News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 26, 2012
Sunset Congregational Church turns 100, but its history reaches back to 1800s

Sunset Congregational Church

Sunset Congregational Church was built in 1884 as the “South West Chapel,” first rang its church bell in 1887, and merged with local religious groups in 1912 under its present name.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the Sunset Congregational Church, but the earliest roots of the church began before the turn of the 19th century.

A potluck luncheon on Saturday, July 21, a special Vesper service on Sunday, July 29, at 4 p.m. with the choir led by Win Pusey and a commemorative service on Sunday, August 12, with former pastors Alice Hildebrandt and Roger Berkhardt in attendance will help mark the 100-year milestone.

“Delicious Deer Isle,” a commemorative cookbook published by the church is already available, with a preface outlining the history of the church, written by Barbara Chesney.

The early congregation of Sunset Congregational Church “evolved from a prayer group that met in homes of members,” writes Chesney. By 1884, members built South West Chapel, later known as Sunset Church, and the church bell rang for the first time in 1887.

In 1912, the “Chapel Association” merged with two other local religious organizations—the Society of Christian Workers and the Student Ministers—to form Sunset Congregational Church with 14 charter members. They hired their first full-time minister in 1915. The Sunset Congregational Church joined the United Church of Christ in 1957, serving the parish in Deer Isle along with that in Sunset.

In writing the history of the church, Chesney said: “I needed to find a way to fit the history of the church in the history of the Island.”

One piece of Island history that is integrally tied to the church is the Martha Washington Benevolence Society, formed in 1835 “to seek solace in companionship,” writes Chesney.

The Society began meeting in homes to discuss the “evils of drinking” and support the temperance movement at a time when rum was plentiful—and sold for 16 cents a pint.

The group’s focus widened to include benefiting their community, in general. They held wool-spinning meetings with potlucks of brown bread, beans and Indian pudding, to provide clothing for families in need.

After South West Chapel was built, the Society gave financial support and in turn used the chapel balcony as their meeting place. In 1900 they built a hall for a library and reading room, which was also used for lectures, and other social events (but not dancing—it wasn’t allowed, Chesney writes). They deeded the hall to the church in 1943 when the Society was no longer active. That hall is now the present-day church Parish House.

“The Martha Washington Society began a lot of work in the church,” Chesney said in a recent interview, and the church’s Ladies Day Society carries on that work.

“There are still some present-day Marthas,” Chesney said.