Early in 1963 three families in southeastern Chelmsford met to discuss the need for a church in their community. Responding to their request the Rev. Miller C. Lovett, pastor of the West Chelmsford United Methodist Church, and interested members of the West Chelmsford United Methodist Church conducted a survey of the area and discovered that there was enough interest to establish a neighborhood church. A home was purchased at 95 Concord Rd. and the first service of the “Aldersgate Methodist Mission” was held July 14, 1963. Sixty-five people were in attendance, which was an unexpectedly large turnout for a summer Sunday in New England. The name “Aldersgate” was chosen because centuries earlier, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, had his “heart strangely warmed” while hearing a passage of Romans being read at Aldersgate, England. This “conversion” experience of Wesley’s some 200 years past, served as the hallmark for the Chelmsford mission, for it soon became know as the “church with the warm heart.”
In August of 1963, Rev. Lovett handed the care and concern of the people of Aldersgate to the lay leader, Mr. Jesse Spurway. Mr. Spurway cared for the young congregation, until September of that year when the members of the Aldersgate decided that there was a need for an ordained minister. Rev. Ned Watts, a doctoral student at Boston University School of Theology was installed as associate pastor of the West Chelmsford UMC, and as part of his duties assumed full pastoral responsibility for the Mission.
The Mission quickly outgrew it’s home on Concord Road, and in April of 1964 voted to build a church in order to expand their mission and ministry to the community. Prior to building, on September 20, 1964, the Aldersgate Mission was commissioned and constituted as the Aldersgate United Methodist Church by the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on March 28, 1965 at 242 Boston Road. Four months, and $135,000 later, the church stood complete, it’s sanctuary able to hold 300 people, Sunday School rooms, a kitchen, fellowship Hall, and church offices, represented dreams come true for many faithful and generous families. On October 3, 1965, World Communion Sunday, the first service was held in the new building with 250 people in attendance. Later that month, on the 24th, the building was officially consecrated.
By 1967, just a few years after its formal existence, membership at Aldersgate approached 300; three years later in 1970 membership surpassed 400. Due to the increase in membership, and the need for funds, the house on Concord Road was sold, and Rev. Watts was given a housing allowance and was to provide his own housing. While the church grew in membership it also grew in ministry; new forms of worship were added, the development of mission and social concern sparked many new projects at Aldersgate, scouts, Bible Studies, family suppers, discussion groups, Sunday School all were areas for the church to serve and reflect the community and Jesus Christ. In 1972 Aldersgate participated in the Lay Witness Mission which brought a spiritual renewal to the church as youth and adults had an opportunity to share their Christian witness.
Since September of 1973 Aldersgate has been associated as a teaching parish with Boston University School of Theology, the church was initially chosen “on the basis of the variety and quality of learning experiences available to the students.combined with innovative programming, exceptionally strong lay leadership, and a deep commitment to spiritual and education growth within the congregation.” Aldersgate, some 25 years later, still finds itself dedicated to those same ideas. Some twenty five men and women have interned at Aldersgate UMC, and have brought to us their new ideas and enthusiasm, and hopefully left with their hearts warmed.
After thirteen years of service, Rev. Ned Watts left Aldersgate, and the Rev. Franklin E. Kooker was appointed by the Bishop to serve as pastor. Rev. Kooker served the church from 1976-1981 where he continued to develop lay leadership, guided the intern program, provided spiritual and personal counseling, and officiated at the 15th anniversary celebration.
In 1981, Bishop George W. Bashore of the Southern New England Conference appointed Rev. Don L. Holt as pastor. Rev. Holt had previously served as the pastor of the Maple Street United Methodist Church in Lynn. Shortly after his arrival the church was invited to attend the wedding of Rev. Holt to Norma McDonald. Rev. Holt, or “Pastor Don” as he liked to be called, brought together over 200 people for a 20th anniversary celebration at the Sheraton Tara in Nashua, and Rev. Ned Watts was the guest speaker at a special service held on October 9.
After twenty-three long years, in a special ceremony held outside on the church grounds, Pastor Don, lay leader and charter member, James Wetherall, along with District Superintendent Caroline Edge participated in the burning of the mortgage. Finally, the church was debt free!
Under “Pastor Don” Aldersgate Church supported several new missions. The church officially became a covenant and sister church with Primera Iglesia de Christo in Managua, Nicaragua, it also became a covenant church with Habitat for Humanity in Lowell. The Sunday School supported such projects as the Heifer project and askings through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and has adopted a young Haitian boy named Michele. Pastor Don, along with the lay leadership of the congregation developed exciting short-term study groups, all the while maintaining at least three weekly Bible studies. All of this, plus general population growth in the area spelled one certain thing….an addition. On May 28, 1990 Aldersgate launched a major part of its long-range plan, the renovation of its Fellowship Hall, new construction of classrooms, storage area and office space. The Building Committee endorsed a project cost of $465,000 but with additions and overrides the total project came to $500,000. In April of 1991, Bishop Herbert F. Skeete presided over the consecration of the addition that doubled education and fellowship spaces.
After fifteen years of ministry, Rev. Holt was appointed to the Eastham UMC. In 1996, Bishop Skeete appointed the Rev. Gary L. Shaw as the pastor of Aldersgate. Rev. Shaw formerly served the Wesley UMC in Lynn, MA. Rev. Shaw guided the Trustees of Aldersgate through the process of purchasing a parsonage so that “housing will never again be a consideration in pastoral appointments.” After considerable searching the church purchased a home at 417 Acton Road.
On July 1, 2002, Bishop Susan Hassinger appointed Rev. Shaw as the District Superintendent of the Southern Maine District. Rev. Sharon G.W. Jones came to Aldersgate and began her ministry with us at that time, coming from the East Greenwich UMC in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. During Pastor Sharon’s time, the church deepened its connection to our sister church in Sierra Maestra Nicaragua and embarked upon a capital campaign to improve handicap access to the rear of the building.
On July 1, 2009, Bishop Peter Weaver appointed Rev. Lisa Bruget-Cass as our pastor. She came to us from the Wesley United Methodist Church in downtown Worcester, MA where she had served for 10 years. She brings a passion for worship, youth, growing discipleship and community life.
In April 2012 the church made an appeal to raise funds to complete the long-dreamed elevator lift for the building. In addition to improving access to our own facility, we raised money to replace the roof on the Sierra Maestra School in Nicaragua. The roof was completed and the Lift was installed by the end of 2012, with much celebration by all!
Aldersgate continues to be a place for spiritual and personal growth. In addition to the many church programs the church is the site of the Foxtots Nursery School, and is the sponsoring church for Boy Scout Troop 81. Over the course of a week multiple Girl Scouts and Brownies, as well as Boy and Cub Scouts use the building.
The church now has over 500 members, 3 Choirs-Chancel, Chorister, and Angles, 3 Hand bell Choirs-Shepard, Miller and Page Chime, three Bible studies, Discipleship Groups, Women’s ministry, Mighty Men and Youth. The church averages 165 people at morning worship, and has over 125 children and young people enrolled in the Christian Education program. the church offers two Sunday morning services at 8:30 and 10:45 with Christian Education for all ages at 9:30. The church has a paid child care provider, Director of Education, Director of Music, Organist, and is renewing its participation in the Boston University Intern Program.
Aldersgate is known in the Chelmsford community for its education program, its outstanding music program, challenging and exciting worship, and multiple opportunities for service through outreach. But most important, it is known as “the place with the warm heart”….given in affection to all who enter the door….guided, nurtured, taught, and made whole by Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.