Adapted from the booklet by Hope Moody Shelley entitled, The Congregational Way at Wells – A History of the Congregational Church and Some of the Personalities Who Shaped It. Hope is a member of our church. She has made it a labor of love to research, verify, and document the history of Wells. She is the preeminent keeper of the story of Wells. Those of us who love our town and want its story passed on to those who come after us owe a huge debt to Hope Shelley.
The history of the Congregational Church of Wells began with the arrival of Rev. John Wheelwright and a group of his followers at Wells in 1642. Wheelwright had chafed under an order in England not to preach his Puritan beliefs. He came to Boston where along with his brother-in-law Rev William Hutchinson preached that faith alone was necessary for salvation (not unlike what Martin Luther had said roughly a hundred years before). This created so much controversy that the Court (today the Massachusetts Legislature) ordered Wheelwright out. Wheelwright went to Exeter NH with 30 of his followers. In 1642, they came to Wells. Wheelwright only stayed for four years, but during this time, in addition to his preaching, he established a saw mill and served as one of the three appointed agents who laid out the plantation of Wells and assigned lots to the settlers. He was pardoned by Governor Winthrop in 1644 and left Wells to accept a call at Hampton NH in 1647.The church went through many ups and downs. Wells was one of very few settlements in Maine to escape total destruction and massacre at the hands of the Indians and their French allies as part of the King Philip’s War. In May of 1691, for three days a small group of settlers held out in the Storer Garrison against a much larger number of attackers. This was near what is now the Garrison Hotel on Route 1. You can read the stone in the little park next door for yourself.In 1692, Rev. George Burrows the pastor at Wells, who had previously been a minister in Salem Massachusetts, was taken from Wells back to Salem where he was tried for witchcraft on the basis of false testimony by young girls. Regrettably, they confessed to their false testimony too late. On August 19, 1692, Rev. Burrows was hanged at Gallows Hill in Salem.
But, the settlement gradually recovered and to a degree prospered. The church became known as the First Congregational Church of Wells. Eventually, doctrinal differences began to arise and because of that as well as the distance to the meeting house for some of the members, a number of churches were spun off from the original church. Altogether, there were eleven including what became the High Pines Baptist Church, the Ogunquit Baptist Church, the Wells Branch Baptist Church, and the Second Congregational Church of Wells (1831) which was located at the site of our present church.
Initially, there were only eighteen members of the Second Congregational Church. They had left because they did not find themselves “edified” under the preaching of the pastor at the First Congregational Church. The two churches had the same Articles of Faith and Covenant and the first pastor of the Second Church, Rev. Adams, hoped that they would “soon walk together as Sister Churches in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel”.
Eventually for practical reasons in an environment of limited resources, the two churches began to merge many activities. In 1863 they began to unite for some meetings, In 1907, they began to hire a single pastor and share his annual salary. They carried the same organ up and down Post Road (Route 1). In 1949, the two churches adopted the same bylaws and covenant. Joint services began with three months at one church and three months at the other. After 132 years of semi-separation, on July 7, 1963 both churches, meeting in separate sessions, voted by a large margin to merge into the Congregational Church of Wells which is our present day church.
In 1967, subject to some restrictions, the First Church Meeting House was deeded to the Historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit. We still hold services in this beautiful historical building on the first Sunday of July and many of our older members still think of it as “my church”.