06 Feb 2018


In her 1959 hit single, “Little Brown Church in the Vale,” Rosemary Clooney croons that there’s no better place so dear to her childhood as the little church in the vale. She goes on to ruminate how sweet it is to “listen to the clear ringing bells, its tones so sweetly calling oh come to the church in the vale.” You don’t have to be a religious or “church going” person to be deeply impacted by the beautiful churches on Nantucket.
My husband and I stopped into The Brotherhood after work a couple weeks ago for a burger in front of their warm fireplace. We took a post-dinner stroll through downtown and topped it off with a piping hot cup of joe from The Corner Table. Our drive toward home took us up Step Lane where the stately and beautifully lit First Congregational Church stood waiting to greet us like an old friend. Dan stopped the car right in the middle of the street (it’s winter, very few rules apply). We parked ourselves on the front bumper, zipped our coats tightly, slowly sipped our coffee and had a little church…right there in the middle of Step Lane. We were grateful the good people of FCC left their Christmas tree illuminated in the upper window post-holiday for a little added ambiance.
Many of the church buildings are some of the oldest structures on the island, with long standing histories of blessing families with everything from weddings to funerals, christenings to first communions…for multiple generations. The walls of these beloved institutions hold the stories of people who have loved Nantucket and in most cases called the island home, either as summer or year round residents.
Beyond the traditional church activities, virtually every church on the island uses their facilities to benefit the community at large. There are theater productions at First Congregational Church and United Methodist Church, concerts at Summer Street Church, a famed island fair at St Paul’s Episcopal Church and a variety of lectures at Unitarian Universalist. And many of us have been lured to the sidewalk outside St. Mary’s on a summer afternoon to catch a glimpse of a beautiful bride and groom. These thoughtful and intentional efforts of all the churches to include the entire community in their activities are part of the reason most of us feel an emotional and personal connection to the structures…the same way Rosemary Clooney did to hers.
The next time you’re strolling the streets of Nantucket, especially in the off-season, listen closely for the church bell tunes coming from St Mary’s tower to serenade you as you shop or the resonant toll of the Unitarian bell as it announces the arrival of a new hour. Stop by any of these beloved island institutions to find out what public events they’re hosting each week or what their service times are. The beauty of each building and the stories they hold are part of the soul of the island.
Shellie Dunlap
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