The Norway Center Church has been serving its community since 1802. This year the church is holding services just four times during the summer. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

NORWAY — Picturesquely nestled on a hillside on the outskirts of town, the First Congregational Church of Norway is only open to worship a few weeks out of the year. But dating back to the turn of the 18th century, many descendants of Norway’s earliest settlers are likely to discover some familial connection to it if they look.

The congregation was founded in 1802, five years after Norway was incorporated as a town. Early on, its members gathered in various homes to worship until 1809, when Major Jonathan Cummings, the area’s original proprietor, built the town’s first meeting house. That building was torn down and the current church built on the same site in 1840.

“Very little has changed,” said Beverly Curtis, who has attended Norway Center Church most of her life and has served as its president since 2001.

By the mid-19th century local industry had largely migrated toward Norway’s current downtown where water power provided more economic opportunity. The town’s population followed, leading to the founding of the Second Congregational Church on Main Street.

As Norway Center receded from village to farm spreads, membership declined, but with Cumming’s descendant Edwin S. Cummings’ restoration of the building in 1935 and four generations of the Felmeth family leading its ministry for much of the 20th century, the church held onto a core group of worshipers.

“This church would be pretty full when I was growing up,” Curtis recalled. “I think there were around 100 members during the mid-1950s. It stayed that way up until the 90s, and then it started getting smaller. We still get 25, at the smallest, upwards to 40-50. That is during summer when we’re open.”


The church currently has no established minister but welcomes in a rotation of guest pastors, and performers. This summer reverends Scott Campbell, Ron Black and A-J Alexander will take turns at the lectern on Sundays. Violinist David Knightly is performing this summer, as well as pianist Deborah Felmeth, whose forebears were instrumental during the church’s 20th century history.

Starting in 1937, Dr. Wilhelm G. Felmeth came in as the church’s leader and served until 1953. His son Dr. William H. Felmeth succeeded him and later his grandson Dr. John L. Felmeth took over as pastor of the church. Finally, John Felmeth’s son-in-law Rev. Richard Moore became pastor and until about 1990, although Moore continued to lead summer services until the pandemic in 2020.

Norway Center Church’s original organ is on display. It was moved to Wisconsin several years ago by members of the Felmeth family, who led the congregation for four generations. In 2019 it was returned to its proper home. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

Curtis said that ministers from as far away as Florida and Indiana with Norway connections have made stops seasonally. This summer Norway Center Church is open on four Sundays for service, down from eight in 2022 and the previous 20 or so years.

In its 219th year as a community institution, the church’s original records provide a valuable source of Norway’s faith and community history.

“The [Norway] historical society was given the records dating back to the beginning,” said Norway Historical Society Director Sue Denison said. “In some ways, sections read like a lurid novel, as people were suspended temporarily or permanently for transgressions either against the church or against a fellow member.”

One such example would be the presumably bedeviled Phoebe Holt, who was restored to the church in 1838 after having been “suspended for several years,” only to be suspended again in 1848 “on account of the prevailing and longstanding impression that she indulged in the excessive use of ardent spirits.”


At 75, Curtis said she is the youngest of Norway Center Church’s current leaders. She recently got a lesson on draining the pipes for winter, so that will be her responsibility going forward.

Depictions of the First Congregational Church of Norway through the years. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

“Every Sunday Janice Thurston cooks, and she greets people at the door,” Curtis said. “I do the cleaning, I pay the bills, I am the scheduler.”

Occasionally weddings are held at the church, typically between the months of April and October and mostly for couples who plan receptions at the nearby Granite Ridge Estate. A granddaughter of one church member will be married there this fall.

“We are non-denominational,” Curtis said. “Anyone is welcome to worship here. Some churches have closed, but I’m not letting that happen on my watch.

“It’s been 20 years since we’ve really had a board meeting. I’d love to vote in new officers. I’d love if someone wants to be president, treasurer, secretary.”

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