It was a short drive to the East Harpswell Free Will Baptist Church on Cundy’s Harbor Road to take a look at the reverse-plan seating arrangement.
The church is a modest Greek Revival wood-frame building, built in 1843 by the Free Will Baptist Church and Society. Some residents of Sebascodegan Island had organized the society in 1817. The Free Will Baptist congregation underwent it’s greatest period of growth between 1840 and the Civil War. By the early 20th century, the congregation was decline, and services were no longer held. In the 1930s, the society began conducting religious services once again, and restored the building. The Sebascodegan Island Garden Club initiated a new restoration project in the 1960s. The local Historical Society owns the building, which is used in the main by the Garden Club.
The arrangement known as a “reverse plan” originated about 1820. The box pews face toward the entrance doorways rather than the back wall, and the pulpit stands at the front of the building. Historian James Garvin, who acknowledges Philip D. Zimmerman’s Ph. D. thesis (Boston University, 1985), believes that the reverse plan served the Protestant idea that no part of the meeting house should be viewed as sanctified. As the congregants entered the building and proceeded to take their seats, they passed the pulpit, virtually ignoring it. This undermined the sense that there was a progression towards a sacred space.