Little church seeks to grow a bit to stay afloat

The Forest Avenue Congregational Church in Bangor before Sunday service, March 4, 2012. The church has been struggling to hold services for the past few years.
The Forest Avenue Congregational Church in Bangor before Sunday service, March 4, 2012. The church has been struggling to hold services for the past few years. Buy Photo
Posted March 09, 2012, at 2:15 p.m.
The Rev. Robert Bailey at the Forest Avenue Congregational Church in Bangor recently.
The Rev. Robert Bailey at the Forest Avenue Congregational Church in Bangor recently. Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — Forest Avenue Congregational Church was never considered a big church.

It was organized in 1903 with 17 charter members. That’s still 10 more people than on average have attended Sunday worship services the past few years.

Just five people on Sunday attended two services — one Anglican, the other Congregational — held in the 100-seat sanctuary.

“We never really had a big crowd,” Juanita Ryan, 87, of Glenburn said after Sunday’s service. “I lived in Bangor and came to church here for many years. I left for a few years but came back because it’s homey and friendly. I like the welcome feeling here.”

Forest Avenue Congregational Church, located on the corner of Stillwater and Forest avenues, was a mission church of All Souls Congregational Church on the corner of Broadway and State Street. When it was constructed, the Forest Avenue church was in farm country. The street car lines had not been built, and the only way to get to the “big church” in town was by horse and buggy or on foot.

Until a few years ago, pastors who served the church were students at Bangor Theological Seminary, which is connected to the United Church of Christ. The Forest Avenue church now is associated with the Congregational Christian Council of Maine, which is more conservative on social issues.

The church has struggled financially for decades, Tom Bailey, the congregational pastor, said. Things became more difficult a few years ago when the owner of Small World Day Care Center retired. The day care operated out of the church and paid rent for more than 20 years.

“We are small in number but strong in spirit,” Bailey, who is not yet ordained, said Sunday. “If four families, with average incomes, were able to tithe at 10 percent, we’d be all set.”

The church holds monthly community suppers to raise funds and covers its large windows with plastic in the winter to save on heating costs. Last year, it moved its oil tank inside.

“We want to stay a small church but really need more people to be able to keep the building repaired and do more outreach,” Bailey, 56, of Bangor said.

Bailey, who volunteers at the church, is a tax accountant who is studying for the ministry by taking classes online from Liberty University. Bailey grew up in Bangor but attended a Baptist church.

He said Sunday that he considered going into the ministry off and on in his youth, but never gave it much thought as an adult until he attended the Forest Avenue church for the first time about six years ago. He said that as he left the service, the Rev. Henry Wyman stopped him and asked, “Are you sure you want to be a pastor?”

That question led Bailey to the pulpit in that same building.

The sharing arrangement with the Rev. Hal Wheeler, ordained by the Conservative Anglican Church of North America, based in Texas, began three years ago. Wheeler holds a traditional Anglican service at 9:15 a.m. and Bailey conducts his service at 10:30 am. The ministers attend each other’s worship hours and work together on events.

Wheeler, 74, of Bangor said Sunday that he felt called to the priesthood and the Anglicans offered him an easier way to be ordained than the Episcopal Church did. Wheeler maintains a close association with St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bangor, where he served as a lay minister for many years.

Both men said they were determined to keep the Forest Avenue church going, but need a few more worshippers to assure its future.

“I really like it here,” Bailey said. “It creaks in all the right places.”

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