East Orrington Congregational Church
The East Orrington Congregational Church has held services in the present Meeting House on the Johnson Mill Road in East Orrington since its construction was completed in November 2004. With a current membership of over 700 faithful ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, numerous meetings and fellowship gatherings, sharing of space with both civic and religious organizations, Sunday and mid-week worship services, weddings, funerals, special events, and youth activities, the lights are seldom turned off and the doors are seldom locked. The existent vitality of EOCC has not always been what it is today. So how did East Orrington Congregational Church begin, and what has brought us to this place geographically and in the current context of ministry?
The very first Meeting House for Congregationalists in Orrington, ME was actually located in what is now Brewer, ME. The building was completed in 1800. In 1812 that portion of Orrington in the north end became Brewer, ME. Consequently, there was not a Congregational Meeting House in Orrington from 1812 until a new Meeting House was constructed in 1833 in Orrington Center on the Dow Road. Though the Meeting House was completed and dedicated November 14, 1833 as a Congregational Meeting House, it was not until June 12, 1834 under the leadership of Rev. Cyril Pearl, an evangelist, that the Congregational Church of Orrington took form. The First Congregational Society in Orrington is the name given to that entity that caused the Meeting House to be constructed. Such societies, often called parishes, were responsible for the provision and maintenance of the Meeting House. The Congregational Church of Orrington was the coming together of the actual Church Body, the worshipers. For the most part these were generally the same people. They simply operated under two separate and distinct organizations of incorporation. Rev. Pearl joined the Maine Missionary Society and served Orrington Congregational Church as a Mission Church. Upon Rev. Pearl’s departure in 1837 to join with the American Tract Society, the records of the Maine Missionary Society describe the Orrington Congregational Church as “destitute”.
The Church and Society jointly called Philo L Beverly to be their Pastor in the spring of 1840. After the Ecclesiastical Council had convened there were two partitions. One partition called for the ordination of Mr. Beverly. The other partition, signed by a number of members, represented their thought that the movement to ordain Mr. Beverly was premature. As people became discouraged over this matter, one by one they began to withdraw from the Church and began holding worship in the local school house. Many sought a fresh start and came together to build a new Meeting House to be known as the First Orthodox Congregational Meeting House in Orrington. The building was to be constructed in East Orrington or nearby. On October 19, 1842 the new Congregational Meeting House in East Orrington was dedicated to the service of God. Most of those who had separated themselves from the Church mended old wounds and found their way back into the fold.
The years spanning from 1834 to 1979 found the Congregational Church of Orrington to remain in poor financial condition. Throughout the years the Church was served primarily by representatives of the Maine Missionary Society or by students and professors from Bangor Theological Seminary. However, even in the midst of its constant poverty, the Congregational Church of Orrington always found its way to serve the needs of others. Often times it became necessary to close the church doors during the winter as there were never enough funds to pay for heat. It was also often closed during the summer months since the students from Bangor Theological Seminary had gone away. There were also many occasions when the Congregational Church of East Orrington joined with the Congregational Church in South Brewer to share one Pastor. Attendance continued to drop significantly through the years. As attendance dropped, so did the means of caring for the building. In January 1946 the decision was made to dissolve the First Orthodox Congregational Society and merge it with the Congregational Church of Orrington under one new corporation. At this same meeting January 6, 1946 it was voted to amend Article 1, Section 1 of the by-laws changing the name Congregational Church of East Orrington to be East Orrington Congregational Church.
In 1979 East Orrington Congregational Church called Rev. Robert T. Carlson. Over the next twenty-three years Pastor Bob, as he became affectionately known, brought new energy to this struggling congregation. With the combined work and ministry of Pastor Bob, the members of EOCC, and the Holy Spirit, a revived ministry began to take shape not just in Orrington, but in Penobscot County. When Pastor Bob accepted the position of Pastor and Teacher at East Orrington Congregational Church the average attendance on Sunday morning was 12-18. Through the years the size of the congregation as well as the church budget has grown in proportion to the ministry of EOCC in the community. By 1984, five short years after Pastor Bob’s arrival, the Church rolls had swollen to 224 and it became necessary to hold two worship services on Sunday. East Orrington Congregational Church was outgrowing its Meeting House. There was much discussion about adding on to the existing 1842 Meeting House. This proved to not be the best plan. After acquiring additional land across the street the vote of the congregation was to build a new Meeting House. In 1992, with plans designed by John Murphy, construction began on the new Meeting House. On the last Sunday in November 1994 the very first worship service was held in the new sanctuary. A few weeks later there were nearly one thousand people who worshipped and praised God at Christmas Eve Services.
When one looks across from the present Meeting House the question may arise, what happened to the Meeting House of 1842? Most certainly it was dismantled. There is now a lovely Memorial Garden where the Meeting House of 1842 once stood. But upon close examination of the current Meeting House the blending of buildings can be discovered. The sanctuary is built in the same style as that of the 1842 House. The chandelier given in memory of Norman L. Pierson by his wife, Shirley, graces the center of the sanctuary ceiling. The front porch railings are the very railings from the previous building. The steeple and steeple bell were removed from the former structure and placed atop the current Meeting House. The two smaller windows, one on each side of the front entrance, were previously on each side of the entrance to the 1842 structure. The Educational wing which houses the Sunday School and Tadpoles Christian School is an exact replica of the Burns Memorial School that once graced that piece of land. The Meeting House and the Educational Facility are bridged by the administrative offices.
Today East Orrington Congregational Church is under the able leadership of Rev. Carl B. Schreiber, Jr. who began his labors at EOCC in 2006. EOCC continues in its focus upon ministry outside the walls of the Meeting House. Instead of being destitute, as described by the Maine Missionary Society in 1837, East Orrington Congregational Church is today the largest Congregational Church in the Congregational Christian Council of Maine. It currently has a budget in excess of $200,000.00 and as a Church has gone beyond tithing in its ministry and missions.