The Working Waterfront

Church and community have become intertwined

Residents working to buy building back for island use

Phil Crossman
Posted 2019-09-26
Last Modified 2019-09-26

By Phil Crossman

When I was a teenager, I lived in the Moses Webster House on Vinalhaven, a wonderfully impractical six-bedroom Victorian Mansard next door to another, equally beautiful Victorian structure. Impracticality aside, it was the first time that I and my three young brothers each had a bedroom of our own and we loved it.

The houses were built in the 1800s by a couple of granite barons, each competing for supremacy over the other, commercially as well as residentially. Granite quarrying ended on the island in the late to middle 1900s, and by the time I was growing up in the Webster house, the neighboring building had become home to the RLDS (Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints).

The church, at least the Vinalhaven version, had morphed over the decades, speaking more from the heart than from allegiance, and to community more than to deity—much as its successor, today’s Pleasant River Chapel does now.

There were baked bean suppers every Saturday—three seatings each evening were needed to accommodate everyone—celebrations, memorials, weddings, vigils, gatherings, and events of all sorts. But eventually that big old Victorian became more than the little congregation could afford or handle as did the Moses Webster House as first I, and then my brothers, left home and my folks were left to ramble around there alone.  

In the mid-1980s, an iconic islander, Curtis Webster, donated just about the sweetest little piece of waterfront property one could imagine to the RLDS congregation which, in turn, undertook an ambitious fund-raising campaign, and then construction of the wonderful little chapel that stands there today.

The fundraising was a success because Vinalhaven was so enthusiastic about the prospect of perpetuating the legacy that had really been our “community” church. And the design and construction of the Arcadian chapel that stands there today was a similar effort, the design and much of the labor and material donated by grateful and appreciative year-round and seasonal townspeople.

Although the congregation had, over the years, acquired a devotion to community that at least matched its devotion to the greater church, the group in 2010 obediently gave the mother church—which had undergone a metamorphosis of its own and was, by then, the Community of Christ—title to the property.

Subsequently, and for the last ten years or so, this special place has continued to be truly a community center for dinners, concerts, appearances, worship, nuptials, children’s activities, celebrations, memorial services; anything, really, that the town needed. It’s also the regular meeting place of various island organizations that require quiet time and privacy for reflection, sharing, healing, or anonymity.  

Last year, though, the mother church found it necessary to rid itself of certain assets. The chapel and the wonderful waterfront property it occupies was one of those.

Given that a member of the congregation gifted the property to the church and given that our love for and devotion to the property and desire to keep it were certainly apparent to anyone who chose to see, it doesn’t seem entirely appropriate they should be required to buy it back.

Still, there have been few complaints. Rather, the congregation and its many appreciative supporters throughout the community have now simply undertaken another fund-raising campaign, this time to purchase the property back and make modest improvements and repairs for $250,000. They are very well on their way, thanks to the extraordinarily generous support of many.

It would be inappropriate, of course, for me to use this platform for endorsing such a campaign. On the other hand, the church can be found at Post Office Box 147, Vinalhaven, Maine 04863.

Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven where he serves on the town’s select board.