EASTHAM — The Chapel in the Pines renovation was completed last Saturday as George Koeber and Paul Collins installed the final piece of the project — a copper steeple cap. The drawing for the piece was made by Ruben Valenzuela of Eastham’s Peter McDonald Architect firm, based on an old photo from the Eastham Historical Society. It was fabricated by Cape Cod Copper in Lakeville.
The renovation was “a wonderful reflection of our community spirit,” said Laura Roskos, president of the Nauset Fellowship, which owns the chapel. “The people we needed to get it done stepped forward. It’s been really reassuring and a blessing and buoyed us up every step of the way.”
Built in 1889 in the “Carpenter Gothic” style, the chapel was originally built by and for the Eastham Universalist Society, a group of townspeople seeking a more progressive kind of worship than what was on offer at the local Methodist church at the time, according to Fellowship co-founder and vice president Bob Seay. Part of that legend, he said, is that the movement became more popular after the arrest of local fishermen for the “sin” of fishing on the Sabbath.
In 1971, the Universalists here combined with the Unitarians in Brewster, and with most church services being held in that town, the Eastham chapel was put up for sale. The Nauset Fellowship, formed to preserve the landmark building, purchased it in 1979.
By then, the chapel had already become the home of the First Encounter Coffeehouse and was hosting a wide variety of folk musicians, who, Seay said, still appreciate its acoustics. John Hartford came to play one evening and stayed for a whole week, Seay said, telling him the chapel had “the best acoustics since the Ryman Auditorium” — the original Grand Ole Opry House.
Seay said the reasons the room sounds so good remain elusive. He notes the chapel was built in the same year as Symphony Hall in Boston, also known for its excellent acoustics. Whatever the reasons, the result, said Seay, is that musicians tell him they can hear everything when they play in the space. “It’s like singing in the shower,” he said, “which lets us downplay amplification and let the room do the work.”
The chapel is used by various community groups and still serves its purpose as a house of worship of a progressive sort — with no minister, prayers, or hymns, said Seay. During the pandemic, the fellowship still gathers every Sunday at 10 a.m. “We learned we don’t have to have a building to have a church,” said Seay, “but it’s good to have both.”
The renovations cost about $390,000 and included, besides the steeple cap, restoring the wood-shingled steeple itself and the roof, upgrading the kitchen, installing an accessible bathroom and deck, and making other improvements to accessibility.
The project was paid for through two Eastham Community Preservation Act grants totaling $290,000, with the balance raised through about 400 to 500 donations, noted Roskos.