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Faith Matters: Reflections on a merger

  • Rev. Molly Scherm and Rev. Heather Blais of the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew in Greenfield. Recorder file photo/PAUL FRANZ



The Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew
Friday, September 22, 2017

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email religion@recorder.com or call 413-772-0261, ext. 265.)

By THE REV. HEATHER BLAIS, RECTOR, and THE REV. MOLLY SCHERM, ASSOCIATE RECTOR

We have been on (and continue to navigate) a great adventure. On April 23 of this year, the Sunday after Easter, the congregations of St. James, Greenfield and St. Andrew’s, Turners Falls merged to become one church on the Greenfield campus.

The celebration itself was awesome: the Turners folks arrived in procession led by a bagpiper and carrying symbols of the St. Andrew’s ministries and traditions, to be greeted by the Greenfield congregation, singing hymns on the lawn in welcome. Rev. Heather, Rector of St. James and now of the new Church of Saints James and Andrew, preached a sermon likening the merging of the parishes to the marriage of two people who have each enjoyed rich marriages but lost a spouse, who cherish memories but are ready to start a new life. She noted that such a new life together will involve both joy AND the work of negotiating what to do on Christmas day, where to put the coffeemaker in the kitchen, and what brand of bathroom tissue to use. We have found the analogy to be an apt one.

As the landscape of church membership is changing and parishes confront decreasing numbers of both active members and financial resources, leaders (both lay and ordained) are faced with making decisions about whether and how to try to sustain practices and programs that have been important in the past, and how to live into our faith in a new context. The choice our congregations discerned was that we could be “better together.”

The two of us were actually astonished at how readily our parish members embraced the concept of merger when it was proposed by our respective leadership groups: in fact, the consensus quickly emerged that we should “just do it” as soon as possible, rather than dwelling on feeling sad that things were changing.

Making the decision seemed to unleash all kinds of excitement and new energy and helped everyone focus on the possibilities and potential in a newly-expanded community; we realized that we could do more in our ministries and, with only one property to support, invest less time and worry on the financial picture. We were fortunate that historic connections between the two parishes as well as existing friendships and familial ties between members eased the transition.

Returning to the marriage analogy, however, our coming together has also involved lots of work and required lots of patience and humor. We had to make tough decisions about what physical “stuff” really mattered to us, as we didn’t have room to keep and store it all. Bringing together two slightly different sets of worship practices has probably been the most delicate and sensitive area of merger, and we are still working on how frequently to ring altar bells during the service. We’ve had to remind ourselves that the small things over which people are sometimes unexpectedly grumpy may reflect a wave of delayed grief over things lost in the course of all that we have gained in coming together.

Working (and problem-solving, brainstorming, and laughing) together to help shepherd the Church of Saints James and Andrew into a new phase of our life has also reminded us of the value of collegiality, and of how good it is to have a partner in ministry.

Jesus, after all, always sent the disciples out two by two.

About the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew

The Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew came into being in 2017, but the parishes that came together into the merger have collectively served the wider Greenfield and Montague communities for over two centuries.

We are committed to warmth and hospitality as well as to service in both the local community and beyond, including, in particular, services that will support children and their caregivers. We experience God as active among us. Our Episcopal tradition, rooted in our Anglican heritage, values scripture, tradition, and reason. On Sundays we worship with a spoken Holy Eucharist at 8 a.m. in the Chapel, and the 10 a.m. service of Eucharist in the church includes music and is accompanied by Sunday School.

Our office, church, and chapel are open Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to noon. All are invited and welcomed. We are at 8 Church Street, Greenfield. (413) 773-3925 www.saintsjamesandandrew.org; Facebook: www.facebook.com/saintsjamesandandrew as well as our Craft Skills Sharing ministry, www.facebook.com/groups/StAndrewsGuild/