The history of Dennis Union Church, like the history of many New England churches, closely relates to the history of our nation.
In the earliest colonial days, citizens went to church every Sunday and spent most of the day there. If you lived close enough, you might be able to get home for lunch and then return, but the citizens of East Yarmouth felt that they had too far to travel to the Yarmouth Meeting House.
In 1722, 26 freeholders met at the home of Nathaniel Howes to form The East Precinct Church of Yarmouth and a Meeting House was built soon after, close to the location of the present Dennis Union Church. The Rev. Josiah Dennis, a young graduate of Harvard College was called to lead the new congregation and arrived in 1727. He served 36 years, until his death in 1763.
In 1764, The Rev. Nathan Stone, was called to succeed Rev. Dennis and served until 1804, 40 years. In 1793, the town of Dennis split from the town of Yarmouth and decided to take the name of the Rev. Dennis as the town name at the suggestion of The Rev. Stone. These first two pastors served for 76 years, a great change from later history. From the time in 1838, when the present Dennis Union Church Meeting House was built, to 2019, 65 pastors have served the church!
Dennis Union Church was established in 1866 with a merger between the Trinitarians (who were the Congregationalists who remained after the Unitarian-Trinitarian split) joined with the Wesleyan Methodists to form the Dennis Union Church. It is probably not a coincidence that following the bitter fight over slavery that led to the Civil War, that a newly establishing church might want to declare their union in the name. It was also in 1866 that this group requested affiliation with the Barnstable County Conference of Congregational Churches.
In 1879, a new graduate of Boston University School of Theology, The Rev. Anna Howard Shaw was called to served Dennis Union Church. She was a pioneer in claiming her call to ministry at a time when most churches would not ordain women. She served both the East Dennis Church and Dennis Union. Her story is a fascinating one and more can be found about her in the church library. When she started preaching at Dennis Union, she was not ordained. However, in the spring of 1880 she was ordained and was given a gift of a communion set so that she could serve the communion elements to both congregations. Her communion set can be seen at Dennis Union Church where it is on long term loan from the Dennis Historical Society.
Dennis Union was a small village church and was without water until in the 1950’s. Communion cups were taken home by ladies of the church to be washed until the joys of indoor plumbing were installed. During this time, student pastors, part-time pastors or retired pastors most often filled the pulpit. An active Ladies Aid Society raised money for the church and came to the aid of the community also. Mission was local as well as international and the women were active and involved.
In 1948, before the United Church of Christ was formed, Dennis Union voted to affiliate with the new denomination when it came into being. Again, as in the case of calling a woman pastor, Dennis Union showed itself to be early to adopt to the new things that God was calling the church toward.
In 1963, the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC voted to give funds to Dennis Union Church so that a full-time pastor could be called. In the years since, Dennis Union has helped with outreach to other churches, paying it forward when a new church start in Mashpee was organized. Dennis Union Church was a contributor to the project of the Council of Churches on Cape Cod to update the kitchen at Seventh Day Adventist Church in Hyannis so that the Faith Family Kitchen could serve meals to those in need.
Also, in 1963, the church Auction and Bazaar began. All year long the pick-up crew collects and stores donations to be auctioned off or sold to help raise money. As the second Saturday in August approaches, workers anxiously watch the weather since the Auction is held rain or shine. Many a dorm room has been furnished with goods from the Dennis Union Church Auction. As one member said, “Buy it this year and then donate it back to us and we’ll sell it again next year!” Good food, fellowship and lots of hard work go into making the Auction on the Dennis village green a huge success.
When Dennis Union raised funds in 2005 to renovate and preserve the church’s historic character, space was added and energy efficiency was a priority. In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Star for Small Businesses and Congregations recognized Dennis Union Church as an official Energy Star Congregation.
Included in the renovation were showers for men and women, a laundry for use by Overnights of Hospitality for the homeless. Missions projects, both near and far, Habitat for Humanity in Dennis and other towns on the Cape (as well as internationally) have been a part of the life of Dennis Union Church, and will continue to be in the future as long as the needs of the world around us call out for God’s love to be made real in deeds.
Music of the church is exceptional, and the pipe organ purchased and installed in 2014 has made it even better. The chancel choir, the bell choir, Women’s Song and the Dennis Union Church Singers all combine to create a unique and engaging program. Music is prominent in special worship services, including Jazz Sunday and Blue Grass Sunday each year.
Youth are encouraged to sing, play instruments and participate in the music and worship life of the church. There is a church school and youth fellowship program at the church year-round serving children from infants in the Sunday crib room to high school.
Dennis Union has a rich past, and a strong future. To find out more about the church past, present and future, come and join us on Sunday morning to become part of that future for yourself.
— Rev. Connie Bickford