Welcome to our Church !
A Brief History of our Congregation over the past Three Centuries
Our First Congregational Church of Falmouth, Massachusetts of the United Church of Christ was originally gathered on October 28, 1708. Previous to that, the congregation worshiping in Falmouth had been considered a “branch church” of the Puritan church in nearby Barnstable, which was originally gathered in 1616 in Southwark, England.
Even before Falmouth was incorporated as a town in 1686, Jonathan Dunham, a layman, served as the minister to our community’s residents. Dunham later moved to Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, where he was ordained and served the Puritan church there until his death.
Falmouth’s first meeting house was built in 1700 or earlier near the Old Burying ground off today’s Mill Road in Falmouth. A second larger meeting house, near that site, was completed in 1717. Continued growth of the town led to that meeting house being moved and rebuilt by 1756 on that portion of the original Meeting House Lot which was then laid out and called the Village Green. That meeting house was replaced in 1796 with a fourth building in the style of a church, erected on the same site. In its steeple a bell made by Paul Revere was placed. That bell continues to ring out over Falmouth. Its inscription reads: “The living to the church I call, and to the grave I summon all.”
Years after the separation of church and state in Massachusetts in 1834, it became clear that our congregation needed a larger building. In 1857, the frame of the church was rolled across the street from the Village Green to its present location. The church’s steeple and windows were rebuilt, its box pews were replaced by slip pews, and the entire structure was raised up on a granite foundation to provide space below the sanctuary for a vestry and a furnace.
Rev. William Bates was the church’s minister from 1858 until his untimely death in 1859 shortly after the birth of his daughter, Katharine Lee, who became a professor at Wellesley College and a noted American poet. The Bates’ parsonage on 16 Main Street in Falmouth is currently owned by the Falmouth Historical Society. Miss Bates’ famous poem America the Beautiful, the basis of the now famous patriotic hymn of that name, was first published in The Congregationalist in 1895. Katharine wrote poems about our church and community and visited Falmouth annually for the rest of her life.
As the need for space increased, our church building was further expanded by the addition of the James M. Hills Hall in 1958 and The Constance and Raymond Faxon Christian Education Center in 1992 which nearly doubled the size of our church’s facility. While still in the raw state of construction, this last addition was devastated by Hurricane Bob in 1991, but it was immediately rebuilt.
Over the course of its long history, extending back even before Falmouth’s incorporation, our congregation has been served by twenty-eight ministers. Rev. Nanette E. Geertz, whose untimely death came in 2005, was our congregation’s first Associate Minister in the modern era, as well as our first female minister.
As Falmouth changes through the years, our church continues to bear eloquent witness to our Christian faith and to the spirit of religious freedom so dear to historic Congregationalism which are now carried forward in our modern United Church of Christ. Standing at the center of our community and looking out over the Village Green, as it has for generations, our church’s slender and graceful spire continues to point faithfully heavenward--a delight to the eye and an inspiration to the soul.
Rev. Dr. Doug Showalter