The Working Waterfront

A belfry, a rope, and a Leatherman

Island church celebration saved by women

Posted 2022-12-16
Last Modified 2022-12-16

On Aug. 15, 1957, an article appeared in Stonington’s Island Ad-Vantages newspaper reporting on the Isle au Haut church centennial:

“Sunday was a great day down on the Gem of the Penobscot. The occasion was the centennial of the Isle au Haut Congregational Church. As the entire community walked up the long boardwalk to the church, the codfish weather vane pointed proudly to the westerly as it has done so many times during the course of the century, for this church and its steeple has not only been a spiritual guide to the bay for the past 100 years, it has also been a landmark for many a mariner in time of doubt.”

An interior view of the church.
An interior view of the church.

On Aug. 2 of this year, the Isle au Haut church celebrated its 165th birthday with a community bell ringing extravaganza: 165 rings on the old (1890) church bell. Young and old came to put their hand to pulling the rope that rings the bell, but after only 25 pulls, it wouldn’t budge. It was the Ladies Sewing Circle who resolved to build the church in 1857, and in 2022 it was two fearless women who volunteered to go up in the belfry tower to fix the bell.

Liz Wilke, a rock climber, and Kendra Chubbuck, a great grandmother, climbed up into the belfry. Neither were afraid of heights and thought they would be able to fix the bell.

Into the church and up the ladder to the attic they went, up another ladder, and another ladder, with a cell phone light and all was fine until they reached the ladder into the belfry itself.

At the second ladder there was a problem. Chubbuck wore a long skirt and could not safely climb any ladders. There was nothing to do but remove her skirt leaving her in a slip short enough to scramble up the ladders without issue.

She got up into the space with the bell and realized she did not have the right tool to cut away and reattach the rope. Wilke climbed back down to ask the assembled crowd and a Leatherman multi-tool was pulled out of a pocket and offered into service. Back up she went, the rope fixed, Chubbuck’s skirt redonned, and the bell commenced to ring.

After the event, Chubbuck went home and promptly bought a multi-tool Leatherman of her own to have on hand just in case as she has always been borrowing her husband’s Leatherman through the years and thought it was time to have her own.

Outside the crowd ate cake and listened to children play handbells and sing “Happy Birthday” to the church. Once the bell was repaired, everyone set their hands to pulling the rope to ring out 165 years.

Later, a smaller crowd went inside to hear brief summaries of the past 165 years interspersed with favorite old hymns, to the gentle light of the oil lamp chandelier.

The final words of the centennial benediction were, “The work of the Union Congregational Church of Isle au Haut is just begun!”