CARIBOU, Maine — On May 4, 1913, the congregation of the Bessie Gray Memorial United Methodist Church gathered for the first service held in the newly constructed church on the corners of Prospect and Sweden streets.
At that time, the church was under the leadership of the Rev. James H. Gray, who continued to head up the church until 1915. His wife, Bessie, whose name still graces the church today, died in 1919.
Gray Memorial commemorated the 100th anniversary of its national historic landmark building Sept. 29-Oct. 6 with several celebrations, including open houses with tours of the church, displays of church artifacts, a potluck dinner for the congregation and a rededication ceremony held Oct. 6.
The church welcomed United Methodist Church New England Conference Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar and time traveler Jesse Lee, portrayed by retired Methodist pastor the Rev. Phil Polhemus of Meredith, N.H., who was instrumental in bringing Methodism to Maine some 200 years ago.
During the regular church service and rededication ceremony, the sun shone brightly through the original stained glass, created by Spence, Bell & Company of Boston. After the 10 a.m. service, the congregation gathered in front of the church for a photo similar to one taken in 1913 after the church’s first service.
“This celebration is about more than a beautiful and historic building,” Sen. Susan Collins wrote in a letter to the church, read by her local office representative Phil Bosse. “It is about a community of faith that for more than a century has joined together in heartfelt prayer and song, in compassionate outreach to those in need, and in service to all.”
Bosse also conveyed his own gratitude toward the church for providing his family with a place to purchase their annual Christmas tree over the years.
“It’s the tree we pray around, the tree we laugh around, the tree we cry around,” Bosse told the congregation. “My family and I thank you for being there.”
Bosse then explained that not only did his family purchase a tree from the church each year, but they also visited the annual chicken barbecue every summer.
“It’s where we get our chicken,” Bosse joked.
The rededication ceremony included comments from several people connected to Gray Memorial over the years, including Rev. Lynne Josselyn, who was the pastor from 1992-2005.
Josselyn spoke about members of the Living Nativity coming inside during one Christmas Eve service, sheep and all.
“And the sheep were so well-behaved, they wouldn’t even baa when we wanted them to baa,” Josselyn recalled with a laugh.
In the 100 years since the Grays were at the helm, the church has seen 21 pastors come and go. The current pastor, Rev. Dr. Thomas Bentum, originally from Calais, has been with Gray Memorial since 2009. The parsonage where Bentum resides is the former home of well-known Caribou merchant A.V. Goud and was sold to the Methodist congregation along with one acre of land in 1911 for $8,000.
Over the years, the church has undergone many renovations, including recent new siding, a bathroom and dining area overhaul, repairs to the choir loft and the parsonage porch. In 2007, land purchased from the former Monica’s Scandinavian Shop on Prospect Street was turned into a parking lot and beautiful memorial garden.
Gray Memorial was declared a national historic landmark in 1995. The church’s steeple, with Seth Thomas town clock, is visible in the Caribou skyline from many points in the city.
Members of the church commit to many civic activities, including the famous chicken barbecue, a fall community supper and Easter breakfast. They sponsor numerous charity
events, including an Angel Tree outreach in which food baskets and gifts are distributed to needy families in the area during the holiday season. A prayer shawl committee knits elaborate shawls to give to those in need of prayer and the church reinstated its home communion service this year.
“We won’t be here to see it,” Bishop Devadhar said during his rededication sermon, “but the Grant Memorial United Methodist Church of Caribou will go into the future another 100 years and will continue to lead its people to God.”