Our Church History
"The West Bowdoin Baptist Church was organized in 1818 as the Second Free Baptist Church of Lisbon by Elder Humphrey Purinton, Josiah Farwell, and 12 members. Meetings were held in a schoolhouse which was probably located on the old Bickford farm in Lisbon Falls. The present meeting house was built at a cost of $1,306.16 in 1836 with Rev. Nathaniel Purinton doing the masonry, and his son Albert doing the woodwork. In 1896, it incorporated as a Parish Church with Baptist affiliation and in 1976 reverted again to a strictly Baptist Church."
Edited and Condensed
West Bowdoin Folks Attend Church of Their Forefathers
By ELOISE M. JORDAN
Lewiston Journal Magazine, November 11, 1949
Sheltered in its maple grove the West Bowdoin brick church, with its nearby cemetery, was established in 1818. Sunday services have been held there through the years.
A description of Old Home Sunday in 1949: Upon this pleasant day, the brick church was filled with whole families of worshipers who call West Bowdoin home and think of this edifice as their spiritual residing place. More than 100 invitations had been extended. Several generations were represented, but in the happiness that shone from the faces there was but one age among them. They were all carried back to their happy childhoods in this community.
The first Baptists in this locality was established in Lisbon Plains, now called Lisbon Center, in the year 1812 by Elder Josiah Farwell, who in 1818 together with Elder Humphrey Purinton, organized the Second Free Baptist Church of Lisbon. This became the present West Bowdoin Church. Meetings were held at first in a schoolhouse about a mile distant from the present edifice. The schoolhouse later burned.
The band of twelve earnest Christian men and women who signed the newly organized church register were as follows: Stephen Whittemore, William Woodard, Joshua Beal, Daniel Booker, John Catlin, Mary Booker, Sarah Woodard, Priscilla Purinton, Deborah Cowing, Bethiah Hall, Martha Galispie, and Judith Tracy. Many of these names are familiar in this locality, even if none of the descendants are living here today. We can imagine the zealous hearts of these Christians as they gathered to found their own church.
At the second meeting, held shortly after the organization of the parish, many more names were added to the register. The membership increased until it became a hundred within 11 years. It was then one of the largest in the State of Maine. Entering heartily into the work, these Christians were able to make their church the success for which they had so earnestly prayed.
The West Bowdoin Church called into the ministry its first pastor, the Reverend Nathaniel Purinton. His life may be described as one of great service to his brethren through his Christian example and teaching. He was ordained on June 4, 1818. He became the father and grandfather of ministers as well as deacons. Rev. Nathaniel Purinton always stood for the right. He was the founder of the Temperance Society in West Bowdoin.
The goal toward which the Second Free Baptist Church had long been striving became an actual and a triumphant reality in 1836 when the brick church was erected upon a roadside elevation of land near the home of Rev. Nathaniel Purinton, which was not many hundred feet distant. Nearly twenty years had passed since the church was founded, and all of the meetings had been held in schoolhouses in the vicinity.
Bricks from Pastor's Land
The earth of West Bowdoin itself was truly built into this church, for the bricks were manufactured on the farm of Pastor Purinton, taken from the brook, which crossed his land behind his home. His own dwelling was built of brick made at an earlier date.
Nathaniel Purinton was a mason by trade, as well as a contractor and builder. It was he who probably prepared the plan for the church. His son Albert, also a later minister of the parish, had charge of the construction of the woodwork used throughout the edifice.
This is a small but handsome church, of simple design, reared with faith and love for the Almighty, with prayer and hard work. Every church member in the community helped to plan the church home as well as the place of its location. The cost of erection of the church was $1,306.16.
Many Have Served
Among the early pastors may be mentioned besides Rev. Nathaniel Purinton, Rev. Nathaniel Bard, Rev. Albert Purinton, son of the first minister, Elisha Purinton, and in a much later day, Rev. Charles W. Purinton, grandson of. Rev. Nathaniel Purinton.
Stephen Whittemore and Joshua Beal were the first to serve the church as deacons. In 1827, the first service was recorded of setting apart of individuals for the office of deacons, by the laying on of hands. At the ordination of Rev. N. Bard in 1841, Isaac Buker, Jesse Tibbetts and A.W. Purinton were set apart by the laying on of hands.
In 1882, when the fiftieth anniversary of the Sunday School was observed, Mrs. Lambert wrote from San Francisco, where she then made her home: "I was converted and became a member of the Second Lisbon Baptist Church in 1827, Rev. N. Albert Purinton, pastor. We then had no Educational Institute, Benevolent Society, Denominational Libraries, or Sunday Schools. Two years after I joined the church, I went to Bath to work, taking with me a pastoral letter, as was the custom. There being no Free Baptist Church in the city, I found a home with Methodists. I soon became interested in the Sunday School and took a class of small boys gathered from the street."
Mrs. Lambert worked so hard at this devotion to the small boys in her charge, making clothing for them and giving them other aids, that her health broke down and she was obliged to return to her home. Before leaving Bath, she talked with her pastor about the advisability of starting a Sunday School in her home church. Greatly encouraged by him, she supplied herself with the Union Question Book and accepted his advice not to make her Sunday School sectarian.
When Mrs. Lambert's health was restored, she talked with her pastor about starting a Sunday School in the West Bowdoin Church. At first he did not think it wise, fearing a failure, as his most influential church members did not believe in Sunday Schools. After his consent was given, the first Sunday in May 1833, was chosen. Commencing at 9 A.M. in the Booker School House, 35 scholars and 5 teachers were present. Mrs. Lambert was the only one present that had ever attended such a meeting and she did her best to explain the objective of the school and gave out a lesson for the next Sabbath.
On the fifth Sabbath, 75 scholars and 14 teachers were in attendance. Parents and friends of the children had been invited and came in such a throng that the building could not hold them. They stood at the doors and windows watching with unfeigned interest as the lesson proceeded. On this occasion the Sunday School was permanently organized under the leadership of Albert Purinton, the first Superintendent. He was converted after the commencement of the school. A collection of eleven dollars taken up on this day was spent to buy the first books for the church library.
Held Ever Since
Sunday School at the West Bowdoin Church is regularly held to this day. Every member who attends the school has reason to bless Mrs. Lambert for her Christian work in the school's behalf.
"Every church that is filling its place in the world," wrote Miss Purinton," must have a missionary spirit and must be actively engaged in mission work or die." In 1836, we find this record: "Voted to form a Home Missionary Society Auxiliary to the Parent Home Missionary Society." In 1841, "Voted we will form ourselves into a Missionary Society for one year. David Coombs was chosen Collector And Treasurer."
From this community Lavina Coombs became one of the most successful missionaries in India. She dated her beginning in the Lord’s Work from her training in the West Bowdoin Church and Sunday School. Other workers in the mission to India were former pastors, Rev. George H. Hamlin, principal of a high school, and Rev. Mr. Wyman, teacher and preacher.
The Woman's Missionary Auxiliary, which was organized on June 22, 1876, has served to keep alive the interest in this work. Through the efforts of Mrs. Mary R. Phillips, an ex-missionary and the wife of James L. Phillips, also a missionary, the W.C.T.U. (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) was organized in June 1905 with 15 members. Later this number increased to 60 members. Mrs. Phillips’ life was said to be a benediction to all who knew her.
Extensive repairs were made on the church in 1872 when the pulpit was changed from the eastern to the western end of the edifice, the pews were reversed, two back windows were closed, blinds were added and a portion of the floor was carpeted. Funds were raised by assessment on the several pews.
The beautiful memorial window near the entrance of the church was given a few years after that by friends of the ones whose names appear on the window. Of stained glass in lovely jewel-like colors, a Holy Bible is marked with a sheaf of palms. You can read the inscription on the window of those honored for their early service.
In order to raise the money for needed repairs in 1896, church funds were pledged, gifts were received, and a quilt was sold. A steel ceiling was erected and the floor was carpeted. The costs of these repairs were in the neighborhood of $1,400.
The vestry and the vestibule, which were added at this time, were the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Purinton of Topsham. Also in 1896, Sister Charity R. Whittemore gave the church a sum of money with which the pulpit set was purchased. The Communion Service was presented to the church by Mrs. Carry Purinton of Topsham and her brother, Rev. George H. Salley, in memory of their parents, William and Mary A. Salley. Ephriam Tibbetts gave the individual cups in memory of his wife, Dollie R. Tibbetts.
Twenty years after the repairs of 1896, when the carpet showed decay, a gift was given to the church for a hardwood floor through the bequest of Maria E. Grover. She gave a like amount to the Woman's Missionary Auxiliary.
The pipe organ was presented to the church in 1918 by Captain Jacob Merriman and Walter M. Mallett of Topsham, in memory of Mr. and Mrs. James Cox, who were members of this church before making a home of their own, as were the parents of their wives. This Vocalion organ made by Mason and Risch of Worcester, Massachusetts, had been aboard Captain Merriman's ship and had sailed many times around the world before it came "back home" to West Bowdoin.
The centennial of the West Bowdoin Baptist Church, held on August 16, 1936, was a day of great rejoicing in this community. Over three hundred members and friends gathered together to praise the Lord and to receive His blessing. The daylong ceremonies brought together friends who had not seen each other in many years, and as one witness wrote "one and all spoke of the lovely homes, the high ideals of the old-timers. The good times at the neighborhood get-togethers, the sings, and prayer meetings where they sang their hearts out and prayed and pled and exhorted and went away with renewed faith and energy to carry on."
For the centennial, an anniversary gift of a hand-embroidered linen altar cloth, made by the mother of Paul G. Smithson, the student pastor of the church at this time.
There was then hanging over the pulpit a large copy the "The Last Supper" by Leonardo daVinci, which was presented to the church by Katherine Cox Chipman of Manchester, New Hampshire. The picture had once been the possession of her late father. This gift was also presented during the centennial.
At the time of the one hundredth anniversary in 1918 the total enrolled as members of the church thus far was 641 members received by baptism and letter. The number of members reported in a 1949 newspaper was 84 with 34 being non-resident members.
The pastor of the church at this time was Rev. Morley Durost from Lisbon Falls, who held services in churches in both towns.
The former horse stalls were being turned into a new parish house for the church. This now supplies a large building for the work that is carried on.
(Thanks to the Lisbon Historical Society for the photocopy of the clipping taken from the 1949 The Lewiston Journal Magazine.)
Only slight historical revisions were made to this article.