The Union Church in Upton, closed in 1980, was brought back to life three years ago. Since then, parishioners and other community members have been pitching in to give it a facelift, and now they are hoping other people who might have a past connection to the church or the town will help out with the next phase.
The old church was built in 1874, when Upton was a thriving logging community. Its pews can hold up to 150 people.
But as the logging industry faded through the 20th century, families moved away and the congregation – as well as available clergy – dwindled. In the early 1970s a fundraising effort allowed the small congregation to do some renovations on the building, but thechurch eventually closed in 1980.
Still, it remained on the membership rolls of the Oxford-Union Association of the Maine Conference Association (United Church of Christ).
The Rev. Jane Rich, minister of the Andover Congregational Church, remembers going to that organization’s annual meetings, and hearing only silence when the Upton name was called.
She thought it was too bad.
Then in 2011 she got a call from Upton resident Deborah Judkins, who asked about using the Andover Church for a meeting.
“I said I had been thinking about for a long time since I had done a wedding [at the Upton Church] 15 years ago, and thought it was too bad there wasn’t at least a church in the summer, since that’s when the population of Upton increases as people come to camps around Umbagog,” said Rich. “She said she’d love to see it revived.”
Rich made an offer: “I said I would come Sunday evenings in the summer at 5 p.m. It just took off from there.”
So the church was re-dedicated at the town’s annual Upton Fun Day in 2011 and Rich has kept her promise, preaching each summer from mid-May to mid-October. Anywhere from three to 20 people attend, she said.
Rich has also encouraged her Andover congregation to be supportive of the neighboring church. She said when Upton faded as a community, many of the families moved to Andover, 14 miles up the East B Hill Road.
“We’ve got a mission up the hill,” she told them.
The Andover Church has donated 50 hymnals to replace the deteriorated Upton ones.
In addition, said Rich, “My organist, Linda Dyer, comes over to play.” A summer resident of Upton also fills in when he’s here.
The long-time Upton Ladies Aid organization also helps out.
“The Ladies Aid cleans it every year,” she said. “It’s kind of a community project.”
Since the reopening, the church has been undergoing some improvements, including a fresh outside paint job funded by church money left over from the 1970s. Just recently, a minor fix allowed the bell to ring again.
Next up, said Rich, are the church windows – none of which will open for a warm summer evening service.
The goal is to replace all seven windows and add screens, at a cost of $650 each.
“We’re hoping there are people out there who have a connection to Upton to subscribe for a window,” said Rich.
The church will place plaques on the windows noting the donors, if they wish.
Anyone who helps will be adding to the spirit of the church.
“I feel really privileged to be here,” said Rich. “I feel like everyone from 1874 forward is here.”
To contribute to the project, please mail donations made out to the Upton Union Church in care of Deborah Judkins, 235 Thistle St., Upton, ME 04261.
HISTORY OF THE UPTON CHURCH
(This article on the history of the Upton Church, then known as the Upton Congregational Church, was published on the inside cover of the Annual Reports of the Officers of the Town of Upton for the year ending Dec. 31, 1956. It was printed in 1957 by The Oxford County Citizen in Bethel.)
Upton Congregational Church
By Mrs. C.A. Judkins, Clerk
The earliest records we have of anything pertaining to church history in Upton is a petition of the inhabitants of Letters A and B (Letter B was what is now Upton and A was probably Grafton) to James Brown, then a Justice of the Peace, to call a meeting for the purpose of organizing themselves into a Religious Compact, under the name of Union Society, on April 24, 1843. There are records of the meetings from then until March 1845. Names mentioned in these early meetings are mostly men – Abbott, West, Bradbury, Brown, Goud, Hemingway, Bragg, Chase and Tenney.
After 1845 there is no further record until March 19, 1861, when a council of Congregational Minister; Reverend Wheelwright of Bethel, Elliot of Rumford, Jordan of Andover and Reverend Tappan of Augusta as honorary member; met to organize a Congregational Church in Upton, which in the meantime had been incorporated as a town. Several candidates for membership brought letters from churches from other towns, where they had formerly been members; others were accepted on confession of faith. Articles of Confession of Faith and the Covenant of the Congregational Church were read and accepted. Names appearing here are: Rich, Douglass, Bragg, Abbott and Godwin. On March 24, 1861, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was first administered in this newly formed Church.
In the Autumn of that same year three Abbott children, three Strickland children and five Rich children were baptized. Hollis was one of the above mentioned children.
Records show that church work progressed quite regularly, with notations of annual meetings, baptisms and other church work after 1861 until 1905. It is not known what happened to the records from then until 1918, though we do know that the Church continued active through that period.
Early meetings were probably held in a schoolhouse. Reverend Garland from Bethel was one of the early preachers here. It is understood that there was a Mr. Ballard, who lived in town, who was a lay preacher part of the time in the older days.
The Church building we now have, was built in 1874. In order to raise money to build it, each member bought one pew or more, and a corresponding amount of land around the church. The land was obtained from Charles Abbott, but it is not known for sure whether he donated the land.
Through most of the years, the pulpit has been supplied by a student minister for the summer months only. There were a few years when we were a part of the Umbagog Interstate Larger Parish consisting of Wilson’s Mills, Magalloway, Errol, N.H., Upton and Newry, that we had a minister for the entire year.
In the summer of 1951, the student minister, Mr. Nelson, with the help of the Upton people, painted a good part of the exterior of the church building. It was later finished. Now it is hoped the interior may be painted in the near future.
We have a church of which we may be proud. The door is never locked. It bids all to enter in and worship God.