Unitarian Universalist church to quietly mark first service in new building after Great Fire

Posted Sept. 27, 2012, at 5:10 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 27, 2012, at 5:42 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — One hundred years ago Sunday, the first service was held in the rebuilt Universalist Church on Park Street. The original structure was destroyed in the Great Bangor Fire of 1911.

Members of what is now the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor will recognize the occasion quietly Sunday, the Rev. Becky Gunn said Thursday.

“The original wooden structure [with twin steeples] was destroyed, entirely gutted, in the fire,” she said. “That first service ended up being an ecumenical service that showed support for rebuilding churches around town.”

The church in September 1912 looked much as it does today, Gunn said.

The community room behind the church was added in 1924.

Pastors from 11 Protestant churches in Bangor and the president of Bangor Theological Seminary participated in the service on Sept. 29, 1912, according to Bangor Daily News archives.

The paper printed the sermon delivered in the new brick edifice by the Rev. Ashley A. Smith, pastor of the Universalist Church. It was based on Psalm 127:1: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”

Smith lost not only his church but his French Street home in the fire, Gunn said.

“He saw that the church was about to catch and took the Bible from the altar to his home,” she said. “When he saw that his house was about to burn, he dug a huge hole in his yard, put in in the ground and covered it to save it.”

That same Bible sits in a display case next to the entrance to the sanctuary, Gunn said.

Smith mentioned in his sermon that the Bible had been saved, but that he had not been the one to rescue it.

“Working together in a splendid spirit of unamity and accord during the last 12 months, we may rightly rejoice in this new church better equipped for worship service than ever before,” Smith said in his sermon as printed in the paper. “An edifice standing on this ancient [site] and looking down, as it has for more than 50 years, with peace and benediction from its Norman towers.

“When these venerated spires fell, fuel for smouldering fires and with the crash of that falling bell which, but seemed to sound a knell to many hopes and dreams, we were privileged among other priceless treasures, to save this abiding Word of God — This Holy Bible, which for so many generations rested upon our altars, and has been reverently handled and read by succeeding pastors throughout the years.”

The church also received a letter of congratulations from President William Howard Taft, the newspaper article said. Taft sent to the people of Bangor “a word of encouragement and commendation for the spirit they have shown in taking up the tremendous task of rebuilding the burned portions of your beautiful city.”

The new Universalist Church was dedicated in 1913 and the Unitarian Universalist Society plans to hold a rededication event next year after renovations to the original entrance, which faces what is now City Hall, are completed.

“When the church was built, there was no building but a park on the land below the church,” Gunn said.

Over the years, the congregants and the public have used an entrance on Park Street instead of the large double doors that were built as the main entrance to the church.

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