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A century later, historic Maxwelton church is back in business

Maxwelton’s historic Little Brown Church will be back in action Saturday, 100 years to the day since the first service was conducted inside.

“Ready or not, here we go,” said Lila Mills, who with her husband George has been refurbishing the Maxwelton Valley landmark for more than 1½ years.

“What better time to rededicate?” she said.

The ceremony will begin at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 29, and will last about an hour, Mills said.

Local religious leaders from four denominations will speak, and George Mills will talk about the history of the church, she said.

“There’ll be a couple of songs and some prayer, then we’ll have some refreshments,” she added.

On May 29, 1910 the first service was held in the new building of the Whidbey Island Free Methodist Church, at the intersection of Maxwelton and French roads.

It soon became known as the Little Brown Church, and as a gathering place for worship and activities for the entire Maxwelton Valley and South Whidbey.

Saturday, the church will officially reopen as a non-denominational venue to be used by island residents.

The Millses plan to rent it out for activities such as worship services, weddings, funerals, Bible studies, songfests, family reunions and community meetings.

“Nothing big-time yet,” Lila Mills said. “We’ll keep it small for right now.”

The church also is available for regular use by local congregations with no homes of their own. Lila Mills said they’ve received a couple of inquiries, but nothing solid.

The A-frame-style church is an integral part of Mills family history.

The congregation and the church were established as Whidbey Island Free Methodist Church in the early 1900s.

The church members were called Free Methodists because, among other things, they believed it was improper to charge for better seats in pews closer to the pulpit.

George Mills’ grandparents, George and Sarah Grubb, were among the five members of the new congregation’s first official board.

In 1910, more than 80 people contributed a total of $884, and the original church and parsonage were built.

The Millses bought the church and parsonage next door in 2008. They moved into the parsonage, and began to renovate both buildings.

The church had undergone various alterations through the years, and was painted gray in 1993. It was last used as a church in 2006, and was put up for sale in 2007.

The building contains a fellowship hall in the basement, and 18 pews in the sanctuary, which was part of the original church.

The bell, still in place, was purchased in 1934 for $10 from a local school district and attached to the church roof.

George Mills said he may try to get the church classified as a historic building.

Before retiring, George Mills taught high school for 31 years in southwestern Washington. A renewed interest in his family genealogy led to the purchase and the couple’s new life on the island.

The Millses have urged people who were married in the church to come forward, so copies of wedding photos can be displayed on the church walls.

Lila Mills said that if there’s time during Saturday’s ceremony, guests will be invited to share stories about their involvement with the church.

Stories such as the one in which a young boy and young girl ran around the church in opposite directions in the dark, meeting to share a quick kiss on the other side.

“Fifteen years later, he asked her to marry him, and they got married in the church,” Lila Mills said. “We just went to their 50th wedding anniversary.”

For more information about the church or the rededication ceremony, e-mail the Millses at maxweltonlbc@comcast.net, or call 579-2007.

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