There are 18 summer chapels in the Diocese of Maine. Summer chapels are interesting communities. They’re not congregations in the strict sense: they have no members and elect no officers, and they’re not churches in union with the Diocese of Maine. Most are private trusts or foundations or family chapels. They were founded by a family or an Episcopal priest or bishop for the convenience and benefit of family and friends.
And yet they are Episcopal churches. They use the Book of Common Prayer and are served by Episcopal clergy. They are often quite involved in mission work and raise money both for the their communities and for the diocese. Some have been holding services for 100 years or more. Their congregants are devoted. Families have been attending them for generations and have returned for baptisms, marriages and even burials.
There is a long history of good relations between the summer chapels and the diocese. Bishop Knudsen hosted an annual luncheon for clergy and key lay leaders of the chapel, a tradition I’ve continued. The chapels were generous supporters of the One In Christ capital campaign.
I visit the summer chapels as I’m able. The Lambeth Conference last summer and the General Convention this summer limited the number of visits I’ve been able to make. The visits are usually very informal. There are no confirmations or receptions. Sometimes the resident priest presides, and I simply preach. Often there is a reception or lunch after the service. This year I’ve visited five chapels: Holy Trinity Chapel, Peak’s Island, Trinity Chapel, Kennebunk Beach, Trinity Chapel, York Harbor, All Saints’by-the-Sea, Southport, All Saints’ by-the-Sea, Bailey Island.
Some of these are very simple, wood-frame buildings. Trinity, York Harbor, is a quite large Gothic style edifice. Some have lovely locations. All Saints’, Southport is right on the water and has a dock for those who come by boat. Some have have a priest or bishop who comes and stays for a month or the summer. Some have a different priest or bishop each week. Some host weddings or baptisms. Others do not. Nearly all have quite good music. It’s a genuine pleasure to visit the chapels and meet the people.
What has struck me most about the chapels is the diversity and devotion of the people who attend. They come from all over the country, and they come back year after year. They love the sense of community, the informality, the music. And they are caught by the connection between the liturgy and the natural beauty of Maine. Paul Tillich, the great existentialist theologian, once said that only by walking next to the ocean could he get a sense of the vastness and beauty of God. I think Maine offers that sense to many who visit, and the summer chapels offer a place to nurture that spirituality.
We spent much of the third and fourth weeks of August on Mt. Desert Island. I had a chance to meet with the clergy of MDI and the coast, meet with the Vestries of Church of Our Father and St. Saviour’s, and to make a formal visit to St. Saviour’s. We also had some time to take in the beauty of Acadia National Park and to enjoy a day on the water. It was a hot week, and MDI was crowded with tourists, but it was good to see the restaurants and businesses busy. That weekend was also the weekend Hurricane Bill sent huge rollers into the Maine coast. The sight of the waves crashing into the rocky coast was awe-inspiring and not a little frightening – such casual, uncaring power!
The various congregations on Mt. Desert Island have unique identities and common problems. The clergy are seeking ways to cooperate both on the island and with their neighbors in Ellsworth and the coast. Each church is confronting tight resources and is trying to discover new ways of being the church. There is a real willingness to think outside the box.
During our visit, we were guests of the the Rev. Jonathan and Ruth Appleyard at the “old” rectory of St. Saviour’s. It’s a wonderful old building with high ceilings and large rooms. It’s now used for the parish office, for meetings, for guests, and for the offices of a couple non-profit agencies. The Appleyards live in renovated space at the back of the old rectory. The parish is also considering new uses for another building on the campus for the benefit of the Bar Harbor community.
Sunday’s visitation included three receptions, the acknowledgment of half a dozen new members to the parish, and the welcome of more than a dozen “seekers” – folks who have joined St. Saviour’s in their spiritual journeys, but have not yet decided to make St. Saviour’s their home. The liturgy artfully connected the stories of all three groups, and I particularly appreciated the effort to meet people where they are in their spiritual journeys and acknowledge the gifts they bring to us. The music was lovely – and Gretchen got to sing in the choir!
It was a terrific week. I find it helpful to have the opportunity to stay several days in one place. That creates the chance for different sorts of meetings and to see folks in both formal and informal settings. And it saves a lot of time and energy driving back and forth. I hope that I will be able to have such extended stays in other places over time.