On Sunday, September 3, the Little River Lighthouse hosted its first-ever church service in the 159-year history of the historic light station.
Over 50 people from the small Downeast community of Cutler, Maine, along with a number of volunteers of the American Lighthouse Foundation, boated to the 15-acre island in the Bay of Fundy for a Sunday morning church service held by the Cutler United Methodist Church.
"This is a dream come true for me," said 79-year-old Hal Biering, a lighthouse volunteer from Alabama, who has been coming to Maine for the past four summers along with his wife Betty, to work on the restoration of the endangered lighthouse. Biering said he has been talking to Pastor David Arruda and other church leaders about having a Sunday worship service on the island for some time, but wanted to wait until restoration was nearly complete and at a stage when people could visit the island safely.
As the day planned for the service approached, he and others listened intently to the weather reports about Tropical Storm Ernesto as it worked its way up the Atlantic seaboard and the weather reports called for a rainy Sunday. Biering said, "Pastor Arruda's prayers were heard and the day for the service was picture perfect. In fact, it can't get much better up here than this, especially in an area that's known for its fog."
A portable organ and sound system brought to the island helped to deliver the message from Pastor Arruda as he spoke of the correlation of religion and lighthouses. This was the first time Pastor Arruda, who commutes nine hours each way every week to give Sunday services in the tiny community, had ever given a sermon on an island or at a lighthouse. For the occasion he wore a new robe that was donated by lighthouse volunteer Hal Biering.
Most of the congregation was ferried to the island by local tour boat operator and lobsterman Andy Patterson. Upon arriving at the island, some of the elderly members were given a ride on a trailer pulled by the lighthouse tractor to the other side of the 15-acre island where the church service was conducted with the picturesque lighthouse tower as a back-drop.
For many of the people who attended the church service it was their very first visit to the island lighthouse. However, for those who had been there before, when it was in a state of collapse and overgrown with trees, they were amazed at the difference. One church parishioner exclaimed, "I would never have believed this was possible, the restoration is so complete! The many volunteers of the American Lighthouse Foundation have done an outstanding job and Hal Biering, the man from Alabama, who spent four summers working here should get some kind of an award for his skill and dedication."
The island lighthouse has close ties to the community of Cutler with many descendants of the last U. S. Lighthouse Service keeper Willie Corbett still living in the town who are members of the church. Many of them attended the service, including 90-year old Neil Corbett, who spent 16 years of his life on the island, leaving when he joined the Army prior to the outbreak of World War II. Delia Farris, Willie Corbett's granddaughter, rowed her boat to the island, a tradition started many years ago by her mother Ruth Corbett Farris who grew up on the island.
Delia Farris mentioned that not only was this the first church service ever held on the island, but it was also the birthday of Willie Corbett, the last Lighthouse Service keeper of Little River Lighthouse who served there from 1921 to 1939. Pastor Arruda then added that it was also the birthday of Tim Harrison, president of the American Lighthouse Foundation, who was in attendance at the church service and is the person who led the drive to save and restore the endangered lighthouse, to which, the organist, Ruth Farris, without any prompting, started playing Happy Birthday to Harrison, as everyone joined in with song.
Most appropriately the church service ended with the congregation singing the old hymn, "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning."
This story appeared in the
November 2006 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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