THORNDIKE, Maine — The burned-out shell of the Thorndike Congregational Church looked desolate at dusk Thursday when 85-year-old Donald Emery drove slowly by.
He had attended the white church in the little farming village as a boy when he came to Maine from Connecticut to spend summers with family members. And when he learned it had caught fire early Wednesday morning, he wanted to see for himself.
After seeing a photograph of the charred building in the BDN, “I thought, oh, boy, I recognize that church,” said Emery, now of Newport. “It is sad. It’s terrible.”
He’s just one of many people who are grieving the loss of the 103-year-old church, according to member Patty Banker, who said that she had spent much of Thursday fielding offers for help and requests for interviews.
“It’s a great loss to the whole community,” the 72-year-old deacon said. “It tears the heart right out of you.”
According to Ken Grimes of the Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office, the church burned after an electric conductor near the pulpit malfunctioned and overheated.
“It’s just a tragic accident that happened,” he said. “Fortunately, nobody was there. Nobody was hurt.”
Investigators dug through the charred remains Wednesday before determining the fire’s cause.
Banker said that not much is salvageable, but the 30-member congregation isn’t letting that get in the way of their plans to rebuild. They will meet Sunday morning to worship in one of the member’s homes in town. After the service, they’ll talk about what to do next.
Churches in the nearby towns of Freedom, Unity and Montville have offered space to the congregation, and members will set up a building fund at Bangor Savings Bank in Unity in hopes of gathering donations.
Banker said that the church is very special. Almost every month, it hosted a public supper. And even though the congregation is small, it is tight-knit.
“We are like a family,” she said.
Even those in Thorndike who don’t attend church there on Sundays often know it as a place where their children attend vacation Bible school, a place for weddings, baptisms and funerals. In November, the church let the local Fire Department host a hunters’ breakfast there.
“It’s a very important part of the community,” Banker said.
Patty Pendergast, who lives across the street, agreed. She’s not a church member, but said that the congregation, which has a lot of elderly members, is “tremendously warm.”
“There are people who just love this church so deeply,” she said.
Pendergast will miss the green stained-glass window that the church kept lit at night. When she came home late, she could see the “beautiful pale green light” glowing in the darkness.
“There was just something about the window,” Pendergast said. “The light was on all the time, just like it is in these older people’s hearts. The lights of that church shined very brightly.”