1 Church Street
East Harwich, MA 02645
1900’s to 1969
In History from the 275th Anniversary, Harwich 1694 to 1969, it is noted that in 1905 the congregation had shrunk to the point that it was felt the building was too large. Led by Reverend Bell (1904-07), “the interior was remodeled in keeping with the original architecture. . . The old pews with their hinged doors were used for the paneling under the windows, and the kerosene lamps were replaced with electric candles in the Chandeliers.” This renovation (including stained glass windows) drew in the interior of the east wall, creating what has been called, and for some today is still called, the Ladies Parlor. The galleries on the south and east were converted to Sunday School rooms; they were eliminated from the west and north.
For the next thirty years there is something of a gap in the history of the church. Current historian Mary Chase Gould is able to fill in data around the 1930s. As a little girl she attended Sunday School in the Ladies Parlor where there were enough children for several groups. “Miss” (as she was called) Marion Nickerson was the superintendent. Miss Marion was also the matriarch of one of the precursors to the Women’s Society known as the “Mite” society. (The origin of the unusual name is unknown; one does think of the widow and her mite of Mark12 and Luke 21.)
In 1944, Fred Frank, a local pastor from Ohio, arrived to pastor the East and South Harwich churches while he attended Boston University School of Theology. Frank was a great story-teller and later tape recorded much of his life, including his years in Harwich. He and his wife arrived at the little parsonage on Meeting House Road and found flowers on the table and food in the house. He loved the people and they loved him back. He worked with the youth group which was very active in many ways, including the not so notable. Frank recalls one young culprit who delighted in throwing stones at the street lights. Frank confronted the boy and with pride reported that the broken street lights ended.
Fred and his wife Evelyn were great friends with Ralph and Gladys Cashen. Ralph had started a “Brotherhood” which became “one of the strongest men’s organizations in all of New England” with 250 members. The Brotherhood owned a building next door to the parsonage called “Brotherhood Hall” and Frank began their regular monthly meetings with 15 minutes or so of Bible study, prayer or meditation. While the Brotherhood was loosely associated with the church, the church, he says, “kind of” adopted it as a church group.
The women’s groups, as revealed by its minutes, were primarily social, but according to Frank, the women of the congregation were the “backbone” of the church. “So much of the church’s survival was due to those women who did everything under the sun to make this church go.” One of their projects was the thrift shop, located for its initial years in Brotherhood Hall.
Frank did not confine his ministry to the parish. Outside the local area, he started the Volunteer Chaplain Service at both the Cape Cod Hospital and the House of Corrections in Barnstable. He remained at Harwich for six years, leaving in 1950 to pastor in Providence, RI. In retirement he would return to Harwich and his former church.
About that same time, Harwich UMC opened its doors to Alanon and a little later to the Head Start program which met in the Ladies Parlor. Church dinners were also held in the Parlor in two seatings. Arriving a little late for the first seating, one frustrated member was heard to mutter, “The hell with this; I came to eat, not sit in church.”
In the 1960s, Rev. Ed Trench pastored the E. Harwich church along with the S. Harwich and S. Chatham Methodist churches. During his time there was a wonderful couples’ club and an active MYF group which drew young people from the surrounding area. Yet the congregation struggled to maintain its size. Coming up with the budget was further challenged when in 1968 the S. Chatham congregation withdrew from the denomination. At that point, the Conference decided to form a larger parish consisting of Chatham, E. Harwich and S. Harwich. The senior pastor was Rev. Dr. William Sissell. Sissell was given an assistant who worked primarily with the smaller churches. The unneeded parsonage on Meeting House Road (Route 137) was sold for $28,000. The three churches shared one Administrative Board. Though the individual churches continued to have some autonomy, it was not what they had had previously. The congregation dwindled yet again.