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Anonymous donation blesses growing Turner church

TURNER — North Turner Union Presbyterian Church recently received an anonymous $10,000 check in the mail — money that was much appreciated.

“Our church is alive and well, but money is an issue so that donation is a phenomenal support for us,” the Rev. Lissa Bradford said. “We are deeply grateful.”

The church regularly has 40 to 60 people on Sundays and serves 52 families a month out of its food bank. It also runs a clothing closet from May through October.

On June 26, more than 100 people came to the church to honor veterans, firemen, police and first responders.

“The energy is almost palpable,” Bradford said. “There is no other explanation except that it’s the Holy Spirit.”

But that wasn’t always the case.

Twelve years ago, Sunday morning attendance was around six to eight people who met in the basement to save on heating costs. They had no pastor at the time.

The Presbyterian organization came close to shutting the church down, but the small crew didn’t give up and rallied to save it.

Jody Goodwin wrote letters informing people that the church would close if attendance did not pick up.

Ike Goodwin came onboard and prepared a three-year budget plan.

Longtime parishioner Lawrence House, known as “Punk” to his friends, told anyone who would listen that they needed to get back to church if they didn’t want to see it close.

Garrick Grant was instrumental in holding things together, inviting guest speakers to fill the empty pulpit.

Their efforts worked. The parish grew.

Bradford, who is a full-time chaplain at Androscoggin Home Health, was one of those guest speakers.

“I told Garrick he ought to ask her to come and be our pastor,” House’s wife, Laverna, said. 

Bradford has now been pastor at the growing church for six years — a church whose members welcome warm embraces. 

On Sunday, Bradford gave a fair warning to visitors of the church who may be unfamiliar with the church’s customs: “If you don’t want to be hugged, just hold out your hand for a handshake and nobody will hug you.”

For about 10 minutes the room was filled with the sound of overlapping greetings of “Peace be with you,” and the sight of many warm embraces. There were few handshakes.

House and his wife, Laverna, who have attended faithfully since the 1950s, gave some history about  the church. It’s about 135 years old, House said, and has welcomed six generations of his relatives. 

Bradford gave a sermon about the need to maintain authenticity in our relationships with God. She encouraged her listeners to be active participants, not content with “sitting on the sidelines.”

It’s the perfect sermon for a group of people who went to great lengths to save the church they loved, she said.

After the closing hymn, Norman Greenbaum’s 1969 classic rock song, “Spirit in the Sky,” blasted through the speakers.

Bradford’s embracing demeanor and vibrant preaching style seem to have played an instrumental role in the growth of North Turner Union Presbyterian Church — but its energetic and committed pastor is just part of the story.

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