While Eastport was under British occupation in the early 1800s, regular Anglican services were conducted to the forms of the Church of England by the chaplain of the post. In later years, visiting clergymen of the American Episcopal Church occasionally led services in the houses of other societies or church buildings in town. However, no attempt was made to organize an Episcopal church here until 1857, when the Rev. William Stone Chadwell began to hold services in the Baptist vestry on Green Street.
On November 4 of that year, Christ Church was established, with the Rev. Chadwell as its first rector. Wardens were Robert Ker and Gideon W. Stickney, and vestrymen were Winslow Bates, D.N. Clark and Theodore Cary.
Construction on the church building at 21 Key Street started that same month, and the cost for the small wooden church and the land was a little over $3,000. Money was raised with help coming from both within and outside the diocese, as well as from New Brunswick. The Rt. Rev. George Burgess, D.D., Bishop of Maine, consecrated the building on November 10, 1858, and confirmed eight people that same day. A parsonage was also built by the congregation on land adjoining the church. It was sold at the end of World War II and is now a private residence.
The Institute next to the church was built in 1901. While most Episcopalians call that multipurpose building attached to the church a “Parish Hall,” in Eastport it is called the “Institute.” Funds were provided by then Bishop Codman and $500 raised by the rector, the Rev. W.H. Bowers, who dedicated the building with the unlikely name of “Christ Church Institute.” No one has a good explanation for it or knows why that name was given.
But the Institute, as the name remained, has a real connection to the local community, hosting over the years parties of all kinds, theater cabaret style, many fundraisers, class reunions, wedding and funeral receptions, school plays, recitals, weekly games, memorial luncheons, quilting classes, garden club meetings and driver education classes. It has been used by a diverse group of community people such as the Boy Scouts, Young Marines, American Legion, Alcoholics Anonymous and Border Historical Society.
Lately the Institute has been the site of yearly Christmas Fairs and Strawberry Festivals, monthly breakfasts, fish chowder lunches on July 4 and dinners. We gather there every Sunday after church for coffee and good talk after the service and for occasional study or book groups. A few years ago we increased the size of our kitchen, a major source of good will and funds that will help us continue to remain a viable church community in the years to come.
This particular small parish has existed for more than 150 years, not only existed but is alive and well, viable and progressive. There is only one explanation possible: the people, congregation members and supporters local and nonlocal. As with any family, our church family has had ups and downs, joys and sorrows, difficult times, schisms and reconciliations, just plain luck and near miracles.
The physical church building was threatened during the winter of 1921-1922, due to fire from an overheated furnace, but the damage was repaired.
Seventy years later, in 1991, the old building was declared “unsafe” by the architect of the Diocesan Building Committee. Lacking financial resources, the parish was faced with the difficult choice of repairs estimated at $200,000 or building anew. Senior members opted for saving the building and began a letter writing campaign to other parishes named Christ Church in the United States and to former members. Thanks to those “Angels,” the aggregate sum of $37,000 was collected. Many members of the parish provided the skills and labor to make the building sound and safe again.
Since 1992 and in several different locations, our New to You Thrift Shop has provided clothing and small household items at very reasonable prices. These things have been given at no charge to persons in great need or those who have suffered fires. As members of the Greater Eastport Ecumenical Churches’ Association, we are part of the effort which sponsors the Labor of Love Nutrition Center, Garrapy Food Pantry, emergency heating assistance, ecumenical worship services and other good works in the area.
Beginning in 2000, the Institute was completely renovated with new underpinnings, a new floor, new windows given in memory of departed loved ones, and a completely new kitchen largely donated by senior church members.
In 2002 a vintage 1885 Kilgen tracker organ was purchased via EBay and shipped from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Eastport. The funds for initial refurbishment were mostly donated by a kind anonymous angel, and parishioners and community members helped the organ builder with cleaning the pipes and refinishing the case. The installed organ is a source of pride and joy, helping to elevate worship to a higher spiritual level.
We marked 150 years of existence in 2007 with a community celebration of the founding of Christ Church and the rededication of the church and its people, led by the Rt. Rev. Chilton R. Knudsen. This special group of people – through prayer and the giving of time, talent and treasure – continues the work begun in 1857 of providing an Episcopal presence in the city of Eastport.
Our parish is a small one, but our members represent the body of Christ as they give their time to local efforts, such as the library, volunteer fire department, Hospice, Eastport for Pride, Eastport Arts Center, Stage East, Border Historical Society, volunteering in the public schools, and community gardens. Christ Church is blessed to have a large number of friends in the community who support us in many ways.
We are especially grateful that the Holy Spirit still attends us and makes it possible to simply be.
Thanks be to God.
Authors: Tom Rostas, MD and Elsie O’Dell, with assistance from Kilby’s Passamaquoddy and Christ Church historical documents.