Snowfall brings windfall for Maine church: Snowplow uncovers lost 1913 time capsule

February 11, 2015

It’s fair to say that all the snow that’s fallen on New England this winter has not been warmly received by many folks. But all the plowing required had an upside for Gray Memorial United Methodist Church in Caribou, ME.

At left is Mary Lou Brown, the church’s History & Records Chairperson, looking over the contents of the time capsule.  On the right is Gray Memorial’s oldest member Anna Roberts, 97. Photo courtesy of Treasurer & Church Secretary Bobbi Pelletier. 

When their regular snowplow driver hit one of the pillars in front of the church a few weeks ago, he unearthed a 1913 time capsule the congregation had been seeking for nearly two years.

“We knew there was a time capsule, but we didn’t know where it was,” said Rev. Thomas Bentum, pastor at Gray Memorial. And while the pillars were a probable location, church members were hesitant to move them.

So in 2013, the church celebrated the 100th anniversary of its building without the time capsule.

That omission was remedied on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015, when about 130 people – both church and community members – gathered in the fellowship hall after worship to finally open this gift from the past.

“We were all packed in that room; there was lots of noise, lots of kids,” said Rev. Bentum, who said the congregation “loves this building,” and was pretty excited to open the capsule.

“That was the most fun thing,” he said, “drawing the church together, along with the representatives from the community; it felt like a community event rather than just a church event. That was the biggest benefit, doing something together.”

The items in the sealed metal box, which was opened by a professional metal worker to avoid damaging the contents, were very well preserved, Rev. Bentum said. Some of the papers looked as if they’d been in there just a couple of years rather than more than 10 decades, he said.

And though there were no “great sums of money” or the dinosaur egg one young church member was hoping for, there were some items of interest. Rev. Bentum had the honor of taking the items from the box.

Among the items found were:

  • A copy of the Christian Advocate newspaper
  • A Doctrine of Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church (a precursor of The United Methodist Church)
  • A paper produced by the Epworth League (an association of Methodist young adults)
  • A list of donors who gave money to build the church and the amounts given
  • A 1913 dime
  • A bulletin from the dedication of the building in 1913

“It was really fun,” Rev. Bentum said of the delayed opening. “If we had discovered it during the anniversary, it would not have been as important, but separated out from that, it was really a fun thing.”

Finding a legacy from the first people to worship in their church building sparked folks to consider some important questions, Rev. Bentum said, such as: Who are we? What do we believe? Where do we want the Church to go? What are we known for? What legacy do we want to leave?

“For me, it’s always fun to connect with the past,” Rev. Bentum said, and to discover what people a century ago were thinking about and what was important to them.

And, he said, the discovery has inspired the church to consider putting together a time capsule for people to open 100 years from now – though it’s likely the burial will wait until the snow melts.