Announcer: You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at lovemaineradio.com. Here are a few highlights from this week’s program.
Kit Sherrill: Two years ago in one of the benches, we had a Protestant, a Catholic, a Jew, and a Muslim, all in that one bench. It’s just that kind of service that draws people from all kinds of traditions and backgrounds. I know people who go there who don’t go to church any other time of the year.
Al Moses: They didn’t only reserve Sunday for services, they would have services whenever he said, “We’re gonna have a service.” And if it was sunny weather they had the services under the oak trees in the field. If it was a rainy day they came into the house that he built and had the services in my house, so we were having services there for a lot longer than the church existed.
Lisa Belisle: This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 306, Summer Chapels, airing for the first time on Sunday, July 30, 2017. Summer Chapels offer Maine residents and visitors of all denominations a unique setting in which to worship. Today we speak with the Reverend Kit Sherrill who for many years served as the summer rector of the Chapel of All Saints by the Sea in Southport. We also speak with the caretaker of All-Saints-by-the-Sea, whose great grandfather founded this chapel more than a century ago, Al Moses. Thank you for joining us.
Announcer: Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest, and is located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shoes in its newly expanded space, including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details please visit our website at artcollectormaine.com.
Lisa Belisle: My next guest is Kit Sherrill who previously served as a summer rector of the Chapel of All-Saints-by-the-Sea in Southport. Now almost fully retired, he occasionally officiates at baptisms, weddings, or funerals, as well as the service on Christmas Eve. Thanks for coming in today.
Kit Sherrill: Hey, it’s great to be here, thank you.
Lisa Belisle: It was very fun to visit you in Southport and have a chance to see the chapel that we’re going to talk about today. It’s a special place.
Kit Sherrill: It really is. It’s about a little over a hundred years old, but it’s just a fantastic place for everybody who goes there.
Lisa Belisle: There’s an interesting story there, because the family that made the chapel possible is originally from Gardiner.
Kit Sherrill: That’s right. The minister who came down from Gardiner to do some picnicking with friends back in the 1860s, late 1860s, discovered a nice piece of land down there and decided to buy the land and build a cottage. Then there was no other clergymen around, so he started having services outside, or if it was raining, inside, and that went on for about 20 years until a woman donated land and in 1905 they built the chapel. Dedicated in 1906, so it’s been around for over a hundred years, it’s a special place.
Lisa Belisle: Southport, for people who are listening and aren’t familiar, is very close to Boothbay Harbor and Boothbay.
Kit Sherrill: That’s right, it’s the land mass that forms the western side of Boothbay, it’s about five miles long, a couple miles wide. If you come there looking for anything you won’t see anything, because the road goes around the island. Unless you know where to turn off you’ll think, “Oh that’s just woods.” So it’s kinda neat.
Lisa Belisle: It was really great that when we met with you we were doing our 48 Hours Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, for Maine magazine, and you were able to say to us, “Take a left down this road, take a right down this road, it’ll take you to something interesting.”
Kit Sherrill: Yep.
Lisa Belisle: You weren’t always able to tell me what the names of the roads were, and in fact we didn’t often find signs on the roads.
Kit Sherrill: That’s right, yeah.
Lisa Belisle: But it’s true, you kind of have to know what you’re looking for.
Kit Sherrill: Yeah, yeah, we’ve got a swing bridge that lets you on the island and we think of that as our gate for our gated community. Unless you really know your way around, why you’re lost when you come on the island. It’s a great spot, good people, wonderful place.
Lisa Belisle: It was also fun because a lot of people think of Boothbay Harbor, and the place where you can hop on the boat and go out to Monhegan. But Boothbay Harbor, Boothbay the area, has so many different aspects to it.
Kit Sherrill: Yeah, it really does, yeah. It’s really quite a… It’s off the beaten track, but it’s just got a incredible amount of stuff to it, and with new money moving in and people with new ideas, all kinds of things are happening. It’s gonna be different in the coming years from the way it has been, but I think it’s gonna be good difference. We’re very lucky to live there.
Lisa Belisle: This is a place that you retired to, or semi-retired to I guess.
Kit Sherrill: Yes, yeah, I hate to think of it, but it’s almost 17 years ago now we retired up here. I’ve been coming up here… the first time I went to the chapel I think was probably about 1950 when I stayed the summer with my grandmother who had a place at the head of Southport Island. Then when I graduated from the seminary, and we went up there the next summer with our kids, my grandmother put a little pressure on the chapel to give me a chance to preach and do a service, and they liked me well enough they invited me back. So it’s been almost 50 years that I’ve been taking services there a lot of the summers. It’s been a real blessing. You know when you’re a clergyman you don’t own much money. We didn’t have our own house back wherever I was working.
So we could not have afforded to come to Maine, even back then when rents were a little cheaper and so having this opportunity to take our whole family up there for a whole month, in a nice little cottage, and they were always by the ocean, was just so special. Our kids all got hoodwinked though, because they never got to see any of the rest of the country, always to Maine in the summer. But two of them up there, they’re up with us now, and one gets here whenever he can. It’s been a very special place for my family and for me. It gives me a sense of rootedness as my little bio comments to you indicated, I’ve bounced around a lot starting when my mother died when I was young and all of that. But All Saints and Southport have provided me with a rooted place, going back every year I felt this was home. So it’s very special to be able to retire there.
Lisa Belisle: Well as you said, you were born in Warm Springs Georgia, your father was raised on a farm in North Georgia, and your mother was form the East End of London. It was just after you turned two that she passed away.
Kit Sherrill: Yep.
Lisa Belisle: So you yourself did have this kind of not as much rootedness from an early age.
Kit Sherrill: That’s right, yeah. My dad took us to England after my mother died and then the war broke out, so we got shipped back to this country, on our own, put on a train in New York City, and back down to Georgia. We bounced around quite a bit. Then in the years in which I worked full time in the ministry we lived in 18 different homes. You don’t get a sense of rootedness when you’re bouncing around like that. So Maine has been a very special gift to us, it really has. I don’t know what we would’ve done without it. We’d have probably still been bouncing around somewhere. Yep, it’s been great.
Lisa Belisle: Do you think that this idea of having a summer chapel speaks to that need for rootedness?
Kit Sherrill: Well I think it does. The people who come there on Sundays, most of them have been coming there for years, or have children that are now coming. It does give a real sense of community. Most people on vacations in a place like that, if they don’t have that kind of thing to go to, the community is their friends and family, but this broadens it up and gives the people who go there a sense of the larger community. One of the things this chapel has done for a long time is give about 50% of its donations to local outreach work in the community, and so because of that, people who go there know that it’s… they know the larger connections that we have and the commitments to that, so it really does overall give a wonderful sense of being part of an important community, vibrant community.
Lisa Belisle: It’s not a very big place.
Kit Sherrill: No, not a very big place. Maximum… and we don’t get the weddings anymore we used to because of this, you can seat about 110. We fill them up pretty much, come close to it on Sunday morning. Back in the heyday back in the 50s though, they’d get 200 there on Sunday, and people would be standing outside and sitting on the benches out there and stuff. But it’s not big, but it’s a place that people go to regularly and commit to, and it’s… I just keep saying, very special. It’s a holy place.
Lisa Belisle: Well it is a holy place. I noticed even, we were there on the off season, and walking on the path through the woods which is very quiet. Then it opens out and there’s the chapel on the shore, then there’s the dock that people can actually come to the chapel by boat. So there is something very quiet and different than many churches.
Kit Sherrill: Yeah, it really is. It’s not unusual, I’ll go down there in the day sometime for something, and there’s somebody either outside the chapel quietly resting and meditating, or even in the chapel if it’s a damp day. It’s a place that just draws people to the site because it really just has a sense of a larger presence to it, it really is a rejuvenating place for a lot of people.
Lisa Belisle: It seems unusual that it is a chapel that one can reach by boat. I haven’t heard of that many.
Kit Sherrill: I don’t think there are very many of them like that. No, I really haven’t explored that up and down the main coast, but I have a sense this little chapel is unusual, partly because of that, but partly because it just sits right there on the rocks. Most of them are back a little bit, and most of them haven’t been blessed with having somebody give them land on the water. I can think of a number of chapels, but they are all off the water, All-Saints is pretty lucky.
Lisa Belisle: There’s a space that’s been created with this idea of I guess settling for a few moments to absorb the peace in mind. There’s places where people can sit just outside the church that’s very welcoming.
Kit Sherrill: Yeah, that’s right. And in the regular season we have benches scattered around several little locations there in the woods, and it’s really very special. There’s also a little site by the side of the path where people who wanna have their ashes scattered in a memorial garden can do so, and there’s a bench with that. So it’s a place where lots of things cause people to come back.
Lisa Belisle: You described Christmas Eve masses being particularly moving for a variety of reasons, talk to me about that.
Kit Sherrill: Well it’s… you know you go down that path in the woods on a winter’s night, and it’s cold and the wind may be blowing, and you step into this little quiet room by the ocean. You can hear the ocean outside. There’s no organ playing because it’s a little too cold for the organ to play, so it’s silent. All the hymns are sung acapella. It’s a Holy Night, and of course that’s what Christmas feels like to so many people, a Holy Night. And it just seems to work. Two years ago, in one of the benches, we had a Protestant, a Catholic, a Jew, and a Muslim, all in that one bench. It’s just that kind of service, that it draws people from all kinds of traditions and backgrounds.
I know people who go there who don’t go to church any other time of the year. But Christmas somehow is special to them, and that place makes it very special. So been doing that for 16 years. The only reason we have the service is because I’m on the island and can do it. So they keep saying, “Hey you gotta keep living a little longer,” keep me alive by going to do Christmas Eve. So that’s great.
Lisa Belisle: And it’s not heated, so people really just have to enjoy each other’s warmth, literally.
Kit Sherrill: Well you know, and it’s interesting, you get 75 people in there, and within 20-25 minutes people are starting to take their coats off. It warms up, and I guess people relax and get into it. You’ll have to come some time.
Lisa Belisle: I will. I definitely will, for Christmas, yes.
Kit Sherrill: Good. Good.
Lisa Belisle: It seems as though, well you described the fact that people aren’t getting married as much there, because it doesn’t seat as many people and maybe people want larger weddings. But it is also because we’re at an interesting crossroads in people’s faith in this country?
Kit Sherrill: Yeah, I think so. The younger generation doesn’t seem to have the same connectedness to church and to all the stuff that goes with church. So they’re looking for a different kind of environment. I’m gonna officiate at a couple, an older couple this fall, they didn’t wanna get married in a church, they just wanted to get married in their back yard. I think there’s more and more of that, and I think partly it’s people have a greater sense of nature maybe, than they do of finding the spirit of God in a building. They find it in the world and nature. I think that’s part of what drives this too, because I’ve done a lot of traditional services outside and other places that are fairly traditional, so it’s not that they don’t like those words and those thoughts, but the location. They just are looking for nature. The chapel has it, but you gotta be inside.
Lisa Belisle: It has been interesting for you to be a reverend, to be associated with the Episcopal church. This wasn’t something that you knew you were going to do from an early age.
Kit Sherrill: No, nope, no I didn’t. I got involved in the church I think when we finally … my dad remarried and we moved to Western Pennsylvania. He married an English woman. Her parents were English and so she was a good Anglican Episcopalian. So we started going to church. I got in the choir at an early age, and then became an Acolyte and did all those kinds of things. I had no intention of going into the ministry, except one Sunday morning, the minister there, at that time, I was 14, he took me aside and he said, “You know, I don’t want you to think about this, but I think you might be called to be in the church, to be an ordained person.”
And I looked at him and I thought, “You’re nuts,” and I went my way. But then a number of years later when I was going through a difficult time, I dropped out of college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I was waiting for the military to pick me up. I heard that conversation in the back of my brain and I thought, “Well maybe, maybe.” So I started exploring it and it’s worked out well. It’s been a real blessing for me, it really has.
Lisa Belisle: You’ve been doing this for how many years now?
Kit Sherrill: Ordained in 65, so 35 plus 17 is 52. Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: And there have been a lot of changes.
Kit Sherrill: Oh, a lot of changes.
Lisa Belisle: Within not only the church but within society at large.
Kit Sherrill: Oh, yes, absolutely. We’ve gone through all of the things having to do with human sexuality, you know, gays and lesbians, and transgender and gay marriage, and of course before that was even starting to crank up we had the whole issue of bringing women more fully into the life, and later ship of the church. All of that of course met great resistance from the traditional folks. The Episcopal Church was very traditional in lots of ways. But I’ve been fortunate not to be involved in that. I remember years ago when I was getting ordained, an older clergyman called me and he said, “You know, I don’t know why you’re doing this, the church isn’t what it used to be.” And it isn’t what it used to be, and of course then in that period when I got ordained, we had the Civil Rights Movement.
I got very much involved in that. So it’s been a dynamic time. It’s not been always easy, but it’s been alive and continues to be that way, we still have a lot of issues and stuff that the church needs to deal with. Fortunately, a lot of people of the church are taking hold of that and doing it. Maybe we’ll work out the whole problem with immigrants here one of these days, and all of those things that we’re finding are continuing to be big issues that we need to work on together. So, I’ve been lucky to be part of that, I really am.
Lisa Belisle: You’ve also been fortunate because you’ve shared a life with your wife, Lee. You were married in 1960s, so that was before you became ordained, before any of this traveling around, and she stuck with you.
Kit Sherrill: Yeah, she stuck with me. Yes, there have been some times when I’ve wondered why she has. She knew when we were married that that was the direction I was going. I went to seminary two years later. So she knew that from the get go. It was never something she thought she would do, but she is a committed Christian in the best kind of way. She’s not narrow, she’s very broad and open, and has always been ethically inclined and morally inclined. So I think she feels very much a comfort in the church. What’ been uncomfortable for her is that she has to take a backseat a lot of the time, I’m the one that’s preaching she’s not, even though she’d like to do that. So I think there’s been some bumps in the road, but we’ve had a fabulous marriage, and she’s just been great to live and work with and love. Our three kids seemed to have all turned out pretty well, so we’re fortunate.
Lisa Belisle: I’ve only met your daughter, Susan Axelrod, who’s the editor of Old Port Magazine, but she’s pretty wonderful. I can at least tell you that you’ve done a good job with that one.
Kit Sherrill: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: I believe that Lee also has her own separate identity as a teacher.
Kit Sherrill: Yeah, she was a teacher, a public schoolteacher, and private school. Then she went to work for the Federal Government and worked in OSHA and developed a special training program at OSHA that she traveled all around the country doing. Again it was because of her teaching skills that that worked so well. Now she writes the weekly column for the local newspaper and I just walked into somebody, ran into somebody a couple of days ago who said, “Oh, tell your wife I just her writing, it’s just terrific. She doesn’t know that, but tell her.” So she gets a lot of satisfaction out of that plus the fact she’s involved in various community projects and activities, so she’s busy.
Lisa Belisle: So the both of you really have had kind of a mutual love for community and education, and outreach.
Kit Sherrill: Oh we have. Yeah, we really have. And I think that’s the reason the marriage has worked well, is because we really are coming from the same place. The other reason it works well is because I grew up just about a 10-minute walk from her, and so she was rooted in that community in the way I was not, but nonetheless the same values and the same sense of history et cetera that we brought to our marriage from those years I think has been critical as well. I look at a lot of marriages today that fail and that’s because they don’t have any real basic common roots together. One comes from California, one come from Texas or whatever, they have no connections except the two of them. We’ve always had the support of Lee’s family and my family, and it’s been fantastic.
Lisa Belisle: You’re a lucky man.
Kit Sherrill: Lucky man, yep.
Lisa Belisle: What are the teachings of the church that most resonate with you as not only a leader in the church but also as a person.
Kit Sherrill: Well, I have a long history of being concerned about justice, and I think that’s at the heart of Jesus teachings, is justice for the poor, for the oppressed, for the rejected, always reaching out to them. So the stories that carry that message, just thinking for instance of the Prodigal Son. He’s rejected by his brother, but he’s welcomed home by his father. I think of the story of the good Samaritan, where this person from outside comes in and care for this person who’s been rejected by the core in group and brings hope and justice to that person’s life. All those issues having to do with justice and caring for those in need, and bringing healing to the world. That’s what resonates with me and what drives me.
If you would talk to anybody who can remember any of my sermons over the years, that’s where I almost always come back to. I’m not talking about theology, I’m not talking about those kinds of things, but how do we engage the world and make it a better place for people. How do we help people experience the presence of God and the hope that comes through that sense of presence, and how do we give them an opportunity to lead just and good lives? So I’ve been involved in that side of things for a long time. That’s what drives me.
Lisa Belisle: One of the words that is used a lot is the word “love”, and it’s of course a beautiful idea. And it also is not always easy.
Kit Sherrill: Nope, it sure isn’t. Well in fact, that concept of tough love, which is a fairly recent understanding of it. I think it is the way it is, to love the outcast or rejected, it’s really hard to do that. I was just thinking hearing the radio this morning, you know we are concerned about the people who are suffering around the world, many of us, and yet at the same time, we’re spending enormous amount of money on weapons et cetera, and very little on humanitarian care. We’ve got something out of whack when we go down that track, and I don’t know how we straighten it out, but the tension is always there for me, how can we find a better way to express the Gospel, how can we encourage people to move beyond the narrowness of their faith into the broader world where we engage people and bring people hope and life?
In Boothbay Harbor I helped establish an organization called the Boothbay Region Community Resources Group which really is helping all the churches and the schools et cetera, in the community, work together to help those who are poor, to help those who are abused, et cetera. And it’s been a tremendous program, it just really is so, so helpful to so many people. But until you get organized, and pull the community together, it doesn’t really work. So that’s another dimension of what I’ve been involved in.
Lisa Belisle: So by continuing to be part of the chapel, every weekend in the summer, and provide this sacred space for people on the side of the… on the rocks by the ocean, do you think in some way you’re advertising, you’re drawing people towards this greater good that you’re talking about?
Kit Sherrill: Some way for advertising?
Lisa Belisle: Well just some way, is it a way to promote the sense that there’s this smaller community that people will go to church for, but if you are involved in the smaller community that you’re kind of… you’re bringing people towards the greater community as well.
Kit Sherrill: Yeah. There is a way to promote that, but it’s mostly one on one I find. We’re always encouraging people, “Hey if you have some people who’ve never been here, bring them here. If they don’t continue to come that’s okay, but let’s open it up for them to experience it.” And I think there’s a lot of that that goes on, partly because being a summer community, people have a little freedom that they don’t have if they’re in a year-round community where they have to live with everybody the whole year-round. The summertime, you know, we’re more relaxed and more open I think in lots of ways. So just reaching out and telling people to bring their friends and neighbors, I think that’s the best we can probably do. But the other thing, by showing forth what we preach about and talk about, and action, that’s the biggest way to draw people in, from my point of view. We have something on the island called The Southport Island Association which for years was for summer people only.
Then a few years ago somebody got the idea, “This is crazy, there’s all kinds of people on the island year round who we ought to connect with.” So they’ve been working in that direction ever since, and because of that they established two different funds to help needy people on the island. There are a lot of poor people on the island in Southport, poor children, and so this group that had been totally focused on its own little world, has broadened itself and opened up a whole different dimension for the community. It’s enhancing the life of the community, and that’s partly due to people’s religious backgrounds and sense of justice. But it’s also just an awareness I think in the community that “Hey, we’ve got a dimension here that we need to address,” and they hadn’t been, just focused on themselves, doesn’t work.
Lisa Belisle: I’ve been speaking with Kit Sherrill who previously served as the summer rector of the Chapel of All-Saints-by-the-Sea in Southport. I appreciate your coming in today.
Kit Sherrill: Thank you very much, it’s been my privilege to do so, and it’s always a privilege to be able to talk about that special little place by the ocean. So thank you very, very much.
Announcer: Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port where everybody is seen as a work of art, and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or on line at aristelle.com. Tickets for Maine Live are available now. Maine Live is a day of inspiring talks and stories of grit by the business and creative people shaping the future of our state. Join host Dr. Lisa Belisle and 14 mesmerizing speakers that will inspire conversation and connection. This fifth Maine Live is on Thursday, September 21st at USM Hannaford Hall, go to maineliveevent.com for more information and to purchase your tickets.
Lisa Belisle: It is my great pleasure to have with me today Al Moses, who is the caretaker of All-Saints-by-the-Sea, an Episcopal summer chapel in Southport. Al lives next door to the chapel in a home built by his great grandfather more than a century ago. Thanks for coming in today.
Al Moses: I’m glad to be here.
Lisa Belisle: So your family has been affiliated with All-Saints-by-the-Sea from the very beginning.
Al Moses: And before.
Lisa Belisle: And before.
Al Moses: When he built the cottage in 1870, he was an active minister in Gardiner, Maine, and would come down to have picnics, and bring some of his congregation down, and they didn’t only reserve Sunday for services, they would have services whenever he said, “We’re gonna have a service.” And if it was sunny weather, they had the services under the oak tree in the field. If it was a rainy day, they came into the house that he built, and had the services in my house. So we were having services there for a lot longer than the church existed. The church itself was built in 1905 by the Gray family, which they were fishermen and boat builders that lived on the island, and it was completed I think in about 1905. The church finally sanctioned it in 1907, so that was our official 100th anniversary was 2007, but it operated a little bit before then. The family has been involved with it ever since. You know I’m the fourth generation from that and all of my predecessors and so on have had things to do with All-Saints.
Lisa Belisle: Where is your family originally from before Gardiner?
Al Moses: Well, my great grandfather was from Gardiner, my direct father and mother were both Mount Vernon, Pleasantville New York raised. For a little oddity, I’m the youngest of three children of theirs, and I have the pleasure of being able to say that I was born rather high in this world. The hospital was at 12,500 feet in the Andes Mountains in Peru. So I had problems coming down to sea level, but once I got used to it I kinda like it.
Lisa Belisle: Why were your parents in Peru?
Al Moses: My dad was a mining geologist and he with a copper company and they were mining copper which kept him busy during World War II. They needed copper for bullets more than they needed him, so he evaded World War II by that, and we came back to the US in 1951, I thought on vacation, which we did very three years, and it turned out that we were moving to the US permanently at that point. So I’ve been in the US since ‘51.
Lisa Belisle: And all that time in Maine?
Al Moses: No, no. When we first moved to the US we moved to Arkansas because that was where the mining division of his company was headquartered, and in 1958 when Governor Faubus had a little problem with integration, we coincidentally… the company moved us from Little Rock Arkansas to Richmond Virginia where the company headquarters were. So all of my friends that were still in Little Rock had to find schools somewhere else, and I went into high school with 1500 people in my class in the 10th grade, it was a little awkward.
Lisa Belisle: That’s a huge class.
Al Moses: Hmm. That was a period of time when there was only one white high school on one side of the river and one black high school on that same side. Then a reverse on the other side of the river, so it was pretty concentrated, for the whole city basically. They now have four or five high schools on each side of the river to handle the people. But it was an interesting experience.
Lisa Belisle: Well I would think so, if you’re used to one way of doing things, and you’re right in the middle of history changing, how that feel being a high school child?
Al Moses: It was a good high school, it had a very good reputation, so it was okay. Socially it was a little tough because you’re trying to break into a crowd with that many people, it was tough. So when I went to college I went to a college that had 800 total students, made up for it.
Lisa Belisle: Seems a little more doable.
Al Moses: When you knew everybody on campus after the first year, you know it was pretty good.
Lisa Belisle: Where did you go to college?
Al Moses: Monmouth Illinois, Monmouth College, a little Scotch Presbyterian school founded in 1850 or something like that. It had an excellent student to faculty, there was 13 students per faculty member and it had the highest percentage of faculty with PhDs of any college or university in the country at the time. So it was a good place.
Lisa Belisle: What did you study?
Al Moses: Foreign languages and history.
Lisa Belisle: So how did you get from that focus of study to what you’re doing today?
Al Moses: After graduating from college I got into the insurance industry, and I was in that for about 25 plus years. Then my dad was a widower at that time, and as he got into his late 70s early 80s, some health problems coming up and he was rather blasé about taking care of himself. So I took early retirement in order to keep him going. So I got him from 79 to 85 before he passed away. Then from that point I moved permanently up to the Maine cottage and we sold his house down in Virginia. And I’ve been in Maine ever since.
Lisa Belisle: How long ago was that?
Al Moses: 1995 give or take.
Lisa Belisle: So you’ve been living next to All-Saints-by-the-Sea for many years then.
Al Moses: Yes, yes, 20 plus, yeah.
Lisa Belisle: What does a caretaker do?
Al Moses: Anything that somebody suggests they think needs to be done for the place, which sometimes is necessary, which sometimes you have to kind of glide over because it’s really not necessary, but I replace the plumbing if it goes bad, new sink, new faucets, new toilet, turn on the water. We have seasonal water up there, so I have to set it up and turn it on and off in the fall and drain the system. Any of the repairs with the exception of roofing I will take on by myself. When I was chair of the committee years ago I got some of the committee to work with me and we tore out the old deck and front porch and redesigned it and redid it with a product called Trex which is a maintenance free which was better than what we had, which was requiring a lot of maintenance. And that got me kind of started with doing a lot of things with the church. But because of its construction, it’s a pretty easy place to take care of because it does not wear badly.
It withstands the weather all right, and we have no problems with wood rot or anything like that. During the normal summer occasionally there’s an electrical outlet that’s gone bad or we need more paint on the floor, minimal stuff. But it’s something that keeps me busy. Then my favorite time of year happens to be Christmas Eve when we are not open, except for the fact that on Christmas Eve Day we worry about what the weather has done and if it allows it, meaning can we clean out and shovel off all the snow and ice, we have a Christmas Eve Service and we’ve done that with Kit Sherrill’s leading us for 14 years in a row now. And we have with not being able to announce until the day of the service, that it’s gonna be there, we end up having… last year it was about 85 people at the service. So it’s a fun time.
Lisa Belisle: So you’re able to at the last minute decide, if you’re going to hold a service or not hold a service.
Al Moses: We wanna make it safe for the people to be able to walk in. Because we have one disadvantage, you can come to our church by water, you don’t wanna do that on December 24th, or you can come by land. But we don’t have adequate parking close to the church. So they have to park on the main highway up on the island and then walk in. So we wanna make sure that that whole walk is ice free and/or sanded so that they won’t slip and fall. And until we’re sure that they can come down safety, we don’t say, “It’s on.” So it’s a last-minute thing.
Lisa Belisle: It was your great grandfather that was first involved with the church. It doesn’t sound like there have been any ministers since then in the family.
Al Moses: Not on a permanent basis. In the summertime, years ago what they did was they had a visiting minister do the last service of June and then we had a full time for the month of July, full time for the month of August, and then another visiting minister… we could usually find somebody locally that could do the first and the last. Some years ago we kind of stopped doing the full month period in order to get more variety in there, and we have now visiting ministers that usually will come for about a two week period, sometimes they can only make it for one but we schedule them for the entire summer and we get a little bit more variety that way. We have a lot of people that volunteer that say they wanna do it, and then when it comes down to giving them a date of availability they say, “Well, I can’t do it then.” But we’ve managed to get them every Sunday.
Lisa Belisle: In your family, were there ministers prior to your great grandfather?
Al Moses: No, and the only once since then was my sister who decided after she got out of college at Mount Holyoke that she tried a few other jobs and at some point in time living in New Jersey, got Bishop Spong down there to sponsor her and she became a minister, and is now retired and living down in Florida.
Lisa Belisle: So from what you understand, what was it that drew your great grandfather to be a minister?
Al Moses: That’s a good question. Probably I think that in the 1850s and 60s, I don’t think there were that many careers that you could make that would involve going to college and whether he studied religion at Bowdoin, I don’t know. He came out of Bowdoin and pretty quickly was vicar at the Gardiner church. So I really don’t know what motivated that, he was well liked, I can tell from some of the notes that we’ve seen, but don’t know. And I never of course had the advantage of knowing him or any quick relatives of his, so I don’t know.
Lisa Belisle: Why has your family taken such an interest in making sure that services are available in Southport.
Al Moses: In honor of my great grandfather mostly, and proximity has something to do with it. When you’re next door to the church you wanna make sure that it is operating all right and not having any problems. And luckily we’re very successful and there have been a lot of summer chapels in Maine that have been in existence for 100 or more years that had to quit because they just ran out of people to support it. We have been very, very lucky in that we’ve have a good bunch of people that come to it and we’ve got a good endowment and fairly good attendance. Like all churches, it’s drifted a little bit in the last few years, less young people coming to church. The church congregation is steadily getting older, but it still manages to draw people. Partially because of the location, it is a nice place.
Lisa Belisle: Are you aware of any other churches in Maine that one can get to by boat?
Al Moses: I know of none other. I think there is one more on the East Coast that might be in like North Carolina or something like that that you can come to by boat. Years ago that was an expense factor, because there was a tour boat that left Boothbay Harbor and went out to Squirrel Island which is a mile and a half off of Southport, and it only cost like a dollar for an adult and 50 cents for kids to take that ramp to a ride, and they had no problem with taking people that wanted to go to church and coming over and dropping them off at our float. So it was not expensive. That now costs probably about $10 or $12 minimum for an adult and $8 for a child, so taking a family to church can get expensive. So that slowed down. People do bring their private boats in and we have anywhere from one or two to maybe a half a dozen that we’ll tie up during the 10 o’clock service. Some of them are more industrious and will come to the 8 o’clock service by boat, but that’s probably no more than one or two for an average.
Lisa Belisle: So how many people would you guess are coming for each service by boat?
Al Moses: In days of yore it could have been as many as 20 or 30, currently on a paid for boat, it’s dropped down to probably no more than a half a dozen a season, and then in their own boats, we have probably 20 or 30.
Lisa Belisle: Are these people that have been coming to services by boat for a long time?
Al Moses: Some of them are. Some of them appear only maybe once a season, maybe to show some friends the church which, if it’s a nice sunny morning on Sunday, it’s a good reason for a boat ride and to get a little bit of religion at the same time.
Lisa Belisle: You mentioned that the church has a good endowment which has enabled the parish to continue on.
Al Moses: Yes.
Lisa Belisle: Why the good fortune for your church versus other churches?
Al Moses: Southport as an island is blessed with the fact that there are a lot of people of above average means that summer there, and a great many of them, because we do … it’s an Episcopal based service but we try and keep it ecumenical, so they will come to the church and go through communion rites and so on with the others. And some of them have been doing this for 50 or more years and it’s just a habit.
Lisa Belisle: Tell me about the special events that happen at the church, like baptisms, and weddings and funerals. What types of stories can you share about those?
Al Moses: We had one summer, again with the services at that time were the last Sunday of June through the first Sunday of September, and we had 26 weddings during that time. We had people who were sometimes having to get out of church quick to let the next group in on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, but we managed 26 weddings in one season.
Lisa Belisle: What year was that?
Al Moses: Oh that goes back probably about 15 years ago. It’s gotten a little bit less in the past few years. Our disadvantage is parking problems and some people have figured out nice ways to get around that, like they will charter or hire a boat to bring over 30 or 40 guests on the boat. Other people have used large buses and brought them in by that method. But it takes a little bit of extra work for people. We have competition with a chapel out on Ocean Point that kind of maybe interrupts us a little bit, but other than that it’s probably more… you gotta like the location to put up with some of the downside, and some people are more forgiving about that.
Lisa Belisle: So what is it about the location that is special?
Al Moses: It’s a little church. During the services you can hear the waves slapping on the shore, you can hear all the birds out there doing things. I mean we’re… at a high tide we’re 10 or 15 feet from the water. We’ve got a bunch of natural woods around us that we try and keep natural. So it’s a little spot that people just enjoy coming to and meditating. In the wintertime I’ll even go over there sometimes in January with two feet of snow on the ground and there’s a trail of somebody and they’re sitting down on the front porch with blankets over them and a thermos full of hot coffee. We have the advantage that not too many places on the East Side have, you can see Monhegan Island from there if the weather is good, that’s about 11 miles as the crow flies straight east of us. That of course draws a lot of people because Monhegan’s kind of a mystical magic place of its own right.
Lisa Belisle: So my understanding is that in the wintertime, the house that you live in is not entirely weatherized.
Al Moses: Understatement. Right. I keep the core of the living room comfortable and thank God for electric blankets in the upstairs. But also fortunately heat rises, so my bedroom is usually on a 10-degree day outside it’s probably about 60 in my bedroom when I go up there, and my living room is oftentimes 80 degrees at the ceiling, and 40 degrees at the floor.
Lisa Belisle: So why do that?
Al Moses: Love it.
Lisa Belisle: You just like….
Al Moses: Solitude.
Lisa Belisle: Just like, you like the solitude.
Al Moses: It’s nice, it’s therapeutic. You’re not bothered very much with anybody passing by, there aren’t that many boats out on traffic, and the only change that’s now there and isn’t a problem is my sister sold a piece of our land that was just due north of me, and so I’ve had to put up this past year with a house being built right next door, which of course is not built in the style of my house. It’s not a McMansion, but it’s a full blown winterized house that’s gone up. A lot of noise and a lot of fun from that.
Lisa Belisle: Hopefully it’ll shift back now that the house is….
Al Moses: Well, yeah.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah.
Al Moses: Maybe they’ll open their door in the winter. No, I kid about that, I wouldn’t do that to them.
Lisa Belisle: Well, I mean maybe it’s a way that you could go get warm.
Al Moses: No, I have ways to do that. And I’m supposed to be having a well drilled. I’ve got a surface dug well that my great grandfather’s group put in years ago that I use during the summertime, but it’s surface feed also which means when it gets below 32, your lines freeze up, so that gets a little awkward. But gallon jugs work.
Lisa Belisle: So it sounds like it’s not unlike the chapel, that it’s a charming place that has some disadvantages that you have to be willing to work with.
Al Moses: There are times when it’s a little aggravating, but you can make due, so it’s not like living in the arctic.
Lisa Belisle: You live on Pig Cove Road, which is very poetic. Why is it called Pig Cove Road?
Al Moses: Well, the actual person that said we would get Pig Cove as the name of our road, I don’t know. I kind of in the back of my mind blame an older brother of mine but I don’t think he did it. I think it was the town that named it. Originally Capitol Island which is right off of Southport and connected by a little drawbridge, or not a, a bridge, it was called Pig Island. And my great grandfather and some of his people in Gardiner would come down because the island was often used as a ferry stop and they would come down and walk down to the south end of Capitol Island and have picnics. And at some point in time, my great grandfather looked over and saw this piece of property on Southport, made the correct inquiries and bought the piece of land that the house is on.
Unknowing to anybody when he did that, my paternal grandfather had a farmhouse in a field that was right next to that and it took my great grandfather a few years to make the move to have the house built and so on. Then the other connection that happened there was his first wife died and he ended up marrying the daughter of my paternal grandfather which brought the two properties together when inheritances came in. So that was that connection.
Lisa Belisle: That’s an interesting coincidence, the two sides of the family came together before they even realized it because the land was next to each other.
Al Moses: And the land may have been the reason for it, or the land was the reason for it. But anyway, back to your Pig Cove Road. Capitol Island was known as Pig Island and there’s a ledge behind it to the Boothbay Harbor side, it’s called Pig Island Ledge. That doesn’t really show up on a whole bunch of charts, but if you go back to the 1600s, there are some charts that have Pig Cove down to the north of us and it’s slowly by name by charts as the 1700s came and the 1800s came, moved up.
And by the 1800s and the late 1800s when people were coming down from the Capitol area, had seen the success that Squirrel Island had with making … one person bought Squirrel Island and then they made house lots available to people for renewable 99 year leases. This group from the Capitol area saw Pig Island available and thought it was a good idea, and we’re not gonna go around with this 99-year lease, they’ll buy the property and they’ll own the property. And they were from the Capitol area and wanting to call it something other than Pig Island which may not have been attractive to buyers, they called it Capitol Island.
Lisa Belisle: So you’re talking the capital of Maine?
Al Moses: Right in front of Southport.
Lisa Belisle: Oh, I see.
Al Moses: So when you’re looking from the church you actually see the south end of Capitol Island and then the Cove for name of Pig Cove got into that area between Capitol Island and my house. On Google maps it’s now moved back down to the north a little bit, but it’s still basically that whole area. And I thought at one point was because it was porpoises were in there and porpoises were maybe called pigs. I think that the pigs on the island was probably more likely. And 911 is the reason the road got named, because at that point if you had more than one family living on the same roadway, you had to have a street name for it, not just a last name. So that was when we got tagged with Pig Cove Road.
Lisa Belisle: And Capitol Island, these are people who came from the capital of Maine, or the Capital of the United States?
Al Moses: The ones that bought the island and then sold it to people, and most of the people that bought it were probably Bostonians, maybe some from New York, but I think mostly it was Massachusetts, some from New Hampshire, that wanted a place on an island. This one has an advantage after they built the bridge to it, that it was accessible by car, and it was also accessible by steamboat early on. That made it much more attractive that you could drive out to it as Southport when they finally were connected by bridge to the mainland.
Lisa Belisle: What have you noticed in the time that you’ve lived next to All Saints by the Sea, what changes have you seen?
Al Moses: A little bit of gentrification to certain neighborhoods. You know you get more and more people… the area that I happen to live in is a little unique, because for about 8 or 10 cottages due south of me, the families that own those cottages have all owned them for 100 years or more, and still do. But further on some of the cottages have changed hands and have gotten a lawyer from Boston who buys a little cottage and doesn’t like it so he has it rebuilt, doesn’t like the lay of the land with woods all around it so he levels all the trees and plants grass. So you go through some changes like that where things get upgraded in one area but not everywhere.
And in our area most of the houses are still vintage, I mean we did have one built about 20 years ago in that grouping but that was on land that was owned by people that are still owners of houses in that area. And they tried to keep it a little bit more natural. But it’s temptation is to go in and rip out trees and plant grass and pave a parking lot.
Lisa Belisle: Well I very much appreciate your coming in and talking with me today.
Al Moses: Oh my pleasure.
Lisa Belisle: It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been speaking with Al Moses who is the caretaker with long time family ties to All-Saints-by-the-Sea Church in Southport. Thank you so much for all the work you’re doing there.
Al Moses: Oh thank you for having me.
Lisa Belisle: You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 306, Summer Chapels. Our guests have included the Reverend Kit Sherrill and Al Moses. For more information on our guests and extended interviews visit lovemaineradio.com. Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa, and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. We’d love to hear from you, so please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are privileged that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. I hope that you have enjoyed our Summer Chapels show. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your day. May you have a bountiful life.
Announcer: Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee, our editorial producers are Paul Koenig and Brittany Cost, our assistant producer is Shelbi Wassick, our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production, Maine Magazine or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at lovemaineradio.com.