Faith Matters: Joining hands in Ashfield

  • Bruce Bennett, Deacon of the First Congregational Church of Ashfield, Annie Cheatham, Trustee at The First Congregational Church of Ashfield, Sue Craft, Co-Senior Warden at St. John’€™s Episcopal Church and the Rev. Vicki Ix, Vicar of St. John’€™s Episcopal Church in Ashfield gather on the steps of Elmer‒s Store in Ashfield for a photo. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Bruce Bennett, Deacon of the First Congregational Church of Ashfield, Annie Cheatham, Trustee at The First Congregational Church of Ashfield, Sue Craft, Co-Senior Warden at St. John€’s Episcopal Church and the Rev. Vicki Ix, Vicar of St. John’€™s Episcopal Church in Ashfield gather on the steps of Elmer’€™s Store in Ashfield for a photo. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Bruce Bennett, deacon of the First Congregational Church of Ashfield, Annie Cheatham, trustee at the First Congregational Church of Ashfield, Sue Craft, co-senior warden at St. John’€™s Episcopal Church and the Rev. Vicki Ix, vicar of St. John€’s Episcopal Church in Ashfield gather on the steps of Elmer’€™s Store in Ashfield for a photo. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • First Congregational Church of Ashfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz PAUL FRANZ

  • St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ashfield.

Vicar at St. John’s Episcopal Church,
Published: 5/17/2019 5:07:56 PM
Modified: 5/17/2019 5:07:39 PM

(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)

Congregations of Christian worshippers have been gathering in Ashfield for 256 years. The founding of the First Congregational Church in 1763 made it possible for the Town of Ashfield to be incorporated. And in 1828, St. John’s Episcopal Church was consecrated. Over these many years, the two churches have collaborated to create Ashfield’s Fall Festival, the Ashfield News, the Hilltown Churches’ Food Pantry, Vacation Bible School, NuDay Syria, Share the Warmth, and many other projects. Throughout history, both churches have been led by people who have tried to follow Jesus’s call to love God and love their neighbors as themselves.

Today, St. John’s Episcopal and the First Congregational Church are choosing to work together to serve a population that is aging and communities that are changing. Ashfield has had a second-home population for many decades, and that will continue as Franklin County becomes more and more like Berkshire County where over 50 percent of properties are held by out-of-town owners. On the aging front, Ashfield has the second oldest population in Franklin County after Heath. The average age of our region’s residents is over 60.

Even though many people in the hill towns practice spiritual traditions other than Christianity (a Buddhist sangha meets weekly in Ashfield, for example), there are no other houses of Christian worship in Ashfield. And so the gatherings at each church demonstrate a commitment of two communities to deepen their spiritual lives by being together in prayer, in song, in reflection on teachings of the Bible. This weekly witness has power. At a time of secularism, of the loss of community, of international and national turmoil, a public gathering of people to pray is a profound statement of hope.

It is with this in mind that the leadership of both congregations unanimously passed the following resolution in March.

“We, the members and friends of St. John’s Episcopal Church and the First Congregational Church of Ashfield, resolve to grow in love and deepen our shared commitment to the Gospel. We will explore opportunities for more collaboration between our two congregations.”

How might the two congregations collaborate?

Worship together

Shared worship has a long history in Ashfield. Between 1945 and 1983, the two churches shared a minister, alternating between buildings each Sunday. This resolution provides an impetus for us to join together at least twice on an annual basis.

Study together

On June 1 we will offer our two communities a session on spiritual reflection. Our guide will be Mariel Kinsey who died last year, and who was a member of St. John’s and a great friend of the First Congregational Church. Facilitators Mary Clare Powell, Holly Wescott, and Mary Snow will use Mariel’s book, “Where is This Music Coming From?: Musings of a Failed Hermit” to stimulate quiet reflection. We imagine other adult education and spiritual development topics and events in the coming year — retreats, book groups, field trips, visits to other churches, etc.

Serve together

For our joint worship services, we are contributing to each other’s current mission projects.

Plan together

The leadership of both churches has met quarterly for breakfast at Elmer’s Store in Ashfield. It’s no surprise that we find this transformative. The table was Jesus’ platform for communication. At table, strangers become friends, and old friends begin again.

About the Ashfield churches

■St. John’s Episcopal Church is a vibrant community grounded in worship, sustained by fellowship and engaged in community-based ministry. We welcome you to worship on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. or come by any time (corner of Main and South streets) to sit with God in sacred space. 413-628-4402. www.stjohnsashfield.net FB @stjohnsashfield

■First Congregational Church (UCC) is an Open and Affirming congregation welcoming all — believers, nonbelievers and questioning believers. We worship Sundays at 10 a.m. on Main Street. Music and children’s programs weekly. 413-628-4470. www.ashfielducc.org. FB @ashfielducc


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