GARDINER — Candace Avery said she has been going to Christ Episcopal Church in  Gardiner for all of her 74 years, and she is the fifth generation of her family to worship there.

“My mother’s great-grandfather came down from Canada to work in the paper mills,” she said. “He was Catholic and he went to the Catholic Church. He had some sort of falling out with the priest, so he marched his family across the common and said, ‘Good morning, Father.’ He brought my family to Christ Church, and we’ve been here ever since.”

Avery’s 74 years of attendance are part of 200 years of Christ Episcopal Church’s history at its current location.

Pastor Kerry Mansir addresses the congregation of Christ Episcopal Church at Sunday’s celebration of the church’s bicentennial. Sam Shepherd/Kennebec Journal

The church celebrated the granite building’s bicentennial Sunday with a special afternoon service in the churchyard, with some gravestones and the church’s steeple set in the background.

While breezy weather knocked flowers off of the alter, dozens of parishioners wearing masks gathered in small, socially distanced groups for the event.

Pastor Kerry Mansir said if not for the global pandemic, parishioners would be inside the building for the occasion, taking in the stained glass windows and high ceilings of the church.

“There’s certainly nothing wrong with the view outside,” Mansir said of the churchyard, which was accented by fallen leaves in autumn colors.

Mansir spoke about her pathway to becoming ordained, saying that someone asked her why she wanted to serve in a “dying” church such as Christ Church.

Mansir said death, especially in terms of Christianity, is never the end of the story, citing how the Bible does not end with Jesus’s crucifixion.

“Death never gets the last word. It begins again with resurrection,” Mansir said of dwindling populations of parishioners and the closing of churches. “This cycle of life or death means the church is always evolving.

“We are the church and we are not dying. As long as we live for God, the church is alive and well.”

Joining Mansir for the ceremony was Thomas J. Brown, the 10th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, who is the first openly gay bishop to lead the diocese.

While the church standing at the corner of Church Street and Dresden Avenue was built in 1820, the church’s history predates that. The church, formally named Christ Church on the Common, began services in 1763.

In 1793, Henry McCausland, an early settler and Revolutionary War veteran, had a vision he was to burn down the church and kill its rector.

He somewhat realized his vision, burning the church and killing a woman, but the rector was not hurt.

By the next year, the church had been rebuilt, but 25 years later, the expanding congregation wanted a new church.

Robert Hallowell Gardiner, a grandson of Gardinerstown Plantation founder Silvester Gardiner, brought in the Rev. Samuel Jarvis to design a building. Construction began in 1819, and the stone church was consecrated Oct. 20, 1820.

Since then, the church has housed city government meetings and voting, and its bell has been used to warn residents of fires.

Avery said only a few physical things have changed during her time at the church. The parish house used to be where the congregation gathered Sunday. The biggest change, she said, is the “different congregation.”

Marjorie, left, and Hugh Awalt sing during a special ceremony commemorating the bicentennial of Christ Episcopal Church on Sunday in Gardiner. Sam Shepherd/Kennebec Journal

“We’re much more involved in the community than we used to be,” she said. “It’s a very community-oriented church and everybody is welcome.”

When asked to predict what might happen over the next 200 years, Avery said she hoped the church would continued to grow.

“I hope we continue to serve to the community as we’ve always done,” she said. “I hope that people can come and feel they can find a spiritual home here. I hope we start attracting young families.”

Majorie and Hugh Awalt said they have attended Christ Church together for 53 years, both singing in the choir. Hugh Awalt said he worked closely with the church-sponsored Boy Scout troop for 26 of the troop’s 127-year history.

“This was my first long-term experience with an Episcopal Church,” Majorie Awalt said. “We made a lot of friends here.”

Added Hugh Awalt, “I have enjoyed it and I love it.”

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