Gosport Chapel Candlelight Services – Star Island, Isles of Shoals

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Gosport Chapel, Daylight

“Affirming the Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person”

Crowning Star Island’s highest point of land is a simple stone meetinghouse, built in 1800. It is the third such structure to stand on this site. The first was built in about 1685, the second in 1720 from the timbers of a Spanish ship. Each meetinghouse has served the Islanders according to their needs, as chapel, schoolhouse, town meeting hall, courthouse, and even as a storehouse.

Today, candlelight services are a cherished Star Island tradition. At the close of each day, Shoalers gather at the foot of the hill and form a procession, carrying candle lanterns as the villagers of long ago carried their whale-oil lamps up the same winding path to the meetinghouse. Inside the chapel, the candle lanterns are hung on brackets from the walls, providing the only source of light.

At the Natural History Conference, we have a Unitarian Universalist minister of the week, who conducts a Sunday service, and daily 20-minute morning services. The evening candlelight services are lay-led by Natural History conferees, who choose their own topics, with topics ranging from long-lasting friendships to personal and spiritual growth to the importance of Star Island in their lives, to name a few.

Gosport Chapel, Evening

The Tradition of Candlelight

We each cherish in our family life our own traditional observances of certain days and events. As our children grow to maturity and make their own homes, these customs are carried on and grow more meaningful because of the memories they evoke. On the great Shoals family, one of our best-loved traditions is the Candlelight Service. Three churches have been built on the Island, the first two of wood and then our little stone Chapel, which for more than a century and three quarters has stood firm through the fury of storms which lash these islands in winter.

It was 135 years after the first church was built before there was a lighthouse in this region. In the days when Gosport was a thriving fishing village, it was the custom of the people to go up to the little church at night, not only to pray for the fisherman whose boats had not returned, but to hang their lanterns on the wooden crosses so that the light might shine out to sea to guide the men to port.

It was a natural and fitting thing that, nearly a century ago, after Star Island became a conference center, the Candlelight Service as we now observe it became an established custom.

Each night, at the appointed hour, we gather at the end of the porch, forming in double lines, to receive our candles. At the sound of the Chapel bell, we climb the path in silence, remembering that no word is spoken, except for the words of the service, from the time we leave the porch until we return to it.

Many great religious leaders have spoken from Gosport Chapel’s pulpit. Many with no claim to fame have been privileged to lead the service. To the Old Shoalers, it is rich in association.

Over the years, people from many countries have taken part in and have carried away with them the memory of an impressive experience. The setting, which has no counterpart anywhere in the world, the simple service, and the quiet earnestness of the worshippers, create an unforgettable experience.

We like to think — and we know that it is so — that men, women, and young people have gone out from our Chapel to meet their problems, carrying in their hearts something of the strength of the granite, something of the peace and quiet they have found within these walls. To our Shoalers, we say, “Yours is the privilege of helping to keep the continuity in the line of worshippers reaching over long years, to share in and contribute to the beauty of the Candlelight at the Shoals. May it be to you a significant part of your week here, and become a lasting and treasured memory.”

Gosport Chapel, Evening

And so, each night, at the sound of the Chapel bell, we will climb the path in silence, remembering that no word is spoken save the words of the service, from the time the first person leaves the porch, until the last person in line has returned to it.

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