Ashfield church earns $50K grant for relationship building

  • The Rev. David Jones in the sanctuary of the First Congregational Church of Ashfield. The church has received a $50,000 grant from the Southern New England United Church of Christ (UCC) Conference that will support building relationships between UCC and local faith and community groups. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The First Congregational Church of Ashfield has received a $50,000 grant from the Southern New England United Church of Christ (UCC) Conference that will support building relationships between UCC and local faith and community groups. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/20/2021 3:25:14 PM

ASHFIELD — The First Congregational Church of Ashfield on Main Street has received a $50,000 grant from the Southern New England United Church of Christ (UCC) Conference that will support building relationships between UCC and local faith and community groups.

“We are honored to be one of nine churches in our UCC Conference to receive this grant,” the Rev. David Jones said in a press release. “The vitality of our congregation is and has been obvious for many years because of the wonderful leadership of the most recent settled pastors Rev. Kate Stevens and Rev. Bob Stowe, and especially by the dedicated and hard-working congregants who volunteer so many hours to our community.”

The grant will help to support the “relationship building” between UCC and other faith and community groups in Western Massachusetts, Jones explained. That includes supporting the time of staff and participation of the community in social justice programming, as well as the use of social media, podcasts and video production that “uncovers what residents of Western Massachusetts have in common, amidst our differences.”

Jones said the pandemic, which has highlighted the challenges faced by rural communities, led the church to close its doors to in-person gatherings in March 2020.

“The pandemic has forced us to be creative and to invest in new technology for our sanctuary that would allow us to reach congregants both on Sunday mornings and throughout the week,” he said, noting the need for a new camera, microphones and improved internet technology.

Still, it has been difficult for the church to recreate the same community outside the traditional church setting.

“Recreating the atmosphere and the energy of a choir rehearsal, or to capture that special expression of unity that is contained in so many voices singing together, is very difficult at this time,” Jones said.

During the height of the pandemic, staff members, lay leaders, congregants and volunteers were doing more with less, he said.

“The pandemic not only meant a closed church building, it also meant canceled fundraisers,” Jones said. “In particular, it meant the cancellation of a key fundraiser for our church, the Ashfield Fall Festival.”

Between the church’s financial stability leading into the pandemic and the Paycheck Protection Program loans available to churches, the grant — moving forward — will allow the church to do “more with more,” Jones said.

“We had already responded to this pandemic by focusing more on our mission,” he said. “We prioritized the work of the food pantry and direct support to congregants and neighbors. The grant lets this focus continue and expand. And this is crucial, because even as the pandemic ends, we know the inequality that has grown up between us — and has only worsened in this time — will persist.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne




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