A Short History of the Readfield United Methodist Church
The congregation now known as the Readfield United Methodist Church is the child of five original local congregations. The first began with the building of the East Readfield Church in 1795 at the urging of the Rev. Jesse Lee, the founding force of New England Methodism. It was the first Methodist Church in Main, now the oldest Methodist worship space still in use in the New England Conference UMC. Jesse Lee Meeting House is open for worship July and August for evening worship as well as Easter Sunrise and Christmas Eve worship. At the other end of town, Kents Hill residents began a church which Luther Sampson, a revolutionary war veteran, finished in 1799. This house of worship was replaced by the current Torsey Memorial in 1837. (The original structure became a store which later burned on the site of the current Kents Hill post office.) The congregation worships here on Sunday mornings.
Several other congregations several area neighborhoods in earlier years. They were united into the present congregation in 1961. The Sunday School at Readfield Corner and Smith Memorial (at the depot) were places where people shared their lives and spiritual journeys. For a time church school continued to meet at the Corner vestry (now St. Andrews Episcopal Church) after the merger. When Torsey Church was raised and a fellowship hall built underneath, programs were able to be combined at one site.
Torsey Memorial was named after Dr. Henry P. Torsey when it was enlarged in 1865. The building was cut in two, moving the south end back to make room for the new part. Small windows were replaced by the current spacious ones (updated in 2007 for energy efficiency). Harry Cochrane supervised the renovation. The church was renamed to honor the Headmaster of Maine Wesleyan seminary for 37 years, now Kents Hill School. A stained glass window was later added to honor Wilson and Ella Morse who led Maine Wesleyan's famous music conservatory for many years. Kents Hill School was founded by the same gentleman farmer, Luther Sampson, who finished the original Kents Hill church. The history of the two institutions on the hill is deeply intertwined. Schools had not yet been established in the area due to the hardships of the Revolutionary war. Sampson wanted to provide excellent educational training for young men and women in this rural area, particularly for those who might enter the ministry. Kents Hill is thought to be the oldest continuously co-educational institution in the United States, operating since 1824 and was the first seminary in Maine. It is now a college preparatory school.
In 1994, Mount Vernon United Methodist Church turned its beautiful building on Lake Minnehonk over to the town to be a community center. Its small congregation was incorporated into Readfield UMC. We continue to partner with the Mount Vernon Food Pantry, serving food and fuel assistance needs in the area.
It is worth a trip to across the street from Torsey into the old cemetery to finish your visit with our history. Many famous persons from our history are laid to rest there. There are wonderful memorials to those less well known infants, soldiers, farmers, mothers, and a former slave (a gifted preacher).
Readfield United Methodist Church continues to make history. Our first female minister was Alice Hart (1955-60). The Rev. Kathleen Weed, a licensed local pastor who was later ordained, served Readfield for several of her 45 years in ministry until she retired as the longest serving woman pastor in Methodist history. In 2003 we certified the youngest Lay Speaker in Main, Miss Pasty Frey (then age 12) and began a vibrant relationship with women in Kaoma, Zambia. In 2006 the United Methodist Volunteer in Mission Trips began in partnership with Kents Hill School to make annual trips to Gulf Coast. Worship and nurture are "re-thinking church" to collaborate with mission as well as making the most of our natural environment.
Making history goes hand in hand with honoring our heritage at Readfield UMC. From Free Suppers to Bible Studies, this is a congregation whose faith shapes its life and strengthens members for leadership in the community.
If you want to explore more our history, please contact Nancy Russell, our church historian at firstname.lastname@example.org