Up until now, Wayne and I have been loving our Episcopal Summer Chapel Tour, and that includes everything from researching the different churches to anticipating our next visit. Something Wayne and I mistakenly believed as Christians and Episcopalians is that we would be welcome to attend services in any Episcopalian church or chapel.
Over the past couple of weeks as I’ve been planning our visits I became aware that there is at least one exclusive community that does not delineate between attending their country club from their Episcopal chapel. Because “polite” society wouldn’t come out and state that only select people are permitted to attend services, there are gatekeepers to keep away those not deemed worthy. Sometimes that’s in the form of an actual gate, or a cold reception when contact is made to inquire about services. After getting the runaround I sent this email:
“This Sunday is when we would like to go to services. The road to the east of the church is behind the gate so that’s not an option for us. We enjoy eating at the local restaurant, so we can park there but I guess I need to go back to my original question, which is if your church is open to the public? It’s not clear at this point and we don’t wish to intrude.
I received this response:
“Technically the Church is not open to the public; it is a seasonal church for the local community.”
I did not respond since she said all I need to know. Technically we might be tolerated as trespassers. I would like to add that this church is in my town, but of course that’s planets away from being a part of their “local community.” But what about being Christians? Isn’t that supposed to be our common bond? That for one hour, we can put aside all differences including socioeconomic status to worship together? As Episcopalians, aren’t our places of worship supposed to welcome all?!
I will not let this tarnish our tour. It has definitely opened my eyes but I’m not closing my heart. I will not resent them. That will only hurt me. There are so many lovely people we’ve met at church and have yet to meet this summer. Our Sunday, when I will be celebrating a milestone, will now play out differently as planned since we will be going to a different church. Stay tuned!
Update#1: I found an informative blog post by Heidi Shott, Canon for Communications and Social Justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine. She explains the unique history and nature of summer chapels. Here is a quote:
Bishop Steve explained how each chapel is variously organized – some are incorporated, others are held in private trust, others are loosely organized and ecumenical with a love and custom for prayerbook liturgy. “Essentially they are part of our diocese by the strength of our relationships,” he said, gesturing around the room.
Now that I have a clearer understanding about the independent nature of Maine Episcopal summer chapels and that some are closed to “outsiders” despite any “All Welcome” signage, I feel moved and motivated to celebrate even more so the chapels and congregations that are welcoming. Wayne and I have also decided that, in place of this and any other chapels we will be crossing off of our tour list, we will revisit some of the summer chapels that have made us feel that they are a seaside summer home away from our “winter” church.
Update #2: See the Bishop’s comments on our experience here.
About our 2017 Maine Episcopal Summer Chapel Tour: Wayne and I plan to visit numerous seasonal chapels in Maine over the next few months. I will be sharing our experiences here on Serene New England. You can see all posts related to the tour here. I hope you will enjoy them and would love to have you share your thoughts in the comments!