. The old church was small and very poorly built, so in 1789 a new one was built right where the soldiers monument was first erected prior to its being moved across the square in 1998. It faced the Center (Old Portland) Road. This was a large two story building having 54 pews on the ground floor and 36 in a gallery that ran around three sides of it.
On June 19, 1778 New Boston officially became the Town of Gray. The generally accepted view is that this was in honor of Thomas Gray, one of the proprietors. Gray has an area of 30,490 acres with elevations from 275 to 588 feet.
Mr. Perley was also both a doctor and lawyer and practiced both professions. In 1788 Mr. Perley was selected to represent this district at the ratifying of the Federal Constitution.
In 1791 the Salem Presbytery was now dissolved and so the Presbyterian ministers were dismissed. Now the First Parish was without a minister and the Congregational Society, which had not been functioning for nine years, was without an organization. Other religious societies had organized or were soon to do so in the community. Nathaniel Merrill built his home on the road between North and East Gray in 1760 and commenced preaching from the Baptist tradition and from his efforts was established the Gray and New Gloucester Baptist Church. The Rev. Thomas Barns settled in Poland in the early 1790’s and established a circuit of Universalist churches including Poland, Paris, Norway, New Gloucester, Gray, Pownal and Freeport. A Methodist society was established at East Gray known as the Methodist Protestant society of Gray and North Yarmouth. And another Methodist church was formed at West Gray called the Methodist Society of Gray and Windham.
Being in debt to Mr. Perley for his services the town deeded to him the lot of land that had been reserved for the ministry. This later caused a great deal of trouble; some people claiming that the town had no right to dispose of it.
The Congregational church was reorganized but it was not until 1803 that a settled minister was obtained. The church building was repaired and the pews sold. The Rev. Daniel Weston was ordained in the fall of 1803 and continued as pastor for 22 years. His home was on Hunt’s Hill, later occupied by Wm. McConkey. Although his salary was only $125 a year the parish had hard work to raise that amount. The law then required that every member of the parish pay his proportional share for the support of the parish church, but those who had joined other religious societies objected to paying for the support of a Congregational minister; some paid under protest, others refused to do so. Finally in 1807, the district sent the Rev. Thos. Barnes to the General Court in Mass who put through a bill exempting members of other religious societies from supporting the parish church. In the town records you will find a number of names with witnesses supporting their claim that they are members of a certain religious society. Times were especially difficult during the War of 1812, and the “Year of No Summer” in 1816. Mr. Weston with his family remained in Gray the rest of his life after retiring from the ministry. His daughter, Mary, was the wife of Henry Pennell, who gave the Pennell Institute to the town.
He was succeeded by the Rev. Samuel H. Peckham in 1825. That same year the County laid out a new road from Hebron to Morrill’s Corner in Portland. A part of this is now known as Portland Road (Route 100) but the parish church was right in the middle of this road near the town center. So the County Court awarded the parish $300 for land damage and costs for moving the meeting house. The Congregational Society then tried to buy the building but the members of the parish objected as this was the only public building for a meeting place in town. A number of meetings were held but no decision was reached. Finally in 1829, the county sued the parish for not moving the meeting house. After paying the court costs, the building was sold to Daniel Green who tore it down and built a combination house and store, much later replaced with a gas station. Having given up hope of buying the parish church, The Congregational Society met on September 16th, 1828 and voted to build a church 38 feet by 46 feet with 53 pews and a gallery for the singers in one end. And to finance it 50 shares at $20 were sold. When finished the pews were to be sold at auction and share holders to be reimbursed. Land was bought of Stephen Furbush for $25 and the church was built on the lot where the present one now stands. Its entire cost was $1,173.90. It was finished and the pews auctioned off August 26th 1829.
The next year Mr. Peckham resigned. Then followed Rev. Thomas Riggs 1831-1833, Rev. Calvin White 1833-1837, and Rev. Nathan Sheldon. These pastorates were of short duration and the only thing of historical note is that in 1840 the Ladies Sewing Circle was organized (Tuesday December 29, 1840). Mary S. Pennell was moderator, Jane(s) S. Furbish, President, and Abbie Barrel was Secretary and Treasurer.
In 1844 came the Rev. Allen Lincoln. He was a very active man both in the church and civic affairs. During his first year he went all over town and took a census of every family with their ages. In later years this was a great help in tracing families. When the church was built there was storage place made neither for wood or entry ways nor for any belfry. In 1847 a 12 foot addition was built on the front with a belfry and a bell. In October 1859 dedicatory services were held at which Rev. Lincoln preached a sermon from the text 1 Samuel VII 12: “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” Rev. Lincoln retired in 1859; and purchased what became the Congregational parsonage for many decades. On his death he gave this to the church together with a wood lot to supply the church and parsonage with wood.
In 1851, through the efforts of Portland’s Neal Dow, Maine became the very first state to pass a temperance act, outlawing the manufacture and sale of alcohol. This was to remain in effect until the eventual repeal of Prohibition nationally in 1934.
The American Civil War (1861-65) took the lives of dozens of Gray men, with many others wounded. This was remarkable because the entire population of Gray at that time was less than 1,900.
Rev. Lincoln was followed by the Rev. Jas. P. Richardson who remained about three years. Then came Rev. Ebenezer Bean and his wife Mary. Coming in the midst of the Civil War he made friends among people of all churches, those without church affiliation not only in this town but in the surrounding towns. Here he remained for 11 years. Then followed Rev. Edw. P. Eastman 1874-5, Rev. Herbert R. Howe 1876. Then Mr. Bean came back and preached for six more years. The Rev. Henry O. Thayer was pastor from 1893 to 1895 followed by Rev. Edgar M. Cousins 1896-1898.
Rev. Herbert L McCann came in 1899. This year there was a great deal of activity in the church to raise money to build a new church and in 1900 the old church was torn down and the present edifice built at a cost of $7,000. It was dedicated January 2, 1901 with the Rev. Smith Baker of Portland as the principal speaker. Some criticism has been made both then and later on for their not raising the old building up, putting a basement under it and remodeling it as was done in Cumberland. There were several good reasons for not doing so. It was rather roughly built, and it was not large enough inside. Further, the original plan had called for 52 pews but when finished there was only room for 48 and 10 of these were wing pews. Also the section later built on at the front was poorly attached and there was constant trouble with leaky roofs.
Soon after the new church was occupied it was felt that the old reed organ was not big enough so a drive was made for a new organ. Andrew Carnegie was contacted and he agreed to give $600 if the church would raise an equal amount. This was done and an organ was purchased and installed. To pay for extra costs resulting from transportation and installation, and to show the organ to the public, a concert was given at the church November 2, 1906; with chorus of 25 voices under the direction of Mrs. L.T. Cushing; with Prof. H.H. Ripley of Boston as organist; Mr. W. E. Cole of Freeport, tenor soloist and Mrs. Clara Merrill Haskell of Portland as soprano soloist. Tickets were twenty-five cents and there was a large attendance. Mr. McCann resigned in 1910 and was followed by Rev. Wm. F. Slade.
In 1912, steps were taken to form a Corporation of the church organization. By a vote of 18 to 5, the act was accomplished and the corporation known as the First Congregational Church of Gray, Maine was formed. On March 16, 1914 the certificate of incorporation was issued by Scott Wilson, Attorney General of the State of Maine. In the meantime the church property and trusts were transferred to the new Corporation by the Congregational Parish of Gray. By-laws were drawn up and the affiliation of the church as a cooperating body with other churches of the Congregational denomination was recognized.
The years following Mr. McCann’s resignation saw financial difficulties in the church along with a succession of ministers whose services were of short duration. From the records, we read that at a special meeting on November 9, 1915 it was voted “to hold no regular morning services in the church until the bills are paid.” Evidently through the efforts of the Young People Society and the Ladies groups the debts were paid, and by the annual meeting in January, 1916, a new minister had been hired and regular services resumed.
The World War I years saw activity by the church groups in aiding the war efforts. A Campfire Girls group was organized in the Sunday School. Bandages and compresses were made in quantity, sweaters and scarves were knitted, and Liberty Bonds in the amount of $3,500 were sold in 1917 by these girls. Monies were given by other groups for soldiers’ Bibles.
In 1919 a call was extended to the Rev. Earle Steeves to become pastor at a salary of $1,000. Mr. Steeves was an earnest young family man who had been a former YMCA worker. During the war he had been an Army chaplain, and his arrival in Gray saw much activity in youth work in particular. The effect of his work with the young people of the town was still bearing fruit many years later as these same youngsters took their places in the responsibilities of the church. Mr. Steeves’ young and modern ideas did not always meet the approval of some of the older, less liberal members of the congregation. However, some five years later, on his resignation to go on to a larger church, it was with mutual respect and admiration that he and the church parted, in 1923.
The next few years saw several changes in the ministry of the church. Mr. McCann returned in 1926 and served until his death in 1930. During this time much needed repairs were made to the church and the parsonage, a furnace was installed in the church in 1927, and a new bell purchased for $1,000 in 1930.
The 1930’s saw the affairs of the church at a low ebb. In 1935 only $381 was received in offerings. The interest from a trust fund in the amount of $10,000.99 from George W. Doughty who died in 1933, along with several other smaller trust funds, provided practically the only support the church had. The church struggled to maintain its ministry, though attendance and interest were inadequate and the church as going deep in debt. Two pastors were hired in the interim but their efforts were ineffective in improving conditions.
In 1940 the Rev. Edward White and his family came to serve the church for nearly four years. Also a man particularly interested in young people, Mr. White used his hobby of filming motion pictures to good advantage. The young people of the community planned, wrote and acted in a moving picture which was presented in the church much to the entertainment of all.
Rev. Richard Snyder came to serve the church in 1944, and Rev. Paul Syster in 1946. In June 1945, Rev. Snyder expressed a desire for a cross of some sort to be displayed at the front of the sanctuary. The cost of such an item was prohibitive what with the scarcity of metal directly after World War II ended. Lieutenant Alan C. Davis, son of members Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Davis, was at that time recently returned from service abroad and was engaged in building up a small business of metal craft. He made and presented a brass cross on a base of wood to the church as his gift.
In the mid-forties the church undertook to improve the basement, which earlier had a dirt floor. The dining room was enlarged and the kitchen improved. In 1948, the members of the church voted to hire only a part time minister for a few years in an effort to improve the financial condition of the church. Dr. John Willis, a Professor of Cultural Heritage at Bates College and a graduate of Yale Divinity School was hired. Dr. Willis remained in Lewiston during the week, so the parsonage was rented. Dr. Willis served the church for five years, during which time his efforts began to increase the interest in the church. Attendance increased and finances gradually improved. Although leadership had to be provided from the members of the congregation for much of the church work, Dr. Willis’ quiet, devout and sincere backing provided strength for much to be accomplished. When he left the church in 1953 it was not without a sense of deep regret on the part of the members.
His successor, Dr. Joseph D’Alfonso, was also from Bates College where he served as a Professor of Philosophy. Continuing the good work already begun during Dr. Willis’ pastorate, Dr. D’Alfonso saw the church rise continually during the five years of his service. Membership increased; attendance improved; the church debt was wiped out; improvements were made in the church. Money for a new carpet for the sanctuary was raised; an entire new heating system was obtained in part due to an exchange of services from members; and the Sunday School grew to large numbers.
In 1954 a group of women not previously enrolled with the Ladies Circle met to form an evening group since many of the members were mothers of Sunday school age children. The stated main purpose of the group was to assist the growing Sunday school and its teachers in any way possible. Through the following years the organization known as the Evening Guild, along with Ladies Circle, was to provide much financial aid to the church and Sunday school in many projects. In 1950 a Kiwanis Club was formed in the town and at the request of the members they gathered at the church weekly for a supper meeting. Women from the church worked on committees serving the supper, the money raised going into special fund for church projects as needed.
The United Church of Christ, of which the First Congregational Church of Gray is a member, was born on June 25, 1957, as the result of a union of four traditions. Two of these were the Congregational Churches of the English Reformation with Puritan New England roots in America, and the Christian Church with American frontier origins. These two denominations were concerned with freedom of religious expression and the autonomy of local congregations and had united earlier on June 17, 1931 to become the Congregational Christian Churches.
In 1957, the members felt that the time had come for another resident minister to be brought to the church in order that it might continue to grow and improve its work in the community, particularly with the young people. Of necessity, the part-time pastors had been unable to give the young people the time and the attention which the church felt important. A search was begun for a full-time resident minister to once again lead the church.
The search was ended in March 1958 when Rev. Ronald Smith came to serve the church. Although a family man and a student as well, Mr. Smith was a tireless worker with both young and old for the good of the church. No sooner had he begun his pastorate than the young people knew that they again had a place in the church.
In 1958, the Book of Remembrance was begun, containing photographs, newspaper articles, dedication bulletins and lists of memorial gifts. Early in the fall of 1958 a project was begun to choose and raise the money for a new organ to replace the one installed soon after the church was built in 1906. A fund of $500 had been given in 1954 to be used toward this purpose. This fund was added to by gifts of all sizes from interested parties as well as the organizations in the church. A two-manual Baldwin Electronic organ was installed in March of 1959 at a cost of $3,340. A permanent collection of printed annual reports began this year.
In the year 1960, the General Fund budget of the church first exceeded $10,000. With the replacement of the chancel organ, the chancel was now completely remodeled. Side rooms were removed to accommodate choir and organ, and new chancel furniture and organ speakers provided. All were gifts from members and friends, many in memory of loved ones. Mr. Frederick E. Skillings, chairman of the Board of Trustees, generously offered to provide all material necessary for the remodeling project as well as to supervise the raising of the remaining funds.
Also in 1960, a sizable fund had been given in memory of Dr. Henry W. Beck at the time of his death by his friends and family. Dr. Beck, who had been the family doctor of the town for 27 years, had been a long-time member of the church and had served faithfully as a deacon and a trustee. Given this interest in the church his family felt that the memorial fund could best be used to place a stained-glass window in the church sanctuary. The removal of the old reed organ with its decorative pipes left the back of the chancel available for such a window.
Throughout the months during which these activities were taking place the church had been continually increasing in attendance and support under the ministry of Rev. Smith who had during his pastorate been ordained by the Methodist Church. In the manner of the Methodist tradition, Mr. Smith was transferred to a church of his own denomination in September 1960 and the Rev. Carl F. Hall was called to serve the church on November 1, 1960. A reception was held for Mr. and Mrs. Hall soon after their arrival. The Hall family included David, a college student; Elizabeth, in high school; and Douglas of elementary school age. Rev. Hall had interests both within and outside of the church. He was connected with a seaman’s mission in Boston and with a “Heifer Project” transporting young cattle to foreign countries to aid in developing these lands. Mrs. Hall occasionally substituted for her husband in the pulpit. She too was an ordained minister and was a forceful, effective speaker. The daughter Elizabeth was a talented singer. Rev. Hall resigned as of October 6, 1964 to accept a pastorate in Connecticut.
The church was fortunate in securing the services of Rev. Chauncey Harding for almost a year as an interim minister. He insisted that he could not accept a full-time ministry but would conduct regular and special services until a full-time minister could be contracted. Much credit is to Rev. Harding for his work in our church. He not only held together the membership but strengthened it during a rather critical time.
Pastor and Mrs. Robert Sparks of Avon, Connecticut came to Gray in August 1965. Not enough praise can be expressed to them for their efforts and results while with us for three years. Their friendliness, optimism, and all-around ability had a tremendous effect. Church attendance, membership and financial support all increased very noticeably throughout their stay in Gray. Both Pastor and Mrs. Sparks encouraged the young people to participate in church activities.
Beginning in 1968 Rev. Ian Stewart, a native of London, England, was the pastor. A graduate of Bangor Theological Seminary and the University of Maine, he and his wife joined us with their family of three children. Members praised him for “rolling up his sleeves” and becoming involved in a very active period in church history. A seaman and ship’s officer in his youth, he later became an Associate Chaplain – Ship’s Visitor with the Boston Seaman’s Friends Society in 1973.
With foresight back in 1962 the church had purchased the lot on Brown Street from the Odd Fellows for $1500, intended as a parking lot and possible future expansion. (Later in the 1960’s an opportunity to purchase the Amos Liberty building next to the church was to be voted down.) Beginning in 1967, under Rev. Sparks, a major building campaign was undertaken. During Rev. Stewart’s tenure, ground was broken in 1969 on the Brown Street lot and a basement Sunday School classroom first used on Sunday October 12, 1969. The Webber Grain building was given to the Church by Mrs. Perley Sawyer in 1970. The Faith Baptist Church of North Yarmouth tore the old building down for the material to build their church. The Parish House (fellowship hall) on Brown Street was completed and dedicated Nov. 3, 1973. A separate written history of the Parish House project can be found in the Book of Remembrance. A lighted cross was added and a parking lot paved. The Women’s Fellowship and Ladies’ Craft Circle were very active during this period including rummage sales, a Toy Exchange, and a Children’s Clothes Exchange. There were square dances in the new Parish House. The mortgage for the Parish House was ceremonially burned on June 5, 1977. Expenditures on Parish House construction from 1969-1977 totaled $76,373 plus countless volunteer construction labor hours.
The parsonage on Shaker Road was sold in 1975. A lighted signboard on the front lawn was erected in 1975. January 11, 1976, was celebrated as Heritage Day, being the 75th Anniversary of the Dedication of the present church building (January 2, 1901). The church sponsored a float in the town parade on the nation’s July 4 Bicentennial celebration. The mid 70’s saw attendance difficulties. Rev. Charles Hughes “Charlie” Whiston became pastor at age 26, with the notable support of his father and grandfather, also pastors. Easily relating to the youth of the church, he became known for the personal and human character of his weekly message.
The Rev. Dr. John N. Simpson held the pastorate from 1973 to 1978. An unusually accomplished speaker, he was renowned for his ability to speak extemporaneously and eloquently. His wife Joyce worked to improve the Christian Education program. Church membership at this time was concentrated in the elder population. Dr. Simpson became director of Maine Medical Center’s pastoral services at the start of 1978.
In the late 1970’s the Pastor’s office moved to larger quarters within the Parish House. A new Allen Organ was purchased for $9,300 along with new chimes and dedicated on November 11, 1979. Two oil burners were installed in the church furnace.
In the early 1980’s, Plexiglas was installed on the church windows, making the church much warmer and saved on the heating bills. Dick Skilling did the work. Vinyl siding was also completed. An amplifying system was installed. A lighted sign on the front lawn was completed and a wheelchair ramp to both the basement Supper Room and to the front steps was constructed. The Kitchen and Supper Room had been improved by the efforts of Women’s Fellowship with the help of youth organization. The Vestry was redecorated.
Rev. Doug Hedstrom became pastor in 1992. A Maine native, he attended the University of Maine at Orono and completed Andover-Newton Theological Seminary in 1981. Prior to his arrival in Gray, he was pastor at churches in Seabrook, New Hampshire for five years and Machias, Maine for six years. His wife, Jane, is an active choir member. They have three children.
With the early 1990’s, repairs and upkeep of the church continued including replacement of the weathervane with a new replica of the old one. The church participated in Old Home Days with a Noah’s Ark float. In 1992, the Parish House was expanded significantly with full basement, four classrooms, a handicapped accessible bathroom upstairs, new pastor’s and secretary’s office and expansion of the kitchen. A new word processor was purchased to supplement the existing typewriter. A new roof was put on the church and fencing behind the Parish House. A second Christmas Eve Service was added in 1992, due to crowded conditions at previous years.
In the mid 1990’s, a new septic system was designed for the church and installed. The sanctuary was repainted and new carpeting installed. The Chancel hardwood floor was installed andd given in memory of John and Louise Doughty. Donated land on “Tim’s Run” was sold for $3000 to members of the church who owned the neighboring property.
Under Doug Hedstrom’s leadership, the Christian education program of the church was expanded to include two adult Bible study groups. The Confirmation program was revived, with twenty-two young persons confirmed and received into covenant membership in the first few years of his pastorate.
In 1994 the church chartered a new Cub Scout pack for the town of Gray. The number of Scouts in Gray’s original pack had grown to the point where a second pack was necessary. In the years since, a number of our church members, as well as the Pastor, have been active in this pack, which continues to be an important outreach program of our church.
Emphasis on mission involvement grew in the 90’s, and our church members became involved in various mission programs. Church members participated in Habitat for Humanity projects. Volunteering at the Wayside Soup Kitchen became a monthly activity for a number of our church folk. A community clothing closet was organized, housed, and operated by our church. Support of the community food pantry, through contributions of both supplies and labor, continues.
In 1997, concerns of the support system for the main church flooring became greater. Engineering planning began, revealing the scope of the problem and caution required. Planning continues today.
In 1998, a mortgage was obtained to purchase a new parsonage for $107,500. The home at 14 Yarmouth Road, formerly the home/office of long-time town physician Dr. Russell, received about $30,000 in repairs and refurbishment. Also this year, the Trustees begin to phase in a Pastor’s salary commensurate with UCC guidelines. February, 1998 brought a devastating ice storm in the Lakes region. Many Gray residents were without power for as long as twelve days.
In 1999, the Trustees acted to improve and clarify record-keeping of the church’s funds, budgets, policies and board decisions. The church established a web site.
2000 to Present
In 2000, the annual General Fund budget (not including the Building Fund or the Missions Fund) passed $100,000. At the close of the year 2000, a generous donation of a new Young Chang grand piano was accepted by the church.
In January 2001 the church celebrated the centennial of the construction of the church building. Church history was reviewed, and greeting and visits were received from former pastors.
During the spring of 2001, a retreat for church leaders was held at Pilgrim Lodge, to foster communication. The retreat produced a plan to increase attendance and foster improved membership ministries.
After the September 11, 2002 terrorist attacks, Gray First Congregational joined with churches across the nation in opening its sanctuary doors for noontime personal prayer and meditation.
On Sunday, November 18, 2001, the twentieth anniversary of Pastor Hedstrom’s ordination was recognized, including surprise visits from many of his relatives in New England.
In March 2002, the parsonage mortgage was paid off through the generosity of the estate of Marion Gladys Merrill, in memory of her parents, Harry and Katherine H. Merrill.
During 2002 and 2003, the church building’s steeple, bell tower were completely repaired through the generosity of many members and friends. The Board of Trustees created and approved a formal Investment Policy to better assure the long-term financial future of the church. The Historical Committee discovered and preserved original construction documents of the church building from the year 1900.
- Rev. Samuel Nash 1774-1782
- Rev. Samuel Perley 1784-1791
- Rev. Daniel Weston 1803-1825
- Rev. Samuel Peckham 1825-1830
- Rev. Thomas Riggs 1831-1833
- Rev. Calvin White 1833-1839
- Rev. Nathan Sheldon 1839-1943
- Rev. Allen Lincoln 1844-1859
- Rev. James Richardson 1859-1862
- Rev. Ebenezer Bean 1863-1873
- Rev. Edward Eastman 1874-1875
- Rev. Herbert R. Howes 1876
- Rev. Ebenezer Bean 1877-1893
- Rev. Henry C. Thayer 1893-1895
- Rev. Edgar M. Cousins 1896-1898
- Rev. Herbert McCann 1899-1910
- Rev. Franklin Slade 1912
- Rev. Dickson Harrison 1914
- Rev. Wellington Rogers 1915-1918
- Rev. Earle R. Steeves 1919-1924
- Rev. I. James Merry 1926-1930
- Rev. Herbert McCann 1926-1930
- Rev. J. Frank Robinson 1920-1935
- Rev. Arthur Wallace 1935-1939
- Rev. Edward White 1940-1944
- Rev. Paul Syster 1944-1946
- Rev. Richard Snyder 1946-1948
- Dr. John Willis 1948-1953
- Dr. Joseph D’Alfonso 1953-1958
- Rev. Ronald Smith 1958-1960
- Rev. Carl Hall 1960-1964
- Rev. Robert Sparks 1965-1968
- Rev. Ian Stewart 1968-1973
- Rev. Dr. John Simpson 1973-1978
- Rev. Charles H. Whiston 1978-1991
- Rev. Rick Hughes – Interim 1991-1992
- Rev. Douglas Hedstrom 1992-2007
- Rev. Nancy Salisbury 2007 -2014
- Rev. Annette Mott – Interim 2014 – 2016
- Rev. Dr. Richard Hyde – 2016 – 2020