a summer among the chapels

One of the privileges of serving as the Bishop of Maine is the opportunity to visit summer chapels. This summer we had the opportunity to visit five summer chapels located from Cape Neddick near Ogunquit to Mt. Desert Island. At each chapel, Gretchen and I were warmly received and enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk with the chapel community.

As I’ve written before, summer chapels are a diverse and interesting lot. They are not churches in the formal sense and not officially members of the Diocese. But they have long histories in Maine. Most were founded by vacationing clergy or summering families. Some were founded and consecrated by bishops. They have unique architecture and differing styles of worship. They are deeply loved by those who worship there, and they contribute generously to the ministry of the Diocese.

St. Ann's, Kennebunkport

I began my summer visits with a visit to St. Ann’s, Kennebunkport. Gretchen and I were there on July 3rd, and many tourists were in town to celebrate the 4th. Both Presidents Bush were in residence and attended the 8 a.m. service. St. Ann’s has an outdoor worship space facing the ocean, and the early service begins with a hymn sing at 7:40 a.m. Some 280 people were present for the singing and the service. The Secret Service was evident, but unobtrusive. There were about 70 in the stone church at 10 a.m. Dean ML Agnew, who has served for many years, has built a strong community and had a wedding scheduled for Sunday afternoon. St. Ann’s is a strong contributor to St. Elizabeth’s Essentials Pantry in Portland and Seeds of Hope Jubilee Center in Biddeford.

St. Peter’s-by-the-Sea, Cape Neddick, is a jewel of a building set in a park-like

Memorial garden at St. Peter's-by-the-Sea, Cape Neddick

landscape on the highest point of land on the cape. Its cross, though now obscured by trees, was once clearly visible to sailors at sea. Sunday worship includes outstanding music led by a talented choir. The community of St. Peter’s has spent several years developing a beautiful woodland memorial garden complete with plantings, benches and a large Celtic cross. It was my privilege to consecrate the garden following the service.

St. Mary's-by-the-Sea, Northeast Harbor

St. Jude’s and St. Mary-by-the-Sea are summer chapels that are part of the year-round parish in Northeast Harbor. (I believe that arrangement is the only one of its kind in the diocese.) Rector Patricia Robertson presides at St. Mary’s, while visiting clergy hold forth at St. Jude’s. St. Mary’s is one

Tiffany window in St. Jude's, Seal Cove

of the largest of the summer chapels, a substantial stone edifice that was recently renovated. St. Jude’s, by contrast, is a small, shingled cottage, very rustic and unfinished inside. But behind the altar is a stunning Tiffany window of sunrise on the water as seen through pine trees – unique and splendid. At St. Jude’s the

service included the confirmation and reception of folks from both St. Jude’s and from neighboring St. Saviours’, Bar Harbor. At the later service at St. Mary’s, we enjoyed the contributions of a substantial choir.

St. Cuthbert's, MacMahan island

A couple of the summer chapels are reached only from the water. The trip to St. Cuthbert’s, MacMahan Island, requires a short boat ride by private vessel from the town dock at Five Islands (down the peninsula from Woolwich, near Bath). It threatened rain as we arrived, but we managed to get to the island before any rain fell. There are no real roads on the island, just two lane tracks. Folks drive golf carts, and our host trundled us and all my stuff from the dock to the church. The church is a simple wood frame structure with a series of beautiful, carved wooden panels flanking the altar. The community was founded by several Episcopal clergy and continues to benefit from the presence of several clergy families. The number of people on MacMahan Island on any given day is fairly small. Still there were more than 50 folks, including a retired bishop, present for the service.

Christ Church, Dark Harbor

Christ Church, Dark Harbor, is a large and lovely wood frame church on the southern end of Isleboro. To get there we took the state ferry from Lincolnsville on Saturday afternoon. The ferry ceases service each day at 4:30 p.m., so getting back and forth from the mainland is something of an adventure for everyone. We were guests in the magnificent rectory of summer rector Lyndon Shakespeare and family. Christ Church’s most striking feature is a reredos, in a three dimensional, fresco style, of Jesus the Good Shepherd. It covers the entire east end of the church. The music was also striking, with a fine choir and instrumental music. A substantial congregation of more than 80 joined in the worship.

These are only snippets of our experience of the chapels – there were also gatherings with chapel committees and others – but I hope they give you a sense of the richness and diversity they represent.

Getting to know our summer chapels

One of the unusual features of life in the Diocese of Maine is the large number of summer chapels. There are 18 summer chapels, and each has a unique history and ministry. This summer I was privileged to visit five summer chapels, and I want to say just a bit about each.

My first visit of the summer was to St. Christopher’s by the Sea, Winter Harbor. The chapel has long been supported by people and clergy from the Philadelphia area. Gretchen and I drove to Winter Harbor on Saturday afternoon for supper with the chapel committee. St. Christopher’s is the only church in the community to have a service on Sunday, so it serves as a community church for summer residents. The lovely wooden church, recently renovated, is separated from a substantial rectory by a small woods. Most folks dressed in suit and tie for worship. St. Christopher’s has only just recently begun to use the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The chapel is served by two clergy for one month each.

Not too far to the south of Winter Harbor is Church of the Redeemer, Sorrento. The campus for the Church of the Redeemer includes a large rectory where meetings and other gatherings often occur. The substantial wood frame church has a detached office/vestry connected to the church by a covered walkway. We visited on a day of pouring rain, but that did nothing to dampen the spirits of the 60+ people who gathered. Worship was followed by a picnic lunch, in the Public Library, with the chapel committee. Dress at Redeemer was fairly casual. The Chapel is served by two clergy for one month each.

Holy Trinity Chapel, Peak’s Island, has met for a number of years in the Methodist Church. After the Methodist Church changed the time of its morning service, Holy Trinity decided to move and is now meeting in the community room of the Peak’s Island library and community center. Gretchen and I caught the 7:45 a.m. ferry for the 9 a.m. service. We gathered in a bare, cinder block room with a simple table and folding chairs in an arc. Music was accompanied by a trumpeter and a violinist. A reception followed on a nearby lawn overlooking Casco Bay. Dress was island casual. Holy Trinity, is served by two clergy for one month each.

St. Martin’s in the Field, Biddeford Pool, is sometimes lovingly called St. Martin’s in the Way because it sits near the second tee of the Biddeford Pool golf course. A simple, but elegant wood building, St. Martin’s is lovingly attended by long-time summer residents and several who live nearby year-round. The service is very family-oriented with children taking an active part. The Sunday we visited, a family choir sang an anthem. Folks tend to dress up for church at St. Martin’s. The church isn’t large enough to hold all the folks who attend so I presided at two services. Lunch followed with the chapel committee. Two clergy serve St. Martin’s for one month each.

All Saints Chapel on Orr’s Island is a tiny but beautiful wood-frame building with better parking than most. But no plumbing. A port-a-potty is available for emergencies. All Saints also has the longest schedule of the summer chapels – a full 16 weeks beginning in mid-June and running ’til mid-September. The congregation sang well with the support of an electrified reed organ. Orr’s Island draws on a large rota of priests, including many from the diocese. The day of our visit was very hot and humid, so the crowd dispersed after a short reception. But the chapel committee lingered for a brief meeting. Dress for All Saints was suit and tie.

These are just brief snapshots. A great deal more could be said. All of the chapels are generous in their support of the Diocese of Maine, and each has worked hard to establish good relationships with me. They are proud of the service they offer and the communities they serve. Some hew to a traditional approach, including East facing altars. Others seem very contemporary. All are struggling with the changing economy and the changing vacation habits of the families that make up their core support. In spite of their variety, the summer chapels are a vital part of the summer landscape in Maine. It’s a joy to share their lives.

Bishop Steve

The Church of Summer is Episcopal, of course

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.