A visit to Little Compton’s Commons is like stepping back into history. From the white-steepled church founded by the Pilgrims’ offspring to the Civil War-era General Store to the ancient slate gravestones in the picturesque burial ground, time seems to have stood still.
Set against this venerable background, the “new” church in Little Compton – St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church – is turning 100 this year, and the parish is gearing up to celebrate its centennial in grand style. A newly-renovated parish hall will be dedicated by Bishop Knisely, and a 21st century stylized logo has just been unveiled that symbolizes the parish’s focus on the future while hearkening back to its historical roots as “the fisherman’s church.”
It was August of 1914 when Laura Lloyd Wainwright drove her “touring automobile” to nearby Tiverton to persuade the Rev. John A. Gardner of Holy Trinity Church to hold a service for the summer visitors. The pair quickly organized an evening prayer service for 125 worshipers at the “Casino” or Clam House at Sakonnet Point where, just hours earlier, day-trippers enjoyed a bountiful shore dinner before returning back to Providence via steamship.
In the following weeks, Mrs. Wainwright convinced her husband to donate an oceanfront garage that was soon transformed into a summer chapel. In 1918, the chapel was moved to a 4-acre pasture near the Sakonnet Golf Club. From this idyllic setting, St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea served residents and summer guests alike as an unorganized mission of the Diocese of Rhode Island for the next eight decades.
In 1998, a new building for St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea was created from the bones of the historic Guild Hall on the north end of the Little Compton Commons. This central location could better serve the townspeople, as well as worshippers from South Tiverton and nearby Westport, Mass. In 2001, the now year-round St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea achieved parish status in the Diocese.
On Saturday, August 23rd, St. Andrew’s will host a centennial gala on the church grounds to commemorate its first 100 years. Bishop Knisely will celebrate Holy Eucharist the following morning to ask God’s blessings on the parish, and on its ministry for the next century, in what will undoubtedly be a joyous commemoration.
In a town where institutions are measured in centuries, not years, St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea has now joined the revered “Century Club.” Its best years are still to come!