The Congregational Church of Matinicus has a few traditions. Among them are holding services in the evening, feasting together at Christmas Eve dinner, and the interminable singing of “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning.” Soon to be a tradition of the past, however, is running a garden hose from the neighbor’s house every time anybody wants water in the kitchen.
This year, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the church building, we’ll also celebrate a new addition: running water.
The community of Matinicus looked very different a century ago. In 1905, when application was made to the Congregational Church-Building Society for financial assistance with the construction of the island church, the population of the island was described as “250…two hundred forty Americans, ten Scandinavians and Germans.” The congregation itself seems to have been organized in 1904, with 18 members, and an average of 40 people turning out for “public worship,” probably held in somebody’s parlor. Contributions were subscribed, a $1,600 mortgage was secured through the above-mentioned Society, land was donated for the project by a Mr. Parmenter of the island, and for roughly $3,500 the structure was built, with community room downstairs, sanctuary upstairs and bell tower. Church trustee Suzanne Rankin says “My guess from reading the notes was that probably Henry Young or somebody said `let’s stop talking about it and let’s do something.'”
That spirit surfaced again in recent years, when talk of having a proper kitchen at last became reality.
For a century, the people of Matinicus have marked community and family occasions in the church, and have managed to offer fellowship and refreshments, conviviality and comfort, coffee and pie and Christmas dinner without benefit of plumbing. In addition to Sunday services during the summer months (Matinicus has not had a year-round minister in many decades), the church serves as the island’s community function hall. Of course weddings, christenings and funerals are held here, but so are a wide variety of musical performances, church suppers, bridal showers, chili cook-offs, fisherman’s discussions, the island Christmas Tree, farmer’s market, Sunday school and beano. “We had a very moving impromptu gathering immediately after 9-11,” recalls one resident, “where people read or said some powerful things.”
According to church trustee Maury Colton, the water should be plumbed in and the kitchen functional in early July. “We’re aiming for July 4th,” says Colton. The first church service of the summer will be on July 9th, with the Revs. Marjory and Peter Bankson officiating. The Banksons spent part of last summer thinking about creative ways to “dedicate the plumbing.” One idea was to have a long line of people passing a dish, hand-to-hand, containing the first water drawn from the tap in the kitchen, up the stairs, all around the sanctuary, back out to the entry, and up the ladder to be finally poured over the bell in the tower. “We could then ring that bell like crazy,” adds another islander.
Enormously helpful was the fact that a neighbor was having a new well drilled a couple of years ago. Many thanks from the congregation to the Bunker and Pulkkinen families, who have given the church permission to share the well. Andrew Thompson, Maury Colton, Tony Hughes, Paul Murray and no doubt others have worked to dig the ditch, drop the pump in the well, install the rest of the system, and make improvements to the kitchen. It should be noted that nobody wants to completely modernize the old kitchen, as some of the historic woodwork is quite beautiful. Improvement to make it more “user-friendly” with minimal disruption to the architecture is the goal.
The idea of holding a special service or celebration for something so utilitarian as plumbing wouldn’t be new for Matinicus. When a generator (or “lighting plant”) specifically earmarked by the donor for “an island church,” was installed in 1939, a service of dedication was held for the electricity (this was about 25 years before the island had a power company).
Some things have not changed in a century. In a June 1906 clipping from the Rockland Courier-Gazette, we read the following: “In spite of the fog and rain the steamer W.G. Butman took nearly 60 persons — ministers, church members and friends — to Matinicus Wednesday to assist in the dedication of the first church building which the beautiful island has ever enjoyed…The visitors soon found themselves in the attractive meeting house…In the vestry were tables loaded with food in quantity enough for a small army and in quality enough to satisfy an epicure.”
Funds for the church plumbing project have all been raised locally, a little at a time. The island’s lobstermen have contributed significantly toward the effort. Community suppers, bottle drives and similar events got things started, and this summer a very special calendar is being sold to benefit the Matinicus church. Funds for the church plumbing project have all been raised locally, a little at a time. The island’s lobstermen have contributed significantly toward the effort. Community suppers, bottle drives and similar events got things started, and this summer a very special calendar is being sold to benefit the Matinicus church.
For information on the calendar please check www.matinicusisle.org.