Any history of Nauset Fellowship as a congregation is deeply entwined with that of the Chapel in the Pines. Today, the Chapel in the Pines, located at 220 Samoset Road in Eastham, is treasured by many as a beautiful “Carpenter Gothic” style Victorian church. But it was built in a spirit of rebellion, out of a desire to enjoy a different sort of worship.
The building had its origins in the growing desire by many late-19th century New Englanders to move away from the strictures of fundamentalist religion. Universalist Societies were providing a liberal alternative to rigidly conservative denominations. The Eastham Universalist Society was formed in August of 1889 and included in its membership such prominent local citizens as Sea Captain Edward Penniman and the Knowles and Nickerson families. Stories about its founding include nightmares experienced by Captain Penniman’s daughter following fire-and-brimstone sermons at the Methodist church and the arrest of local fishermen for the “sin” of fishing on the Sabbath. The movement to establish a proper home for the new Society was on!
One of the Nickersons donated a plot of land, and Captain Penniman chaired the building committee. Under the direction of Elkany Hopkins many Society members contributed long hours to the construction of the small, graceful building with its gothic-style stained-glass windows, steeply pitched roof and steeple, and welcoming entry porch. The building was completed in just five months.
Whether by design or accident, the vaulted ceiling of the sanctuary provides superb acoustics, praised by musicians as well as speakers. Since 1974, it has been the home of the First Encounter Coffeehouse hosting a wide variety of folk musicians and is known far and wide as one of the best spaces in which to perform. Various other community groups make use of this welcoming space for workshops and events, and it has always been a popular site for weddings and memorial services.
Following the merger of the Universalist and Unitarian denominations in 1961, the Eastham and Brewster “UU” congregations shared a minister. In 1971, the two parishes consolidated, with First Parish Brewster becoming the official owner of the Chapel in the Pines. By the mid-seventies, most church services were being held in Brewster and a decision was made to sell the Chapel.
Concerned for the future preservation of this Eastham landmark, a group of members founded the Nauset Fellowship and purchased the Chapel in 1979 with a loan from Cape Cod Five Cents Bank. The loan was paid back over many years with proceeds from weekly Chowder Suppers hosted by the fellowship.
In 2017 and 2018, the Chapel underwent its most recent renovation with money raised from neighbors and friends and two grants from the Town of Eastham’s Community Preservation Act funds. The recent renovation included restoring the wood shingled roof and steeple, construction of a commercial grade kitchen, installation of a handicapped accessible bathroom, and a pond-side deck, as well as improvements to the wheelchair ramp and adjacent parking. These upgrades, all reviewed by historic preservationists, have improved the chapel’s functionality in countless ways.