Church in the Pines celebrates 150 years

By Georgia Sparling | Jan 02, 2014
Courtesy of: Church in the Pines Church in the Pines has existed for 150 years in West Wareham and hopes to see another 150 years with a new property purchased nearby.

In 150 years, West Wareham’s the Church in the Pines has had three names, 28 pastors and survived the Gilded Age and Grunge.

Throughout 2013, the church, pastored by Joel Knudsen of Rochester, looked back on its long legacy and looked ahead to 150 more years.

Joel's wife, Linda, who serves as the church secretary, said she almost missed the 150-year milestone.

After doing the math, she said, “We’ve got to do something. We need to plan something big.”

The Knudsens along with other members started combing through yellowed documents and black and white photographs to piece together the past, discovering a legacy of hardworking people who reached out to their local community and the world.

Founded by Benjamin Harlow and several members of the East Rochester Congregational Church along with others, the church began meeting as the First Christian Church in Wareham in 1863 at the Tremont School House. It was later named the Advent Christian Church.

After 10 years, according to a history written by church members in 1987, the church built its first chapel on Pierceville Road and West Street for $1,400.

The congregation continued to grow, eventually purchasing land on Carver Road and building the church, which is still in use today, with the labor of the membership.

“When the church building was built the women collected rocks in wagons by day and the men built the foundation of the church after work by lantern light,” said Joel.

Due to the many pine trees on the property, it got the nickname Church in the Pines and eventually took on the name. Formerly affiliated with the Advent Christian Church, the congregation became nondenominational around 25 years ago.

The first service was held on July 9, 1926. At the time, most people who attended the church were from the West Wareham area.

The small sanctuary was eventually expanded to include a hall for gatherings and rooms for Sunday school classes.

In the early 1960s regular “fellowship suppers” began, something that continues today with frequent potlucks and cookouts.

The Knudsens say the demographic of the church has changed in 25 years since they came with their four kids from a church in Long Island, New York. Instead of an exclusively West Wareham population as in the church’s early days, members and visitors come from at least 10 area towns.

“We’ve worked at making people feel comfortable beyond the local area,” Joel said. “People come from many different economic backgrounds. We should just be people coming to worship God.”

In the past, the church was an active part of the local and global community as well, said the Knudsens. In the 40s and 50s, the church had a vibrant Boy Scout program. The church was known for its music with quartets performing around the area. Mission work was also largely supported, including one pastor who served in India before and after World War II.

Today, Church in the Pines has a partnership with a Haitian church and makes yearly visits to strengthen ties. The weekly Celebrate Recovery program offers members and the community a safe place to seek emotional and spiritual healing, and many are active with Damien’s Food Pantry as well as other nonprofits in town.

“We see ourselves as a healing church,” Joel said. “We’re a bunch of messed up people that Jesus is helping to be transformed. We accept one another and know that God will help us to make those changes.”

At the 150th Anniversary Banquet in October, the church remembered these aspects of its past and present while also celebrating the new 20-acre property it purchased in 2013.

Located on East Street, the land sits in Wareham, Carver and Middleboro. Over the next several years, the church hopes to raise enough funds to build a more spacious church for its growing congregation as well as a place where the community will feel welcome.

“We see the whole 20 acres as a place of ministry and a place of healing,” said Joel.

The church held its first baby dedication service in 1936 and continues to bring new babies before the church today. The above photo was taken in 1941 after a dedication service. (Courtesy of: Church in the Pines)
The church has a long legacy of good music, said Joel and Linda Knudsen. (Courtesy of: Church in the Pines)
Reverend Chester Parmley, who was the pastor in the 1960s and wife Sylvia celebrate the 100th anniversary of the church. The members wore period dress for the event. (Courtesy of: Church in the Pines)
In the 1960s, the church broke ground on a new hall and kitchen. (Courtesy of: Church in the Pines)
Henry Knight, left, gets baptized by Pastor Joel Knudsen. (Courtesy of: Church in the Pines)
With no baptistry in the church, pastors have long gone to local waters. Above Pastor Drew performs a baptism at a campground in Marion circa 1940s. (Courtesy of: Church in the Pines)
The vibrant youth group has seen many transition from childhood to active member of the congregation. (Courtesy of: Church in the Pines)
The church recently held a dedication service for the new 20-acre property it purchased in 2013 on East Street. (Photo by: Georgia Sparling)
Church in the Pines continues to be a musical congregation. From left, Billy Monty of Carver, Dave Silvia of Middleboro, Joel Hartley of Marion and Tom Nelson of Rochester harmonize at an outdoor ceremony held for the church's new property. (Photo by: Georgia Sparling)
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