BUXTON — Buxton United Methodist Church will be tested for contamination Friday after the discovery last week of a suspected methamphetamine lab in a children’s playroom there.

Matthew Anderson

Matthew Anderson, 33, of Buxton, who sometimes attended the church and is the nephew of a church trustee, was arrested Dec. 5 and charged with unlawful operation of a methamphetamine lab, according to police.

The church has been shut down pending the testing for toxins and a cleanup expected to begin next week. The closure had disrupted weekly worship services for the 45 or so congregants who typically attend. It also has disrupted the church’s scheduled Christmas pageant and children’s Christmas party, and toys collected in the building for needy children in the community will be destroyed.

The church pastor, the Rev. Lynn Briggs, said in a letter Monday to the congregation that every space in the church will be tested at a potential cost of between $5,000 and $6,000.

“The insurance company may not pay for this, but it is the only way we can be certain that our church family and the public will be completely safe,” Briggs wrote.

Methamphetamine production involves a number of dangerous chemicals and their toxic effects can remain in the environment long after a lab has been shut down.

Briggs wrote that a “hygienist” will test the building Friday and send tests to a lab. “We hope that our building will begin the process of decontamination next week,” she said.

Briggs did not return messages by the American Journal deadline Wednesday.

Buxton police responding to a suspicious activity complaint at the church at 276 Chicopee Road about 9 a.m. Dec. 5 found the suspected meth lab gear.

The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency assisted with the investigation that led to Anderson’s arrest. Buxton police said Officer Scott Camire arrested Anderson at a residence near the church on an unrelated warrant. After questioning Anderson, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency then charged Anderson with unlawful operation of a methamphetamine lab, a class B crime, police said.

Anderson was taken to York County Jail in Alfred and is being held on $7,560 cash bail, a jail spokesman said Tuesday. He is expected to appear on Jan. 24 in Alfred Superior Court.

Anderson is the nephew of Henry Anderson, head of the church’s Board of Trustees, according to Beth DiCocco, director of communications at the New England Conference of The United Methodist Church in Massachusetts.

Henry Anderson “and all of the church’s leadership have fully cooperated with the police in their investigation and have been working diligently to address this situation so the church can reopen,” DiCocco said.

Hiram Davis, a member of the church’s administrative council, said Matthew Anderson is a Bonny Eagle graduate, polite, grew up in the church and has attended services sporadically.

The church has security cameras and a coded entry system. “He obviously knew the code,” Davis said.

The suspected activity, Davis emphasized, was “a one-time incident.”

On Saturday, Dec. 14, the church will conduct its weekly service at 5 p.m. at Living Waters Church on Parker Farm Road in Buxton. Rehearsal for its Christmas pageant with makeshift costumes – the original costumes were stored at the church – is set for 4 p.m. preceding the worship service.

“We are so thankful for their wonderful hospitality,” Briggs wrote about Living Waters.

The North Congregational Church in Groveville Tuesday was taking up a collection at its Christmas concert to help replace the toys Buxton United Methodist had in its box for needy children and to help the congregation with its cleanup costs.

The church has retained 24 Trauma, the firm that handled the Boston Marathon bombing cleanup. Briggs reported in her letter that Bill Houlihan, who is church treasurer, and Henry Anderson were to meet with her and the cleanup crew on Wednesday, Dec. 11, for an insurance assessment. She said she expects the cleanup to begin next week.

The New England Conference, in a statement, said it was “deeply distressed and saddened” by the situation at the Buxton church.

“Ensuring that our churches are safe places for all is a responsibility we take seriously,” according to the conference’s statement. “We want to assure members of the congregation and those in the community that Pastor Lynn Briggs and church leaders acted quickly and appropriately to secure the church building and contact authorities.”

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