December 19, 2014
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Then and Now
Chapel by the Sea
Terry D'Amato Spencer

The Chapel by the Sea, located at 29 Elgin St. in Conimicut, Warwick, is a house of worship that differs in many ways from the more traditional churches in the City of Warwick. While the differences are in doctrine, buildings and size of the congregation, the Chapel by the Sea is a historical aspect that tells us the differences are not unlike that of Samuel Gorton and the other early colonists who came to Warwick to live and worship as their conscience dictated.

The Reverend J. Mathieu Bureau, the pastor of Chapel by the Sea, like Gorton, found his views on Christianity different from those of the established religions of the time. While Gorton and Bureau are separated by more than 355 years, both have started with a very small group and have captured the interest of others who have found reasons to break away from old established Christian denominations. Other similarities are in size, biblical studies, zeal and interpretations of religious doctrines.

Rev. Bureau received much of his early religious training in St. Joseph’s College in Canada, a Catholic boarding school and seminary. He ended his French Catholic experience when he left the seminary before completing his studies and devoted time to lay pursuits as a salesman. He found that this was not enough for him and decided that he would like to put his talent on selling material goods to selling people on a “better way of living.”

In time, he continued his religious studies and received a certificate from Jerry Falwell’s Institute of Biblical Studies. With this training Rev. Bureau found six others who felt much as he did and, in 1973, founded Chapel by the Sea. Like a number of other houses of worship in Warwick, they found they could establish themselves as a religious unit with as little as five participants and, in this manner, Bureau and the others formed a non-profit organization. Rev. Bureau is quick to point out that much of the credit for the success of Chapel by the Sea belongs to a number of others. Two that he especially feels deserve special mention are his assistant pastor, the late Dr. Frank Gatoff, and his director and church president, Leo Cok. Dr. Cok is a retired psychiatrist who has worked at the Benjamin Rush Building at the medical center for a number of years. He and Rev. Bureau have done a great deal in the field of substance abuse in past years.

In much the same manner as other religious entities in Warwick, Chapel by the Sea Church has seen changes take place in all areas of services provided by the church over the past decades. Rev. Bureau notes that the non-denominational services held at the chapel in 1973 began as a more orthodox form of Christianity than it is today. Many of the parishioners believed in the “born again” spirituality and some fundamental changes took place over the years. In areas such as Baptism, Confirmation, Bible studies and weddings the changes have taken place as a result of the church buildings growing and expanding.

Chapel by the Sea is well known to most Warwick residents for its colorful marriage ceremonies, as Conimicut Point provides a lovely backdrop for weddings. In addition to conducting a Bible study and a Sunday service at the chapel, Rev. Bureau marries 200 to 250 couples a year and baptizes about 120. Weddings range from small to large and are held in either the inside or outside chapel. While weddings at the chapel are in great demand, more people actually are present at the Baptisms performed there. The colorful waterfall above the baptismal area is one of the special features that have been added recently. Today, at the proper time, Rev. Bureau uses his remote control to send water cascading upon the person to be baptized. In the church web site, it is noted that weddings are the largest endeavor of the church. It notes that weddings take place seven days a week and that wedding ceremonies are performed at all times of the day. The website also informs readers that “The centerpiece of the Chapel By the Sea is the majestic soaring steeple.” It provides a strong sense of the type of building seen often in New England and provides a dramatic contrast to the large brick rectory.

Rev. Bureau has used the services of architect John Robinson to build his large brick building by the sea in Conimicut. He has aimed for a Gothic look and his stairways, patios and buildings have added an interesting look to the complex, the pastor has done some of the cement and brickwork himself but adds quickly that he has had a lot of help.

While the scenic ocean view in the background attracts many to have their weddings at the chapel, Rev. Bureau also conducts weddings elsewhere and enjoys great popularity and success in that area.

The stories of Warwick’s Houses of Worship will be continued.


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