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Summertime Churches Bring Charm to the Lakes Region

The Laker - July 6, 2017





By Sarah Wright

Photos courtesy St. John’s-on-the-Lake Chapel

You can’t miss it. Summer residents and tourists have arrived in the area. It’s fun to see the various license plates, and my sons always comment on the faraway ones. “Wow, Wyoming! They’ve come a long way!”

But who wouldn’t want to visit the Lakes Region at this time of year? There’s really nothing like it, with all the natural beauty and myriad of things to do. Some local town populations grow by the thousands at this time of year. And you may not know it, but there are churches that are just opening their doors, coming out of hibernation in time for the summer season as well.

One such church is St. John’s-on-the-Lake Chapel on Bear Island in Meredith. For obvious reasons, this church is not open in the wintertime, but from late June through August, pastors from local churches take turns leading Sunday morning worship. There’s an interesting history behind the church as well. The idea of having a church on the island began back in the early 1920s. The Rt. Rev. Edward Melville Parker, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire and the Rev. Kenneth Ripley Forbes of Stamford, Connecticut and Birch Island, thought that a summer chapel should be built at the highest point on the island. An observation tower, which was built around 1900, was already standing at the spot.

In 1926, after Bishop Parker’s death, a piece of land was purchased by the Rt. Rev. John T. Dallas for the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. He had the observation tower repaired and enclosed, and then local stone was used to build the sanctuary in the summer of 1927. The church was meant to be a religious center for the scattered island residents, regardless of religious affiliation. Rev. Kenneth Ripley Forbes was in charge of weekly services, and 10 minutes before worship began, he would tug on the rope of the tower bell. Worshipers from the Weirs would show up by boat and park at the church docks in Deep Cove. At this point, the church did not have an organ, so the Reverend’s wife would lead the hymns. At the end of each service, parishioners would climb up the tower stairs to enjoy the view from the top.

After Rev. Forbes resigned, regular services ceased; World War II gas rationing made things difficult as well. In 1954, the St. John’s-on-the-Lake Association voted to provide funds to keep the church open. The Association, working with the Diocese, took over the church’s financing needs and service scheduling. In 1962, John Ripley Forbes, the son of Rev. Forbes, took on the position of President of the Association. Regular services were held and led by clergy of various denominations, making it a more ecumenical church. That same year, a new 200-lb. bell was donated to replace the original tower bell, which had been stolen. An organ was donated in 1967. The beautiful chapel, with an altar and lectern made of white birch, is a sight to behold. The church also contains 10 Roman Arch memorial windows. In August of 1976, the deed to the church was turned over to the St. John’s-on-the-Lake Association for one dollar, with the stipulation that the church will revert to the Diocese if it is ever used for anything other than religious purposes.


Worship services at St. John’s-on-the-Lake Chapel are held on Sunday mornings at 10 am, and well-behaved dogs are welcome. The Chapel will celebrate its 90th birthday on July 23. This year, there will also be silent meditation at 4pm on Sundays, as well as yoga classes at 10 am on Mondays. A full summer schedule can be found at www.stjohnsonthelake.org. The schedule includes visits from ministers of the Episcopal, Methodist, American Baptist, and Catholic faiths, among others. To reach the chapel, transportation by boat is necessary. Docking is available at the church docks, located on the north shore of Deep Cove, on the south-west side of the island. A marked trail leads from the docks some 1,000 ft. up the hill to the chapel. (Other paths are marked from locations around the island.)

Another summer island church is located on Squam Lake, in the town of Holderness. Called Church Island, it is a non-denominational chapel located on Chocorua Island. A beautiful and peaceful place for worship and meditation, this outdoor chapel welcomes all who would like to attend services on Sunday mornings from late June until the first Sunday in September. (During inclement weather, services are held at the “Playhouse” of the Rockywold-Deephaven Camps.)

This year marks the 114th season of the church located on the site of America’s first resident boys’ summer camp. The camp was established in 1881 by Ernest Balch and was in operation until 1889. Religious services were an important part of the camp’s activities. In 1903, some of Ernest’s relatives and former campers created the Chocorua Chapel Association, “for the purpose of religious services according to the form of the Protestant Episcopal Church.” Clinton Crane, the owner of the island, made it available for worship services, and in 1928 he generously donated it to the association for that sole purpose.

For 38 years, Dr. Clifford Twombly, one of the founders of the Association, conducted services. Since 1941, services have been led by clergy of various denominations, many being summer residents of the Squam area. (A list of preachers and pictures of the original boys’ summer camp are in the Memorial Book near the entrance to the chapel.) The number of people dedicated to the chapel’s care and operation has grown over the years, and the desire for natural simplicity has endured.

Services are held on Sunday mornings at 10 am. Ministers on the schedule this summer include those from the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and United Church of Christ faiths, among others. A detailed schedule is available at www.churchisland.org. The Chapel Association permits the quiet, limited use of Chocorua Island by visitors willing to respect it as a religious sanctuary. The island docks are closed between sunset and sunrise. A limited number of wheelchairs, specifically configured for the rough natural terrain, are available on the island by request.

The outdoor chapel is only accessible by boat. Transportation to Church Island services is available to the public through a pontoon boat shuttle provided by Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. The cost for the round trip is $10.00 per person and it leaves from the launch on Route 113 across from the Science Center parking lots at 9:30 am. Reservations are recommended by contacting the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center at 603-968-7194 or at www.nhnature.org.

Take a drive along rural Route 109, through Mirror Lake, and the 1864-era community church will welcome you to town with its architectural simplicity and beautiful hydrangeas. Now under the control of a local council, the Mirror Lake Community Church was once the Second Christian Church of Tuftonboro. Since then, a number of improvements have been made to the building and the Mirror Lake Church property, located on the corner of Tuftonboro Neck Road. In recent years, a parking lot was constructed in the back of the church, and, following the end of the 2015 season, the church steeple was renovated.

Services at this summer church are held from late June until September with guest ministers and local musicians offering inspiration. All non-denominational services start at 10 am, with refreshments and fellowship following every service, often outside in the shaded church yard (weather permitting). For further information, call 603-569-6541.

Take in a part of our local history and visit one of these beautiful churches this summer. It’s truly a unique experience!

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