From the Archives... "A Gentle Dove"

For those of you who have not been able to attend our summer worship services in person, you may be surprised to learn that in addition to Judy and Rev. Bill Imes, former pastor 1985-2001, joining us for a service two weeks ago, in June many of us were delighted to find that a bird “flew” into the vestry and is still there!  Of course, it became the subject during coffee hour when we all felt its gaze high from its perch on the wall. 

So, why have we welcomed this bird, what is its significance, and how did it end up in the vestry?  Referred to as “a gentle image of a dove” by Rev. Thompson Ashby, the bird on our vestry wall is a copy of the original wooden bird that was made by Samuel Melcher III who designed and built our Second Meeting House in 1806.  His wife designed the dove weathervane to adorn the spire where it was the highest point in Brunswick until the church was taken down to create space for our present church on April 18, 1845.

The original dove was made of wood, in a decoy fashion with a 6” long, tin leaf held in the bill of the dove which formed the vane of First Parish Church.  Its dimensions were 46” long and 18” high.  The original dove is at the Pejebscot History Center where their 1924 Exhibition Catalogue listed the Dove as item #39.

In 1980, a replica of the “Gentle Dove” weathervane, was created in honor of Louise and Professor Ernst C. Helmreich, long time members and church leaders, in appreciation of their service to the church and was given to them by Robert and Judith Ashby White, daughter of our former pastor, Rev. Thompson E. Ashby, May 1917 – September 1951.  This replica was crafted by Ralph Allen, a member of our church who was also a local woodworker in Topsham who was “a craftsman of fine furniture and a restorer of some renown.”  The one hanging in our vestry, I believe, was given to the church later by the family of Louise and Ernst Helmreich. 

Remember that in 1806, when our Second Meeting House was built, and the dove was placed atop the spire, that Maine was still not a state, so the church and the unique weathervane were significant for everyone in and around our small town of Brunswick. Allen made a second replica that he gave to the town of Brunswick as long as they would display it in public at the town hall. Our sanctuary archive display contains some of the archive notes and newspaper clippings about this historical bird.

But, you might wonder, how did it suddenly end up on the wall of the vestry?  Our investigative reporting learned that when Frank Connors was doing some painting in the lower level of our sanctuary this summer, he noticed the dove and asked Rev. Francesco Marshall why it was downstairs. Responding to Frank’s interest in letting this bird have some light, Rev. Marshall decided to pull out the “tall ladder” and secured our historical “Gentle Dove” on our vestry wall for all of us to admire.  Thank you to Frank Connors and Rev. Marshall for bringing more of our history into our vestry.  Now we can all appreciate some of the joy that our former church members and townspeople from the early 1800’s felt as they gazed upon the same design atop their church spire.

Below is a lithograph of our Second Meeting House built in 1806 with the “Gentle Dove” atop the spire.  A second photo of that lithograph below will enable those of us with more limited eyesight to enjoy seeing the dove weathervane closer up.

Below is a Times Record newspaper clipping about the replicas that Ralph Allen created for Louise and Ernst Helmreich and for the town of Brunswick.

Below are two of the September 1973 church bulletins (50 years ago) with their inspiring messages for a meaningful church year. 

Blessings to you and your family for a lovely September.  Please come to the vestry for coffee hour where you can “greet” the Gentle Dove, but, even more importantly, get to know more people within our congregation. Try our “famous” First Parish Church punch, sip some coffee, and enjoy a cookie or cheese and crackers. Whether you stay for a few minutes or many, your presence is a gift for us all.

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