Nearly two centuries ago, seven members of the Edgartown Methodist Church settled on a half-acre parcel in Oak Bluffs and began holding religious camp meetings. They gave sermons under a rustic driftwood pavilion until, after 44 years, a grand iron tabernacle was constructed, drawing hundreds of worshipers to its pews.

Today, the Tabernacle still stands tall in the heart of the Camp Ground in Oak Bluffs, and is home to countless Island events each year. In many ways it appears timeless, but an asbestos-ridden roof covered in brown moss proves otherwise. Work recently began on the 90-year-old roof, which will be torn down and replaced with new concrete tiles. The project is scheduled to be completed by May 2024.

“A lot of people have fond memories in the Tabernacle,” said Craig Lowe, chair of the development committee at the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association (MVCMA), which owns the Tabernacle. “And in a lot of ways, it’s the heart of the Island. We have to take care of it.”

Some preliminary work began on the building last week and when the new tiles arrive on-Island, construction can move full speed ahead, said Mr. Lowe.

But some funds for the $7 million project still need to be raised, and Mr. Lowe and the rest of the MVCMA are working hard to rally support.

“We have a little over $5 million raised right now,” said Mr. Lowe. “It’s all to fund the roof’s new tiles, electrical work, painting...and to get the workers and materials out here to the Island.”

Leaders at the MVCMA have been wanting to replace the Tabernacle’s roof for decades, but Islandwide interest was only recently piqued.

Though originally built exclusively for religious purposes, the Tabernacle is now used by residents across the Vineyard for a variety of community events, including the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School graduation ceremony, live music performances, festivals, lectures and more.

“That is especially true since Covid,” said MVCMA board president Trish Hahn. “We have an open-air facility, which people really appreciated and everyone wanted to use the space.”

“It really helped show that the Tabernacle is truly an all-Island venue,” added Mr. Lowe.

Its contemporary use has garnered financial support from all six Island towns through Community Preservation Act funds, which help municipalities finance the preservation of historic sites. Together, the towns have contributed more than $1 million to the project. The MVCMA also received a $500,000 grant from the National Park Service’s cultural preservation program and raised the additional money from Camp Ground fundraisers over the years.

Some individual Camp Ground families are showing up for the Tabernacle’s makeover, too. A group of residents have pledged to match donations up to $100,000 for the roof’s replacement through the end of September.

“We’ve had such wonderful support from our cottage owners,” said Mr. Lowe. “We’re hopeful that now, with this matching challenge, we can broaden our support more throughout Oak Bluffs and the Island.”

Replacing the roof is no small undertaking, said Mr. Lowe. The roof is made up of 17,000 square feet of tiles that need to be disposed of safely and quickly. When removed, the old tiles will be wrapped in tightly-sealed containers, collected in an air-tight dumpster and shipped off-Island for disposal. For maximum safety, air quality in the area will be monitored for asbestos contamination.

“The roof is also an integral part of the structural integrity of the Tabernacle, so they can’t just take off a big section of it all at one time,” said Mr. Lowe.

The new roof will likely be installed by December, but additional electrical work and painting will carry the project well into the spring. Mr. Lowe assured that the work would be completed and the Tabernacle ready in time for the regional high school’s 2024 graduation.

Ms. Hahn and Mr. Lowe hope that the newly-restored Tabernacle will become a draw for even more Island festivities.

[The Tabernacle] has helped us build a lot of great relationships here on the Island,” said Ms. Hahn. “It provides an amazing sense of community. It’s just incredible.”

To donate to the MVCMA Tabernacle restoration project and for more information, visit