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UCC of Conway torn downCongregation to start new chapter

  • United Congregational Church of Conway a week after the tornado. March 6, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The lower spire is down on the tornado damaged United Congregational Church of Conway which was razed Monday morning. . November 12, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • The tornado damaged United Congregational Church of Conway was razed Monday morning. . November 12, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

  • The tornado damaged United Congregational Church of Conway was razed Monday morning. . November 12, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

  • The tornado damaged United Congregational Church of Conway was razed Monday morning. . November 12, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

  • The Rev. Candice Ashenden watches as the first bites are taken out of her tornado damaged United Congregational Church of Conway which was razed Monday morning. . November 12, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...

  • The tornado damaged United Congregational Church of Conway was razed Monday morning. . November 12, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz...



Staff Writer
Monday, November 12, 2018

CONWAY – When God closes a door, He opens a window.

That belief provided comfort to the Rev. Candice Ashenden, pastor of the United Congregational Church of Conway, and members of her congregation Monday as the they watched a pair of excavators, one with a long reach, demolish their house of worship.

The church was damaged beyond repair by the February 2017 tornado that ripped through Pumpkin Hollow.

“It was so badly damaged, and it’s taken us this long to investigate the damage, to settle with the insurance company, and then to get all the appropriate permits to have it taken down,” said Ashenden over the ferocious roar of equipment Western Mass. Demolition Corporation used to raze the structure at 44 Whately Road. It was built in 1885 after its predecessor burned to the ground.

“The one good thing about it is that the congregation, really from the very beginning, saw it as an opportunity.

“Our church, really because of this, is stronger than ever,” she added. “The congregation has pulled together and we’re eager to move forward.”

Worship services have been held at Conway Grammar School since the tornado. The pastor said she has a 28-member congregation, and she sees 20 to 25 each Sunday. The church had been rededicated and reopened in September 2014 after a couple of years of renovation and mold abatement.

Ashenden, who lives in Orange and has been the church’s pastor for 14½ years, said the congregation is working with Northampton architect Rick Katsanos on plans for a one-story building on the same spot. Ashenden said the idea is to have a new church that is more energy efficient and fully accessible. She said she hopes to have a final design plan in January.

WMDC worked Monday under the oversight of general contractor Thayer Street Associates of Deerfield, Ashenden said. The excavators ripped through the steepled, wooden church with ease, and by 11:30 a.m. the front of the building was gone. Ashenden said demolition began at roughly 8:20 a.m. The machines crunched and broke up fractured debris that fell to the ground and the long-reach excavator snapped wooden beams as if they were twigs. Ashenden explained an erosion control zone was set up to contain debris and prevent it from littering Pumpkin Hollow Brook, which runs behind the lot. The pastor also said a member of the demolition team used a hose to water down the debris to tamp down dust that became airborne during the work. She marveled at how the steeple that stood for 133 years was knocked down in 13 seconds. All vermiculite was removed before demolition, Ashenden said.

She said the demolition was emotional for her and for congregants. She said she felt “a little of everything, really. It’s really said to see it come down and there’s been quite a few tears among folks this morning. It’s also bit of a relief because we’ve been a year and a half of waiting, knowing it was going to happen.”

Lorraine Boyden, 74, said she has been a congregant since moving to Conway in 1961 and she compared the demolition to the peaceful death of a terminally ill friend.

“I just told Candi that I equate this with a person that’s had cancer and has suffered and suffered and suffered, and this is a blessed relief,” she said. “It still pulls at my heartstrings, but it’s a blessing. (The building) has been hurting, and we’ve been hurting, and now we’ll go forward and get something different, have a new building and go on.”

Bill Leno, 87, said he grew up in the church and got married there in 1957. Though he lives in Deerfield now, he said he is still a congregant and has been on the church’s building committee for years.

“Now we look to new birth,” he said with a camera around his neck to take photographs for posterity. “Sitting on that same footprint will be a new church.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.