New Conway, Shelburne pastor looks to build community, make faith relevant in current time

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 01-25-2023 12:15 PM

CONWAY — When the United Congregational Church of Conway officially reopens its doors in February, its services will be led by a new pastor with an eye toward building community.

The Rev. Marianne MacCullagh was appointed as the joint pastor for the United Congregational Church of Conway and the First Congregational Church of Shelburne in November, and is preparing for the official reopening of Conway’s church. Members of the Conway congregation have met in different locations since a February 2017 tornado severely damaged the Whately Road building, which was razed in 2018.

MacCullagh has been an ordained minister for more than two decades and spent the last 10 years as a chaplain at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield before the two churches reached out to her. She said serving as a joint pastor for the churches provides an opportunity for her to help the two small congregations become a community resource, especially in Conway, where the church intends to allow residents and groups to use the new building as a community space for events.

“For these folks, this building is like a rebirth,” MacCullagh said in an interview at the church, which is just waiting on some interior furniture and stained glass windows. “It can become so many different things. We can be more creative here and that’s how God gets made more relevant.”

The community focus is what brought MacCullagh from her home in South Hadley to serve Conway and Shelburne. With two small congregations, MacCullagh said she isn’t trying to fill the church to its capacity, but hopes to make faith relevant in the current time.

“My goal is not about putting butts in pews. It is putting God in people’s lives and making God relevant,” she said. “I don’t preach at people; I work really hard at making a connection in scripture and what’s going on today.”

She explained part of her teaching involves emphasizing the importance of having support from family, friends and faith, while also being willing to learn.

“Being a Christian is realizing you can’t do it yourself,” MacCullagh said. “Every mistake leads to an opportunity.”

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MacCullagh said the two churches have formed a great partnership, which is a positive thing for everyone because joining two churches together is not always easy.

“So often people of faith can get stuck in, ‘This is my church and that is their church,’” she said, adding that the cooperation “affords them the opportunity to do more good in more places.”

With MacCullagh settling into her position, the United Congregational Church of Conway is holding its annual all-church meeting, which will also include First Congregational Church of Shelburne members, on Sunday, Feb. 5, at 9:15 a.m. at its new Whately Road building. The meeting will also serve as the first joint meeting of the churches.

While the all-church meeting is being held in February, it will not be the first in the new building. MacCullagh said the congregation scrambled to get permission to use the building for Christmas Eve services. An open house for the community is tentatively planned for Saturday, Feb. 18, at 2 p.m.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.

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