Around the Island

‘A Quiet Earnestness’: Union Chapel then and now

Imagine what Union Chapel in the Grove looked like in 1872.

Methodists arrived from Brooklyn to found the Shelter Island Grove and Camp Meeting Association, purchasing 300 acres and naming it “Prospect Grove.” It doesn’t look much different now, though the neighborhood has graceful Victorian homes instead of cows and chickens.

An article in the New York Times from July 18, 1873, exactly 147 years ago, described the attendance of the first camp meeting “as yet rather small. Between 400 and 500 have arrived but before the expiration of the 10 days during which the camp will last, at least double this number will probably visit it.”

Union Chapel is rediscovering its roots. The trustees originally made the decision to move services outdoors to protect the health of the congregation, but the feeling is that the services are so tranquil in the open air that they may continue outside throughout the summer. Social distancing and face coverings are mandatory.

Back in 1873, “Services have all been very quiet and undemonstrative since the opening of the camp…for there is a quiet earnestness about the manner in which nearly all those here participate in the services, that can leave no doubt of their sincerity. Hospitality toward strangers, and universal good feeling and sociability seem to prevail everywhere in the camp and one would be a churl, indeed, not to feel softened and kindly toward his fellows amid the beautiful surroundings of this grove … There is a world of meaning in the earnestness with which the simple, old-fashioned, familiar hymns are sung; and even one classed with the worldly minded cannot but be deeply impressed by it.”

Trustee Peter Pettibone led the July 12 service that included hymns sung by Thomas Milton, and Old and New Testament readings read by Trustee Joan Mohr. Alice Goldman, also a trustee, spoke of Emily Dickinson, a poet who lived during the time when the Union Chapel in the Grove was in its beginnings. Ms. Goldman mentioned Dickinson’s life, her dislike of the organized Puritanical religion of her upbringing and the importance of spirituality in her life.

This may be the goal of Union Chapel as it opens its doors, moves outside into the grove and welcomes everyone of different faiths. A sense of shared spirituality, the “earnestness” of praying among tall trees in a shady grove.

“Hope is a thing with feathers/That perches in the soul,” Emily Dickinson’s famous poem reads, “And sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.”

During an uncertain time, hope is needed and shared, with enough to go around.

Please join us on Sunday, July 19 at 10:30 a.m. when cellist Christopher Herman will perform music from Antonio Vivaldi and Bernhard Romberg. Please bring your own chair. Rain will cancel the service. Visit our website and follow us on Facebook and Instagram for updates and more photos from the service.