St. Margaret’s Church from an Historic Perspective
St. Margaret’s Church owes its existence to the perseverance and inspired leadership of Maud Gammans (1866-1928) and a small group of friends, both local and “from away”, who undertook the task of bringing an Episcopal church to Belfast. Ms. Gammans was a Belfast native who traveled extensively and had a deep interest in the arts. Her interests and generosity were not restricted to the church as her will included “public bequests” in support of the Waldo County Hospital and a variety of programs designed to support those in need as well as a reading room in the public library.
The effort to bring Episcopal services to Belfast and to build a church began in earnest during the first decade of the 20th century. For several years, services were held in the North Congregational Church, now the American Legion hall, but by1915, sufficient funds had been acquired through gifts and hands-on fund-raisers to undertake a building program. Ground was broken in May of that year and the first Sunday service was held in September, although the church was still unfinished and not completely furnished. The building was consecrated in 1916, but St. Margaret’s did not become an official parish of the Diocese of Maine until 1930 and offered summer services only until 1931.
St. Margaret’s is the only church that the architect, Vermont native and occasional Maine resident, Russell W. Porter designed. He is, in fact, best known for his work as both an architect and an engineer on the Palomar telescope project in California. Porter chose the medieval English parish church as the model for St. Margaret’s but, in keeping with Maine tradition, he built in the “shingle style” with Arts and Crafts touches. The rather simple interior serves as an understated background for several spectacular stained glass windows, most made in London by the firm of James Powell & Sons (Whitefriars), Ltd. Ms. Gammans was actively involved in the design of all windows installed during her lifetime. The earliest (1922) is the three-panel transept window depicting scenes from the life of St. Margaret of Antioch, the church’s patroness.
In 1908, well before the parish was officially established or the church built, a naming gift was made by Mr. & Mrs. Ralph Cross Johnson to honor the memory of their late daughter, Margaret. Although the Johnsons lived in Washington, DC, Mr. Johnson was a native of Belfast, the son of the city’s first mayor and grandson of its second Congregational minister. Margaret of Antioch was an early Christian martyr but there is considerable question as to whether she existed as an historical figure. The Crusades brought her story to Western Europe from the East and she was very popular during the middle ages. Quite obviously, Margaret of Antioch is a quintessential female saint as she is the patroness of women in childbirth. Why she was chosen over the more accessible and clearly historical St. Margaret of Scotland remains a mystery our parish records do not answer.
In the last one hundred years, St. Margaret’s has evolved from the dream of a small group of friends into a year-round community of worshipers and a vital contributor to the greater Belfast community. The church participates in a variety of outreach programs, both local and international. St. Margaret’s contributes both financially and in kind to the support of St. Etienne, an Episcopal church and school in Limonade, Haiti, and members of the two congregations have exchanged visits. Locally, St. Margaret’s is a member of both the Waldo County Food Cupboard and the Interfaith Fuel Fund, ecumenical programs sponsored by a number of area churches. Additional outreach efforts include financial support for, and member involvement in, organizations such as Senior Spectrum, Waldo County Hospice, The Game Loft and the Committee for Restorative Justice. In 2007, St. Margaret’s completed an extensive renovation and expansion of its parish house. The additional space created allows for both expanded church programs and additional outreach opportunities. Free lunch for families and children has been offered several times a week during the summer and, during the school year, the church has hosted a once-a-week “Toddlers Play Date” designed to help children make new friends as well as to offer support to parents and caregivers. The parish house is also used for meetings by a variety of community groups.
In 2005 St. Margaret’s celebrated its 90th anniversary with a period event.