The Rev. Lynn Briggs, pastor of Buxton United Methodist Church, on Sunday leads the first worship service at the church since a methamphetamine lab was found there. Behind her is longtime church member Lynn Gonyea. Robert Lowell / American Journal

BUXTON — A congregation of about 40 rejoiced Sunday at the first worship service in their church since the Dec. 5 discovery of a methamphetamine lab there.

A banner says Buxton United Methodist Church is “now open.” Robert Lowell / American Journal

“Isn’t it wonderful to be home?” a jubilant Pastor Lynn Briggs asked from the pulpit of Buxton United Methodist Church. “We’re finally back again.”

The congregants returned for a Lenten service after holding their weekly services at another Buxton church while their church at 276 Chicopee Road was being decontaminated and restored.

A suspect familiar to the church, Matthew Anderson, 33, of Buxton was charged in connection with the methamphetamine lab and is awaiting a trial scheduled for next month.

Most of the church had to be gutted at a cost of more than $100,000, Briggs said in an interview, and she is unsure how much of that cost insurance will cover. Some work still remains to be done, she said.

“It’s very, very dangerous stuff,” Briggs said about methamphetamine toxins.

“Massive, massive fumes got into the heating system,” she said, and apparently spread through the church’s duct work.

A cleaning company used a robot to clean the heating system. Bibles, choir robes, communion items, Christmas decorations and donated Christmas toys for children in the community had to be discarded, she said.

The sanctuary, however, only required a thorough cleaning.

“Miracle of miracles,” Briggs said, “our sanctuary fared well.”

Briggs expects restoration work, including new sheet rock installation,  to continue for another couple of weeks. A new kitchen should be in working order to prepare Easter breakfast. She said she is certain the church is 100% safe for the public.

The high profile case unrolled when Buxton Police responded to a report of suspicious activity at the church Dec. 5. Briggs said a backpack was found in a nursery closet. Maine Drug Enforcement Agency officers collected evidence, she said, but she declined because a pending court case to describe the evidence seized.

Anderson, who has several family members connected to the church, was apprehended. Maine Drug Enforcement Officer Derek McDonald charged Anderson with the operation of a meth lab, a Class B crime punishable by up to 10 years incarceration and a $20,000 fine, according to court documents at York County Superior Court in Alfred.

Anderson is now at the Layman Way Recovery Center in Alfred, according to a court document, and has a court-appointed lawyer, Gregory LeClerc of Standish. LeClerc did not respond to requests for comment. A court date has been set for 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 9.

On Sunday, Briggs’ sermon was titled “Conditions of the Heart.” She told those in attendance that returning to the church does their hearts good. She spoke about the heartache of the church and praised other churches for stepping up to help. During the cleanup, Briggs and her congregation met for services at Living Waters Church in Buxton.

“We know what it is like to go through a horrible time,” she said.

She asked what they would do to help another church.

In a closing prayer, Briggs said, “We will grow in our spiritual hearts.”

Buxton resident Joanne Groder was in attendance at the service Sunday.
“It was wonderful to be back there,” Groder said.

She praised Briggs, too.

“She helps so many people in this town,” she said.

Living Waters Church, Parker Farm Road, is hosting a benefit concert for Buxton United Methodist Church from 4-6 p.m. April 18.

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