The way I figure it, church is where you find it.
Now, right off the bat, I don’t want anyone to get me wrong: if inside four walls with stained glass windows and a steeple overhead is where you need to be to get right with yourself, then that’s cool.
But maybe sitting on a bluff overlooking the bay is the thing that does it for you. That’s cool, too.
Or tucked behind the wheel with a bowl of stars above you.
Or perched in the top of a tree.
Or dancing your ass off, lost in the depths of a second-set jam.
Or half-asleep in a chair, toes to the woodstove and a lapful of cat.
You get it now, right? You know where I’m coming from. So please don’t mistake any of this as a show of impiety or sacrilege … it’s just my opinion of the way things work – or better yet: an explanation of how it works for me.
So, yeah: I figure church is where you find it.
There’s an old building on the water side of Main Street in Stonington, ME that’s been my brother Stevie’s shop for 40-something years. Since Stevie moved in, it’s been full of lobster gear: rope, buoys, traps and such. Prior to that, it was the liquor store – the liquor store. That was all we had on Deer Isle back then: the grocery stores sold beer and wine (and vanilla extract), but if you wanted to buy hard liquor, you had to go to the state-owned store between 9 AM and 5 PM … which required some thinking ahead. Eventually, the local grocery stores were allowed to sell hard booze themselves, which took a lot of pressure off local drinkers.
I spent about as much time inside the walls of Stevie’s shop in my teens and twenties as I did any other building I know – or at least any that’s still standing, as the house we grew up in is long gone. The walls of the shop are covered with artifacts – as close to a scrapbook as either Stevie or I have, I guess. There are magic-markered messages and important measurements; curled and faded photographs; clippings of obituaries and news items; drawings, paintings, sculptures; an array of tools and gizmos and parts and pieces that document the shop’s change from the age of wooden lobster traps (what I grew up with: hammers, bandsaw blades, rasps) to wire ones (pliers, cutters, bungee cord); and a bigger-than-life-size poster of Jim Marshall’s iconic photo of Johnny Cash giving the camera the finger.
Me, I live on dry land these days, of course. But my brother Stevie – who will turn 70 on Christmas Eve day this year – still goes lobstering (inshore rather than trips offshore like we used to do in the old days). Stevie begins just about every day of his life hours before sunrise – and it’s either a chance to go down the bay or else he heads down the island to the shop. Even Sundays – including the summer months when you can’t go to haul by law – Stevie’s up early and if he’s not on the boat, he’s at the shop.
His buddies – many of them lobstermen themselves, but not all – are those same sorts of creatures of early-morning habit and rituals. Many of them would be around the waterfront on Sundays, just like my brother – and where his shop was right on the main drag, it became a place to stop in. Over the years, the Sunday morning shop sessions began to be fairly well-attended, in fact.
At some point, someone referred to it as “Church” – as in “Sunday morning? Oh, I’m going to Church.” And there it was.
What goes on in Church, you ask?
Stories (sometimes outright lies) are told; there might be gut-twisting laughter; there might be gut-wrenching sadness when the loss of a friend is acknowledged. Memories (whether they happened or not) are shared; predictions are made; the world gets ironed out. And sometimes there’s music, as it’s never far away in that part of the world.
My wife Tigger and I live a couple hours down the coast from Stonington these days, but we go back to sop up some Island when we can. Over the years, I’d often bring a guitar with me and have a tune with Stevie at the shop. Other guys started bringing their own instruments now and then. A year or so ago, Stevie convinced a lobstering buddy from Vinalhaven to make the run over to Stonington by boat with his bass and amp.
And all of a sudden, when all the players happened to be gathered in the shop on the same Sunday morning, we were really making some joyful noise.
Now, take note about that “happened” part: there’s not much planning or scheduling to any of this. There are no setlists or whatever, either. To try to put it in a box would take the life right out of it.
It is what it is.
This is Church.