Church of the Good Shepherd, Episcopal, Born in Aroostook War Years
The history of the parish of the Church of the Good shepherd, Episcopal, is closely entwined with the early history of the town, especially during those days of the 1830′s and later which encompassed the exciting era of the Aroostook War in Houlton.
As in so many other ways in which the interlude of these federal troops being stationed at Hancock Barracks, made an impact on the town and its institutions, so, too, was its influence felt in the establishment of this church.
CHAPLAIN AT BARRACKS
Among those stationed at Hancock Barracks was Capt. John Blake, who was in Houlton from 1842 to 1846. He was chaplain of the federal troops during that time, and it was through his influence that the few communicants of the Church of England who were stationed at the barracks gathered for service in a home or a public building whenever they might find an opportunity.
The Bishop and Rectors from Canada came here from time to time to administer Holy Communion and Baptism.
This parish has a real reason to remember Capt. Blake with gratitude. Although he was transferred from this post in 1846 to become a chaplain in the U. S. Navy, he carried the memory of this town and this parish with him for almost 50 years afterward. After his death in 1893, it became known that he had bequeathed to the Church of the Good Shepherd a legacy of $20,000.
The Bishop of Maine became interested in this small local parish, at about the time of the Civil War. He came here first in 1863 for a meeting that was held in the Congregational meetinghouse, then located at the intersection of Main Street and the Military Road. It was on this spot that the mission known as St. John’s Church had its beginning.
AID FROM NEW BRUNSWICK
In the case of this church, as in those of other denominations that were established in Houlton, members of the same faith and their ministers in New Brunswick were sympathetic and helpful. Until a clergyman could be secured to conduct regular services, St. John’s Church was under the guidance of the Episcopal clergy of New Brunswick.
The first permanent rector to occupy the parish was the Rev. Hudson Sawyer, who assumed charge July 1, 1884. Work on the Rectory was started almost immediately and was completed the same year. Construction of the church was started June 1, 1885 and was finished within the year.
Both were side by side in an excellent location on Main Street and it is believed that this church is one of two established in Houlton before the turn of the century that has been preserved intact to the present day. It was on May 28, 1888, that this parish was reorganized under the name of the ‘Church of the Good Shepherd’.
WATSON HALL GREAT ASSET TO TOWN
It has been 95 years that the Church of the Good Shepherd has enjoyed the facilities of a community asset of great value: Watson Hall. It is the benefaction of the late John Watson, given to the church in 1911 in memory of his mother, Jane Watson.
When first built, it contained a stage and was often used for local talent performances, as well as for church suppers, and other parish and public affairs. It was for many years a popular place for dances, and it has always been available as a meeting place for organizations not having convenient quarters of their own. Soon, after it was completed the basement was occupied by one of the earlier local YMCA organizations and Boys Club. It was fitted up with a game room, bowling alley and with athletic equipment including what was the first basketball court in Houlton, a meager affair but out of which came many of the members of Houlton High School’s early teams.
Through the years, the various church organizations have made valuable improvements in the facilities of Watson Hall. Today, groups such as the Houlton Rotary Club, Boy Scouts and AA meetings are held at Watson Hall, as well as receptions and social gatherings for the community.
In 1957, a new rectory was built on the corner of Main and Winter Street, known at the time as the Burleigh lot, adjoining the church property. This construction greatly enhanced the Church property. The old rectory was torn down, providing necessary parking for the Church and Watson Hall.
CLERGY AT GOOD SHEPHERD
The roster of clergy begins with Capt. John Blake, who officiated from 1842 – 1846 and then the Rev. Joseph Jenks served for one year (1873). The first regular Rector, the Rev. Mr. Sawyer, was with the church from 1884 until 1888. Some 28 different Rectors have graced the people of the Church of the Good Shepherd as a “Priest in Charge” over its 165-year history. Generally considered one of the most beloved would be Cannon Fr. Robert ‘Bob’ Butler, who served our congregation from 1975 – 1988. Cannon Fr. Butler still resides in Houlton and remains a communicant at his beloved Church of the Good Shepherd. Today, the Church is blessed with the calling of The Rev. Leslie Nesin as its Priest. As our first female ‘Priest in Charge’, she brings much love, grace and knowledge to her people at this parish. In addition, the Church of the Good Shepherd is blessed to have its first Deacon, The Rev. Jessie Drysdale, who serves the people of the area in many ways.
The Church of the Good Shepherd has a rich and distinguished history, a history that its parishioners and the people of Houlton can reflect upon with pride. We certainly look forward to a future of continued presence and service to the community and to God’s beloved in Northern Maine.