A Message With a Beat
"The Singing Church"
by Mike Bisceglia
Seacoast Scene, August 22, 2012
Not many churches in the world can boast of having a casino just across the street and a water slide park for a next door neighbor, but this church can.
Additionally, it can provide an experience that is spiritually uplifting often with a toe-tapping beat. It can offer a morning sermon with a musical backdrop. It is populated by a congregation that rejoices and does so with a song in its heart and on its lips. It's the Sunday morning service at the Hampton Beach Community Church, a.k.a., "The Singing Church."
Pastor Nick Gilbert loves to welcome all visitors to "The Singing Church."
Over a half-century ago, a summer visitor to the church was moved by the songs and the service. Leaving the building located at Ashworth Avenue and D Street, he was heard to have said, "Man, that's a singing church." The name stuck.
In 1920, a group of concerned individuals saw the need for a church not very far from the Casino, the heart of Hampton Beach. The Casino owner generously offered to have Sunday services in the Casino ballroom. In 1923, Mr. Lemuel Ring offered to build that structure for the United Church Association. Work began almost immediately. While the Ladies Aid organized and held bake sales to raise much-needed funds, the men whipped into action to dig the cellar, paint, handle the masonry work, and install the electrical system. The congregation officially opened the church doors at its current location on May 31, 1925.
In the 1930's the church enjoyed its greatest prosperity, but by the late 1970's church attendance had dwindled to 30-35. A search committee for a new pastor was formed and headed by Duane Windemiller. After several considerations, Windemiller suggested that his father might just be a perfect fit for the position. In fact, he was.
With a doctoral degree in philosophy and with the experience of a combat chaplain in the Korean conflict, "Windy" Windemiller was passionate about his pastorate. Whether is was Windemiller's keen sense of humor showing through in his Sunday sermons; the excellent singing provided by Anthony DiPietro or the musical skills of organist/pianist Ken Lang, the church-going community began to return.
In 1980, a church regular commented to Reverend Windemiller that no one on Ocean Boulevard could tell if the church was an old fort, an ice cream stand, or some sort of museum. The following week, Windemiller presented that individual with a catalogue of church steeples. In a matter of a few weeks, the church was an ice cream stand no more. The new and current steeple was affixed into place.
Sadly, Reverend Duane "Sacred Agent 007" Windemiller passed away. That doesn't mean that the joy of the 15-week summer season ended. Far from it!
These days, Pastor Nick Gilbert provides wonderful pastoral care to the community. Nick and his family live in Wellesley, MA.
Lloyd Owens is an amazing soloist. If one closes his or her eyes as Owens sings, one would swear that Johnny Mathis is there to share an hour with you. Owens and his family live in Manchester.
Joan Carroll is the organist/pianist. A graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, Mrs. Carroll is active in both theater and church presentations. She and her husband make their home in Newburyport, MA.
"We do more than sing and reflect on Nick's sermons," said Church Council member, Ed Sidon. "We're involved in our community. Why, we just finished celebrating 'Christmas in July.' In it, we decorate a Christmas tree we have placed on the front of the church. Our decorations are the donations made to the Christmas Fund, and that fund is donated to a number of local charities."
In addition to Christmas in July, the church members take great pride in working in local and regional soup kitchens during the winter months.
It is Sidon who "takes requests" following Pastor Gilbert's sermons. At that time, folks will call out their favorite spirituals. With Owens leading and Carroll playing, there is absolutely no chance for the congregation to nap in the pews.
For the record, not all of the songs that are requested or sung come from the Church's hymnals. Don't be surprised if you hear music by the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, or Neil Diamond.
Church service begins each week during the summer at 9:30 A.M.
If you go . . . be ready to sing!
The Board of Directors for the Hampton Beach Community Church includes: front row (l-4) Jessoe Buchanan, Elaine Fugere, Joan Carroll, and Doris Sidon. Second row (l-r): Ed Sidon, Vic Fugere, Pastor Nick Gilbert, Vocalist Lloyd Oliver, and Warren Buchanan.
Vocalist Lloyd Oliver and parishioner Evelyn Thornton
Pastor Duane Windemiller, a.k.a. "Windy" and Sacred Agent 007, relished his Sunday "Happy Hour" with all visitors to the church, and loved to fulfill the slogan from Psalm 68, "May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful."