History and Background
Carved from the receding glacier of the Ice Age, Maine gradually took shape. Jagged edges of the drowned coast emerged, scattering island, safe harbors and dangerous reefs along its length. Melting ice poured toward the sea, forming great rivers. Millions of tons of rubble created pockets for lakes and ponds. Gradually birch trees migrated from the south, followed by pines and spruce and then maple and other hardwoods. Forest animals, land and sea birds and hardy plants gradually claimed residence throughout the area. The result has been a state that is harsh and demanding, incredibly beautiful and exceedingly rich in natural resources.
People came to the area also. The earliest, of Stone Age culture, are sometimes knows as the Red Clay people because of their practice of using clay stained red from iron oxide. More recently the Wabanaki (the People of Dawn) settled throughout the more southern areas and the Micmac in the north of what was to become New England. These greeted the European traders and settlers. Very quickly, however, the indigenous people were either killed, or forced to flee westward and adopt English culture, and, with the exception of three reservations, the Europeans claimed possession of all the land.
Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820. Since then it has had political independence, but it has remained in many ways much like a colony. Initially, trading practices and later manufacturing and lumbering interests “from away” have come to Maine and provided jobs but also exploited its natural and human resources and took away much of the profit. Still today, Maine ranks thirty-eighth in the country in average wages.
Power within the state has traditionally been in “Yankee” hands, immigrants of English descent. Working people from French-Canadian areas have come into the state to work in the mills and lumbering industries. More recently, immigrants from Eastern Europe and Asian countries have moved to Maine. Although they still individually and collectively form only a small percentage of the population, to day over seventy languages are spoken in Maine.
From the time before Maine was an independent state, African Americans have lived here. Many of them were freed slaves or those fleeing slavery through the underground railway route through the state. Others came to find work on the ships sailing out of Maine ports, as teachers and ministers and other professionals. Although their numbers are few, they have been an integral part of Maine‘s story from the seventeenth century on.
The English settlers brought their churches, notably the Puritan Parish system, and many Congregational churches trace their roots back to the early and mid sixteen and seventeen hundreds. In 1826, Maine Congregationalists established the first state conference in the country. From the beginning, the Conference had an ecumenical stance. It sought conversation and ties with Congregational churches throughout the country and in England and with other Protestant denominations in Maine.
It also expressed concern about issues of social justice. At its annual meetings, throughout the nineteenth century, delegates passed resolutions supporting peace, and William Ladd of Maine founded the American Peace Society in 1828 “to illustrate the inconsistency of war with Christianity.” They supported temperance efforts. And generally they supported emancipation, although not all agreed that immediate emancipation was the way to proceed. As the Conference moved into the twentieth century, delegates urged “reform of the social order” during the Depression, advocated for a world court, supported conscientious objection and recommended birth control.
Early in the century, the first Congregational woman was ordained in Maine - the Reverence Isabelle Phelps. Today, out of a total of 243 ordained U.C.C. ministers, fifty-eight are women.
Following the General Synod of 1957, when the Congregationalists and Evangelical and Reformed delegates voted to become the United Church of Christ, the Maine Conference approved the merger, although a few congregations either did not vote or voted not to join the new body. Today some churches are still are members of the Conference but not of the United Church of Christ.
In 1992, the Conference voted to implement a five-year capital campaign to generate a minimum goal of $3,000,000 and a maximum goal of $4,000,000 to repair, upgrade, and expand Rockcraft, Pilgrim Lodge, and the Pennell/Resource Center. In addition, the campaign earmarks funds to help local churches make needed improvements and develop leadership, sets aside scholarship funds for seminary students, and contributes to new church development and community projects. It also provides for our share to the Make A Difference! Campaign.
The Maine Conference stands at the beginning of its future. In 1994, the Conference was faced with the departure of two of its Conference Ministers after tenures of almost two decades, the delegates at Annual Meeting decided that rather than simply replacing personnel we would call good interim ministers and embark on a long process of discerning and questioning to find out the strengths and weaknesses of the Conference, to discover the hopes and dreams of members and member churches, and to propose a new structure which might more accurately embody the ways in which we want to do our ministry. A Transition Team was appointed to “re-design” the Conference so that we can move into the future with a clear vision of what our mission is and with a structure appropriate to that mission. The Team visited every congregation, every division and committee, and every group that requested a hearing to listen to its concerns, questions and visions. A Vision Statement was then drafted and adopted at the 1995 Annual Meeting that set the tone and ethos out of which we proceeded.
In September 1995, the Transition Team set about developing a new structure that would embody what it heard and would reflect a relational understanding of ministry. The new Conference structure, adopted at a special meeting of the Conference in June 1996, consists of three program ministries. More information about this new structure is located here.