WAYLAND — It has been said that this little chapel near the lake has shown the true meaning of faith in a small community.
On July 25 from 5 to 7 p.m. there is an Ice Cream Social at Loon Lake Community Chapel, which supports the entire season the church is open. The church opens its doors at 10:30 a.m. every Sunday from the last week of June to Labor Day weekend. Everyone is encouraged to come to the social for local grown food and fresh baked goods. All funds are used to keep the church alive.
Janet Cragg, a trustee of the church council, wants everyone to be aware of this church she calls home, and comes back to every summer to worship. She has been going to the church since 1948.
“The reason the church is only open in the summertime is because there is no heating,” she said. “Not enough people come to the church to get heating put in. It is sad to see small churches get smaller and smaller in number. It is a clam pretty church that makes you feel like you are coming home.”
The church got its start in the 1840s; thanks to three brothers who heard God’s call to build a church in their sleepy little community.
James Brownson and his two brothers Elisha and Ira were all ministers who were sons of the first recorded settler of Loon Lake, Solomon Brownson.
It was meant to “be a place for public worship and remain free for all regularly authorized ministers and preachers of the gospel,” according to the brief history written on the church bulletin.
“Having a church was a big important thing back then,” Cragg said. “Everyone needed a gathering social place. The original church continued until 1913 and was closed down due to lack of people. The church was abandoned and hidden behind trees and grass for many many years. Homeless people would come along and stay the night in it. Lightning struck the roof and left a huge hole.”
For many all seemed lost but for a certain layman the restoration of a once loved church seemed entirely possible. In the summer of 1944 the church came back to life with a whole new message of faith.
In a short story written in 1960 by minister Ellis Pierce entitled “A Layman in my Life” the story goes that a gentleman by the name of Kenneth Downey was determined to breath new life into the little chapel. He sought the help from a local pastor, Ellis Pierce, to help make his dream for this important part of history come true.
“The sight that met my eyes quickly confirmed my original feeling of the impossibility of ever fulfilling his dreams,” Pierce writes. “In 1904 it was struck by lightning which shattered the huge roof-beams, and for some forty years it had been virtually abandoned, although a few funerals had been held from time to time.”
Pierce goes on to describe the decay of the structure and the heartache of seeing a once thriving church reduced to ruins and despair.
“The situation was hopeless. My layman had a beautiful dream, but it would never be a reality. But somehow, he saw more than I did. he had not only sight, but he also had insight. His was not merely a dream for he had a vision. He saw not the desolation of abandonment, but a beautiful country chapel, filled with a worshipping congregation,” he wrote in-depth about the process of restoration. “The next year a Church Society was organized. The carpenter who had worked the most on the project became our first moderator. He was the great-great-great grandson of James Brownson who had been the original carpenter. And I, the skeptic, the one who knew it couldn’t be done, have recently finished my fifteenth year as summer pastor.”
Pierce finishes his touching story with a profound message of faith.
“I know of no country church anywhere more lovely than this. And it is the result not of a great endowment, but of a great faith - the faith of one man who caught the vision- the faith of a community who shared it with him. Yes, it was fifteen years ago that a certain layman came into my life; and it was he who taught me the meaning of faith.”
Loon Lake Community Chapel has been rescued time and time again by people who share this faith. Pastor Frank Williams of Dansville is the newest one.
“I have led services there for about two summers now,” Pastor Williams said. “This will be my third one. The chapel has stood for about 168 years now. It is a nice experience because people come from all over to worship.
They come from the surrounding communities and the lake. Some people come just for the summer to worship with us.”
Pastor Williams is very blessed to be part of this rich history, and to be in a place where all walks of life are accepted.
“It really is a great community chapel,” he said. “It is captivating when you think about this little church surviving all those years. If someone steps down there is always someone there to rise up and fill the gap. The year I stepped in the gal who did the organ left so we needed to bring in music. For one year we had no one here for music so I brought in CDs and we sang along. Now we have people who stop in and do music for us.”
Pastor Williams recalls these are the moments that touch his heart.
“Houghton College has musicians from all over the world and they come to our chapel,” he said. “We have a wayland-Cohocton music teacher who plays for us, and every year the twins Bob and Bill Lewis play the trombone on Labor Day weekend. That is a tradition that has been going on for 30 some years.”
The moments that are truly uplifting to Pastor Williams is when the young musicians come in and praise God.
“It brings tears to my eyes to see the youngsters singing,” he said. “It brings a whole new air to the service. It gives it a hometown feel. It is a joy to see. I ball my eyes out to see kids lift up for the Lord. It touches my heart to see that faith. We are all children of God and it is very moving to watch. These are all very faithful people.”
For Pastor Williams the greatest thing about being a pastor at Loon Lake Community Chapel is there are no doctrinal boundaries.
“There are these little things that try to divide us as Christians,” he said. “Here people come from all different denominations to worship together and it is great to see. We all worship the same God, whether we are baptist, methodist, presbyterian, catholic, or episcopal so what is the difference? We all believe in God, and in Jesus Christ. We all believe in the resurrection and he walked on water and spoke to thousands.”
“There are no stumbling blocks,” Pastor Williams continued. “There are a 110 different ways to worship, but it is nice to see everyone come together. That is what this little church teaches us. There is a comfort found at Loon Lake Chapel. If you close the door on one person you divide God’s people. It is open to anyone … let God’s children worship Him.”
The big cemetery you pass on the way to the chapel holds the final resting place of all those who started this dream to bring all of God’s people together. For Cragg, Pastor Williams, the late Kenneth Downey, and the late Ellis Pierce there is hope that where one hears God’s calling the others will follow.