BRUNSWICK — Judy Chamberlain stared up at the holes that had been burned through the attic of the 125-year-old Unitarian Universalist Church and focused on the positive.

The rainbow flag still hung from the facade, proclaiming the church on Pleasant Street a welcoming place. The wayside pulpit bearing a quote from Mother Jones was intact, and the church’s grand piano was safe from the water that had inundated the sanctuary as firefighters worked to put out the fire before dawn Monday.

“We will do what it takes to make it right,” said Chamberlain, who chairs the church’s trustees. “You can’t go back. You move on.”

The fire apparently started about 1 a.m. in old, faulty wiring at the base of the two-story extension at the back of the church, said Fire Chief Ken Brillant. The flames climbed up the storage area and spread into the attic.

Firefighters were at the church, across Middle Street from the Curtis Memorial Library, within two minutes of the report. Brillant quickly summoned help from surrounding towns.

“We had smoke just pouring out the steeple,” Brillant said. “It looked like we were going to lose the whole building.” Smoke was so heavy, even outside the church, that you couldn’t see in some spots, he said.

One precious artifact was rescued: the pulpit Bible inscribed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poet’s gift to the church in 1879, when it was at Maine and Mason streets. Fire destroyed that building in 1880, although the church bell was salvaged and recast. Today, it hangs in the church’s steeple.

On Monday, firefighters found and carefully retrieved the locked glass case where the Bible was kept, soot and smoke occluding the glass. They used massive bolt cutters on the diminutive lock, and the Rev. Sylvia Stocker tentatively opened the lid.

“It’s smoky,” she said of the Bible, “but it isn’t burned and it doesn’t have water damage.”

On Monday morning, blue sky was visible from inside the church, and black holes showed where fire had burned through the building’s gable ends. Much of the building remains intact, Brillant said, and it will be up to the insurance company to determine whether to try to salvage some of the structure.

Most of the stained-glass windows were spared, and can be used in any case.

One large window near the rear of the church had to be sacrificed because firefighters had to vent heat and smoke from the building. The stained-glass window had been made by the Swanson family, pillars in the church community, in memory of their daughter, a young woman who died in the 1970s, Stocker said.

The brightly colored shards of glass – pieces of a sailboat against a blue sky, along with roses and greens – were collected in a small pile behind the church offices next door.

Sunday’s service had been run by the Coming of Age youth group, teenagers who had been exploring their beliefs and their faith for the past several months.

Maya Manzanero-Lopez had played Debussy’s “Arabesque” beautifully.

As she moved to the front of the church at the end of the service, her mother, Aurora, pulled the protective covering over the piano, a ritual that is often neglected.

This time it saved the instrument, which was near the front of the sanctuary, where the fire was fiercest.

The youth service was memorable and moving, said Stocker, who has been minister here for the past four years.

“It just felt so good to see those blossoming people,” she said. “If that has to be the last service of this church (building), so be it.”

The church, formed in 1812, is approaching its bicentennial year. This is its fourth location.

The congregation, which has 175 members, will gather for worship Sunday, Stocker said.

“We’ll find a space,” she said. “I’m determined we’re going to have church on Sunday, somewhere in Brunswick.”


Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]