Our church began in 1988, when a handful of people formed the Episcopal Church Group of Scarborough. Our dream was to create an Episcopal Church presence between Portland and Saco. The Diocese offered us a home in an unused summer chapel, St. John’s-by-the-Sea in Old Orchard Beach. The group met there through one winter, relishing the beachstone fireplace but not the exorbitant costs of heating and maintaining the tired, unwinterized chapel.
St. John’s-by-the-Sea, Old Orchard Beach
First Home of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, 1988-1989
In 1989, the growing church, by then named for St. Nicholas, patron saint of seafarers and children, began to rent space at Blue Point Congregational Church in Scarborough. A vibrant vicar, Rev. Gil Birney, came to lead the flock, and we grew steadily over the next ten years. Christkindlsmarkt and the beach baptism became traditions during this time, and members grew a church garden to supply vegetables for the soup kitchen in Portland.
Blue Point Congregational Church, Scarborough
Second Home of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, 1989-1999
Our namesake Bishop Nicholas visiting in December.
Always, though, the parish’s dream was to be a visible, accessible Episcopal church serving the Scarborough area. Finally, after much searching and praying, a suitable Route One lot came on the market, and we bought it. It included a flat-roofed, sagging building that over the years had been a restaurant, a furniture store, and the Wet, Wild, and Wonderful hot tub shop.
The Former “Tub Shop”
Third Home of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, 1999-2004
Gladly, the congregation spruced up the place and moved in. Member Josiah Adams recorded our Pentecost caravan crossing the marsh in a drawing that now hangs just inside the sanctuary doorway. The Sunday school children made a large yellow banner that hung behind the altar for our five years in the tub shop, God’s Spirit Lives Here.
Then Vicar Gil left St. Nick’s to pursue another vocation. Led by an interim minister, the Rev. John Widdows, and our intrepid deacon, Rev. Jeffrey Ferguson, the congregation continued in the tub shop, developing an informal, innovative worship style; working faithfully to keep the place together; and raising money to construct a new building before the old one was condemned. Once, while I was teaching Sunday school in the tub shop, a child’s crayon rolled under the wall and onto the pavement outside!
St. Nicholas Episcopal Church
350 U.S. Route One, Scarborough
Finally, this church home was completed in 2004. Members had a hand in all aspects of it, from the design to the décor. Over several Saturdays, members worked to “pickle” all the boards that form the sanctuary ceiling: brushing on paint and wiping each board down with a rag. The walls framing the altar were painted in gold leaf by members. All the rooms were painted and furnished by members. An anonymous gift allowed us to build the education wing soon after moving into the new building.
At St. John’s and Blue Point Congregational, the windows were made of colored glass. The interiors were dim and traditionally oriented, with rows of pews. Our architect and Building Committee envisioned something different: an accessible, light-filled space connected to God’s world outside. The vaulted ceiling is reminiscent of a ship’s hull. In the cupola and over the doors in the sanctuary, the windowpanes are joined by crosses of wood. Above the altar, a triangular window draws our eyes to the sky and reminds us of the Trinity: God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
The weather vane on the roof was designed for us by a Maine craftsman and shows a ship from St. Nicholas’s time, sailing bravely into the future. It fits the spirit of our letterhead: “Honoring the past, welcoming the future.” In the Episcopal tradition, our front doors are painted a bright, welcoming red.
Altar and cross in St. Nick’s sanctuary
Our altar and cross have journeyed with us. The cross is from the Blue Point days, when Vicar Gil made it to take to the beach baptism. Beavers on his farm had cut the sticks, which still show the marks of their teeth, and Gil bound them into a cross with baling twine from his barn. The altar was built by an early member of the church, the podium by another member’s father.
The deacon’s bench in the hall was given in memory of Deacon Jeff, who died just a few months after we moved in here. Her photo stands by the bench. The banner over the bench, “Love One Another,” was made by Paula Atkinson in memory of Bud Horton. Shelton Brooks gave the chairs in memory of his wife, Hope, to the glory of God. I like to think that we sit in Hope’s chairs as we worship and pray here.
In 2008, we welcomed a new priest, the Rev. Eckart Horn, who became a beloved spiritual leader of St. Nick’s. Tragically, he died of a heart attack in November, 2010. The Rev. Roy Partridge, who continues to attend St. Nick’s, and our own clergy members of the congregation, with support from the Bishop’s office, carried us through the sad months that followed.
In August 2011, we welcomed our current priest, the Rev. David S. Heald, a marvelous spiritual leader for our parish.
Baptism on the beach has been a September tradition.
Our lovely prayer garden in the back yard was donated by the Scarborough Garden Club. A Scarborough Girl Scout troop planted the butterfly gardens outside the sanctuary windows. These and many other groups, including AA and Hospice of Southern Maine, have met at St. Nick’s. The Don Martin Classic Golf Tournament, held for six years in memory of a member of St. Nick’s, raised thousands of dollars for the church and for Project G.R.A.C.E. (Granting Resources and Assistance through Community Effort), which supports our Scarborough neighbors in need of a helping hand.
In 2010, we opened Sandpiper Children’s Center, a faith-based childcare center that serves local families and helps sustain the church financially. Sandpiper operates Monday through Friday, filling the building with life and love all week. St. Nick’s has indeed become the visible, vibrant Episcopal Church its founding members envisioned.
It is the people of St. Nick’s who make it such a wonderful place to worship and grow in the love of God. Welcome to our church family!