A year after the unexpected death of the longtime pastor of New Hope Evangelical Free Church and New Hope Women’s Shelter in Solon, the church has welcomed a new pastor.

Pastor Benjamin Franklin, 49, of Augusta, was officially installed as pastor Sunday though he began leading services last month after the Solon church voted to hire him.

A military veteran who served for six years, Franklin worked as a nurse and a teacher before pursuing religion and seminary studies at Liberty University. He has undertaken two mission trips to the Dominican Republic, has internship experience at Faith Church in Waterville and served as a pastor for a small church in New Jersey, where the congregation grew from eight to more than 70 by the end of his tenure.

Benjamin and Mary Franklin have joined the New Hope Evangelical Free Church in Solon where he was installed as pastor on Sunday.

Choosing a new pastor for the church was a tough process.

“We had a number of men from (Faith Church) that were supplying us with help during the process,” church chairman and elder Rob Philpot said. “We were hoping that one of them would take the job as the pastor, but none of them were looking for full-time positions.”

Philpot said that when Franklin was filling in, he worked as an associate pastor in Waterville.

“We were looking for somebody that’s familiar with Maine,” Philpot said. “It’s a different lifestyle, very small-town. We have a small congregation and we were looking for someone under retirement age with a shepherd’s heart.”

Franklin’s wife, Mary, said that the New Hope Church was an instant click for their family.

“We knew the first Sunday that we came up here that we were going to be coming here,” she said. “The people are so friendly. There was a need that we definitely felt, and we knew that they really needed a pastor. He felt like he was being called to the position, so we prayed about it. This is where he’s supposed to be at this time in his career.”

The loss of their former pastor, the Rev. Timothy P. Hunt, has been felt throughout the congregation, though colleagues of Franklin’s have assisted and helped comfort the New Hope community.

“We’re a very tight knit group and we’re open to new people,” New Hope Shelter Executive Director Rebecca Philpot said. “Pastor Tim’s widow is still with our church and is very much in favor of Ben. She supports him fully and is glad that God sent him here.”

Sunday’s installation service brought in a crowd of more than 150 community members from both Solon’s and Waterville’s congregations. Though Franklin was welcomed in over the weekend, he began services in January. Rebecca Philpot said he “hit the ground running and didn’t wait for anything.”

“Ben and the church have the same goals,” Rob Philpot said. “He’s been really great to work with. We’re both on the same page. The congregation is overjoyed with Ben and the messages that he delivers.”

New Hope Evangelical Free Church, located at 111 South Main St., serves about 50 throughout Solon and nearby towns. Pastor Franklin’s next service will be at 10 a.m. on March 1.

“It’s been really exciting and bittersweet,” Rebecca Philpot said. “We trust God’s plan and we’re so excited about moving forward with Pastor Ben. This is really exciting for the community.”

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