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Hilltown congregation has new home 35 months after fire

  • People gather to sing Amazing Grace before entering the church for the first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.

    People gather to sing Amazing Grace before entering the church for the first service in the rebuilt West Cummington church since the fire three years ago. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Alice Tibbetts,10, rings the bell while Kevin Higgins watches at the  first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.<br/>

    Alice Tibbetts,10, rings the bell while Kevin Higgins watches at the first service in the rebuilt West Cummington church since the fire three years ago.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eliza Lake,  sits with her children Charlotte Niswonger and Augustus during the  first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.

    Eliza Lake, sits with her children Charlotte Niswonger and Augustus during the first service in the rebuilt West Cummington church since the fire three years ago. Purchase photo reprints »

  • People walk up from the Parish where services have been held  for the last three years for the   the first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington Congregatuinal Church since the fire three years ago.<br/>

    People walk up from the Parish where services have been held for the last three years for the the first service in the rebuilt West Cummington Congregatuinal Church since the fire three years ago.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Penny Schultz leads the group in Amazing Grace on the steps before entering for the first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.

    Penny Schultz leads the group in Amazing Grace on the steps before entering for the first service in the rebuilt West Cummington church since the fire three years ago. Purchase photo reprints »

  • The first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.

    The first service in the rebuilt West Cummington church since the fire three years ago. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ardis Nardone and Allan Boschen, both of Windsor,  during the first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.

    Ardis Nardone and Allan Boschen, both of Windsor, during the first service in the rebuilt West Cummington church since the fire three years ago. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nerissa, Tom and Lila,6, Nields-Duffy, during the first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.<br/>

    Nerissa, Tom and Lila,6, Nields-Duffy, during the first service in the rebuilt West Cummington church since the fire three years ago.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Frank Philbrick shows left Will Bundy, of Northampton, his 6 week old daughter Ginlou Philbrick as they all get seated for the first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.

    Frank Philbrick shows left Will Bundy, of Northampton, his 6 week old daughter Ginlou Philbrick as they all get seated for the first service in the rebuilt West Cummington church since the fire three years ago. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Vera Hertzberg of East Windsor, during the  first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.

    Vera Hertzberg of East Windsor, during the first service in the rebuilt West Cummington church since the fire three years ago. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Alice Tibbetts,10, rings the bell while Kevin Higgins watches at the  first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.

    Alice Tibbetts,10, rings the bell while Kevin Higgins watches at the first service in the rebuilt West Cummington church since the fire three years ago. Purchase photo reprints »

  • People gather to sing Amazing Grace before entering the church for the first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.
  • Alice Tibbetts,10, rings the bell while Kevin Higgins watches at the  first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.<br/>
  • Eliza Lake,  sits with her children Charlotte Niswonger and Augustus during the  first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.
  • People walk up from the Parish where services have been held  for the last three years for the   the first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington Congregatuinal Church since the fire three years ago.<br/>
  • Penny Schultz leads the group in Amazing Grace on the steps before entering for the first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.
  • The first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.
  • Ardis Nardone and Allan Boschen, both of Windsor,  during the first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.
  • Nerissa, Tom and Lila,6, Nields-Duffy, during the first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.<br/>
  • Frank Philbrick shows left Will Bundy, of Northampton, his 6 week old daughter Ginlou Philbrick as they all get seated for the first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.
  • Vera Hertzberg of East Windsor, during the  first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.
  • Alice Tibbetts,10, rings the bell while Kevin Higgins watches at the  first service in the rebuilt West  Cummington church since the fire three years ago.

“For three years there was no West Cummington Church that you could see, unless you looked into the faces of our members. We carried it through the loss of our building,” said the church’s minister, the Rev. Stephen Philbrick.

On Sunday, parishioners walked from the Parish House where they had been holding their services while the new church was being built. Led by a small band playing “As the Saints Go Marching In,” churchgoers were in a celebratory mood as they anticipated seeing inside the new building for the first time.

Nestled into the woods, the pristine white church seemed to glow in the early morning light. Arriving on the steps of the building, roughly 100 people joined together with the church chorus in singing “Amazing Grace,” their voices rising up into the snow covered treetops that stood engulfed in a soft mist. “It’s great to have an occasion like this that really makes people want to sing,” said Music Director Penny Schultz.

Parishioners entered the building as a 1892 church bell tolled in its new bell tower. Pews were filled to capacity with people standing in the side and back aisles. Many said they were struck by the church’s elegantly simple and light-filled design. The emotion of the congregants was palpable.

“I love it!” Tracey Eller of Florence said. “It is so light and beautiful! It is wonderful to finally be able to see it,” she said.

Rising out of the ashes of the old church, the doors to the new building were salvaged from the beams of the old, and custom made by furniture maker and church member Keith Tibbetts.

Architect Bruce Wood stood in the back of the church with his wife Margaret and his 9-year-old daughter Nicola. Woods received a standing ovation from the congregation for his design of the new church. “The design started two years ago this September and the construction began that fall. It took us one year to finish,” Wood said. “The tower top was just put on a couple of days ago,” he said.

Many said they felt overwhelming relief to return to their home of worship. This feeling was echoed in Philbrick’s opening words.

“Home, home, home! Thank God almighty we are home at last,” he said before delivering a sermon on resurrection, transformation, unity and community strength, which brought tears to many an eye.

“I have been coming to this church for close to 14 years,” former Brooklyn native Catherine Sands said. “There are a lot of people here who come from different spiritual traditions and backgrounds. It has been very nice to be a part of this church,” Sands said.

Philbrick thanked all those who had a hand in creating the church, saying that carpenters, boat builders and other craftsman have given high praise to the new church. “We had in mind a 300-year building, one that is strong and welcoming,” Philbrick said. “Anyone who has been in here with a knowing eye, has been astounded by the quality of the work.”

Philbrick said that he hoped the new facility would inspire people to return to the church.

“The Parish House was a little shaggy. I think we lost some people when we had to gather there,” he said. “But there are so many people here today, that I am very optimistic that we will see a rise in our numbers.”

Deacon Daniel Dashnaw said he was humbled by the way in which the community came together, parishioners and non-church members alike.

“I think that one of the most important things that we learned from this experience is that the church is really much bigger than we thought,” Dashnaw said. “It is like there was our church, but there is also a much larger church made up of people who stepped forward and volunteered.”

The message of a unified community rang true for member Collon Black of Williamsburg who said that the church reminded him of the old New England “meetinghouse” were people came together as one community with one common goal: to support the needs of many.

“This church is definitely a testament to that,” Black said.

Related

In months after fire, how the Rev. Stephen Philbrick spoke to his Cummington congregation about loss, belief

Thursday, January 3, 2013

CUMMINGTON — Around 5 on a cold January morning, flames designed to stay within a church furnace broke through a firebox and licked at the bones of the West Cummington Congregational Church. Within hours the small church was gone and its minister, the Rev. Stephen Philbrick, was composing words to help his Hilltown congregation understand, and withstand, their loss. “I … 0

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