For more than two centuries the First Universalist Church of Norway has been a physical and social anchor for the Town of Norway and surrounding communities – a place to build relationships, to question dogma and build faith, and to work for social justice. Since its founding this church has provided a place for the community to work together, and to seek understanding of our common humanity.
In 1799, just two years after the town was founded, Norway Universalists organized and built a church on land donated by Henry Rust, founder of Norway. The Norway UU Church is the oldest continually operating Universalist church in Maine. By 1829 the church membership had grown and a new building designed by Ezra F. Beal was dedicated. The church “is built of good materials and finished in the best manner and handsome style.” The original belfry was topped with an octagonal dome and slender spire.
In the 1860s Nathaniel Gunnison, from Nova Scotia, became the minister. He also was a founder and first president of Norway Savings Bank. In 1866 the church was raised on stilts and the Concert Hall was built on the ground floor. For many years the Concert Hall was the central meeting place for most community events in Norway including Town Meetings.
In 1884 Rev. Caroline Angell was hired. She was one of the first women ordained in any denomination. Under her leadership women began to join the church in large numbers.
In 1893 eleven stained glass windows were installed in the sanctuary. The windows continue to reflect light today in memory of early Norway citizens.
The church survived the Great Fire of 1894. Town citizens immediately began to meet in the Concert Hall and planned for the rebuilding of Norway. A year after the fire, a reporter walking down Main Street, marveled that the devastated town had risen from the ashes.
In 1901 a new bell was donated and in 1913 a rounded bell tower and weather vane replaced the spire.
In 1961 the Universalist and Unitarian denominations merged. The church changed its name to the First Universalist Church (Unitarian Universalist). In 1992 the Community Lunch Program began. It is supported by Oxford Hills Area Association of Churches. Since its founding, free home-cooked meals have been served every Wednesday.
Today, the congregation has launched a Capital Campaign to repair our iconic Belfry. This rehabilitation will save the bell tower as a landmark of Norway’s skyline. The repairs we make will ensure that the Church will be a place where we continue to challenge ideas, express hope, and offer respite for many years to come. This is our responsibility to our past and future.