WINTHROP UNITED
METHODIST CHURCH

Our History

58 Main Street Winthrop, Maine 377-8620

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Church History


Please watch the slide show to see highlights from last year's bicentennial events!


More Than 200 Years of History

It was not an easy beginning for these stalwart souls of 200 years ago, for there were well established Churches in the area whose leaders held no enthusiasm for the prospect of the introduction of Methodism: in fact, there was an active opposition. One man, Nathaniel Bishop, born in 1766, was a Local Preacher who rose to the occasion to head the Methodist movement. His perseverance strengthened his resolve to meet every challenge. The first Methodist sermon was preached in Winthrop in 1793. A year later a Methodist Class was formed under the leadership of the Reverend Philip Wager, with five members, among them Nathaniel Bishop.

In the years to follow, the Methodists would meet and preach every two weeks, in homes and in the Fairbanks Schoolhouse. Bishop Frances Asbury first visited the Winthrop Methodists in about 1798, when he was hosted by Nathaniel Bishop. This new Methodist Society was incorporated February 27, 1811, with seventeen members; in 1825 the cornerstone of the Methodist Chapel was laid, with financing by Nathaniel Bishop. Nathaniel Bishop has appropriately been named the Father of Methodism in Winthrop.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, sent Bishop Asbury to America to serve and lead the Methodist movement. Bishop Asbury’s ministry was an illustrious adventure, riding on horseback throughout the wilderness of Maine. Recently Monmouth resident, Mark Alan Leslie treated our congregation to an evening with Bishop Asbury. In his portrayal of Asbury, Leslie read aloud from Asbury’s diary. This brought to life the many challenges and hazards of his life along with his beloved horse as companion. Asbury had a significant impact on the growth of Methodism. When Asbury began his ministry there were about 600 Methodists here, at the time of his death in 1816 there were more than 200,000.

Just as in the 1800's, so it was on the 27th of February 2011, when our own Bishop of the New England Conference, Bishop Peter Weaver, was with us to help us celebrate this glorious milestone of 200 years of Methodism.

Yea, I have a goodly heritage. Psalm 16, verse 6.

~ The Winthrop UMC Bicentennial Committee




The history of the Winthrop United Methodist Church goes back to Jesse Lee, a Methodist-Episcopal Circuit Rider, who is credited with bringing Methodism to Maine. At a Methodist Conference in Lynne, MA on August 1, 1793, with only eight preachers present, Jesse Lee was appointed to Lynn and the Province of Maine. Over the next four years he made several trips through Maine where he traveled by horseback preaching to all who would listen. He preached his first sermon in Maine in Saco on September 10, 1793 and he preached in Winthrop on October 21, 1793.

On November 12, 1794, when Jesse Lee was assigned as an elder, Philip Wager was assigned the Maine Circuit. Sometime in 1794 Rev. Wager started a “class” in Winthrop in the home of Capt. Peter Hopkins. A member of that original class was one Nathaniel Bishop. Winthrop was part of the Readfield Circuit at that time. In 1795, having been assigned as Presiding Elder for the New England Conference for some time, Jesse Lee was reassigned and spent just part of his time in New England. At a New England Conference on September 19, 1797, because of good news about the growth of Methodism in the Readfield circuit, it was decided that a future Conference would be held in Readfield.

On August 24, 1798, Jesse Lee returned to Winthrop with Bishop Asbury on his way to the Conference to be held in Readfield. Bishop Asbury fell ill so Jesse Lee preached for him at a meeting in “the Congregational house.” Bishop Asbury remained overnight in Winthrop at the home of Nathaniel Bishop. Bishop Asbury and Jesse Lee departed the next day for Readfield. Asbury, in his journal, noted the following: "Saturday, August 25, we had to beat through the woods between Winthrop and Readfield, which are as bad as the Allegheny mountains, and the shades of death. We have now laid by our carriage and saddle to wait until Wednesday next for conference, the first of the kind ever held in these parts."

Methodism continued to thrive in Winthrop. There was Methodist preaching once every two weeks in the Fairbanks School House (west part of town near the present day Metcalf and Bearce Roads). It was not until February 27, 1811 that the Methodist Society in Winthrop was incorporated. In 1825, although the Society was small and feeble, Brother Nathaniel Bishop resolved to have regular preaching in the village. This required the building of a house of worship, and Mr. Bishop assumed the entire financial responsibility – about $2000. The cornerstone was laid with Masonic ceremonies on June 24, 1825. On July 3 of that year, the building not yet covered, the first sermon was preached within its walls by Bishop Joshua Soule, the first Methodist Bishop of Maine, who was on his way to a Conference being held in Gardiner. The dedication of the church took place on November 23, 1825. There were at the time 15 members.

In July, 1826 the dedicatory sermon was preached by Rev. Stephen Lovell, who was appointed to Winthrop by the Maine Conference. Since that time Winthrop has been supplied by preachers from the Maine Conference, and then the New England Conference. The first Parsonage was built in Winthrop in 1849.

In 1855/56 measures were taken to enlarge and improve the church, and for the building of a vestry. The house was supplied with a carpet, nice furniture and a sweet-toned organ was purchased. In the fall of 1886, a steeple and bell were added to the church at the cost of $500 (The bell was $235.45).

The Winthrop United Methodist Church has continued to grow over the years and has become an important part of the Winthrop community. Wonder Awhile Nursery School, a ministry of the church, was established in 1964,the first such nursery school in Winthrop. The church has supported the Winthrop Food Pantry since its inception, and the Fellowship Hall in the Church has been home to a number of organizations that meet the special needs of people from Winthrop and the surrounding area. The Ice Storm of 1998 effected many in the community, leaving them without heat or a way to prepare food. For almost two weeks the people of the Winthrop United Methodist Church opened the doors of the church and provided three meals a day, comfort, and fellowship for all who came to the door. The Methodist Church theme “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” is alive at Winthrop United Methodist church.



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