The First Universalist Society of Chatham was founded in 1822, and survived 132 years before its dissolution in 1954. A Meeting House was built in 1850-1854, and lasted until it burned in 1878. The subsequent building was sold to St. Christopher’s church, situated on Main Street in Chatham in 1961.
Ideas about a UU Fellowship in Chatham came to light in 1986, with meetings in the homes of interested local residents. Rev. Jim Robinson of First Parish Brewster (FPB) was instrumental in getting this new group started, and arranged for Peter Fleck to attend a meeting on November 12, 1986. A first service was held in the Creative Art Center, with 24 people attending. Over the next ten years a membership of about 37 was achieved.
Ruth Fleck offered to finance a part-time minister, Ed Hardy, after the death of Peter Fleck in 1995, but growth prospects appeared stymied. Suddenly, before Ed had a chance to preach at the Fellowship, the Christian Science Church in Chatham came up for sale. But how could a small group of 37 members afford it? But, with a major effort, and especially with loans from FPB and a local bank, and with a lot of contributions from the 37, it was done.
And so, on October 6, 1996, on a bright and clear Sunday, our small group of enthusiastic Unitarian Universalists marched from our old meeting place up Crowell Road to our new Meeting House, led by a bagpiper and Ed Hardy pushing or pulpit. We were greeted by an equally enthusiastic group of UUs from FPB. We did it!
Some of those from FPB who attended this initial service at UUMH did so at the suggestion of Jim Robinson. This was a major factor in the initial growth of UUMH to greater than 200 members within three years. The initial strong enthusiasm waned, though, and various concerns and problems associated with a new organization appeared. The ensuing struggle took its toll on membership levels.
The minister, Ed Hardy, in 2005 went on sabbatical leave, and upon returning soon resigned as our minister. Soon thereafter, the Religious Education Director resigned, and this effectively closed down our youth programs.
A search committee was formed in 2006. Two Interim Ministers were engaged in succession, until finally Rev. Edmund Robinson agreed to be our settled minister in 2008. In his sixth year, Edmund is taking his own Sabbatical Leave, from January to June 2014.
With turmoil safely behind us, membership levels have stabilized at around 140.
In 2012, the Congregation undertook to make our building more handicap-accessible, and approved raising funds and installing an interior lift connecting the two levels in our building. Final inspection and approval for operation of the lift is expected in April 2014.
Also in 2012, our organ ceased operation, and our Music Committee found an excellent and revolutionary new digital organ available. Funds were raised to purchase this organ, with its dedication just before Christmas in 2013.
Also in 2012, we hired a Youth Programs Director to recreate our religious education program for children. The program, now in its second full year, has seen the successful enrolling of 13 children, and has attracted some new young families to the Meeting House.