MACHIAS – Members of the Machias Valley Baptist Church packed 50 years of memories into a single weekend.
Special services and meals made up most of the celebrating since Friday, but the most precious moment came Saturday, when Pastor George Henderson was presented with keys to a new pickup truck – a surprise gift from the congregants.
Sunday morning the Ford Ranger was parked on the front lawn of the church on Broadway.
“Even a preacher can be speechless at times,” Henderson said from the pulpit, recalling the banquet the evening before when more than 350 church members and friends wished him well and gave him the truck.
Sunday’s sermon was Henderson’s last as the church’s lead pastor – 50 years after he started the church with two families gathering in a living room in 1956.
Even Virginia preacher Jerry Falwell called last week to congratulate Henderson on the occasion of his stepping down. But reticent to retire entirely at 71, Henderson of Machiasport has chosen instead to scale back his work to three days a week.
His new work will focus on counseling and discipleship. He added that he hasn’t preached his last sermon either, referring to a newspaper mention that had him retiring for good.
Jeff Henderson, his 41-year-old son, is taking over as the interim pastor for the next 18 months.
Appropriately, the pews were packed on Sunday. The older Henderson said thanks, the younger Henderson said there is work still to be done, and the choir reconvened for the glorious, booming “How Great Thou Art.”
Henderson and his wife of 46 years, Carolyn Sprague Henderson, both received hundreds of hugs and handshakes all weekend. She also was given a gift of a new sewing machine at the Sunday service.
But the weekend hoopla should not have been all about them, Henderson said after all the members had filed out. “This is all about deep gratitude and thanksgiving to God,” he said.
Henderson had come to Machias 50 years ago from the village of Allagash in Aroostook County. The Mace and Rozelle families asked him to start a church. He never anticipated that, as he entered his 70s, he still would be serving the same church.
Dr. Chris Mace, who is 64 now, was a teenager at the first services, when the members eventually came to meet in the Machias Valley Grange Hall.
“I saw a lot of things happen between 1956 and 1960 before I went away to school,” Mace said Sunday morning during a pre-service breakfast.
“I saw changes in people’s lives. I felt that I was seeing the work of God here through the pastor.”
When Mace returned to Machias to begin his 30-year career in medicine, he reconnected with the church.
Mace’s family recently gave the church a $3,000 gift in honor of his parents that will help expand the gospel ministry within Machias. That was announced Sunday by Jeff Henderson from the pulpit.
“These two families [Mace and Rozelle] heard the voice of God, and they did something about it,” Jeff Henderson said of the church’s history. “They said, ‘Let’s start a church.'”
Today there are about 150 church members.
The church also operates the Machias Valley Christian School for 85 pupils through eighth grade. On Saturday, about 120 school alumni and their families gathered for a 25th-anniversary celebration at the Inn at Schoppee Farm. The bed-and-breakfast in Machias is run by two school alumni, David and Julie Barker.
Saturday’s banquet also was a homecoming. Local members mingled with faraway friends of the church who had come for the celebratory weekend from 13 states.
Like it or not, the spotlight of the weekend fell on George Henderson – and he graciously shared it with Carolyn.
“How do I ever adequately say thank you for this unbelievable outpouring of love and kindness?” he asked the congregation on Sunday. “Thank you for allowing me to be your pastor for these past few years. This has been a celebration of the glory of God.”