An iconic Buxton church, built two centuries ago by a timber-raising party inspired by rum, is reaching out to the community in efforts to shore up sagging membership and attendance numbers at Sunday worship services.

First Congregational Church of Buxton, better known as Tory Hill Meetinghouse,  installed a new pastor, the Rev. Allison O. Curry, in June to lead the church in a quest to raise participation.

“She takes this very seriously,”  said Susan Eldridge, a church business committee member who helps with marketing.

The church, built in 1822 with a congregation organized in 1742 , is located at the intersection of routes 202 and 112 in Buxton. It reflects a traditional New England appearance, and is built on a granite slab, James Dearborn, a church trustee and business committee member, said last week.

Eldridge and other church leaders tell of struggling to compete for parishioners with seven other Buxton churches, one with a Christian school. They also say many young parents take children to Sunday sporting events on nearby fields, where soccer kicks in early on Sundays.

Curry, who served two years in an interim capacity, was officially installed as the church pastor on June 5.


The church’s history reveals that the pastor 194 years ago supplied a 10-quart pail of rum for thirsty workers. The history records he was the man of the hour, “caring for their thirst as well as their souls.”

Later, the church became the setting for Kate Douglas Wiggin’s play, “The Old Peabody Pew,” which the Dorcas Society of Hollis & Buxton produces annually during the holiday season.

But numbers have dwindled over time. The church’s chronology indicates it had an average Sunday flock of 76 people in 1900 with a high of 160.

The average attendance 10 years ago for a Sunday worship service was 50 to 60, but slipped to an average of 15 last year. Attendance on Sept. 4 this year was 18, but this year’s average attendance is 21, according to Eldridge, a Buxton resident and previously deputy directror of Westbrook Housing.

The church’s Sunday school once had 150 children, but there’s no youth group now. It does have a family with 4-year-old twins.

The rolls had 127 members in 1969, according to a church timeline, but declined to 59 members in 2014. Eldridge said membership now stands at 52.


The decline in participation has impacted church finances.

“We’re in the red,”  said Dearborn, who grew up in the church.

If the church suffered a major catastrophe, “we would be hurting,” Eldridge said.

But church officials say it isn’t in danger of folding and has some money in the bank. Two years ago it sold the parsonage for $136,556.

The church has to fund an annual budget in the upper $40,000s that includes upkeep and two paid positions, pastor and organist.

The church also has depended on some generous donations.


“We’ve been fortunate,” Curry said.

Malcolm Washburn, a business committee member and 17-year Buxton resident, said the church would like to get back to “self-sustaining” to cover expenses.

So, Curry, a grandmother who is a former sales executive in telecommunications, has set about rebuilding participation and raising awareness of the church in the community. She is a 2014 graduate of Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts and finds skills she acquired in her former secular career helpful.

Eldridge said Curry, in clerical garb, often goes to a local restaurant for breakfast with a handful of parishioners to be visible in the community. Earlier this year, the church hosted a chocolate festival in its parish house and this summer sponsored a free jazz concert that drew an audience of 100.

“We’re in a rebuild cycle,” Washburn said.

The church sponsors potluck meals and reaches out to help the local food pantry and assists needy. But, an effort to restart a youth group didn’t pan out.


“We can’t compete with sports fields,” Eldridge said.

“We need to look at newly retired folks,” Curry said.

The church hopes that booths for the annual Dorcas Society fair, relocated this year to the Brewster mansion, return to the church lawn.

“Part of our strategy is to piggy-back on other events,” Washburn, a 17-year Buxton resident, said. “We’re in a rebuild cycle.”

A new baby will be baptized in a ceremony on Sept. 25 and Curry said the new family found the church on the web.

Curry said new hymnals have been purchased in honor or memory of loved ones.


“We will be dedicating them during our regular worship service on Sept. 18 with special liturgy and special music,” Curry said.

The church plans a special reception in October for new members.Those attending recent worship services on Sundays are from Hollis, Gorham, Saco and Scarborough in addition to Buxton.

For Christmas, the church will have a candlelit service in addition to another for the hurting.

“We offer a Blue Christmas service to the community a week before Christmas for those who have suffered a loss or for whom Christmas is a rough time, not a happy time,” Curry said this week in an email to the American Journal.

The church, a member of the Maine Conference United Church of Christ,  voted in 2013 to be “open and affirming,” meaning, according to the conference website, it welcomes people of all sexual orientations.

“Everybody is welcome,” Washburn said.


The congregation goes back 274 years  and visiting gravestones in South Buxton Cemetery behind the church is like walking through the history of  the town.

“How lucky am I to be in this historic church,” Curry said.

A closer look – Sunday worship service at Tory Hill Meetinghouse, intersection routes 202 and 112 in Buxton, is at 10:30 a.m. The Rev. Allison O. Curry is church pastor. The church can be reached by calling 929-4252 or Curry, 730-3287.

A closer look

Sunday worship service at Tory Hill Meetinghouse, at the intersection of routes 202 and 112 in Buxton, is at 10:30 a.m. The Rev. Allison O. Curry is church pastor. The church can be reached by calling 929-4252 or Curry, 730-3287.

First Congregational Church of Buxton, better known as the Tory Hill Meetinghouse at intersection of routes 202 and 112, still serves the community after centuries.


Leaders at the historic Tory Hill Meetinghouse are, from left, Malcolm Washburn, Susan Eldridge, the Rev. Allison Curry and James Dearborn.

Tory Hill Meetinghouse, long a Buxton landmark, is reaching out to the community in an effort to rebuild membership and worship service attendance. The building was erected in 1822 and history has it the pastor provided rum for the raising party.



Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.