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A popular seaside camp enters its second century
by Jane Greer

I first heard of Ferry Beach when I found a little packet of sand sitting next to my computer here at UU World one morning. The packet read, "Ferry Beach Park Association, 100th Anniversary, 1901-2001." Someone must love Ferry Beach a lot, I thought, to package its sand. It was a sentiment that I soon discovered was true-many times over.

 Quillen Hamilton Shinn, on horseback
Quillen Hamilton Shinn founded the Universalist summer meetings that found a home at Ferry Beach

The Rev. Quillen Hamilton Shinn (1845-1906), a dynamic Universalist minister and missionary, was convinced that Universalists needed a summer place to relax and conduct business, so he established a series of popular summer meetings at the turn of the 20th century. Located first at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, the program later moved to sites in Saratoga Springs, New York, and Ocean Park, Maine. In 1904 Shinn found a permanent home for his peripatetic summer camp when he cashed in his life insurance policy to buy the Ferry Beach House in Saco, Maine. This building, later re-named the "Quillen," has served as Ferry Beach's administrative center ever since.

The camp and conference center, an independent affiliate of the Unitarian Universalist Association, now consists of a 32-acre campus with five buildings, three cabins, and a campground. Each year Ferry Beach plays host to 2,000 summer guests, with additional church groups using the facilities for retreats in the spring and fall.

Although Ferry Beach began as a summer program dedicated to the development of ministerial skills, its programming expanded and diversified over the years. Programs and conferences for youth, women, men, families, and gays and lesbians, with topics from spirituality to international relations to kayaking, have inspired a dedicated following. The center also hosts the Ferry Beach Ecology School, a nonprofit organization for school children.

These programs serve Ferry Beach's mission, which emphasizes a commitment "to celebrate, honor, explore, and enhance the values of Unitarian Universalism, in order to empower individuals to live those values within the larger community." And that mission has generated its own larger community. Says Ferry Beach Park Association president Gail Forsyth-Vail, "When I think about Ferry Beach, I see a legacy of community." Many of the camp's enthusiasts agree.

The Rev. Peter Scott first visited Ferry Beach in 1935 as a toddler. A Ferry Beach regular for much of his life, Scott is now writing a history of the association with his wife, the Rev. Faith Grover Scott. When asked what has inspired such devotion, Scott replies without hesitation, "The people!"

The Rev. Scotty Meek was somewhat older when he first became acquainted with the camp in 1947. "I think I was a senior in high school," he recalls, when someone "talked the Ladies' Auxiliary into putting up a scholarship to send me to Ferry Beach to the youth institute." Meek continued his involvement with the center as he grew older, bringing his wife and later his children, to the Maine coast. Meek's first son, Stevan, was born during a camp session when his wife, Dorothy, went into labor two weeks early. "The original Ferry Beach baby was born July 17, 1960," he says, "and cabin number one was his first home!"

Although Ferry Beach has faced numerous adversities over the years, including limited funding, one of the center's greatest struggles has been against the elements. Located at the ocean's edge, the center is pounded by Atlantic storms. So sand is an appropriate reminder of Ferry Beach and a fitting tribute to its centennial. Sand has another meaning for veterans of the Beach, however. It is said that if you put some Ferry Beach sand in your shoes, it will guarantee a return visit. If that's the case, there are sandy shoes all over America.

Jane Greer is editorial assistant at UU World.

voices from the past

Everywhere Is Our Mission Field

Grove meetings are good disseminators of Universalism. Under the trees, in the school-houses, by the wayside, everywhere, let our joyful message be proclaimed. More and more am I made to feel that we should all be missionaries, and that everywhere is our mission field.

The Rev. Quillen H. Shinn, D.D., describing the meetings at Ferry Beach,
from the Universalist Leader, August 31, 1901.

UU World XV:5 (November/December 2001): 64.

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