CHARLESTON, Maine — Louise Church has been helping people understand and improve their relationships with God for more than 70 years.
Last month, the 90-year-old celebrated her birthday and marked 30 years as a Sunday School teacher at Charleston Pentecostal Church.
“The love she has for her students is certainly reciprocated,” Ron Day, Sunday School superintendent for the church, said. “Her adult class looks forward to her passion as they interactively study an array of biblical topics. With promptness and diligent weekly preparation, she is genuinely dedicated to this important calling in her life.”
That is exactly what Church did Sunday in front of about 40 adult students. The weekly lesson was communion with the Holy Spirit.
“I like to think of communion as waiting on the Lord,” Church said, “waiting in his presence and just listening.”
Ervin McLeod, 64, of St. Albans, who sat in the front row, said that it took him a long time to learn how to do that.
“I don’t think I really got religion until I started listening,” he said. “I did a lot of talking and I said a lot of prayers, but I struggled because I did not listen.”
Pentecostalism takes its name from the Christian feast of Pentecost, when Christians received the Holy Spirit. The denomination started with a storefront revival on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906 and has spread rapidly around the globe.
A 2006 survey estimated that one in four Christians in the world is Pentecostal, according to the Religion Newswriters Association website.
Church, who was born on Feb. 19, 1921, most likely was one of the youngest members of the new faith in Maine when she began attending services in rented space on Central Street as a Bangor preschooler. Born in East Millinocket, the youngest of six children, Church was raised by an aunt and uncle after her mother died before her second birthday.
“They heard the word and accepted it,” she said of the couple who raised her shortly before convening Sunday’s class. “If it hadn’t been for that, I might not have ever known Jesus Christ. I feel God’s hand was in that. I was born to do this.”
It was the Holy Spirit, she told the class, who had allowed her “at a very young age to do the work of God.”
“Because I had studied the word,” Church said, “I could step into some unusual situations.”
Those included conducting services for prisoners at the Penobscot County Jail and a funeral service at the church for an infant while she was still a teenager.
Church graduated from Bangor High School and worked at F.W. Woolworth’s in downtown Bangor for a few years before attending Zion Bible Institute in East Providence, R.I. She taught for several years at the school after graduating before moving to New Jersey.
Church returned to Bangor in 1970 with her husband, William Church, now deceased, and taught Sunday School at Glad Tidings Church on Broadway for 10 years before moving to Corinth and Charleston Pentecostal Church 30 years ago.
“Every Sunday, I take away her wisdom,” Bunny Furge, 67, of East Corinth said after class. “She’s lived so many years, she’s got a lot to share.”
Church intends to continue sharing it, according to Day. She announced at her birthday celebration that she has no plans to retire anytime soon.