CAROGA LAKE - For many summertime residents of this area, a little red chapel in the woods is their house of worship away from home.
Just off Route 10, a stone's throw from the shore of West Caroga Lake, the Caroga Evangelical Chapel is an unassuming building with a big mission - to provide a religious venue for people in a rural area where churches are few and far between.
"A lot of churches are closing," says Jack DeWeese, president of the chapel's board of trustees. "That bothers me a great deal, because faith is such an important part of our lives - at least it is for me."
The Rev. Jack Millard and worshipers sing a hymn during the June 30 service at the Caroga Evangelical Chapel. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Ackerbauer)
But the Caroga Chapel, celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, is still going strong.
"The concept of a summer chapel ... started with Sunday meetings held in various cottages on the Caroga Lakes prior to the summer of 1922," according to a pamphlet about the history of the chapel. The original trustees formed their organization that year and erected the structure in 1923.
The winter of 1971 was a low point in the history of the chapel, as heavy snowfall that season resulted in the total collapse of the building. But the chapel was rebuilt and opened for services that same summer.
Since the Catholic Church in Caroga closed several years ago, the North Bush United Methodist Church has been the only year-round house of worship in the town.
The chapel's opening service of the season, on June 23, was led by the Rev. Kathy Reese, pastor of both the North Bush and Bleecker Community United Methodist Churches.
Reese, who has led the chapel's season-opening service for the last three years, describes the atmosphere during worship as "lighthearted and joyful."
"It's just a pleasure to meet the different people in the area,"?she said. "The services are a whole lot of fun."
She said her congregation at North Bush and the chapel organization have sought ways to strengthen their association. For example, the chapel hosts evening concerts by Durey Creek, a bluegrass and gospel band whose members attend North Bush.
"We've had a wonderful relationship with them," Reese said of the chapel trustees.
The population of Caroga Lake grows from fewer than 1,000 in the colder months to more than 8,000 in the summer, DeWeese said, and the chapel typically attracts 120 or more people for its nondenominational Protestant services.
He estimated three-quarters of those in attendance are seasonal residents, while the remainder are year-round residents.
Each Sunday's 10:30 a.m. service is preceded by a hymn-singing session at 10:15 a.m.
"That's a big draw - a lot of people come for that,' said DeWeese, who led the singing last Sunday, encouraging worshipers to call out the numbers of their favorite selections from the hymnal.
The chapel has a new guest pastor each week, representing several Protestant denominations, including the Methodist, Lutheran and Reformed faiths. Some, like Reese, have local ties, while others come from farther afield.
"They come from California, Texas, Michigan, New Jersey, Florida ... they've come from all over," DeWeese said. The ministers are paid a stipend and allowed the week's use of a three-bedroom cottage that was acquired by the chapel organization for this purpose in 1978.
Many of the guest pastors return for several years in a row, but the roster always changes a bit from year to year, keeping the lineup fresh. Services also feature music by choirs, soloists and instrumental ensembles from around the area.
Last Sunday, the service was led by the Rev. Jack Millard, a former pastor of the Reformed Churches of Johnstown and Fonda who now lives in Michigan. Millard spoke about the importance of honoring military veterans and shared an interpretation of the biblical story of Jonah and the whale.
In addition to paying the ministers and providing for general upkeep, collections taken during services at the chapel support several charitable missions: a Bible translation project; Heifer International, which provides livestock animals to young farmers in developing nations; and George McGovern's Athletes in Action organization, which promotes Christian family values and sportsmanship in New York City. McGovern, who serves as chaplain to the New York Giants and New York Yankees, will be the guest pastor at the Caroga Chapel on Aug. 25.
DeWeese, who has served on the chapel board of trustees since 1996 and has been its president since 2006, said he hopes the chapel continues to maintain a meaningful religious presence in the community for years to come.
"The people are very, very nice - the people on the board and the people who come to services," DeWeese said. "Getting the young people to come - that's the challenge."
Schedule of services
The ministers and musical guests scheduled for the remaining services this season at the Caroga Chapel are as follows:
- Today - the Rev. Samuel Pomper, specialized interim minister, Reformed Church in America, with music by Greg Thomas of Johnstown.
- July 14 - The Rev. Joseph Santomen, former pastor of the United Methodist Church of Stongsville, Ohio, with music by Don Shearer.
-?July 21 - The Rev. Laurie Garramone, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Johnstown, with music by St. John's Quintet.
- July 28 - The Rev. Karl Schuler, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church of Woodbridge, Va., with music by the Caroga Chapel Choir.
- Aug. 4 - Tom Flander Jr., preaching elder with the Schoharie Classis of the Reformed Church in America, with music by the Foothills United Methodist Church Choir.
- Aug. 11 - The Rev. Karen Patterson, former pastor of the Reformed Church of Fonda, with music by the Fleur de Lys Duet.
- Aug. 18 - The Rev. Jeremy Mulder, pastor of Restore Church of North Haledon, N.J., with music by the Sentimentalists.
- Aug. 25 - George McGovern, New York Metro Area director of Athletes in Action and chapel coordinator for the New York Giants and the New York Yankees, with music by the St. John's Bell Choir.
- Sept. 1 - The Rev. Dr. Earl Johnson, former pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Johnstown, with music by Tor Shekerjian, flutist.
Features Editor Bill Ackerbauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.