Union Congregational Church

IAHChurchThe Union Congregational Church of Isle au Haut, Maine was founded in 1857 on the outermost island in Penobscot Bay. The steepled church building was constructed by residents of the island in that year, set high on a hill overlooking the village and Thoroughfare. The Reverend Joshua Eaton was the first pastor, and there were seven original members, five of them named Turner. From its early years the church was often served by visiting ministers, missionaries, and seminarians preaching for a few weeks at a time—thirty-five of them in forty-three years. In 1907, the minister was a woman ordained in Nebraska. The Reverend Frank Snell served as both minister and physician from 1914 until his death in 1926. During his tenure, a new house was built to serve as both parsonage and doctor’s office. The church was incorporated in 1931.

Summer residents arrived by the 1880s as the local economy began to decline, and land ownership shifted substantially. In 1943, about half of the Island became part of Acadia National Park.

After World War II, the church became seasonal, hosting ministers who were usually on vacation from their regular parishes. Ever since then, the Maine Sea Coast Missionary Society has provided services outside of the summer season. In 1941 the Reverend Fred Hoskins became the summer minister, arriving for the first time with his family, including his eight-year-old son Ted. Fred Hoskins returned to preach for four or five years, and his family made it their permanent vacation home. From 1957 to 1961 Fred Hoskins oversaw the establishment of the United Church of Christ as one of its first two co-presidents. He later became the General Secretary of the Council of Christian Churches.

After his son Ted Hoskins became the senior minister of a U.C.C. church in Connecticut in 1961, he too began preaching at Isle au Haut, gradually negotiating a more extended leave in order to serve as the Island’s resident summer minister. A year after his retirement in 1994, he became the Minister of the Outer Islands on the Sunbeam, the mission boat of the Maine Seacoast Mission. Throughout his career he continued his role in the Church at Isle au Haut until his retirement in 2013. Retired Episcopalian Bishop Robert Dewitt lived on the Island year-round through the 1970s and 1980s: he occasionally preached in the Church as needed during those years.

When the summer people’s morning service merged with the year-round residents’ evening service, an unusual order of service evolved. On a typical Sunday, after any children in attendance help to ring the opening bell, a hymn sing follows with spontaneous requests by the congregation for favorite hymns. A weekly children’s sermon has been popular with children and adults. Music is provided by volunteers: a few summer residents can play the organ, and visiting musicians occasionally perform while they are on the Island.

During the 1970s, the Church at Isle au Haut led a concerted effort to revive the year-round community. The Church started a Community Development Fund, which facilitated a power company bringing electricity to the Island in 1971. This fund also made microloans, supported the Island store, and sent local children to camp. More recently, the Church and the Maine Seacoast Mission have co-sponsored a weekly series of free community suppers at The Island Store.

A few years ago, an important gift of land was made to the Church, including a large part of the coastline of Long Pond. Part of this property has been transferred to the Town of Isle au Haut as a public beach. In collaboration with the National Park and the Isle au Haut Land Conservation Trust, an easement has been placed on the remainder of this coastline, preserving one of the most beautiful and prominent views enjoyed by everyone on the Island.

The sanctuary building has been restored within the past decade, and the field in front of the Church has been reopened to clear the view of the Church, which stands above the village as a prominent landmark. Visitors are welcome throughout the summer.