MARSTONS MILLS COMMUNITY CHURCH

MARSTONS MILLS CHURCH—PART III

 

Marstons Mills Church is nearly two centuries old. It has had over a hundred preachers, if we include assistants. Founded in 1819, it got its first building in 1830, which still stands today on Main Street.

 

In the earliest years Methodist elders sent a new preacher every year. After 1850 it became more common for a preacher to stay for more than a year, as in the case of Rev. Joseph Marsh (1850, 1859-60), his fellow Sandwich glass blower, Rev. Benjamin Haines (1853-4), and Sandwich representative on Beacon Hill, Rev. John S. Fish (1862-4). One preacher died in office, and another was the first one to marry a local girl (Eloise Hallett 1873), but divorced her when the Patriot reported that he was “acting so indiscreet as to cause her to leave him”. Eloise came back home to entertain her neighbors playing the banjo and organ as Miss Eloise Hallett.

 

Conduct of services varied with ministers. On two occasions “orthodox” Congregational ministers were preachers. Rev. Richard Dorr offered an alternative to the usual Methodist baptism by sprinkling in the church, and immersed his converts in Grigson’s Pond. The town surveyor of roads, David Joy Coleman, chose dunking for himself and his daughter in 1874, as did the storekeepers Nelson and George Hamblin in 1876. This church was the training school for many aspiring ministers, including Rev. Henry W. Hamblin, son of Lewis Hamblin, who was the first locally ordained minister, and author of the church history to 1874.

 

In the 80 years from 1888 to 1967 the Marstons Mills church was merged with the Osterville Methodist church, which provided a parsonage in Osterville for the same preacher in both churches. Many preachers were students of theology at Boston University who were “supplied” to fill the vacancies. “Woe is Me!”, the memoirs of Rev. C. Howard Taylor, gives a sample of the loving work of one beginning student in 1896. Taylor went on to found the Methodist church in Cotuit in 1900, and marry a Cotuit woman who sadly died in the flu epidemic of 1919.

 

During the merger with Osterville the old Marstons Mills building was fully maintained. To the belfry built in 1888 a bell was added in 1893, costing $90. A small vestry/kitchen was added at the rear in 1915 and enlarged in 1940. Electric lights and heater did not come until 1926. After World War II Liberty Hall, which the Universalists had built, was used as a parish hall until sold in 1959. The ancient Melodeon organ which had been bought in 1865 for $130 was given to the Indian Church in Mashpee, which Emma Marston Jones replaced with a new organ. Town water replaced the old well in 1955.

 

By 1957 the membership at Marstons Mills reached 99 and the local members formed a congregation separate from Osterville, inviting Rev. John W. Carter to be preacher. Carter was a retired minister who had served in British submarines in the first World War. More space was needed, so in 1959 the church had Robert Hayden move a surplus barracks from Camp Edwards to the west end, providing a large meeting hall with toilet and kitchen. It was dedicated in 1960 as Memorial Hall with reading of Bea Lapham’s poem “the little church in Marstons Mills//Has a history all its own”. In 1965 the first parsonage was donated by Mrs. R. Arthur Williams, moved across Cedar Tree Neck Road to land donated by Rhea Davis, widow of E. K. Davis, and put onto a foundation by volunteers.

 

Independence lasted only a decade, until 1968, when the bishop of the church said he couldn’t find a preacher for such a small congregation, according to Vivian Cushing, the church historian. Marstons Mills again merged with Osterville. But this time the church and parsonage were sold. The church was bought in 1970 for $25,000 by Ruth E. Feeley for her Cape Cod School of Ballet and Theater Arts, despite the restriction in the 1830 gift of Marston and Scudder that it be used for preaching. The vestry was fitted with practice bars and mirrors, and the hall converted into a theater. Four years later Ruth and her husband John rented it to Sue Davenport Johnson who moved her Children’s Path Nursery and Day Care Center from Gifford Farm. Teachers were Helen Aukstikalnis and Patricia McDonald.

 

In 1980 a neighbor Rev. Philip D. Sherman and his wife Sheila raised $55,000 to buy the abandoned building from the Feeleys, and found the Marstons Mills Community Church, a Protestant non-denominational church. Sherman had been member of the Marstons Mills church when he was a florist in Osterville. He left in 1966 to get a divinity degree from Eastern Baptist Seminary in 1972, and be ordained in the Hyannis Baptist church. Another Baptist, Rev. Robert Swanson became the second minister in 1991, for a record 18 years. In 1993 Steve White supervised a major addition to the south side, a sanctuary seating for 200 worshipers, at a cost of $105,000.

 

A member of the congregation, Rev. Earl Roberts, a Baptist from Trinidad, became interim pastor of the Community Church in 2010.

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