125-year-old Chapel still going strong

REVEREND JOYCE LONG — stands in front of the East Raymond Chapel United Church of Christ. People commemorated the 125-year anniversary of the chapel on Sunday. (De Busk Photo)

REVEREND JOYCE LONG — stands in front of the East Raymond Chapel United Church of Christ. People commemorated the 125-year anniversary of the chapel on Sunday. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

RAYMOND — The doors of the little chapel along Webbs Mill Road have swung open and shut — the feet of so many generations crossing its threshold and finding a place of worship, sanctuary and community.

Over the decades, the instruments and songs of worshipers have emitted from the small church, the sounds drifting into the summer air. Generations of parishioners have taken part in Holy Communion. Invariably, over the passage of time, a parent probably has hushed a toddler who would later become an adolescent active in the church’s youth group.

The East Raymond Chapel Church of Christ has served as the site for scores of Sunday services since 1890; and it is evident that the chapel will continue to be a structure for that uplifting purpose through the 21st Century.

On Sunday afternoon, more than 50 people walked through the church, which was decorated not for a wedding or a baptism, but for the re-dedication and celebration of 125-year anniversary — also referred to as the quasquicentennial of this house of worship

In recent years, community members have banded together and committed to keeping up on the regular maintenance of the church building so that it can continue to house worshipers during the summer months, according to Reverend Joyce Long.

“My big deal is that we don’t want the chapel to become an antique store,” she said, citing cases of quaint New England churches that are sold and converted into antique gift shops.

“We want to remain a place of worship. It’s a sweet little chapel, and that’s what it should always be,” she said.

For the past 15 years, Long has done double duty as the full-time pastor for the Casco Village Church, United Church of Christ. For that same duration, she has been the minister at the Raymond Chapel, but only during the summer months.

Services are held at East Raymond Chapel for 14 weeks every summer. Those 8:30 a.m. services are held from the first Sunday in June through the Sunday before Labor Day in September.

In fact, the last early morning service and Holy Communion will happen this Sunday. Then, the church will be winterized. This year that will include removing the doors so they can be repaired, and boarding up the church.

“It won’t look good because we have to board it up. I don’t want people to worry. We haven’t closed up for good. It is just for the winter,” she said.

“We will put up signs, saying that the doors are under restoration,” she said.

“We do what we need to do to keep it the special little chapel it is,” Long said.

Long is not the only person who feels strongly about preserving as a place of worship the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Every summer, a core group of about 25 people put their heads together and tackle projects to keep up “this little summer building,” Long said.

This year’s efforts “were probably spurred on by the 125-year anniversary,” she said.

This spring, some excavation work was done to lift up a corner that was sinking. Later, the stained glass windows were replaced since the mechanisms inside the windows were no longer working and the glass had small holes from a BB gun.

The tapestry behind the pulpit was lovingly replaced by fiber artist Holly Iloff, who is also the wife of Chuck Iloff, the chapel’s previous minister, who appeared regularly at the pulpit from 1995 to 1999.

On Sunday afternoon, the people who attended the Quasquicentennial Celebration witnessed the re-dedication of the newly-renovated stained glass windows. It is not just a building with historic value, but a longstanding place of worship that is valued by people in the area, according to Long

“During the summers, there is one woman who loves the little chapel, and who loves the early services. There are a number of people who go all summer. Some are members of the Casco Village Church who like to start their day early. Some are explicitly members of the Raymond Chapel because they live in the area only during the summertime,” she said.

During Sunday’s celebration, the music was another treat, the continuation of a tradition.

The Longfellow String Quartet performed during the re-dedication services. One of the musicians, Evan Cuddy, had an endearing connection to the Casco Village Church as the musical accompanist for two years.

“The reason it was important to have a string quartet,” Long said, “is because of Frances Jordan Cole Small” the musical accompanist who was a familiar face to many.

“Her house was right down the street from chapel. She was still playing when she was 100 years old. She was everyone’s violin or piano teacher,” Long said.

Additionally, Casco resident Tom Hancock shared stories of growing up in the church congregation.

The local sister churches such as the Raymond Village Church, the Casco Village Church and the East Raymond Chapel “were yoked in many different ways,” including youth group activities, Long said.

Hancock shared a few stories about his involvement in a youth group that was active when he was growing up, as well as some memories of the church he attended, she said.

“This Sunday is the last weekend of 8:30 a.m. services. We always close with a communion service and the playing of the bagpipes,” Long said.

“We have so many wonderful rituals in this chapel,” she said.

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