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New Horizons

Harold Dorman: One Church, 56 Years

Paul S. MacDonald

I have sometimes teased Harold Dorman about the attention that is lavished around Skowhegan on his birthday each year. The town is festooned with bunting and decorations; parades, speeches, and evening fireworks mark the day.

It was on Independence Day in 1917, the year the United States entered World War I, that Harold Leonard Dorman was born in Hamden, Connecticut. Harold, one of the oldest of eleven children, was afflicted with spinal meningitis when he was five years old. His three-year-old brother died of the disease at that time, and Harold's hearing was permanently impaired. His deafness was a handicap, but his eagerness to learn stimulated him to overcome it at every stage of his education.

In those horse-and-buggy days in rural Connecticut, the Dorman family did not participate much in church life. For a while he attended Sunday school, but all he remembers of the teaching was its emphasis on the importance of good works to become acceptable with God. When Harold was in his late teens, Arthur Shepard, a neighbor who was a Presbyterian elder, introduced him to Pastor L. Craig Long, who took Harold to a service he conducted in a rescue mission in New Haven. The one word that Harold still vividly recalls from Dr. Long's message that night was the word "substitute." Jesus is our substitute. Harold knew what a substitute teacher was in school, so the word helped him understand how Jesus took his place. Harold was also given a copy of the gospel of John. Reading right through it, he came to the last verse of chapter 20: "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (KJV). For him, that was a spiritual independence day. He says his conversion was brought about, not by hearing a sermon, but by reading the Bible.

A strong influence in Harold's spiritual life was the ministry of the Rev. Marvin Derby, who followed Dr. Long as pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian church in Hamden. Mr. Derby's rapport with young people was such that the Hamden church had the largest youth group in the OPC at that time. Harold and some of the other folks from Hamden participated in the first Deerwander Bible Conference in 1938. The conference was held at Deerwander Lodge in Hollis, Maine, where the women and girls slept in the house and the men and boys slept on the hay in the barn.

When World War II came along, Harold was deferred by the Selective Service System because of his hearing impairment. But as time went on and more men were needed, his 4-F status was raised to 1-B, and he went into the Army for thirty-eight months. He served as a radar maintenance man in the Coast Artillery Corps.

After the war was over, he pursued his ministerial training at Calvin College and Westminster Theological Seminary. In the spring of 1950, he graduated from Calvin. That September he married Marjorie VanDerWeele, whom he had met at college. Earlier that summer, however, tragedy struck the Dorman family. A lightning bolt literally from out of the blue struck a Dorman family gathering in Hamden on July 4. Harold was burned as the lightning entered his left hip and exited one of his toes. But one of his sisters, a brother, and the brother's girlfriend were electrocuted at the scene. It was a news event reported all over the country.

Harold entered Westminster in the fall of 1950 and graduated in 1953. In the meantime, two of Harold's sisters had married brothers Myron and Fremont Moody, whom they had met at Deerwander, and who subsequently became elders in the congregation at Cornville. When the pulpit was vacant in 1954, Harold was invited to preach there as a licentiate. He served there, in effect, as stated supply until his ordination and installation in 1958. The church was never prosperous enough to support a pastor with four growing children, so Harold augmented his salary in various ways. He held minor town offices: town treasurer for six years and overseer of the poor for thirteen years. His skills as an electrician, a plumber, and a carpenter brought him sufficient income to provide for his family's needs.

In 1977, as rural society in America increasingly moved toward urban life, the people of the Cornville church bought a laundromat in Skowhegan and refurbished it as a worship center. The church remains small, but it is the only Reformed testimony in a large area of central Maine, and some worshipers travel significant distances to worship there.

A careful theologian, Harold led the Cornville church through some periods of serious doctrinal disagreement a number of years ago. A consummate pastor, he not only ministers to his congregation, but also serves as hospital chaplain, as he has for thirty-eight years.

Harold and Marjorie faithfully raised their three sons and one daughter—who, with their respective spouses, walk with the Lord. One son is an elder in the Skowhegan church, and another is a deacon in the church in Bangor. The legacy of the faith is now being passed on to seventeen grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A testimony to the strength of Mr. and Mrs. Dorman's marriage was the quiet observance of their sixtieth anniversary in September 2010, just two days before Harold officiated at the marriage of grandson Nathaniel Leonard Dorman in Bangor.

It is an honor to salute the ministry of this humble servant of the Lord. He has pastored the same congregation for a total of fifty-six years, and is still going. Although at the age of 93 he is not permitted to drive more than twenty-five miles from home, his health is good, and he plans to keep on preaching two sermons every Lord's Day for as long as he can—maybe even until he's 100 years old!

The author is an elder at Penobscot Bay OPC in Bucksport, Maine, and a longtime member of the Committee on Christian Education. New Horizons, December 2010.

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