Roque Bluffs is a small coastal fishing village nestled in Downeast Maine. It has a long and storied history. Today lobstermen, scallop draggers, mussel draggers, urchin divers, and clammers still go down to the sea. Many, most in fact, have learned their skills from fathers and grandfathers, and they continue to pass these skills on to sons and daughter. Technology has changed their industry, but nothing has altered their love of the sea: her beauty, her foibles, her treachery, and her allure.
Research tells us that Roque Bluffs was historically known as Englishman’s River. In the early 1800s settlers from Jonesboro, Kennebec, Englishman’s River, and the islands gathered at various sites for worship.
Information about the evolution of the old “Lamplighter Church”, as a group was first identified, has been garnered from documents such as diaries and journals and church records.
In 1840, a licensed preacher from Canada, Edmund Nugent, localized the group in Jonesboro and organized them under the name of the Jonesboro Baptist Church. There was no church building, but it is believed that services were held in the schoolhouse. There were twenty-five members when Mr. Nugent organized the group but by the time he resigned, in the mid forties, membership had grown to sixty-eight.
After Rev. Nugent’s departure, records are sketchy. Not much is known about the church’s activity for the next 34 years, but according to a document dated September 15, 1877, the Englishman’s River group, voted autonomy. The document reads as follows: “church members at Englishman’s River and Jonesboro members should act separately except when the action of the whole church should become necessary as the election of officers – and the assistant clerk should be located at Jonesboro”.
The Town of Roque Bluffs was incorporated in 1891. Two years later the Englishman’s River church folk renamed themselves the Roque Bluffs Baptist Church.
Later, Mr. James P. Tupper donated land where the Roque Bluffs chuch building was to rest. Om June 24, 1901, Nathan B. Foster began construction. One year later, on July 23, 1902, Mr. Edward Long became the first pastor of the Roque Bluffs Baptist Church and officiated the dedication of the new building. During the ceremony, Nathon Foster contributed a hand made pulpit. The Ladies Aid group collected contributions and donations from summer residents and are credited with raising $500.00 to pay off the final construction debt.
On August 9, 1915, the Roque Bluffs Baptist Church was deeded to the Washington County Baptist Convention to be held in trust.
Throughout the following years interest ebbed and flowed but services were conducted sporadically, during summer months, when the occasional visiting minister or theological student was in the area. In order to protect its interests, the church building was deeded over to the United Baptist Convention of Maine, later known as the American Baptist Churches of Maine, on October 20, 1934. During those years the building was used for various meetings such as socials and suppers, and served as a home for the Grange for a period of time.
From 1985 to 2000, the doors were opened for periodic summer church services under the leadership of Eugene S. Watts.
In the fall of 2001, another dedicated renewal effort began. Roque Bluffs residents Ann Lockett, Marilyn Tenney, Vicki Hooper, Eileen McKinnon and Hope Pratt organized a united group of local artisans, seasonal visitors, and out of town supporters to help save, restore, and return the elegant old building to its community. The care-taking group applied for, and received, non-profit, corporate status from the State of Maine. They were awarded the property deed from the American Baptist Churches of Maine and re-registered the church as the Roque Bluffs Community Chapel, to be operated as an interdenominational ministry. Volunteer ministers presided over a few vesper services that summer.
In November 2001, the chapel held its first Thanksgiving hymn sing. Over 70 people attended.
On December 16, 2001, the Roque Bluffs Community Chapel held its first Christmas service. As of 2005, this tradition only grows in popularity. Original oil lanterns, from the early days of the church, are lit in celebration of God’s many gifts. The amber glow helps to warn the atmosphere during cold December nights on the rugged coast of Maine and friends travel from near and far to share their love of God, community, and, of course, the little chapel by the sea.
On July 20, 2002, volunteers organized a 100th Anniversary Celebration and Pig Roast at the Roque Bluffs State Park. Nearly $1,000.00 were raised to begin a major restoration/construction project in conjunction with the Roque Bluffs Community Club. (The pig roast also became a popular, yearly event.) The following Sunday morning, Rev. Foster Williams, of the American Baptist Churches of Maine, officiated during the chapel’s 100th anniversary/dedication service. The service was followed by a reception at the Roque Bluffs Community Club. Former parishioner, Homer Scott, of Pennsylvania, was present. Scott attended the church in the mid forties and taught Sunday school and public school during those years. Beverly Griggs, of Oregon, had attended the church as a child. She was also recognized at the dedication.
In 2004, board members continued to organize regular, Sunday evening, vesper services scheduled for the summer month. They also added a few winter services and a Bible study class. Also, the board of directors, and officers of the Roque Bluffs Community Club, jointly obtained permission from state and national park systems to upgrade, expand, and make safer an existing parking lot, common to both, located at the head of the Roque Bluffs State Park walking trail. The chapel and community center were subsequently awarded a segment of land, for the installation of a septic tank and leach field.
From 2001 through 2005, and into 2006, the chapel has grown in membership, in the number of worship services it provides and in its community outreach projects. The building has been redone from stem to stern. Under loving and careful consideration, she had been re-roofed, painted, scrubbed, polished and buffed, and in 2002, for the first time in the history of the church, worshipers were comforted by a modern heating system.
In 2005, David and Katie Watts donated a piano to the chapel in memory of Miss Delia Houghton. The antique was Miss Houghton’s personal instrument, but she played piano for church during the years of Rev. Watts’ ministry.
As of January 2006, the board of trustees has grown to 11 members and the church membership has grown from 18 to 39. Supporters have donated time and resources to repair the chapel’s foundation, dig a well and septic system, install two new handicap-accessible restrooms, improve the “kitchen” area with plumbing and electrical upgrades and beautify the grounds with landscaping and outdoor lighting. The chapel is being used for wedding ceremonies, memorial services, gospel concerts and musical recitals.
A Meditation Garden, designed by Wayne and Gail Peters of Roque Bluffs and planted by Chapel members, is nearing completion. The wonderful garden, highlighted by a sign designed and constructed by Foye Terrell, is dedicated to residents and guests of the Roque Bluffs Community.
Nathan Foster’s hand made pulpit, an antique pump organ, Mrs. Longfellow’s dais chairs, pews and seats, oil lanterns, collection vessels, and some silver remain as original artifacts from the 1901 dedication service and the early years of the Roque Bluffs Baptist Church’s new beginnings.
Membership is extended to anyone interested in supporting chapel services. Although most members maintain primary membership at their “home” churches, there are some who consider the chapel their primary place or worship – a testimony to the board’s dedication to promote an interdenominational ministry. All are welcome and invited to share each unique worship experience.