TRURO — The Chapel on the Pond, which has hosted a growing, mostly Jamaican congregation since Pastor David Brown began to lead services there in 2017, must close its doors at the end of March.
News of the impending closure came in a notice from property owners Bob and Kathy Valleau, itinerant evangelists who, according to a Jan. 15 email to the Independent, had just arrived at their home in Vail, Colo. after an 8,545-mile tour they began in September.
Pastor Brown’s announcement of the Valleaus’ decision during Sunday services on Jan. 14 shocked and riveted the congregation.
That day’s services had been characteristically animated, with music filling the space. After adult Sunday school wrapped up in the morning, the pews filled for hours of singing worship. Voices bolstered by guitarist Derick Landley and drummer Alexander Edwards claimed the nave, and parishioners moved with the music, raising hands and calling out in harmony.
The chapel pulsed with more life than can be found anywhere else in Truro at this time of year. By noon, when Pastor Brown gave churchgoers the sobering news, close to 50 people, from babies to the elderly, were there.
“Don’t let this deter you, don’t let this frighten you,” Brown told his congregation before reading from the Valleaus’ letters. But as he read, a deep silence fell over the pews. Those assembled shook their heads in what appeared to be a mixture of disbelief and mourning.
Brown received a first letter from the Valleaus on Jan. 2 announcing their decision to close the church.
“As owners of the Chapel we are entering our 80s this year and have been considering future plans for the property,” they wrote. “For this reason, we are sad to announce our decision to close the Chapel on the Pond in January 2024 and begin the process of prayerfully repurposing 17 Pond Road.”
The Valleaus are the founders and operators of Boathouse Ministries, a nonprofit organization that, according to its website, “exists to serve, to encourage others to seek God, to build up, to foster community, and to love.”
As the leaders of Boathouse Ministries, the Valleaus blog about their yacht-based missionary travels, which they call “a voyage of evangelism and adventure aboard the Vesper.” Their most recent post, dated July 8, 2023, described their time in Tel Aviv’s Marina Herzliya. They had previously been in Malta.
The Valleaus bought 17 Pond Road in 2009. It had been a Catholic church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The Valleaus renamed it Chapel on the Pond.
After “a little persuasion and asking,” Brown said, the Valleaus agreed to postpone the chapel’s closure until late March. From March 3 to 10, the congregation will hold its annual “week of crusade,” which Brown said is one of the community’s biggest events.
The delay will also, he hopes, buy him and the rest of the congregation some time to find a new place to worship.
In a Jan. 15 email to the Independent, Kathy Valleau wrote that “God-willing we will continue to travel but much less. Our evangelism is our lifestyle. God is at the center of our lives, and we share that fact everywhere we go, on land and sea.”
On Monday this week, David Brown said he was still receiving messages of despair from the church community. “I’m learning how disappointed most of the parishioners were,” he said. “I didn’t realize that it would hit them that hard.”
Many of the congregants, Brown said, “were raised in a church that is somewhat hand-clapping, foot-stamping, lively, spirited, and they’ve been looking for a church like this in this region for the longest while.”
The Chapel on the Pond seemed like a godsend. “And now that it is taken away from them, and they’re stripped of this, it’s disappointing,” Brown said.
Angela Straw-Campbell, who holds various leadership positions at the chapel including superintendent and teacher of its Sunday school, was among the church officers who were notified of the chapel’s closure a week before the rest of the congregation in a meeting with Pastor Brown.
“I was so shocked, I couldn’t even find words to speak,” Straw-Campbell said about the moment she learned the chapel would close. Straw-Campbell is from Jamaica but has lived in Truro since 2015 and has attended Chapel on the Pond since 2017, when Brown took over as pastor.
“It’s my world,” Straw-Campbell said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself on a Sunday. I live for church.”
Pastor Susan Grant agreed. “It was devastating news to me,” she said. “But I know God does nothing without having a plan.”
The Valleaus, it seems, have had in mind a plan to close the church for some time.
In a second letter to Pastor Brown dated Jan. 6, the Valleaus wrote that the decision to close “was considered, prayed upon for at least the last three years, and agreed to by the Board members of Boathouse Ministries and other mentors whom we have known and trusted for the last 15 years.”
Learning this, several members of the church leadership wondered why they had not been notified sooner and given more time to prepare.
Asked why they hadn’t told Pastor Brown sooner about the impending closure, Kathy Valleau wrote to the Independent that she and her husband had “explored multiple succession plans for Boathouse Ministries,” but “none of these plans have proved viable.”
Both Grant and Pastor Brown’s wife, Pastor Carlene Brown, said they felt “betrayed” by the Valleaus’ announcement.
“When we came here, there were maybe four or five people,” Carlene Brown said. “And then after we took over, the numbers of the church grew.”
“Exponentially,” Grant added.
Part of Carlene Brown’s sense of betrayal, she said, has to do with tithes and offerings, which get collected weekly at chapel services. This past weekend, congregants proceeded as usual to the front of the room pew by pew to make their cash offerings.
The money goes to the Valleaus — ostensibly to support the church, though where it ends up is something of a mystery to the churchgoers.
Pastor Brown said the lack of transparency makes him uncomfortable. “When a person becomes a member of the church, they automatically become a full part and parcel of the congregation and have a right to every affair of the church,” he said. “And they should be updated. They should be informed.
“Sometimes questions are asked, and I just can’t answer them, and that’s where the discomfort comes in,” he said.
Several church officers said they were not sure about the trajectory of tithe funds, assuming that some of that money goes to landscaping and utility bills. Brown said that the Chapel on the Pond does not have a bank account of its own. Donated funds go instead to Boathouse Ministries.
According to the Valleaus, the offerings collected do not fund their travels aboard the Vesper, a Nordhavn 68 model yacht that is 68 feet long. That model is generally priced at between $3 million and $5 million.
“All the money collected at weekly offerings goes exclusively to fund Chapel operations and programs,” Kathy Valleau wrote in an email. She listed several activities that the chapel hosts, including free concerts and a blueberry festival. She also wrote that the church donates to the Dexter Keezer Fund, the Truro Library, and to GoFundMe campaigns for parishioners’ funerals.
“It was late that I realized that this church was just the feeder church to the Boathouse Ministries,” Brown said.
In the Valleaus’ Jan. 6 letter, they wrote, “We believe that Boathouse Ministries, with God’s help, has accomplished all that we are able beginning with the vision of ‘reclaiming a church for Jesus Christ’ and bringing the love and knowledge of Jesus Christ into the Pond Village area.” They also claimed to have “seeded” at least two new churches, “including the Faith Emmanuel Church you are building.”
On Jan. 2, the same day Brown first got word of the chapel’s impending closure, he also heard from the IRS that his own ministry, Emmanuel Faith, had been approved as a nonprofit. That ministry is based in the church that Brown grew up in in Jamaica, also called Emmanuel Faith. Honoring that past by establishing a ministry here has been part of Brown’s ambition as a pastor for years.
The Valleaus’ claim to have been in any way involved in Emmanuel Faith was “crazy,” Brown said. “They’re trying to take credit for something that is not theirs; they don’t even know anything about it.”
Brown forwarded the Emmanuel Faith Ministry bylaws to the Independent; they establish the congregation’s right to hold church leadership to account.
In her Jan. 15 email, Kathy Valleau wrote that she and her husband had decided to close the church “in order to simplify our lives. Becoming octogenarians, living out of state, and finding it harder and harder to spend quality time at the Chapel are factors.”
Plans for the “prayerful repurpose” of the property are still unclear. “We closed to give ourselves the time to pray and consult God as to His plans for the property,” Valleau wrote.
Pastor Brown said that the Valleaus have spoken to him about the property’s value, estimating it at between $600,000 and $1 million.
“We believe that after six years of growth at the Chapel Pastor Brown has a sufficient following to be able to fund a new long-term location in which to meet,” Valleau wrote to the Independent.
And to Pastor Brown, they wrote: “We pray you the very best outcome with your search for a new church home, a successful Crusade and a sacred celebration of the Easter season.”
But spacious locations can be hard to come by in Truro.
Straw-Campbell, who’s already dreading her empty Sundays, does not want to settle for virtual services. “We can have online church, but it won’t be the same,” she said.
“Give me an empty space, and I can get people to come in and worship God,” Brown said.