Yachts and Airplanes for Me, Scurvy and Death for You

A short history of religious cultism in Maine told through the stories of three Baptist pastors

In 1893, Pastor 1 heard God tell him to start a Kingdom in Maine.

70 years later, Pastor 2 built an empire using Christian call-in radio.

30 years after that, Pastor 3 used a fleet of planes to reach his far-flung flock.

These three Maine pastors built churches, communes, communities, cults and Kingdoms on the backs of pious believers who were easily separated from their money. Through persuasion and fear, they grew their empires while occasionally running afoul of the law.

Faith in Maine through the Years

Currently, Maine is tied with Vermont as the least religious state in the U.S. But it wasn’t always that way, and it certainly hasn’t kept opportunistic men of faith from trying to amass a following.

Throughout Maine’s history, various groups have established faith footholds in Maine. In 1649, the then colony of Maine passed legislation creating religious freedom for all citizens but only on the condition that those of “contrary” religious beliefs behave “acceptably.” In the beginning there were Freewill Baptists, Quakers, Methodists, Universalists and Shakers. Today, the list includes Catholics, Protestants, Jehova’s Witnesses, Jews, Muslims, Mormans and Hindus.

Some have indeed been able to “behave acceptably” by co-existing with those of different beliefs while others have struggled mightily. The traditional method was to build a church, preach on Sundays, and reach out to convince locals to join and support the new church. But others decided to go big and created entire communities where followers could live, work and pray together, isolated from the distractions (and pesky rules) of regular public life.

Shakers – the first Communes

Starting in the late 1700’s, the Shakers established three such Utopian villages in Maine: the Alfred Shaker Village (1782-1931), the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester/Poland (1782-present) and the Gorham Shakers (1808-1819). The Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village was the most successful and is actually still in existence.

By 1850, Sabbathday had grown to a size of 1,900 acres comprising 26 large buildings.

Like most Shaker Villages, Sabbathday strove to be as self sufficient as possible and so it needed members proficient in various trades to support its growing membership. Shakers are also celibate and so must recruit new members or the village will slowly empty. It is the last active Shaker village in the country, with two (maybe three) members as of 2019, and you can visit the much smaller village today.

Up the road in Belfast, Phineas Parkhurst Quimby founded “New Thought” which was a quasi-religious cult. Quimby performed “healing” through Mesmerism (hypnotism) and suggestion. In 1862, Mary Baker Eddy was supposedly healed of invalidism through hypnotism by Quimby and she then went on to found Christian Science – which famously promoted prayer over science. Studies have shown that even though they abstain from alcohol and tobacco, Christian Scientists tend to die earlier from preventable diseases.

1: Frank Sandford (1862-1948)

Frank Sandford, cult leader

Frank Sandford, an ordained Baptist Minister, built a chapel and Bible school called Shiloh in Durham in the 1890s. It grew to become “The Kingdom” and attracted hundreds to Durham to live and worship in a self-contained community.

He promoted healing through prayer and simple living, but death and sickness at Shiloh, followed by a series of deadly overseas missionary voyages, caused the conviction and imprisonment of Sandford and the eventual closing of Shiloh.

Click for the full story of Frank Sandford – a Kingdom, racing yachts and scurvy


Frank Weston Sandford was born in 1862 on a sheep farm in Bowdoinham. While working as a teacher at age 16, he attended a revival meeting at his mother’s Free Baptist church and was converted. He “threw away his tobacco” and devoted himself to a higher calling and to his education. He attended Bates College on scholarship, played on the baseball team, and gave the commencement address. After graduation, he turned down professional baseball opportunities and enrolled in the Cobb Divinity School. After just his 2nd “student preaching session” at local churches, he was hired by the Freewill Baptists in Topsham and left school.

While building the Topsham church membership quite substantially, he attended various conferences and meetings where he was became enamored with missionary work and would meet his eventual wife, Helen Kinney, a missionary himself. She was working with A.B. Simpson, who ran the Christian and Missionary Alliance out of a compound in Old Orchard Beach and preached passionately about how people can be physically healed through faith.

Divine healing would go on to become a very large part Sandford’s teachings.

In 1890, Frank left on his first missionary trip to Japan, China, India, Egypt, and Palestine. In Japan, he met up with Helen Kinney where they fell in love. He returned to the States a changed man and became engaged to Ms. Kinney. In 1891, he performed an exorcism on a woman at the Old Orchard Beach location.

The morning after the exorcism, he was walking through the pines to his morning meeting and heard a whisper “Armageddon.”

Shiloh is Built

Then in 1893, he told his church that God told him to “Go” and he resigned from the church to start out on his own. He began preaching throughout the Durham area, eventually working out of various gospel tents setup by loyal followers. He then decided to start a bible school but had no money and no land. Luckily, he was given a barren, sandy hill and commenced building a 7 story chapel called Shiloh. It opened as The Holy Ghost and Us Bible School in 1897.

(you can read about the Shiloh Temple on this page)

Shiloh expanded rapidly eventually becoming an entire complex with multiple, interconnected buildings, rooms for 1,000 people, and the equivalent of a small colonial village around it to support the needs of the growing population. These “Shiloites” were not allowed to sell any of what they produced so they were dependent on money simply “appearing.” People came from all over the country (and eventually the world) to live, work and worship as members of “The Kingdom.” They arrived, were welcomed by Sandford on the steps of the church, and handed over all of their money and worldly possessions. During services, potential recruits dropped money, wedding rings, brooches, necklaces, watches, and silverware into a large collection plate in front of the pulpit. A jeweler from Brunswick kept track of the estimated value of each offering while Sandford yelled out a running total to the beat of the music.

Sandford believed that God spoke directly to him and he declared himself to be both Elijah and the biblical David.

He claimed that he would be martyred and rise from the dead in Jerusalem before the second coming of Christ’s kingdom.

Days at Shiloh were very regulated. Daily prayers, including 6 hours on Thursdays and chores took up most of each day. Sandford got stricter by the day. Members could not leave, children could not have friends and relationships between members was forbidden. Although the Kingdom and its farms produced a lot of food, it often wasn’t enough to go around and they weren’t allowed to buy additional provisions from outside the community.

Illness was a sign that a soul was sick and was treated not with medicine, but with fasting and prayer. Children were always being disciplined with deprivation and beatings.

Members were encouraged to report each other for various sins to receive punishment by their families or church leaders. He was as strict with his own family as well. One story tells that his seven year old son John had been disobedient. As punishment, he would be put in a room without food and water and whipped. But the twist was that John must “earnestly desire to be whipped” so each day he had to sit in a room with a full glass of water that he couldn’t touch.

Then he had to go to his father and ask to be whipped.

Each time, his father refused saying he wasn’t ready. On the third day, Sandford deemed him to be ready and whipped him.

Compelled to stretch his influence, Sandford increased outreach. He also established a headquarters in Boston, sent 140 students out to visit every town in Maine (and convert Mainers), and also sent missionaries to setup Kingdom centers in England, Egypt, and Palestine.

Not everyone appreciated the aggressive tactics of the group. In 1899, one of his missionary ministers, George Higgins, was tarred and feathered and ridden out of Levan, Maine on a rail – supposedly the last time such a mob act was done in the New England. In spite of the occasional protests, the rivers of Maine (and beyond) were bubbling with new Shiloites being baptized by Sandford’s associates and they continued to pour into Shiloh.

First Brush with Prison

In January 1903, Sandford instituted a “Ninevah Fast” where all food and liquid was forbidden for 36 hours – even for infants, animals, and the sick. During that period fourteen-year-old Leander Bartlett, who had confessed to the most serious sin of planning to run away from Shiloh, died of diphtheria.

Sandford was convicted of manslaughter and cruelty to children.

The case dragged on for years and was eventually reversed by the Maine Supreme Court. News of his mistreatment was being reported in the newspapers as some brave members were secretly sending letters out detailing the hardships. Civil suits were being filed by families, horrified at the conditions of loved ones behind the walls of Shiloh. Sandford decided it was a good time to disappear for a while.

Shiloh Goes to Sea

The Kingdom had been using boats for years to reach various ports and islands along the Maine coast for evangelizing. In 1905, Sandford purchased the 131 foot racing yacht “Coronet” to help with global missionary work. The Coronet was quite the famous and fast ship, having filled the front page of the New York Times on March 28, 1887 for winning a 3,000 mile transatlantic race.

The Coronet, with 30 brave hand-selected souls known as “The Thirty”, set sail in 1905 for a global trip – to “circle the world for Christ.”

Alongside it was a 2nd ship called “The Kingdom”, carrying 60 along with supplies. Over the next five years, they visited Africa, Jerusalem and the Middle East, and many other spots along the way. Sandford feared the authorities who were seeking him to present him with papers related to the accusations of mistreatment. So he steadfastly refused to go into any ports for supplies. Instead, the “Holy Ghosters” would merely anchor offshore and “break the power of hell” by a chain of prayer. Anyone curious enough to come near and offer assistance was threatened over the barrel of a gun.

Various members of the crew perished during these voyages. Some died of illness, some drowned. At one point, the Kingdom ran aground on an island off the coast of Nova Scotia. Refusing help, they sent a telegram to Shiloh for help and a large contingent travelled by land to repair and resupply the ship.

In March 1911, after many years and thousands of grueling miles at sea, the Kingdom ran aground again and was destroyed off the coast of Gambia. Although Sandford blamed the wreck on the spiritual impotence of its passengers and crew, he took everyone aboard the Coronet. As if conditions weren’t bad before, they got substantially worse as the Coronet, built to hold thirty, was now overloaded with 67 people and woefully undersupplied with food and water. He forced them to continue towards Greenland to try to open a mission.

Men began to fall ill with scurvy.

Eventually, the “Holy Ghosters” aboard the Coronet, completely exhausted of supplies, limped into the harbor in Portland, Maine. It was reported that while what remained of his crew were dreadfully skinny and ill, Sandford looked healthy and fresh, having deprived himself of nothing in the cozy cabin of the luxury yacht. Scurvy quickly claimed the lives of six crew members. A few days later, Sandford was arrested for being responsible for these scurvy deaths by “unlawfully, knowingly, and willingly” allowing a ship to “proceed on a voyage at sea without sufficient provisions.” In court, he represented himself and argued that the sickness and starvation aboard the Coronet was punishment from God for the members not allowing him to proceed to Greenland. Unable to be convicted under civilian law, he was tried under marine law which allowed him to escape a longer sentence. The jury convicted him and he was sentenced to ten years in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta.

The Final Years

While in prison, Sandford continued to run the Kingdom through letters and missives hand delivered by faithful visitors. He tried to appoint his son John as leader in his absence but that failed when members rebelled against his attempts to establish an “inquisatory board to probe the souls of Shiloites.” World War I intervened and Shiloh faced even harsher conditions with rampant sickness and starvation. Sandford was released in 1918 on good behavior and returned to Shiloh to rebuild, but the glory days were behind him. Faced with death threats, he moved his family to the Boston location. While he was hiding there, a church member was brought to trial by his wife’s family for mistreatment and starvation of his children. The Children’s Protection Society in Maine investigated the living conditions of Shiloh and ordered the removal of all minors in Shiloh in 1920. Sandford then heard God whisper “Retire” and so he shut down the Bible School and sent the remaining families away from Durham in an act called “The Scattering.”

Almost overnight, Shiloh emptied of its hundreds of residents.

Sandford retired to the Catskill Mountains in New York where he was supported by his followers through tithes up until his death in 1948 at the age of 87. Secretive to the end, Sandford was buried in an undisclosed location by his followers.

His followers and children spread out, some continuing in his footsteps. His son John established a colony called “The Salem Turkey Farm” in Salem, NH. which made headlines when he converted the star quarterback from Dartmouth who left school the day after a big win over rival Yale in 1938

The Kingdom continues to the present day as “The Kingdom Inc” or “Kingdom Ministries” with churches and followers scattered across the country. While their practices differ from their founder’s, he is still honored as the founder.

The Shiloh Chapel itself struggled with the speckled past of the Kingdom and the connection to Frank Sandford. It decided to break from the Kingdom and reincorporated as a new, independent, evangelical church in 1998.

Read about the Shiloh Temple

2: Carl Stevens (1929-2008)

Pastor Stevens and his toupee

Pastor Carl Stevens, born in West Sumner, Maine, started as the Pastor of a church in Woolwich. Success as a fiery preacher necessitated a couple of upgrades, first to South Berwick and then to Lenox, Massachusetts while he also hosted a radio call in show that lasts to this day. While in Lenox, he was sued and had to return the $6.5 million donation from a gullible and very wealthy heiress which forced him to close Bible Speaks and move to a Maryland strip mall to rebuild his empire. At its peak, the Bible Speaks had over 16,000 members in 25 states and 23 countries.

Click for the full story of Pastor Stevens – millionaires and strip malls

Carl H. Stevens was born in West Sumner, Maine in 1929. He was an ordained Baptist Minister and developed a following in central Maine while working with the Gideons and then in Woolwich where he was Pastor of a church. He decided to break from the Bible Baptists and established the Northeast School of the Bible in 1972.

In 1964, Pastor Stevens became co-host of one of the nation’s first Christian talk radio shows. The program was broadcast live over WDCS in Portland, Maine, and focused on Bible questions and comments phoned in from the listening audience. From the radio, he moved into television broadcasts, becoming one of the first tele-evangelists.  The call-in radio show, originally known as “Telephone Time” was renamed “Grace Hour” and survives to this day.

The Bible Speaks

Success and growth required a move to South Berwick in 1973 to a former Catholic school. He renamed the church “The Bible Speaks” and the school “Stevens School of the Bible.” Also in 1973, the Bible Speaks purchased a Norwegian ferry boat which they named La Gracia and renovated to use as a missionary relief vessel in the Caribbean. Churches were planted in El Salvador and Europe. Up to 1,000 people drove up to two hours to hear him preach in South Berwick.

Not everyone acquiesced as the the Federal Aviation Agency denied permission for the group’s helicopter to land behind their Maine Street property.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Bible Speaks grew their Sunday School operations, running a private fleet of retired school buses that brought children from the surrounding area. They also established a network of private K-12 schools throughout Maine and Massachusetts.

Move to the Berkshires

Radio and television broadcasts helped fuel further growth and Stevens soon needed more room for church operations. He was able to buy a former private school in Lenox, Mass and moved The Bible Speaks to the Berkshires. Ever the salesman, Stevens was able to convince a millionairess parishioner, Elizabeth Dayton Dovydenas, to donate a total of $6.5 million to the church. Young and gullible (and reportedly not the brightest bulb), she was the heiress to the Dayton-Hudson department stores out of Minnesota (who founded Target). Dovydenas was entranced and taken by Stevens who at one point had convinced her that her money was needed to free a church minister who was imprisoned in Romania (this was actually true, although the minister had already been freed). After she forked over the money, he used the money to help pay for a freighter that makes missionary sea voyages, a Palm Beach condominium with floor to ceiling mirrors in the bedrooms, antibugging devices for telephones, guns for his pastors, the conversion of a hockey rink in Lenox into a church, and most importantly, he paid off the church’s $600,000 mortgage balance on its Lenox complex.

At the time, Bible Speaks boasted 16,000 members in 25 U.S. affiliates and 23 countries.

Lawsuit and 60 Minutes

Dovydenas’ husband and father found out about the donations and learned that Stevens had convinced her to write the family completely out of her will and to designate the church as her sole beneficiary. With their guidance, she claimed she had been brainwashed and the family sued to recover her “generous” donations and that they needed to “deprogram” her. The sensational case received widespread media coverage.

NY Times March 29, 1987

The presiding judge said in his 60-page decision that the testimony revealed “an astonishing saga of clerical deceit, avarice, and subjugation” by Stevens, who “has abused the trust of the claimant as well as the trust of many good and devout members of the church.”

During the 1987 trial, Diane Sawyer featured The Bible Speaks on 60 Minutes, as it was reminiscent of the Jim Bakker scandal. In one interview with a woman who was lured in by Stevens said:

“Well, he’s very affectionate. He hugs and kisses all the girls, and when he takes them in the office he doesn’t limit his hugs and kisses, and I mean I don’t know how far he goes with every woman, I guess every woman would have to say that to you personally. I’m not proud of it.”

After the trial loss, Stevens was forced to return the $6.5 million. He had to close the Lenox campus and subsequently declare bankruptcy. The Dovydenas family gained control of the property, then sold it and it currently houses Shakespeare & Company.

Stevens changed the name of his church from The Bible Speaks to the Greater Grace World Outreach and moved the entire operation to Maryland in 1987 to start the next phase.

Reborn as the Greater Grace World Outreach

The Lenox setback proved to be temporary as the now Greater Grace World Outreach (GGWO) picked up where The Bible Speaks had left off. He started the Greater Grace Christian Academy and the Maryland Bible College and Seminary and continued to perform his radio show. The location wasn’t quite as lovely, as his operation was now based in an East Baltimore strip mall that the church purchased.

To build his Maryland church, he sent church members out several nights a week “blitzing” — Stevens’ term for winning converts — in shopping malls, at the Inner Harbor and along downtown Baltimore’s pornography strip.

The GGWO decided in 2003 that Pastor Stevens was too ill to continue as leader of the church and appointed a successor.

Either that, or they knew what was coming. For in 2004, he once again was in the news when an internet bulletin board started collecting and publishing stories from disenfranchised former members of the GGWO. Hundreds of stories rolled in from former church members including claims such as:

  • that the church claims the words of Stevens have a special anointing from God, and that God punishes people who question or speak out against the church, sometimes with throat cancer or violent death
  • the church divided families by teaching members not to discuss the church with outsiders who may be “satanically deceived.”
  • required unusual dedication to The Bible Speaks and to Pastor Stevens, including incidents of having members take tape-recorded vows never to speak against the ministry or Stevens
  • encourage and solicited families to sell their homes and donate all proceeds to the church under the assumption (which proved false) that they could live rent-free on campus
  • eavesdropped on members’ phone conversations and taped some of them without permission
  • obtained honorary academic degrees for Stevens and other church leaders from unlicensed institutions
  • received accreditation for the Stevens School of the Bible from an organization that is not recognized by private or public bodies of higher education
  • bought off families who accused church leaders of sexual misconduct and child molestation
  • their marriages and families have been torn apart as a result of following the ministry

Pastor Stevens died in 2008 while the GGWO continued with new leadership. It now boasts over 500 Greater Grace churches in 70 countries. The call-in radio show “Grace Hour” continues its 40+ year run on the airwaves.

3: Todd Bell (1969-)

Todd Bell preaching at the Temple Baptist Church in Knoxville, TN, live-streamed on Oct. 26.

Pastor Todd Bell felt compelled to move to Maine and start a number of independent Baptist churches. Using a fleet of small planes, he flies all over the state and up and down the East Coast, preaching and seeding churches. When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Bell took a very vocal conservative stance against the restrictions placed on church attendance, believing that people should skip masks and just trust in God.

Once church restrictions were lifted, he taunted officials by brazenly holding services for unmasked followers and actively discouraged his Sunday school from following health guidelines. This came to a head in August, 2020 when he officiated the infamous maskless “COVID wedding” at a Millinocket inn that spread the virus all over the state, killed 8, sickened hundreds, and made national news as a “super spreader” event.

Click for the full story (thus far) of Pastor Bell – churches, planes & COVID

In August 2020, a Millinocket wedding made national news by causing an outbreak of COVID-19. The Pastor who officiated it quickly became a large part of the story as it was reported that he was a very vocal “anti-masker.” That Pastor, Todd Bell, describes himself in his Twitter profile as “Pilot Preacher and Passionate for Christ!”

Pastor Bell on his flight to the COVID wedding

The Move to Maine

Todd Bell was born in Florida in 1969, the son of fundamental Baptist parents. They moved to North Carolina where Todd went to school and became a machinist. In his early 20s, he made an “exploratory trip” to the Millinocket area with his wife, scouting out towns to “plant” churches. He liked what he saw.

After raising money with the help of his home church in North Carolina, Bell opened his first Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, the Tri Town Baptist Church, in East Millinocket in 1996. He held his first services in an old NAPA auto parts store for 12 people. Among the first church members was David Blaidsdell, who is the current pastor of the Tri Town Baptist church and whose daughter was married by Bell in the famous COVID wedding (see below).

While this first church was successful and growing, Bell wanted more. In his aviation ministry biography, Bell stated “while taking a prayer walk around town, the God of Heaven placed within my heart a burden for the ‘next towns’. I began to raise the question in my own personal prayer time, ‘what about the other towns of Maine?’” So he embarked on a church planting quest.

“I asked the Lord if He would allow me to get my pilots license and begin to reach out into other towns with the life changing message of the gospel.” So he convinced his home church to pay for his pilot’s license. He then bought an old Piper Cherokee plane and began a lifetime of flying from Millinocket to distant churches to preach and plant. “I felt like a circuit rider preacher but on a modern ‘horse’!,” Bell stated.

The Move to Sanford

In 2001, Sandford decided it was time to move on from Millinocket and moved his family to Sanford – which happened to have a nice airport. He and his family went door-to-door trying to get people to come listen to him preach. Eventually, he built up a following which allowed him to buy a hangar for his plane and a vacant building on Main Street for his church. He also started a nonprofit called “Wings with the Word.”

He started trading up to larger and faster aircraft. First, a Piper Cherokee 6 in 2005, a Cessna 310 in 2006, a Needham Sportsman in 2007, a Cessna 402 in 2008 (which he reregistered as N128MK in homage to Mark 1:28). Then a newer Piper Cherokee 6 and a Cessna 310. Some were registered in his name, some in the church’s name and some in his nonprofit’s name. At one point, he nonprofit owned 4 planes, a front-end loader, a Winnebago camper, an excavator, a fuel truck and the airport hangar. That sounds like normal church/nonprofit inventory.

The airplanes allowed Bell to quickly travel all around Maine where he started a number of IFB churches and preached regularly. He could preach in Sanford, hop in his plane, and preach again on Islesboro a few hours later. In 2010, airplane trouble forced him to land in in 3-foot-high hay in a farmer’s field in Farmingdale. He and the plane were unharmed.

List of Churches Started by or Affiliated with Pastor Bell

Churches Started by Bell:

  • Tri Town Baptist Church in East Millinocket 1996
  • Church Hill Baptist in Augusta 2000
  • Calvary Baptist Church Sanford 2001
  • Island Baptist on Islesboro in 2008
  • First Baptist in Jackman in 2011
  • Providence Baptist in Fort Kent in 2014
  • New Vineyard’s Gospel Light Baptist in 2015

Churches Bell is Affiliated with:

  • Maple Grove in Canton
  • Cornerstone Independent Baptist Church in Houlton
  • Hope Baptist in Whiting
  • Boothbay’s Barter’s Island Baptist
  • Native American Missionary Fund

Bell founded the Christian Academy in Sanford in 2005 and bought and sold several buildings. The Sanford planning board gave him a lot of leeway as they saw what he was doing as being a positive for the crime-ridden area.

Planes are expensive and buildings aren’t free, so Bell needed a substantial income to support himself and his nonprofit. Donations from other churches and church members kept rolling in when he “prayed” they would. When one of his planes needed substantial servicing, he would detail the needs and sufficient funds would roll in. One older Sanford churchgoer donated 95 acres and a house, which he then sold for profit, keeping some of the land for himself to build a house on.

The COVID Wedding

When COVID hit, Bell scoffed at it. He said people would be happy to “stay at home and receive a paycheck from the government.” and that “we are trusting in government more than we are trusting in God.” When the state shut down all church services, he resisted. Eventually, the local police had to reluctantly tell him he couldn’t hold services (the chief of Police was a church member). Once he was allowed to hold services again, he did not require masks and parishioners packed in, shoulder-to-shoulder, in opposition to health guidelines. Bell continued to fly around, including taking trips out of the state and ignoring quarantine requirements.

On August 7, 2020, Pastor Todd Bell flew to Millinocket to officiate a wedding. The ceremony and reception were at the Big Moose Inn and the bride, Mariah Blaisdell was the daughter of David Blaisdell, the current Pastor at the Tri Town Baptist Church – which is the first church that Pastor Bell started after he moved to Maine.

Due to COVID restrictions, the wedding was supposed to be limited to 50 people for the entire Inn, but the attendee list was larger than that. From reports, almost nobody at the wedding wore a mask and the staff were “lax” about wearing them.

Officiant At Superspreader Maine Wedding Is An Anti-Mask Evangelical

Huffington Post

The first reports of positive COVID tests came in within a few days of the wedding. Over the next weeks, the virus spread – first among the wedding guests and then across the state as guests went back to their towns and jobs. The CDC estimates that 27 of the 55 wedding reception guests tested positive.

The virus proceeded to travel hundreds of miles away, including to the Maplecrest Rehab and Living Center (long term care) in Madison as well as the York County Jail in Alfred because wedding guests worked in both facilities. Both the jail and long term care facility were put on lockdown, local schools were closed, and the “anti-mask wedding” made national news as a perfect example of a “super spreading event.”

By November, 8 were dead and at least 178 others were sick. None of the dead or hospitalized had actually attended the wedding.

Not only did Bell not apologize for his actions, but he continued to defy public health guidelines and Sanford city ordinances. Services continued to be held mask optional at best, the Bible School was mask optional, and Bell’s followers and children ranted over social media about it. When he got blowback, he stopped speaking to the media, shut down his live Facebook feed, took his social media accounts offline and hired a lawyer known nationally for defending the religious rights of churches.

Reports are that he told his congregation that “the world wanted us to shut down, go home, and let people get used to that just long enough until we can finally stop the advancing of the Gospel.”

Bell and the church also refused to cooperate with the CDC investigation, severely hampering contact tracing efforts. Because of that, the true reach of the wedding COVID “super spreader” event may never be known.

The Present

Bell continues to defy recommendations on indoor masking but is allowed to get away with it because the church is private. He ignores protests, pressure, and even death threats and denies any wrongdoing for officiating the wedding. Meanwhile, the Big Moose Inn is getting sued because of the deaths of elderly who didn’t even attend the wedding.

In a caption of a picture he posted of himself preaching, he wrote “People tell me, ‘Pastor Bell, you’re treading on thin ice.’ Well, I think the ice is pretty thick under me because I’m standing on the word of God.” 

4. What’s Next?

Will Maine continue to birth the occasional religious cult? Perhaps. Even as recently as 2020, fears of a Manson-like cult taking over St. Agatha caused tremors in that small Northern town. The “leader,” Gary Blankenship moved into an abandoned home and began fixing it up (while illegally squatting) and talking on social media about recruiting people from all over the country to join his “family.” The townsfolk were very concerned, got him evicted, and drove him out of town before any commune could grow roots.

Related To:
Pastor Sandford:
Pastor Stevens:,,,
Pastor Bell: