Birch Harbor Baptist Church Pastor Bill Thomas says that seating for the newly renovated church is expected to arrive by the end of the month. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MAXWELL HAUPTMAN

New life for a 117-year-old church

GOULDSBORO — The grandparents and great-grandparents of some of today’s congregants helped build the Birch Harbor Baptist Church back in 1902.

Now, Pastor Bill Thomas says, 117 years later, members of a few of these same families are helping complete much needed renovations.

“It was such a dark space before,” Thomas said. “It was definitely a place that was in need.”

Thomas, who has been pastor at the church since 2010, held the first services in the new space last Sunday.

When he took over, Thomas said, there was water damage to the building, wood paneling on the walls falling down and mold in the back of the church.

The newly renovated interior of the Birch Harbor Baptist Church.

But with donations from the members, the past couple of years have seen the walls sanded, stripped and re-stained, a new stage built and the installation of a new lighting and sound system.

“Sometimes I’d be up there on stage, and I’d have trouble reading the sermons because there weren’t enough lights,” Thomas said. “It was just a very dark space. Dark red carpet, dark walls.”

Much of the work was done by Thomas, his family and other members of the church, which numbers around 40 congregants during the winter months. That work went down to the wire, as Thomas and a few others were working on the church the Friday night before Sunday services, and an electrician finished installing lights that Saturday.

“I think there’s great unity in this congregation moving forward,” Thomas said. “People have a lot of expectations for our programs, like the annual Christmas play, or the services we provide, like grief counseling for first responders, and now we have a space that’s really befitting of that.”

For a space that has often housed three or four generations of worshippers, Thomas said he was cognizant of preserving the church’s history through the renovation process.

“I did want to preserve some of the nostalgia, but also make a new space,” Thomas said. “Give this place a new life.”

As many churches in small, rural towns have struggled to remain open, Thomas said he hopes this will help sustain the Birch Harbor Baptist Church for a long while.

“When I first started pastoring here, it had really been held together by Avery and Estelle Chipman,” Thomas said. “They would always say ‘We’re just trying to keep the doors open.’ My task was to help keep those doors open, and now I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that for a long time.”

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