Garden Side Chat with Bill Evertsberg—August 5

Bill checks in from Northport Point, Michigan, where he has been the August chaplain for 25 years, to show the chapel from which he preaches and share some poetry on “The Peace of Wild Things.”

25th Anniversary at Atwill Memorial Chapel in Northport Point, Michigan

Hi friends, my name is Bill Evertsberg and I’m one of the ministers at Kenilworth Union Church, and this is Doogie, my assistant minister. I also happen to be the August chaplain at Atwill Memorial Chapel in Northport Point, Michigan. Northport Point sits on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula, the pinky of Michigan’s hand. This is Grand Traverse Bay right here. Lake Michigan and Detroit’s down here.

In the nineteenth century, this whole area was home to the Grand Traverse band of Ottawa Chippewa native peoples, and there’s still a very substantial presence around here, but near the end of the nineteenth century, urbanites started migrating here from big Midwest cities like Chicago and Detroit and Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. In 1898, six families of those urbanites purchased a land that would later become Northport Point, and what’s fun about this is that Northport Point is a tiny little peninsula that sticks into Grand Traverse Bay, on the bigger peninsula called Leelanau, on the even bigger peninsula called Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Google this on Google maps and see what I’m talking about.

So there are about 320 acres on this little peninsula and about 100 homes in this community where we come every August, and those original six families built this chapel in 1912, so it’s over 100 years old. It’s called Atwill Chapel because it’s named after an Episcopal bishop in Kansas City who used to spend his summers here. As I said in 1912 they built this chapel so that the people could worship God on Sundays during the months of July and August. And those original six families were all Episcopalians and Presbyterians, so since almost the beginning, the chapel board has invited an Episcopal priest to conduct the services in July and a Presbyterian minister to conduct the services in August. In exchange for this service of leading these worship services, the chapel board gives a home to the priest and the minister on Grand Traverse Bay. The priest and the minister share this home but never at the same time.

Now I have been the Presbyterian August chaplain since 1996; this is my 25th summer coming here. When I started coming here, my daughter Taylor was two years old, so this place is very important to me and my family. The chapel sits on top of Chapel Hill, of course, it’s the highest peak on the peninsula, and it is constructed of cedar logs taken from the local forests and Michigan field stone. Maybe we should say, Michigan beach stone since these are probably the same kind of stones that you see in the breakwaters all along Michigan beaches.

So just like at Kenilworth Union Church, Atwill Chapel is surrounded by a memorial garden where people can place the cremains of their loved ones. As you know, at Kenilworth Union we bury the cremains in the earth at the bottom of the wall, but here at Atwill Chapel we actually place them inside the wall and then brick it up so it’s kind of nice.

So this is a very peaceful place, a quiet place in the forest, wildlife thrive here. There are foxes and eagles and great blue herons and a couple of years ago for the first time in the 25 years that I’ve been coming here, black bear returned to the peninsula to reclaim it. I’ve seen evidence of beaver activity, never seen an actual beaver but they’re clearly around here. I love to hear the call of the loon at dawn and at dusk.

And so on Sunday at our worship service here, I read a poem by Kentucky poet and novelist and environmentalist Wendell Berry. I thought you might like to hear this, too.

My anxieties trouble my peace
so worries wake me late into the night.
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
So friends, may you rest in the grace of the world and be free from anxiety, too.

August 5, 2020

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