Celebrating the new ministry of our 14th Rector on October 11, 2015
“Looking Back at Our Journey in Faith” is a three-part series written by Tom McCord to illuminate the history of St. Margaret’s in the past 100 years.
Part I: Looking Back on our Journey in Faith
St. Margaret’s began its formal worship – a service of evensong – with a borrowed organ, benches from the nearby Opera House, and a priest from neighboring Camden. It was Sunday, September 19, 1915, and the brand-new chapel on the corner of Elm and Court streets was imagined as “an ancient building in an ancient site.”
And St. Margaret’s has been that way for the one hundred years since that 1915 evensong: blending the ancient, the medieval, the contemporary, the radical, the traditional: High church and low; music by St. Anselm, Isaac Watts, and Leonard Cohen; stained glass for the windows and books for the local school libraries; theologies left and right and none of the above.
This month we look back on our journey in faith – at least briefly. Lots of details are missing. But we’ve learned a little.
Even pinpointing the start of the congregation can get tricky. What had been the Church of England in America reorganized itself as the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1789, a few years after the American Revolution. And Belfast, Maine, had incorporated as a town in 1773. But no Episcopal church existed in the community throughout the nineteenth century. By the first decade of the 1900s, a Belfast woman provided the spark and the persistence to change that.
Maud Gammans (1866-1928) had been confirmed in an Episcopal church in Boston in 1902. Four years later, the Episcopal bishop of Maine visited Gammans in Belfast, and we know that on June 17, 1906, Bishop Robert Codman celebrated Holy Communion at Gammans’ home. He also promised a monthly Communion service, at least in summertime. By 1907, Gammans and others in her orbit were participating in warm-weather Communion services in Belfast.
The next year, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Cross Johnson contributed an $800 “naming” gift for the nascent chapel in memory of their late daughter, Margaret. And that led to the connection to St. Margaret of Antioch. About sixty people contributed to the original chapel fund.
In late 1909, a lot at the corner of Court and Elm had been acquired (for $300). A recent history of Belfast notes the Bishop Codman had been partial to a location in the heart of the small city, but others “envisioned a small bucolic chapel overgrown with ivy, away from the noise and bustle of downtown.”
Gammans and others raised money and hired the architect Russell Williams Porter of Boston. Porter was trained in engineering and architecture, was a prominent amateur astronomer, and tried to start an artists’ colony in Port Clyde. As historian and longtime St. Margaret’s communicant Ron Whittle has written, “Architectually, St. Margaret’s has changed little over the years. It is an early 20th century interpretation, in wood, of a 13th century English country church.” W.E. Hatch of Islesboro was the contractor; Cooper & Co. provided the lumber; and Matthews Brothers of Belfast supplied flooring and inside and outside finish.
The ground was broken on May 13, 1915. Construction continued after the September 19 evensong, and St. Margaret’s Chapel opened July 22, 1916, “finished and nearly all furnishings in place.” In August 1916, the new Bishop of Maine, the Rt. Rev. Benjamin Brewster, knocked three times on the chapel door. He was admitted to the building by Ralph Cross Johnson, Alfred Johnson, Arvine Wales, James P. Taliafero, and Maud Gammans. St. Margaret’s did not become a parish until 1930. But the “ancient building in an ancient site” was consecrated and its doors were open.
Sources: Jay Davis and Tim Hughes, with Megan Pinette, History of Belfast in the 20th Century (Belfast History Project, 2002), and the work of Ron Whittle.
When the tiny Episcopal chapel at Court and Elm streets in Belfast was completed in 1916, its dark wood, steeply pitched roof, and small windows were reminiscent of a 13th century English country church. But it was a congregation enmeshed in the 20th century.
In the years that followed its opening as a chapel, St. Margaret’s evolved into a year-round parish with resident rectors and communicants who reacted to or confronted issues involving community, liturgy, and the Episcopal Church.
In the first years after 1915-16, the building was used for services mostly in summers.
On several occasions in the 1920s, the small congregation celebrated the installation of stained-glass windows depicting, among other things, the Baptism of Christ, the archangels Michael and Gabriel, and scenes from the life of St. Margaret of Antioch. To age and blend building and site, the church quickly planted trees and landscaped the lot.
Year-round services might have begun as early as 1926, and St. Margaret’s was incorporated as a parish on September 18, 1930. Another milestone from that era that should not be overlooked: It wasn’t until 1931 that a one-pipe, hot-air coal/wood-burning furnace was installed in the church.
Maud Gammans, the Belfast woman whose perseverance led to the launch of St. Margaret’s, died in July 1928 in her home at 6 Church Street. She left the house and many of her furnishings to the Diocese of Maine to serve as a rectory. The barn on her property was moved to 50 Court Street about 1940 or 1941 and was renovated to serve as the first parish house.
By that time, the eve of World War II, the church had an annual budget of about $3,500 – and no debt on its property.
The church’s rectors in these years came from a host of backgrounds. When he arrived in 1948, the Rev. John Alfred Furrer had just spent nearly twenty-four years as rector of the larger St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bangor. Born in London, Furrer had been a banker before studying for the ministry. He was 68 when he moved to Belfast and served until his death in 1952. The rector from 1960 to 1963 was the Rev. Sheldon Flory, who arrived at the age of 33. A poet, he later served as a chaplain at Brown University.
Many parishioners remember the Rev. R. Truman Fudge, who served as rector from 1974 to 1995 and who stressed inclusivity and instituted the prayer that precedes Holy Communion at St. Margaret’s. His successor, the Rev. Kent W. Tarpley, emphasized the Easter Vigil and included some services that explained the liturgy’s history.
Liturgy and styles of worship were often in flux. Communicants responded with a range of opinions about revisions to the Book of Common Prayer – first in 1928 and again in 1979. Even moving the altar so that the priest faced the congregation was an issue in the early 1970s.
Part III: Eight-year-old Ted Curtis had a friend who led him to St. Margaret’s.
A Belfast boy, Curtis was baptized in the present church sometime around 1932. He has participated in the congregation ever since – some 83 years. That most likely makes him the longest-serving communicant.
After service in Europe during World War II, Curtis returned to Belfast. He married Joyce, a fellow student from Crosby High School, and she joined the congregation, too. Ted and Joyce had five children, and today four generations of the Curtis family are part of St. Margaret’s.
As St. Margaret’s celebrates the centennial of its first worship in the building at Court and Elm, Ted and Joyce Curtis and their family are among hundreds of communicants, musicians, sextons, summer residents, Vestry members, and visitors who have contributed in countless ways to the life of this small church.
In the post-World War II years, the rector still celebrated Holy Communion while standing with his back to the congregation and preached from an imposing oak pulpit. Only men served on the Vestry and only boys served as acolytes.
As rector (1974-1995), the Rev. R. Truman Fudge challenged the old idea that the chancel belonged to the clergy while the nave was for the laity. The altar was moved away from the chancel wall (after considerable debate), and now the celebrant faced the congregation.
Fudge also avoided preaching from the big pulpit, and eventually it wound up in parishioner Wayne Kraeger’s wood shop, where Kraeger fashioned it into an oak music stand and built pews for the choir that are part of the church today.
In these years, Delice Pickering became the first woman to serve on the Vestry, Lytle Eaton served as Vestry clerk, and girls began participating in worship as acolytes.
The Rev. Kent W. Tarpley, rector from 1997 to 2008, nurtured a sense of history and the powerful connections of Christian liturgy with the past. The Rev. Martha G. Kirkpatrick, rector from 2009 to 2014, was a former state environmental protection commissioner who stressed Christian awareness of – and stewardship for – the environment.
In 2007, the church finished an extensive expansion of its Parish House.
In recent decades, much of the work of St. Margaret’s has taken place beyond its century-old sanctuary. In recent years, parishioners have worked closely with a Belfast-area food cupboard, the Maine Coastal Re-entry Center, which assists incarcerated men nearing release, and the Game Loft, a teen program in Belfast. St. Margaret’s members offer tutoring to kids in area schools, and the Parish House is used for AA meetings and a restorative justice program.
Since 2012, Tom Duplessie has served as deacon-in-residence, serving at the altar and in the community. In October 2015, the congregation will celebrate the ministry of its new rector, the Rev. Christopher J. Szarke.
In 2015, after a century in their home on the corner of Court and Elm streets, the people of St. Margaret’s are, as the church’s website explains, “a vibrant faith community of individuals from here and away, year-round and summer residents, cradle Episcopalians and people who grew up in the other faith traditions and Christian denominations, questioners, and seekers. … We come from a spectrum of political beliefs and are united in our commitment to the Body of Christ.”
Scott Joplin sent ragtime rhythms bouncing through the pews of St. Margaret’s, though some thought it looked a lot like Linn Johnson tickling the keys. Kirsten Burkholder sang, and you were down by the river with the haunting “Suzanne.” Flautists Paige Taylor and Diana Brookes Brown cast joyful notes that were magical and “Wunderbar,” while Peter Clain sang Stephen Sondheim’s reassuring “No One is Alone.”
And was that Robert Frost – or Baird Whitlock – delivering his intended Inaugural poem for John F. Kennedy in January 1961? A coed barbershop quartet from “The Music Man,” the Andrews Sisters reunited under the apple tree, Charlotte Herbold channeling Mary Oliver and “Wild Geese” . . . Check, all present. So, too, the merry minstrel of Christian faith, the Rev. John Ineson, with us “on loan from Mother Earth.”
This was Maggie’s Revue, celebrating St. Margaret’s Centennial in music and poetry. Its joyful spirit overflowed the evening of the Summer Solstice with the choir’s concluding offering of “You Raise Me Up.” But MC Juliet Baker, whose commentary knit the decades into a sparkling whole, wasn’t quite done. With all participants gathered center “stage,” everyone joined in an encore “Happy Birthday” to St. Margaret’s. Afterwards there was ice cream served on the lawn.
Surely founding benefactor Maud Gammans, who held so many garden parties in Belfast to raise money for the church, would have loved every moment. This evening raised over $600 for the Restorative Justice Project. The program was taped for release on local Belfast TV. Watch this space for information on when it will air.
On Saturday, June 20th St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Belfast presents “Maggie’s Revue,” a celebration of 100 years of music and poetry, in honor of the church’s centennial observations all year long.Going from decade to decade, starting in the 1900s and ending in 2015, there’s something for everyone: from Scott Joplin to Leonard Cohen, musical numbers to Mary Oliver, instrumentals to choir pieces, ballads to poems. And there’ll be ice cream on the lawn afterwards!The revue features church members Juliet Baker, Diane Brookes Brown, Kristen Burkholder, Peter Clain, Charlotte Herbold, The Rev. John Ineson, Linn Johnson, Paige Taylor, Baird Whitlock and the St. Margaret’s Choir directed by John Cuozzo.
St. Margaret’s Church owes its existence to the perseverance and inspired leadership of Maud Gammans (1866-1928) and a small group of friends, both local and “from away,” who undertook the task of bringing an Episcopal church to Belfast. In the last one hundred years, St. Margaret’s has evolved from a dream into a year-round community of worshipers and a vital contributor to the greater Belfast community.
The church is located at 95 Court Street in Belfast. Show starts at 7 p.m. Donations at the door will benefit the Restorative Justice Project (www.rjpmidcoast.org) as part of the church’s outreach mission. For more information, please find us on FaceBook “Maggie’s Revue”.
St. Margaret’s Marks Centennial with Books for Schools
St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Belfast has assembled a cast of notable Americans, mythical characters, adventurous children and creatures from robots to whales to celebrate its Centennial Year with literary flair.
They parade through the pages of 100 books that St. Margaret’s parishioners are giving Belfast area elementary schools in the next two weeks. The books are an expression of appreciation to the community as St. Margaret’s, the only Episcopal Church in Waldo County, marks its 100th anniversary.
The “100 Books for 100 Years” project began in mid-January when the church collected book “wish lists” from six schools: Captain Albert Stevens and East Belfast elementary schools in Belfast, Edna Drinkwater in Northport, Kermit Nickerson in Swanville, Gladys Weymouth in Morrill, and Ames in Searsmont. These were books that library aides and teachers wanted for their students but didn’t have money available to purchase them.
Members and friends of St. Margaret’s then signed to buy individual books. Left Bank Books in Belfast joined the drive by offering substantial discounts on books they ordered. Many of the requested books were no longer in print, necessitating some online sleuthing to procure “gently read” copies from dealers as far away as Texas, Washington state, Illinois, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
The most elusive book of all was close to home and an essential part of Maine’s heritage, Upriver Passamaquoddy by Allen Sockabasin. Out of print, it showed up at out-of-state websites for eye-popping prices ranging from $145 to $999. St. Margaret’s wasn’t buying. And that’s when the book’s publisher, Tilbury House in Thomaston, stepped forward and arranged a special reprint as a favor to St. Margaret’s and the students waiting to learn about life as a Passamaquoddy in Maine. The fresh book, which cost less than $20, will be among two dozen that St. Margaret’s will deliver to Drinkwater Elementary School on Friday (March 27).
Inside every book is a special bookplate designed by St. Margaret’s senior warden, Chris Urick, that identifies it as a Centennial gift from St. Margaret’s. It features a rampant lion with crown that was taken from the century-old bookplate of the church’s founding benefactor, Maud Gammans. A Belfast native and civic philanthropist who died in 1928, Miss Gammans endowed St. Margaret’s and also left a $40,000 bequest to the Belfast Free Library to establish the Gammans Reading Room in memory of her parents and brother. Always attentive to the needs of children and the poor, she left other substantial bequests to the Children’s Aid Society of Maine and Waldo County General Hospital, and set up a trust fund to help Belfast’s neediest residents that is still in operation today.
The program in the parish house will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone for St. Margaret’s on Jan. 15, 1915, and also the birthday of Maud Gammans, the Belfast native who was the principal benefactor and guiding spirit behind the construction of the church. Megan Pinette, president of the Belfast Historical Society and Museum, will delve into Belfast history of a century and more ago, with accounts of the Gammans’ family store at City Point that flourished for most of the 1800s to the lively cultural and social scene in Belfast in the early 20th century. Betsy Paradis, research librarian at the Belfast Free Library, is assisting the presentation with photos, news clippings and family memorabilia from library’s archives.
As befits a church that was originally funded by numerous teas, bake sales and community get-togethers prior to 1915, the anniversary of the cornerstone-laying will be celebrated with food, including a birthday cake.
The occasion also launches a special project the church has adopted to celebrate its 100th year – a drive to donate 100 books to local elementary school libraries and classrooms. Church members and friends in the community will sign up to purchase specific books requested by the schools, which are dealing with budget restrictions that make it difficult to acquire new or replacement reading books. Left Bank Books in Belfast is assisting with the project. Participating schools include Captain Albert Stevens and East Side schools in Belfast, Edna Drinkwater in Northport, and Nickerson in Swanville. More schools are expected to receive books in the near future.