1 Church Street
East Harwich, MA 02645
1970’s to Today
Then one Sunday in 1970, the E. Harwich MYF performed a skit during morning worship. It was a play on the death of the church during which they carried a “coffin” down the center aisle. Then, one by one, they put into the coffin items which, the youth spokesperson alluded, the congregation no longer honored – as shown by their attendance. Into the coffin went the candles, the cross and paraments; they stopped short of the Bible. Needless to say, this play got the congregation’s attention and for a brief time attendance improved.
But it was only months later when controversy struck again. During these turbulent anti-Viet Nam war/hippie days, the Chatham UMC (part of the larger parish) had started a coffee house for young people, the funding of which came from the Cape and Islands United Methodist Association. In the summer of 1971, the coffee house found itself without a home and, in a show of concern and warm hospitality, E. Harwich opened its doors for the young people.
A reflection Jacqui Oakes
The East Harwich Methodist Church (now Harwich United Methodist Church) closed its doors for the summer. It was decided to open a coffee house during these months of closure. There were five of us from the congregation that decided to operate it. They were Don and Mary Gould, Jean Nickerson and Fred and Jacqui Oakes. We cleaned out the ladies parlor and stored all the church’s possessions behind the organ and begged and borrowed couches, chairs, tables, etc. from all who had extra and were willing to help. Our small kitchen offered bagels and cream cheese, coffee, lemonade, tea. The “parlor” offered a place where the young people could sit and talk, read, play board games or cards. Many of these were young adults were working for the summer and got off work late at night and just needed a place to gather and unwind. The coffee house was for ages 18 to 25 and open until 1a.m. or maybe later. The sanctuary was respected at all times and used only for entertainment. With wonderful acoustics in the sanctuary, it drew many with amazing voices. As this was the age of Viet Nam and hippies, many came with their guitars or read poetry or sang, but whatever it was it was wonderful to witness our young adults who were so troubled from the times. Drugs were beginning to enter our society also and many had not had good experiences and were looking for answers. Our main concern was to try and make sure that they were in good condition when they left and had a safe journey to where they were going next.
It was unfortunate that many of the parishioners and neighbors became very upset and we were accused of having drugs and liquor on the property. The police became nightly visitors having been called by those who would stand outside the church in the street and surmise what they though was going on inside. Those who came into the coffee house left only once – when they were leaving or when we closed. No one was outside – except our neighbors! The police would come in, talk with us and look around and then leave. We were never cited for wrongdoings. After a week or so it did become a little funny and we were now great friends with the police. Unfortunately this caused a lot of ill feelings between us and some friends, family and parishioners that continued for quite a while.
This was one of my best remembered experiences. Working with the age group was very eye opening. Their “raw” life experience made you realize how very lucky we were to be bringing our children up in a community such as ours!!
Rev. Sissell observed in the Time Capsule produced in 2000 that these social outreach actions were a turning point in the church’s ministries.
In 1979 the larger parish ended. Chatham UMC went to full time and E. and S. Harwich merged as one congregation with services held at E. Harwich. E. Harwich was served by Rev. Allen Skiff. His commitment was for one year, twelve hours per week, with a certain understanding: if the church prospered and grew – all well and good; it would need a new pastor; Rev. Skiff would leave. If the opposite occurred, the church would likely close.
About this time, under this dark cloud, the dozen or so remaining members of the congregation dug in their heels, said “absolutely, no” to dwindling any more and closing. They quickly formed a Committee of Ten (most of the regular worshiping congregation) to keep the church open. One strategy was to personally take a photograph of the church with a letter to all the lapsed members so that they might have it as a keepsake and remembrance of their former church as the church would be closing. That and other strategies worked and slowly the church rose again. Skiff left and Rev. Ben Laird served part time as the pastor for seven years. Interestingly, he had been married in the church 29 years earlier to Chatham native Mary Nickerson. He and Mary lived in their retirement home since the church had no parsonage. It is to his credit that the “East” was dropped from the church’s name. And it was during his ministry that the kitchen, a one-storied room off the east side of the church (part of an earlier remodeling), was remodeled. A nursery was added above it; for safety reasons this room had an exit to the outside. Willard Smith, an active layperson and part of the Brotherhood, persuaded the Brotherhood to deed its property over to the church. Later, in 1989, when the Brotherhood had ceased to exist, the building was sold with many of the proceeds going to help fund an anticipated addition.
Harlow Doliber, a retired clergy who also owned his own home, began his ten year ministry in 1989 when Laird retired a second time. Harlow was particularly gifted in is ability to relate to the children as well as their parents. The church thrived under his leadership until its average attendance was in the mid-eighties. During this time, the old kitchen and nursery were torn down and a large two floor addition, shepherded by George Tripp, was put on the east side. It provided a large fellowship room and kitchen on the upper floor and an expanded thrift shop and office space on the lower level.
The Thrift Shop had always supported the church in many ways, but never more so than it has been able to do since the addition. Missionally, the Thrift Shop is proud that about 50% of its profits go to Cape Cod charities. Other proceeds consistently support capital projects for the church, help the church pay its mission shares to the New England Conference and provide hospitality on important church occasions. The church would not have been able to move to a full time pastor had it not been for Thrift Shop. Because of its contributions a new parsonage was purchased, the mortgage paid off on the $250,000 addition and just a few years later the mortgage on the parsonage.
The Reverend Dick Davis followed Harlow and was very different but also popular. He started the movement that led to the Cross being created.
Rev. Elizabeth McClintock was the first pastor to serve full time (beginning in 2001) and to occupy the new parsonage, located at 2 Crestview Drive. During her ministry the church once again increased its social outreach. Alcoholics Anonymous found a home as did a newly formed Cape-wide mission to homeless persons called the “Overnights of Hospitality.” HUMC was praised as the first area church to enter this program managed by the Salvation Army of Hyannis. It did so against the strong concerns of the Harwich Fire Department chief. The Outreach Committee continued to contribute to Cape Cod agencies, but has now expanded its outreach to world-wide relief and aid projects. Rev. McClintock retired in 2008 and Rev. Yoo Cha Yi, became the church’s second woman pastor in a cross-cultural appointment. And so the church’s history continues. A source of pride in the current year is support of a Harwich Habitat for Humanity project. Significant funds have been contributed by the thrift shop as well as manual labor hours and lunch time sandwiches on several occasions. After many years of conversation and waiting, a new church sign has been erected which beckons passers by to attend worship and become part of the HUMC family.
Small membership churches have gifts that are particularly unique to them and which empower a certain kind of ministry. Small membership churches are “Second Commandment Churches” which means that everyone is known by name; that they accept one another along with their quirks; that they are like family to each other, knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. When they function well, small membership churches are adept at practicing grace – forgiveness perhaps being essential for the life of the church. They honor history; they are tough and tenacious, and their worship is warm, personal and apt to be delightfully spontaneous.
The current size and demographic of our congregation limits somewhat the range of our ministries. Yet the Harwich United Methodist Church excels at the ministries unique to the small membership church. We care deeply for one another, as the audible in take of breaths reveal during our times of sharing. Unlike many small churches, we care deeply for our visitors, the strangers in our midst, who are welcomed warmly on Sunday mornings — with hugs if the visitor seems receptive. People speak to the stranger beyond the quick hello and quickly take them into the family. Yes, it is true we could improve a bit on sharing roles (no sibling is thrilled with a new arrival!) and fully accepting new ideas but, when it comes to deep caring, providing a bowl of soup to the ill or a ride or card of concern, the church family is there to support one another in love and friendship.
In 2014, Rev. Yoo Cha Yi was assigned to another church in the western part of Massachusetts. Our church had not been able to afford a full-time clergy person for a number of years, failing to meet our Mission Share obligation to the New England Conference. We decided to request a half time replacement.
Our district superintendent, Rev. Dr. Seok Hwan Hong, identified a recently retired clergy person who he felt would be great for our church. Rev. Edward M. Farrell-Starbuck, had retired the year before, was committed to this area and wondering what he would do in the next phase of his life.
Ed turned out to be a wonderful find. He came to us after serving many small United Methodist churches on the west coast and large and small churches in New England including Trinity United Methodist in Springfield and Shepard of the Valley United Methodist in Rhode Island.
His ministry renewed our optimism and strengthened our faith. He is extremely pastoral both to individuals and the congregation as a whole. He enjoys visiting people in their homes and is wonderful with families of those who have died. He showed us we had a meaningful mission in our own place and time. He is a dynamic preacher of the word of God and Jesus teachings. Extremely well read on current religious thought, he brings us his insight into what God wants us to be doing and thinking through preaching and study groups in this difficult time of the world’s history.
Rev. Ed’s retired on June 30, 2018, and Rev. John Robbins began his ministry on July 1st.
Pastor John Robbins was raised in suburban New Jersey and Massachusetts. A graduate of Hobart College in upstate New York, he worked extensively in the editing, design, and production of college textbooks. Following his call to pastoral ministry, he completed his theological work at the United Methodist Course of Study School of Ohio’s extension in rural West Virginia. He has pastored churches in Holbrook, Saugus, Stoneham, Weymouth, and Winthrop, all in Massachusetts, as well as in corinth, Maine. He also has worked with special-needs adults in a group home setting. He currently serves on the Conference Disabilities Committee and the Board of Ordained Ministry, where he co-chairs the Licensed Local Pastors Committee.
John’s desire is that the church gather for worship in the face of God’s transforming presence, encourage and build one another up as disciples, and go forth as Christ’s ambassadors equipped by the spirit to engage the world for the glory of God and eternal kingdom.
John and his wife, Roberta are the parents of three girls.
We know that by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit that we will be living to the best of our individual and collective abilities as disciples of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.