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St. James Episcopal turns 200

Welcomes new priest

Recorder/Paul Franz
Heather Blais is the new priest at St James in Greenfield

Recorder/Paul Franz Heather Blais is the new priest at St James in Greenfield

GREENFIELD — Two hundred years ago, five men met to pray together in a second-floor room in the building now home to McCarthy’s Funeral Home on Bank Row.

Two hundred years later, as a little stone Episcopal church on the corner of Federal and Church streets celebrates its bicentennial, its members are working with their new 28-year-old female priest to figure out how to move into a third century.

Heather Blais, her husband, and their two children, ages 5 and 23 months, recently moved into St. James Episcopal Church’s rectory, and Blais has led several services since.

She said she will spend the next several months getting to know the 105 people who attend services there each week, and will try to find a way to attract more people to church.

“The 105 are split among our four services, which, by the way, are each unique,” said Blais. “For instance, our Sunday at 10 a.m. is filled with music.”

She said she will also work throughout the year with parishioners to celebrate the church’s birthday, in whatever way they decide.

Leading a church the size of St. James is not foreign to Blais, she said. She served as an associate priest in a small church in Maine for some time, and then moved to a larger church of between 150 and 170 members. But, this is the first time she has served as “the priest.”

Blais said now that children are living in the rectory again, she hopes to attract more families back to church.

Kevin Hollister, 55, is a longtime member of St. James. His family, as far back as his great-great-great-grandfather, were members.

“We’re thrilled to have Heather here,” he said. “She’s a great preacher with a wonderful smile. I think she is going to breathe new life back into the church, while keeping to our roots and following some of our most treasured traditions.”

Hollister said the history of the church is rich. He said there are several members whose families go quite far back in its history.

The first church service was held on Federal and Church streets on Sept. 24, 1812, he said. Hollister said it was a wooden building at that time.

Thirty five years later, the church built the stone church that still stands there today.

Hollister said parishioners will be working with Blais to plan different celebrations throughout the year. He said he’s hoping the church will bury a time capsule on May 5, Rogation Sunday, outside of the church.

“Rogation Sunday is a time of blessing fields and planting things,” he said. “It was also my dad’s birthday. He was a member of the church for 70 years. I just think a time capsule would be a great way to celebrate.”

Hollister said the church could fill the capsule with pictures, records, budgets, newsletters, whatever members want to bury for someone to find many years down the road.

“I still have to talk with Heather and the rest of the church about this,” he said.

Hollister said he’d also like to see the church hold a barbecue in the spring or summer.

He said the church has a lot to offer members and newcomers, so he is hoping people will inquire, or simply show up to a service.

“We have an active choir, Bible study, book groups, and lots of volunteer opportunities,” said Hollister.

He said the church puts on a Second Helping meal every Monday night, and puts on a community meal, Bread of Life, where it serves about 160 people, many shut-ins, once a month.

“We have lots of tradition, but are open to new things,” he said. “I think that’s apparent with our choice of Heather.”

Hollister said he would like to see people take time out for church each week.

“It’s a time to be quiet, to listen to scripture and music, to realize what’s important in life,” he said. “We’re all in this world together. We might as well worship together.”

Blais said people will find the Episcopal service to be similar to a Catholic mass, with members having core Christian beliefs, but Episcopalians do not preach about social issues.

“We like to think of ourselves as traditional and progressive,” she said. “We welcome everyone, whether conservative, liberal, or somewhere in between. We all find a way to worship together and put those types of views aside.”

Blais said the glass front doors of St. James are open to everyone, metaphorically speaking. The church is locked when not in use.

“I am going to spend some time getting to know our members, but also getting to know the community around us,” she said. “I want to know what Greenfield needs from us, for example.”

Blais said she is a cradle Episcopalian, who sort of knew she wanted to be a priest by sixth grade.

“As I aged, I decided I wanted to be in ministry, but not necessarily a priest,” she said. “I came back to that desire several years ago.”

Blais said many of St. James’ members are older, so she and others will be looking for ways to attract younger individuals and families as the church enters its third century.

“I have all sorts of ideas, but I want to do a little research to see if they apply before I share them,” she said. “What worked at the churches I was at in Maine, might not work in Greenfield. We’ll find out.”

Blais has done a lot of work with youths during her ministry. She’s hoping to do that here, too.

She said people can practice a lot of their spirituality at home, but they can’t get the Eucharist or fellowship like they can at St. James.

The church holds services at 7:15 a.m. on Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, and 8 and 10 a.m. on Sunday.

“As I end my first year (next January) and enter my second year, I hope we know where the church and its members are headed,” said Blais. “We’re going to honor St. James’ roots and traditions, while making some changes in a changing world. We’re going to figure out how we will evolve, and I’m honored that I get to help.”

Blais said one of the issues the church will be looking at is the size of the campus, which includes several buildings along Federal and Church streets.

“We don’t need to rush on any decisions,” she said. “This is going to be a joyful journey. We’ll go where God calls us.”

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