UUMH Chatham History
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. The first service was held in the Creative Art Center, with 24 people attending. Over the next ten years, 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 took 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 were completed 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 has seen the successful enrolling of 13 children and has attracted some new young families to the Meeting House.
Rev. Robinson took his first Sabbatical leave, January to June 2014
In the fall of 2015, we organized a fundraiser at the Wequassett Inn to raise the public profile of the Meeting House. Thanks to hosts Stephania and Jamie McClennen and designer, Naomi Turner, the UUMH was able to present checks for over $1,800 each to Habitat for Humanity and Lower Cape Outreach.
In the summer of 2016, Gene Pickett preached his last sermon on the occasion of his Ninetieth Birthday.
In 2017, we joined the Nauset Interfaith Association. Pew cushions were installed. The website was enhanced.
In March of 2018, a new Communications Coordinator, Karen Murdoch, was hired.
During the years 2018-2020: Rev. Robinson and members concentrated on attracting new
members through new Social Justice programming, music, and the arts. Some examples:
We displayed a “Black Lives Matter” banner on the front of the Meeting House; Edmund
preached often on the subject of race, and also invited Tia Cross (specialist in cross-cultural communications) to conduct seminars on race. We organized a special exhibit and reception for civil rights photographer, Rowland Scherman. Edmund conducted a five-week Saturday Seminar series to study the inequities in the criminal justice system. This was followed by a widely popular series titled Facts Matter Forums.
Rev. Robinson enriched our programs with a variety of musical offerings, poetry readings, and informal lunch gatherings. He introduced musical cabaret with singer Pavia; did a rousing Sunday service celebration on the 100th birthday of Pete Seeger; and played his banjo during Social Justice stand-outs on the front lawn. He warmed hearts with get-togethers featuring his own home-made soups at “Eats with Edmund” lunches.
In spite of these enrichments, UUMH membership numbers continued to slip. Local
demographics and cultural shifts were not helping. The Cape was aging. The number of new retirees was not robust enough to replace the ones lost. The Younger generations were looking elsewhere for a sense of community.
Recognizing the pressing need for outreach using up-to-date electronic media and enhanced audio-visual equipment (both for sanctuary services and summer concerts) we obtained quotes for upgrading microphones, lighting, and video equipment. Progress on these projects was slowed due to budgetary shortfalls.
By June 2019, it was clear that the Meeting House could no longer afford a full-time minister, and Rev. Robinson did not wish to work for less than full-time. And so, after 11 years, Edmund and UUMH agreed that he's stepping down would be the best solution for both minister and congregation. He retired on Jan. 1, 2020, and began his second earned Sabbatical, January through April 2020.
In January of 2020, Rev. Tracy Johnson entered into an agreement with the UUMH Board of Trustees to provide ministerial coverage during Edmund’s sabbatical.
By early March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was upon us. Rev. Tracy immediately took the lead in transitioning us from physical worship in the building to virtual worship via Zoom. The first virtual service took place on March 22nd. It was a marvel of success given the steep “ tech” learning-curve and the need to coordinate all the persons providing music and readings from a variety of locations. The community was held together. There was a collective sigh of relief and gratitude.
In mid-April, Rev. Tracy came to an agreement with the Board of Trustees for a two-year half-time ministry beginning July 1, 2020.