Harbor Church, officially known as the First Baptist Church of Block Island, Rhode Island, is an historic Baptist church established on October 23, 1765, in what is now New Shoreham, popularly known as Block Island, Rhode Island. The church building at 21 Water Street is a physical landmark over Block Island, a resort community in Washington County.
Though the indirect origins of Harbor Church date to 1661, it was not formally organized as a congregation until 1765, the year that the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act to raise revenues directly from the American colonists, a harbinger to the American Revolution, which began a decade later. The early congregation met in three different buildings in the central part of Block Island. None of the sites is extant. The fourth location was a substantial building with what is believed to have been the first furnace on the island. It is featured in old photographs of the region. With the rise of tourism and a building boom, Harbor Church constructed a summer chapel for the use of visiting demoninations. This structure is described as "a grand building with soaring celings and a pipe organ; within a few years the congregation decided to add a winter chapel and follow commerce east. [Attempts] to sell the previous building at the old town center were not immediately fruitful, and before it [could be] sold, the structure was destroyed by fire."
The fifth location of the congregation on Chapel Street was also used for school graduations and other community functions. A hurricane devastated the area in 1938. In October 1944, church trustees received as a gift the title to the Adrian Hotel, which was then proposed to become a health resort for the impaired. Coincidentally, in December 1944, the Chapel Street Church burned to the ground. The former hotel hence became the home of the congregation. Worship services were originally held in the dining room. In 1952, the cornerstone was set, and the current sancutary was added to the old hotel. Several hotel rooms were converted to a parsonage. During the 1970s, a pastor's office was established separate from the parsonage. Today the Harbor Church hosts the Town Recreation Center in the basement. There is also an artists cooperative, known as the Spring Street Gallery, which is housed in the former church barn.
The church today
Harbor Church still hosts a small local congregation and invites tourists to its worship services, which begin at 10 a.m. each Sunday. The church maintains a Bible study at 7 p.m. on Thursdays and a men's fellowship breakfast at 7:30 a.m. each Saturday.The main annual events are the Church Fair and Auction held on the third weekend in July and the Roll Call Dinner on the Tuesday nearest Founder's Day, October 23. This event often reaches more than five hundred.
In 2009, the Reverend Stephen Eugene Hollaway became the current Harbor Church pastor. Born on July 28, 1952, in Nageya, Japan, to Baptist missionary parents, Hollaway spent his childhood in Tokyo. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee, when he was in the eighth grade and completed high school there. He majored in English at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. He enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, but returned to Princeton to study at the seminary there. He was the Baptist chaplain at Princeton. Hollaway and his wife, Rebecca P. "Becca" Hollaway, a graphic artist originally from Atlanta, Georgia, have two children, Sarah and Nathan. Before arriving in Block Island, Hollaway had been the pastor for the preceding seven years of Latonia Baptist Church in Covington, Kentucky, south of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Hollaway succeeded the interim pastor, the Reverend Lynne C. Holden.
Harbor Church observes its 250th anniversary in 2015.
- History of Harbor Church. harborchurchblockisland.org. Retrieved on May 25, 2012.
- The Harbor Light, publication of the First Baptist Church of Block Island, Rhode Island, Summer 2009
- Nageya, Japan. gedcomindex.com. Retrieved on May 25, 2012.
- Search Committee report, First Baptist Church of Block Island, Rhode Island