The Rev. Cynthia Hubbard was ordained to the priesthood for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts in 1979, just five years after the first group of women were ordained. “My first week in seminary, they voted down the ordination of women,” Canon Hubbard told me a couple of weeks ago. “By the time I graduated, the first women were being ordained. I’m not sure, but I imagine I was in the first 100.” She retired a year ago last June, but not for long.
Originally from Wilbraham, Canon Hubbard said she’s been coming to Chappaquiddick in the summer all her life, but it wasn’t until Father Brian Murdoch died in October 2016 that she spent the off-season on Chappy.
“When Brian Murdoch died, I said to the bishop, I have a house on the Island and I’d be happy to help,” Canon Hubbard said.
“I was there two days a week, and then I’d come back to Plymouth, and I just loved being here in the winter. I’ve been all my life seasonally on Chappaquiddick, but I had never been through that January, February, March time. We were the only lights on Chappaquiddick on our side. The pace of life is very different — quiet and peaceful.”
Her parents first came to the Island for their honeymoon in 1941; they stayed at the Charlotte Inn, where the going rate was $17 a night. They borrowed a car from Tony Bettencourt, the Chappy ferry captain at the time, and they went exploring on Chappaquiddick. Eventually, they purchased 17 acres with some beachfront for $3,000, and built a house there in the late 1940s. The property has stayed in the family, and Canon Hubbard and her husband Ted, who’s retired as well, are spending even more time there now. “I’ve flunked retirement twice now,” she told me with a laugh.
Canon Hubbard is going to assist the Rev. Chip Seadale at St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown. She’ll be able to spend more off-season time on Chappy, and help him explore new ways to make the church more relevant to people today. Pastor Seadale said that for now, she’ll spend about 10 hours a week assisting the church.
“She’ll be doing preaching and pastoral visits,” Father Chip said. “She’s also going to help us undergo a renewal process, a long-term plan to attract new and invigorated interest in the goings-on at St. Andrew’s. She’s had a lot of experience with congregational growth and development, and we’re hoping she’s able to help us.”
Canon Hubbard spent many years working at the diocesan level, consulting with parishes on collaboration and finding creative solutions to some of the challenges contemporary parishes face.
“We have to be very mindful that the churches we grew up with in the ’60s and ’70s are gone, and they’re not coming back,” she said. “The churches that will survive are the ones willing to take risks and go out and do things differently. If St. Andrew’s wants to do that, I’d love to be there for them.”
Growing a faith community is not an easy task these days, according to most accounts. It’s not a time to compete with other religions, Canon Hubbard said.
“I don’t think we’re in a position to feel we need to compete with one another,” she said. “We need to work together, and I mean more than just Christians; we need to reach out to the Jews, the Muslims … they’re all an important part of the conversation.”
As far as reaching beyond the people who are sitting in the pews on Sunday, Canon Hubbard said that she thinks there’s always room for new ways to relate to each other.
“There’s always the possibility of a very different kind of worship experience for people,” she said. “I don’t think Jesus said all church services have to be at 8 and 10 am on Sunday morning. We need to talk more about being in the community, and not behind closed doors, waiting for people to show up.”
Helping a church grow might be just the thing to keep retirement at bay for this member of the Island clergy.
Chilmark Community Church UMC will offer an open-table Thanksgiving meal at 1 pm on Thursday, Nov. 23, Thanksgiving Day. The Rev. Charlotte and Don Wright will be cooking. All who need a place to go that day, or those who may not have family nearby, are welcome to come. Donations or a dish to share would be appreciated, but not necessary. The church is located at 9 Menemsha Crossroads in Chilmark. For more information, call 508-645-3100.