Around the Island

Returning to its roots: Union Chapel moves outdoors

Union Chapel in the Grove will return to its roots beginning on Sunday, July 5 at 10:30 am when the first service takes place outdoors in the Grove. The Chapel began as a Methodist camp with outdoor services, until a structure was built in 1875.

In 1872, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described one of the first visits to Shelter Island by an “Excursion of Methodists” who were looking for a site suitable for camp meetings:

“It has become very popular among persons of the Methodist persuasion to establish camp grounds and summer resorts—places where camp meetings can be held when desired, and cottages constructed for summer use, where families and friends can locate during the ‘heated term’…Some residents of this city [Brooklyn] found a place which they deemed to be the most beautiful and suitable for establishing a camp ground that they had yet seen, and they determined to locate there at once. This place is Shelter Island, located in Gardiner’s Bay, opposite Greenport. The gentlemen organized under the name of the Shelter Island Grove and Camp Meeting Association.”

This summer, after regular virtual meetings to discuss how to proceed with services in light of COVIS-19, our trustees met with Chairman Jay Sterling. They decided a return to the Chapel’s open-air meeting tradition was the best way to protect our attendees. This is in keeping, Mr. Sterling said, with governmental suggestions of moving gatherings outdoors to help ensure a safer environment.

Services at Union Chapel during July will be informal, with music, prayers and lessons. There will be no singing by the congregation but Music Director Linda Betjeman will join with a guest soloists each week. Singers Katie Herbst and Jill Yoo—“The Wednesdays”— will be featured at the July 5 service. Please bring your own chairs. Social distancing and face covering will be required.

We hope to move the service indoors by August 2, and return to our more traditional format, with guest preachers and speakers from many faiths. Most of our services honor Island organizations. Fr. Peter DeSanctis of Our Lady of the Isle, will welcome all on Homecoming Sunday, August 2.

Depending on protocols at that time, however, the services may remain outdoors.

Check our website,, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram for updates.

As one gentleman was quoted in the 1872 article:

“Some of the good men of those two bad cities, New York (or Brooklyn) and Boston, intend to build a heaven on earth here. There are a number of farmers’ cottages near the ground selected by the Association, and fat cattle tell of good meat and milk, while chickens cackle of fresh eggs.”

While it’s certainly “heaven on earth,” there won’t be cows or chickens nearby in 2020. Please join us outdoors at Union Chapel on July 5 at 10:30 am. Rain will cancel the service.

“By gathering outside together 148 years after the first camp meeting,” Mr. Sterling said, “we will reaffirm the wonders achieved by combining worship outdoors with nature.”

With thanks to Carrie Cooperider and Trustee Kathy Dinkel for providing the article from the Brooklyn Eagle.